Extraordinary. This is the tagline Concordia College uses in promoting the school in the community. This word sums up the aspirations that all parents have for their children, and perhaps we have for ourselves. But of course, our lives are more defined by ordinary routines, tasks and events. And that’s OK, because that’s we find God in our lives and world. On Pentecost Day, we thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who does extraordinary things in the lives of ordinary people like us-giving us a relationship with him through baptism, connecting us with the saving work of his Son through his word and Jesus’ holy meal, and granting his grace gifts. We believe in an extraordinary God changing ordinary people with his love, power and grace-real grace, real life, real community through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the victor "Jesus left them and was taken up." "He is exalted, the king is exalted on high", we sing 'Crown him with many crowns." For everyone who has gone away there are always those left behind looking at an empty sky - abandoned - deserted. The unbelievable thing is that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. For it is not that Christ was deserting them; Christ was inserting them into the world as his ongoing presence. They are to be the presence of Christ, his body, his ears and hands, heart and mouth and feet. And the story continues for all those left behind - you and me being lively expressions of all that Jesus was about. So the last words are "Come on, guys, Jesus is gone now - time to get to work!" We have a mission to fulfill, and we can't let our heads get stuck in the clouds. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We live in a world of apparently limitless choices, in streaming services, shopping and even spirituality. Christianity is just one option among many. This is the way it was for the first Christians. How did they respond? Not by retreating but by engaging. This is what we see as Paul visits Athens, and talks with the city’s famous philosophers. He shares the reason for the hope he has. Some people want to know more; others don’t. The task of the church today is not to shrink in to a holy huddle, but share the story of Jesus wherever we can. The results are in God’s hands, through the Holy Spirit.
This weekend some of the St John’s community took part in Walk my Way. We raised money for the work of ALWS, as well as walking in the company of one another, along planned routes. Walk my Way is a description of the way many Australians put life together. We are each on our own journey, maximizing our potential. It sounds enticing, but it can be a lonely way too, especially when the path ahead is not clear. Jesus’ disciples were bereft when he told them he was going away. But he gave them, and us, this word of comfort. ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ We are never on our own. Jesus is the way-maker. He is the way into the Father’s heart, through his death and resurrection. Walking his way, in his strength, in his leading, and in the company of one another, is the best way.
When I was a child, people used to refer to TV as an electronic babysitter. Screen time was seen as a negative. These days there are so many more screens, and so many more voices screaming for our attention. Parents feel that it’s almost impossible to be a gatekeeper. We need the voices and support of others to help us to keep our children safe. That’s where Christian community, and especially divine worship come in. We gather together to hear Jesus’ voice. He is the gate, the way to the Father. He calls shepherds, pastors, to ensure that we know that not only is he the gate for the sheep; he is also the Good Shepherd. We can be certain that his goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in his house forever.
Have you ever heard of a Christian movement called the Peculiar People? They arose in England in the 1830’s, and got their name from the King James Version translation of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” By all accounts they were quite peculiar, rejecting modern medicine for example. Does it sit well with you to be called ‘peculiar’? A more accurate translation of that phrase is “God’s special possession.” This is who we are, and this is what makes us different, even peculiar. God has made us holy through our new birth into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection. God’s holiness in us overflows into lives of love, compassion, kindness and generosity.
Does the week begin on a Sunday or a Monday? Perhaps it depends on whether you are working or not? For Jesus’ disciples, the week began on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath. They were mired in despair but the Risen Lord came into their midst, pronouncing peace and breathing forgiveness on them. And sending them out, renewed and re-called, to share this good news of forgiveness with a needy and broken world. Just like he forgives and commissions to do the very same thing, in a world desperately in need of this same forgives.
Many of us are fond of murder mysteries. We are interested in the twists and turns of an investigation. The first Easter Day unfolds like a scene out of a mystery novel or a police procedural drama. It has all the ingredients: the darkness at the edge of morning; a cemetery; and a crime: a body that has disappeared. So the question is, “Whodunnit?” Mary doesn’t know, nor do Peter and John. This is a mystery of the highest order. It’s only when Mary hears Jesus’ voice that she begins to understand. Jesus has risen from the dead. “I have seen the Lord,” she says to the confused disciples. Whodunnit? God did, of course. We know it because have heard and seen the Risen Lord active in our midst. He lives in us through our baptism and the Holy Spirit, he speaks to us through his word, and he feeds us with his body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Like Mary, we have a story to tell-the defeat of sin, death and the evil one.
Have you wondered what it would be like to have to make a life or death choice about your faith? Christianity came to Japan around 1550. But only 30 years later severe persecution began. Christians faced a terrible choice. Either they trampled on an image of Christ called a fumie and renounced their faith, or they refused, and were executed. Many died, but many recanted. What would you have done? And what did God think of those who chose their life over death? Jesus, our Servant King, allowed himself to be trampled on by our sin. He willingly gave up his life to forgive us our sins. His suffering love is stronger than our disobedience and our sin.
This week the audio recording is Pastor Andrew's message at the 10am School Service, based on the Palm Sunday reading from Matthew 21:1-11