March 7th, March 14th, March 21st

Sunday 28th March 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 28th March video sermon address:

https://youtu.be/TKYKgKqxFUo

Sunday Reflection - 28th March - Passion Sunday

‘Can you forgive yourself?’:

Taking inspiration from a closer look at the passion cast

Introduction 

 

We often preach on the need for forgiveness of others in church -

QUITE RIGHTLY

 

But today, 

on the day that is called both Palm Sunday and passion Sunday,

…we are going to look again at the final moments of Jesus’ life and examine another aspect of forgiveness -

= FORGIVING YOURSELF. 

 

Because until we do (Forgive ourselves)

…I’m not convinced that we can truly appreciate the depth and fullness of Jesus' forgiveness towards us. 

 

Until we forgive ourselves,

…I suffice we cannot fully believe that GOD has forgiven us

 

Reading: 

Matthew 27:11-54

 

As a Christian I believe that Forgiveness is essential -

God forgave us -

… and we are told to pass it on

 

In the model prayer Jesus encapsulated this truth in the words 

‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’

 

So forgiveness is good for our spiritual health

 

As a mental health nurse,

 I have also learnt that forgiveness is good for our mental health too -

 

Holding onto resentments and past hurts acts as a poison -

…Gradually embittering the waters of our heart

 

Like the person with the proverbial chip on their shoulder,

… they are marked out for all to see by their grudges. 

 

Interestingly though,

… forgiveness isn’t just something we need to offer others -

it’s like a chap I met professionally in the course of my mental health duties a few years before I entered the ministry...

 

He was quite a graceful man who seemed to have responded to other peoples poor treatment of him from an early age with impressive mercy and compassion. 

 

But it seemed that he couldn’t apply this same life giving grace to himself.....

AND IT WAS LITERALLY DAMAGING HIS EMOTIONAL HEALTH  (hence meeting me)

 

He was

… RIDDLED with GUILT,

…….He had a LIST OF REGRETS as long as your arm

 

One of the first questions I asked him when we first met was;

“Have you forgiven yourself”

 

He had mentioned that he was a CHURCH GOER,

…which meant that I had a much more important question

 

= that I wanted to ask him (BUT COULDN’T)

 

= have to be very careful not to get ‘pastoral’ in that role

(It’s frowned upon) -

….So I suggested he talk to his pastor.

 

THE QUESTION I WANTED TO ASK was this;

… “Do you believe that GOD has forgiven you?”

 

It’s hard to believe it sometimes -

How can GOD -

…who knows every thought that goes through my brain

…..who watches even our secret behaviours,,

 

How can he possibly forgive me?

 

Sometimes we struggle to accept the truth of his  forgiveness (even his love towards us)

 …..because we are unable to forgive ourselves

 

Hopefully this Matthew text will shed light on this today,

Help us to appreciate better the sheer depths of his mercy 

….by TAKING A LOOK at some of the characters who populate the narrative and the events leading up to it

 

PEOPLE WE CAN RELATE TO PERHAPS (at least in part)

 

The story of the folks I’m describing,

…begins earlier in previous chapters of MATTHEW,

 

For the sake of flow I’m not going to cite every chapter and verse but I’m sure you’ll be familiar with their ‘back stories’ already

 

Let’s start with JUDAS -

…and a quick summary of his recent life.

 

1. JUDAS 

 

THIS WAS A MAN - 

who had initially expected JESUS to finally end matters in JERUSALEM.

…. = by becoming an AVENGING, blood shedding WARRIOR.

 

WHEN it became clear that JESUS was prescribing a different answer to the world's troubles -

…not meeting HATE with HATE (something that has always failed in the past)

 

Only LOVE is strong enough to change the STATUS QUO

 

JUDAS - passionate man of action

……………..became deeply disillusioned.

 

JUDAS has effectively given up on JESUS,

…but decides there may yet be a SILVER LINING

 

= LITERALLY = 30 pieces of silver lining 

 

He meets with the priests:

= the deal is struck -

…now he has to look out for an opportunity OR 

…...as the exact translation puts it,

……….= a FAVOURABLE TIME

 

GOD uses all situations to good eventually -

...so GOD even uses this act of betrayal - 

……......in his own FAVOURABLE TIMING.

 

NOW we come to the Passover supper -

….literally JESUS’ last supper

 

They all sit round the table -

…JUDAS still acting out the part of ‘close friend’

 

Perhaps even now JUDAS could back out -

…not give JESUS up?

 

JESUS tells his friends that one of them will betray him

 

His friends are shocked -

…taking turns protest their innocence,

 

Even JUDAS says -

“Surely not I Lord”

 

JESUS doesn’t call him out in front of the others -

….but his response makes it clear to JUDAS,

…… = that he KNOWS it’s him

 

And yet even after that conformation -

…JUDAS is a participant in the WORLD’S 1ST COMMUNION

 

THERE HAS BEEN A HUGE DEBATE -

…for generations now,

 

About whether JUDAS is eternally condemned,

…or could perhaps still receive JESUS’ forgiveness.

 

Traditional Church teaching - say’s he’s a gonner

(that’s what I was taught as a child)

 

But there have been loads of really respected CHRISTIANS,

….who have argued that we shouldn’t assume that.

 

I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER - don’t need to,

…but there’s something about the EXTRAVAGANCE of JESUS’ grace

……that stops me from making ASSUMPTIONS.

 

In the last supper - ( - SYMBOL OF GRACE)

…JUDAS and the others,

…. Metaphorically and spiritually eat the BODY,

 

 and drink the BLOOD OF THE COVENANT,

… ‘that was poured out for the forgiveness of sins’

 

In the next scene,

…we see JUDAS continuing down the path towards his friends betrayal

 

= as he leads a MOB towards JESUS

 

There’s THAT kiss

…and a GREETING

 

In MATTHEW 26:50,

…JESUS says;

“Do what you have to do friend”

 

We know JESUS had a sense of humour,

…but he was NEVER disingenuous.

 

I don’t see any reason not to assume,

…. that he meant it when he said FRIEND.

 

(we may give up JESUS - I know I did for a time,

….but Jesus is a TRUE friend)

 

FRIEND- A word full of surprising GRACE (on the lips of Jesus at least)

 

The DARKEST and SADDEST scene,

….reveals JUDAS finally realizing the full extent of his CRIME

 

(perhaps JESUS’ response to JUDAS’ betrayal -

….using the word FRIEND,

……brought the reality home?)

 

Soon after we hear the HEART RENDING words -

….”I have sinned by betraying innocent blood”

 

He returns the blood money to the priests,

…and then - 

UNABLE TO LIVE THE BETRAYAL OF THE ONE WHO-

…despite everything,

……..  CALLED HIM FRIEND -

 

= JUDAS takes his own life.

 

Game over?

A professor at Waverly university -

JUDITH JONES,

 

Writes that JESUS’ BLOOD,

…makes the outcome deeply AMBIGUOUS

“Judas is indeed guilty of innocent blood -

But that SAME blood is poured out for forgiveness,

And Judas repented as fully and freely as he knew how”

 

DOES GOD’S MERCY EXTEND TO JUDAS?

 

2. PETER

 

JUDAS isn’t the only guilty one here -

…how about his other friends?

 

REMEMBER JESUS asking them to support him,

...in his hour of ANGUISH?

…..and he literally sweated blood in his mental turmoil 

(possible biologically in most extreme and unusual of circumstances)

 

Imagine being JESUS -

…hearing the SNORES reach your ears from your companions,

…….= as you face your DARKEST moment alone?

 

Then there’s PETER - SENIOR disciple…

 

JESUS is today facing VIOLENCE with LOVE

….he PREVIOUSLY taught the importance of that in Matthew 5:38,

…...in his TURN THE OTHER CHEEK teaching.

 

And here’s PETER diving in with sword raised,

….lopping off the ear of a guard.

……earning himself a REBUKE from JESUS.

 

And a short while later -

…PETER denying he even knew JESUS.

 

PETER the ‘I’ll never leave you’

….PETER the ‘I’ll die with you if necessary’

 

Now he’s even swearing an OATH that he’s never even met JESUS B4

….as he’s confronted outside the TRIAL ROOM.

 

Then the COCK CROWS -

…and he too realises (LIKE JUDAS) = that he has betrayed his friend

 

WHERE is he -

….WHERE are the other inner circle of disciples,

…….= when JESUS later hangs on the cross of execution

 

Does God’s mercy extend to Peter and the others?

 

3. PHARISEES

 

HOW ABOUT HIS ENEMIES - the people who ABUSE their power,

...call false witnesses   ---   twist the law to their own ends

 

They were always undermining CAESAR'S RULE -

… = but when PILATE asked them of Jesus - “is this your king?”

 

= they were quick to cry, WITH STAGGERING INSINCERITY -

…….. ‘we have no king but Caesar!’

Can God’s mercy extend to them?

 

4. PILATE 

 

How about PILATE…?

…on one level he’s the only one here TRYING TO DO the right thing.

 

I try do the right thing too -

…I’m sure we all do.

 

BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN IT COSTS YOU DEARLY?

 

CS LEWIS wrote;

“Pilate was merciful - until it became risky”

 

There’s a potential RIOT brewing,

….if he does what he knows to be just.

 

He’s tried the -

…it's the annual ‘let’s let someone go free’ ploy

(they chose BARABBAS)

 

Now he’s in a tight spot -

…he reaches for the bowel of water

 

How hard do you have to SCRUB,

...to wash away the STAINS of innocent blood?

Can GOD’S MERCY extend to PILATE?

 

5. THE FICKLE CROWDS

(Representing us)

 

Can it extend to the HOSANNA criers,

…who quickly changed their tune and screamed CRUCIFY HIM

(fickle sheep who were whipped by the winds of populism)

 

As we look back in our lives,

… can’t we see something of their fickle,

….., hot then cold, easily swayed spirituality,

………..,= reflected in our lives?

 

Would we have behaved better than them in their place?

 

Remember what they shouted,

….. when PILATE questioned the wisdom of their choice?

 

It was the rather chilling phrase -

“Let his blood be on us and our children”

 

(Pause)

 

AND SO WE COME TO OUR FINAL CHARACTER -

…the one who’s ‘blood is on us and our children's heads’

……. = JESUS

 

6. JESUS

 

Shedding innocent blood brings the direst consequences in OT law

…JEREMIAH warned that JERUSALEM was full of innocent blood,

…….and it would BRING DESTRUCTION

 

If the OT status Quo,

…had remained in place,

……not one character (except Jesus),

……… would have been in reach of GOD’S mercy

 

That’s EYE FOR AN EYE justice

 

The CRY -

‘Let his blood be on us our children's heads’,

….would curse us still today

 

----------PAUSE----------

 

Here’s the greatest IRONY in history however

 

= the cry that SHOULD have cursed us for all eternity,

….has been turned by JESUS,

……into a STATEMENT OF HOPE

 

In the LORD’S SUPPER -

…JESUS ensured that the BLOOD THAT SHOULD CURSE US,

……has become the blood of RESCUE 

 

At the start of his ministry he turned water into wine,

…now at the end he turns the blood of curse

……..into the blood of forgiveness

 

“Drink from it all of you, for this is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”

 

CONCLUSION

 

I asked again and again today,

…whether the FOLKS we have observed,

……could possibly receive GOD'S MERCY.

 

THE ANSWER IS YES -

…but his mercy won’t be forced on them -

…..it won’t be forced on anyone.

 

I believe that GOD - in his mercy,

…reveals himself to every soul at some point in their journey

 

(perhaps for some it is even in their dying moments)

 

I have spoken to people,

…who lived in countries where it is illegal to speak of JESUS

…..and he has met them in dreams or visions

 

(according to the charity open doors,

….that supports persecuted Christians around the world,

……..it’s the most common route of conversion in parts of the middle east today)

 

I BELIEVE that everyone -

….at GOD’S favourable time (to use an earlier phrase)

 

Will receive that opportunity to CHOOSE LIFE -

...to DRINK - 

‘the blood of the covenant that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins’

 

The DRINK THIS -

...is an invitation,

….not a command.

 

GOD'S MERCY can extend to all in this narrative today,

…just as it extends to us,

….if we choose to accept his offer of life.

 

If you haven’t done already, then

Ask for his life now -

 

-Ask for his forgiveness (pause)

 

-Ask his him to reveal to your heart the full liberating reality of that forgiveness (pause)

 

-Ask him to help you to forgive yourself 

 

= because until you do so,

you will not be truly free to appreciate and  enjoy the miracle he won for you on the cross

 

Amen

 
 

Sunday 7th March 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 7th March video sermon address:

https://youtu.be/E_l4rrpZxis

Sunday Reflection - 7th March

When Love gets really, really angry’ 

John 2: 13-22

 

INTRODUCTION 

 

-Read text -

 

In our text today  You can almost HEAR the noise of the coins clinking on the stones,

….the tables crashing,

……..the corded whip cracking in the air

 

Jesus is royally hacked off,

 as he rampages furiously around the temple courtyard. 

 

How do you feel about this Jesus?

 are you surprised?

 

If Jesus is Love personified (as I believe) -

 then how can his behaviour be reconciled to his character?

 

Part - 1: ‘The Big Rip Off’

 

Emma and I went into a rather ancient Church in LEICESTER -

(a church famous for its colourful medieval history/and central to Leicester's history)

when 1st courting -

 

…..offered a guide book  (leaflet) by a ‘welcomer’

 

Yes please = HOW MUCH!

(I quickly handed it back)

 

To his disapproving scowl,

= i muttered defensively: ‘we’re only students’ (which seemed to make him scowl all the more!)

 

It ranks as the LEAST welcoming welcome I have ever received in a Church!

 

And WELCOME - or lack of it,

...is one of the major themes in this text

 

The ‘MARKET’ is in the court of the GENTILES -

the only place the gentile’s (us non-Jews),

………ARE ALLOWED TO GO

 

Except -

….rather than a place of worship,

……..and an opportunity to meet with their God -

 

= a GENTILE POPPING THEIR HEAD IN -

……would find that they have been largely displaced…

 

And if they do STEEL THEMSELVES to handle the noise and the bustle -

….they’ll get fleeced for their troubles!

 

Like the time as a kid my family and I visited Venice -

…a kindly seeming café owner noticed that my mum looked tired and offered us seats in his open air café. 

 

‘How nice’ - until we discovered that we had to pay through our noses  for the privilege of just sitting down!

 

THIS IS THE PASSOVER - the tills are ringing -

……the punters come pouring into the court of the Gentiles!

 

EVERY ADULT MALE JEW’S from a 15 mile radius,

……...is required to make this pilgrimage

 

1000’s come pouring in from all the surrounding areas:

 

PASSOVER of course,

….is the yearly memorial festival when the JEWS remember God,

………saving them from EGYPTIAN CAPTIVITY,

…………..millennia before

 

It’s not just an independence celebration -

it’s a REMINDER that God can be trusted for today,

…. because of what he did yesterday. 

 

Well - it SHOULD, be a spiritually MEANINGFUL AND SIGNIFICANT time

And when Moses 1st instituted it, it was -

 

………but In reality it had become a RIGGED ECCLESIASTICAL BUSINESS OPERATION

 

EVERY Jew (over 19) had to pay their temple tax - half shekel,

….. = 2 day’s wages

 

(that isn’t the corrupt bit -

….the temple has to be maintained in someway -

………just as we take up a collection every Sunday)

 

But the coins they brought (roman currency)

…..were considered TOO UNCLEAN (as they were foreign) by the priests -

 

SO - they had to be exchanged for a temple coin FROM THE MONEY CHANGERS

….(which they could then hand over)

 

AND HERE’S WHERE WE GET INTO THE DODGY STUFF

 (and see some serious money being made!)

 

There was an exchange rate -

….so to convert their ‘unclean currency’ into ‘clean money’ -

……they were charged the equivalent of another day's wages!

 

AND IN A POOR SOCIETY -

this often led to significant hardship,

…...in some cases FAMILIES would literally go hungry for a while

 

But those ancient ALAN SUGARS,

….had more more tricks up their sleeves:

 

In the same way that florists UP THE PRICES of flowers,

….on VALENTINES and MOTHERING SUNDAY

 

Those canny priests,

would OUTRAGEOUSLY  inflate the costs of sacrificial meat at the Passover

 

FOLKS HAD TO BUY MEAT THERE FOR OFFERINGS -

(law of Moses said it needed to be unblemished,

and priests would only accept the meat as ‘unblemished’ if it was brought from the temple)

 

So people couldn’t bring their OWN flocks -

or buy it from a reasonably priced retailer

 

  • this WASN’T in law of Moses,

            …but as only the priests could decide on what was or wasn’t unblemished,

            ……people  - ‘had to grin and bear it as they coughed up’

 

A quick historical fact -

when ROMAN GENERAL Crassus captured JERUSALEM in BC54,

…..he grabbed the ancient equivalent of 13 million quid to take back to ROME

 

In his personal diary he wrote,

..”it was all I could carry -

……and it was only a fraction of what those rich priests stored there”

 

Generally speaking the only GET RICH occupations in ancient ISRAEL,

……were TAX COLLECTING and the  SENIOR PRIESTHOOD 

                                (senior priests based in Jerusalem)

 

So - we have a situation where:

The ordinary JEWS WERE ROYALLY FLEECED

..and the GENTILES were excluded -

( because their section was taken over by the priestly entrepreneurs)

 

The TEMPLE (by tradition)

was supposed to ‘consecrate Jerusalem’

…….by its very presence

 

(because it was supposed to get it’s character from God)

 

WHEN JESUS ARRIVED -

there was no evidence of God’s character

………just naked greed,

the rich getting richer/ poor getting poorer/ 

and the outsider getting more and more marginalised

 

JOHNS ABOUT TO REVEAL  -

…… a side to Jesus that was unfamiliar even to those who knew him best

 

Part 2: The Furious Response

 

There are those who have commented that JESUS’ anger seems a bit disproportionate,

….and this text evidence that Jesus wasn’t so perfect and nicely nicely after all….

 

Personally, I feel that’s it’s perfectly proportionate -

(and ‘nicely nicely’ isn’t always the PERFECT RESPONSE to abuse and misuse)

 

JESUS was no outsider gate crashing this ‘festival’

….he was a JEW - required to come like any other Jew

 

A JEW who knew his prophets -

Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi and Zechariah

….their cries for FAIRNESS/EQUALITY/JUSTICE (REAL WORSHIP)

 

….he had come to this important festival (important place) to WORSHIP GOD -

……..and instead he encounters incredibly selfish money making at the expense of the poor

 

You can almost  sense the SHAME and ANGER welling up in him,

……… as he strikes out at the whole wretched business

 

“Do not make my father's house a house of merchandise!”

 

The words in the passage are strong:

“He DROVE them all out”  --  “poured out the changers money and overturned the tables”

 

You can almost HEAR the noise of the coins clinking on the stones,

….the tables crashing,

……..the corded whip cracking in the air

 

To the backdrop of awed gasps and jaw dropping shock

 

Here is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi 3:2-3  READ PASSAGE

One historian I read,

…… pointed out that it was surprising that JESUS was not attacked or driven out himself,

………..as he FLEW AROUND THE TEMPLE COURTYARD

 

He goes on to conclude,

…..that MANY JEWS probably shared Jesus’ concerns -

……….share his CONCERN at the corruption

 

There may well have been many there (including some of the untainted priests),

….who had been thinking for some time that a CLEANSING WAS NEEDED,

 

……..but had just despondently accepted that the STATUS QUO would go unchallenged,

……………THE SYSTEMS TOO POWERFUL

 

WE hear in in Matthew, Mark and elsewhere that people were SURPRISED BY THE 

….AUTHORITY of Jesus’ teaching

…….”where does he get it from? - nobody else is like it’

 

I SUSPECT THIS AUTHORITY IS FULLY UNVEILED TODAY -

 

And alongside it we have a powerful symbol -

The WHIP CRACKING -

….a visual and audible symbol of the CLEANSING a > 

 

system become decadent and corrupt

 

But it’s more than just a ONE OFF protest -

...as many BIBLE COMMENTATORS point out:

 

Not just JESUS LOSING IT AS OTHERS HAVE MISCHIEVOUSLY SUGGESTED!

 

Part 3: The New Order

 

= the WHIP is sweeping out the old,

…..to make way for the new - FOR THE FUTURE

 

  • End to the ANIMAL SACRIFICEs and COMPLEX RELIGIOSITY -

  • End to the need to have a BUILDING to meet God in -

  • Or a bunch of priests to get past to reach God

 

I think this passage is a DRAMATIC SYMBOL,

 of a NEW way of living out faith -

 

START OF A WORSHIP THAT BEGINS HERE

  • Rather than in some posh building in the middle of jerusalem (or elsewhere)

 

THE TEMPLE (being rebuilt by Herod the great no less) - 

EMBODIES THE OLD SYSTEM

And JESUS EMBODIES the NEW SYSTEM -

 

He is the TEMPLE -

….he is the PRIESTHOOD,

…….he is the SACRIFICE…

 

And we meet him HERE (heart)

 

And this new priest is very odd (an upside down priest if u like)

 

  • he courts the outsiders - not the in crowd

  • he comes not to be served - but to serve

  • He comes takes the part of his people - not sponge off them

  • He comes to suffer  -  not live in decedent comfort

  • In humility  --  not arrogance

 

And in one of the most controversial statements -

….he verbally suggests that he will take the place of the TEMPLE,

 

……….he’ll be the MEANS BY WHICH PEOPLE (even foreigners) CAN MEET GOD

 

But at a terrible cost to himself:

“Destroy this temple - and in 3 days I will raise it up”

 

The GREEK word used earlier for temple (in this passage)was HIERON -

= simply meaning ‘sacred enclosure used for worship’

 

But the GREEK word JESUS uses  here for TEMPLE is NAOS

…..meaning = ‘dwelling place of deity’

 

Not everybody could (or chose to) understand what he meant -

For those with ears to hear -

Jesus clearly isn’t talking about just a building -

 

Knock ME down - and I will rise in 3 days

 

This isn’t a challenge -

….it’s a prophecy.

 

Not just a prophecy about Christ rising again -

= but a prophecy showing how his sacrifice -

…….will be the FINAL SACRIFICE GOD WANTS FOR HIS PEOPLE

 

ONCE risen -

the NEW temple (Christ)

……will replace the OLD Temple

 

Remember how the TEMPLE CURTAIN is ripped in 2 at the moment Jesus died?

(that is the beginning of the end for the old covenant)

 

The the end of us having to religiously trying to EARN GOD’S APPROVAL)

…..CHRIST has earned that approval on OUR BEHALF

 

(a gift handed on the grace-plate: 

…..for those who choose to accept it)

 

CONCLUSION AND CHALLENGE

 

I began by talking about WELCOMES -

 

Just as Emma and I were made to feel pretty unwelcome,

…… by that snotty church warden in Leicester -

………...so were the GENTILES made to feel unwelcome at the TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM.

 

Well - as far as true faith is concerned,

… = JESUS changed all that.

 

But as the WELCOMED IN -

…..are we emulating JESUS with our WARM WELCOMES

 

  • Do we choose humility over pride (even when swallowing our pride leaves us with sore throats and looking a bit less in the eyes of others?)

  • Do we put others 1st

  • Is serving more important to us than being served?

 

  • (QUIETLY) = do we reserve a welcome for our enemies, as well as for our friends?

 

We pray each Sunday ‘ forgive us as we forgive others’

…...do we welcome as we have been welcomed?

 

AMEN