Sunday, 28 April 2019

Walking Together

Tripoli Lebanon 28 April 2019

Psalm 119: 97-106; Luke 24: 13-35

Dear Friends,
It gives me great joy to be able to speak to you today. 
The people of Earlston, send their greetings, and are delighted that we are able to visit with  you now. 

Our bible readings tell us a little about one of Jesus conversations after the resurrection; the psalm is a beautiful song in praise of God’s laws. It summarised some of the good advice on how to live. It is like an instruction manual for living with God. 
The disciples had been privileged enough to have Jesus as a guide to steer them through God’s manual: someone to explain when things happened why they were happening… so with all that knowledge you might be forgiven for wondering how they did not understand what had happened at Calvary and why they did not expect Jesus to come back again. 
But they lived in difficult times, and even with Jesus to explain and guide them once he had been taken from their sight they felt that they were cut adrift no longer with anything to hold them safe 
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the bible, it is also, amazingly, a song in praise of law – not because of what it prevents, but because of how it empowers 
“Your commands make me wiser than my enemies” (vs 98)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (vs. 105)

You know, the thing about lights on the path, is that they shine forward: no point in looking back where you have been, the light guides you forward,  on to the destination. 
God’s word lights the way forward and the disciples simply needed to remember it – in amongst the anguish of raw grief and the pain of loss and the confusion of danger and the threat of further betrayal they had totally lost sight of the way forward, all the teaching, all the instructions, and all the love were invisible in their hearts and minds, and yet,
If they had turned to God’s word they would have seen answers to all their woes… 
In fact, so deep is their despair that when the stranger asks them what is troubling them they cannot even bring themselves to refer to Jesus as anything other than a prophet powerful in word and deed… not the miracle worker, not the Son of God and certainly not the Messiah even though just a few days earlier they had been so certain of it. 
Grief and fear are a potent mix and together they conspire to dull the senses and impede clear thinking 

Jesus understood this and he knew that in his rising he would need to show himself and encourage and cajole… and he knew also that his resurrection appearances needed to be to as diverse a section of his followers as possible. He did not appear only to the chosen few; nor did he limit his visits, each took as long as it needed; the retelling of the encounter on the road to Emmaus should not be underestimated.
Jesus joined them on the road. They were going to Emmaus and clearly they arrived there, as he was invited to join them for supper; we are told the village is seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were walking… seven miles is not a five minute stroll! they probably walked  and talked together for several hours, during that time Jesus allowed them to tell him about all that had happened, he listened and encouraged, and then, he explained the meaning of all the scriptural prophecies to them… 
Have you ever wondered why they, like so many of the others were prevented from recognising him immediately?
Excitement and overwhelming joy do many things to us – but making us pay attention and listen and understand is not in the list!! 
If Cleopas and his companion had realised immediately who they were travelling with they would not have been able to absorb anything that was said to them, and above all else it was important that they gain understanding of the immensity of what had just happened. Instead of being distracted by his presence they simply listened to the stranger who had such a deep understanding of God’s Word… I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me… (vs 102)
As Jesus words sink in, and they begin to fill in the gaps.
They begin to realise that the stories that have filtered through from the othersmay be trueand they realise that the women weren’t hallucinating after all. Then they find themselves at their destination but this amazing stranger is leaving so naturally they press him to stay a while, for they want to hear more of his wisdom. 
It is not until they are absolutely ready that Jesus acts. He takes bread and breaks it and in that moment the light shines out on the path and they can see exactly where they are going and who is taking them there.
Sometimes we are confused
Sometimes we are slow on the uptake
Sometimes we are impatient, disappointed and afraid 
Sometimes we feel that we too are adrift and have lost sight of what it is that holds us fast 

God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light for the path 
God’s words guides us into all truth and all knowledge 
All we need do is listen,
As you walk out on life’s journey, you have a companion for the journey; you have a guide book and you have a light leading you ever onwards to the destination.
We are all Easter people; we too walk with Jesus at our side. We are companions for each other, in Scotland, and here in Tripoli – travelling together, with Jesus to guide us.  

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Living Dangerously - Sermon for Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 28-40; Philippians 2: 5-11 

These were dangerous times in the days of first century Galilee…
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week – the week of anticipation; the week of deep, deep meaning; symbolic action and  ultimate sacrifice. The week when loyalties will be tested to their limits and most will be found lacking.
This is Palm Sunday  - the day when Jesus’ mission is finally realised; once he enters the city wheels are set in motion, which will be unstoppable.

Once it was all over; if we fast forward a few months when Jesus’ earthly mission is complete, and those who were left begin the task of sharing the news of the Kingdom – God’s Kingdom, there will be many more dangerous times.

Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus – is a Roman citizen; he is not an uneducated fishermen; he is an educated Jewish man; a man of letters. Thus he has authority. He writes to his churches from jail; with fervour, love, passion and a desire to share everything he could, as quickly as he could – for he too, was living in dangerous days.
For, once Jesus had entered Jerusalem that fateful day, nothing would stop the tide of God’s power.
People would die for the cause; they would be imprisoned and persecuted; this tide was unstoppable. For God’s love is unstoppable.

Paul, writing from Jail, has a sense of urgency; he wants everyone who hears his letters to understand who Jesus was; what Jesus stood for, and why Jesus was worth dying for.
The letter to the church in Philippi is full of encouragement; and it tells the story of Jesus in plain language.
According to William Barclay in this passage we have one of the most important verses in the New Testament – not from the gospel, but from the epistle. Barclay says, “Verse 11 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament. In it we read that the aim of God, the dream of God, the purpose of God, is a day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The aim of God
The dream of God
The purpose of God…
To proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

You may not realise just how radical this is.
Remember the Pharisees ordering Jesus to tell the crowds to stop calling him Lord?
Calling anyone Lord, other than Caesar was treason. People were expected to declare “Caesar is Lord!!” and to declare anyone else as Lord was subversion.

And here is Paul; a good Roman citizen, doing that exact thing: Jesus is Lord!!
This passage in Romans is beautiful; it is passionate; it sums up all that Jesus did: and for Paul, it explains to those who read, why he is willing to be incarcerated; why he is willing to live dangerously.
The whole of the epistle to the Philippians reads like a love letter between God and humanity; it is full of encouragement and enthusiasm for faithful living; it is underpinned with love and bathed in prayer.
And this passage is its “raison d’etre” its purpose: to outline what Jesus did.
What Jesus did, was to enter Jerusalem; surrounded by crowds of happy, excited people. People who were anticipating some wonder; some marvel.
They thought they were about to witness Jesus overthrowing the ruler and re-establishing Israel to its rightful place.
Truth is they were right, it was indeed a conquest, but not as they expected it to…

Jesus knew that the days remaining were few; and so he allowed the very people who in just a few days’ time would be baying for blood, to proclaim him God’s chosen one.
Jesus knew all that would happen in the week to come.
He knew Judas would get impatient and take matters into his own hands
He knew that Mary would realise something was about to happen and would bathe him in tears and strong perfume.
He knew that Peter would act impetuously; and then hide away; that Peter would be so afraid he would deny even knowing him.
Jesus knew that his beloved friends; his closest followers, would all run away; terrified; confused.
He knew that the scribes and the pharisees would call for his death, and a weak and terrified governor would give in to their commands. And that he would be put to death in the most horrible way.
Jesus knew all of these things. 
And still, he moved forward.
Jesus was in the business of living dangerously.

Palm Sunday is the day it begins: they day that God’s plan; God’s dream; God’s purpose; God’s Love would set in motion the greatest act of love in all of history.
In a week from today we will be celebrating joyfully that once again, death is conquered; heaven’s gates flung wide; Jesus is risen.

Today, we begin the journey to the tomb:  in between there are opportunities to come and remember what happened in between those two Sundays.
Betrayal and fear
Anger and denial
Anguish and death
Today is hosanna in the highest…
Tomorrow brings fear and anxiety.
Living dangerously
Living faithfully
Living with Jesus in our hearts