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  • Humble
    show that the God who sent him does not Lord it over us God s Lordship is the Lordship of love grounded in service to the humble of the earth Our servant Jesus abandons any claim to social or political power to demonstrate that humble service is the only credible expression of God s power The words of the ancient hymn which Paul recites to us proclaim that the true power of God is demonstrated in the One who gave away all his power on the Cross the One who did not live to impress the power brokers of the world Jesus Christ is exalted that is raised up through his courage and compassion and his humble commitment to God s little ones So perhaps it is no wonder that our world responds to the figure of Pope Francis who seems to embody the same grounded connection with those little ones school children the poor of the barrios men women on the street Now recall that St Paul introduced his hymn to Jesus with these urgent words Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others Here is the Easter manifesto if I can call it that This week as we walk behind Jesus to his Cross watching him face fear betrayal pain and abandonment we see what it means not to look to our own interests If we would be raised up with Jesus we would first have to empty ourselves for love s sake in the interests of others For this is how we come to know the consoling love compassion of God by offering these gifts to others especially to those whom the world belittles For in humility we will regard the littlest ones in our world as God s most precious ones For them we will empty ourselves But if this Easter Manifesto is St Paul s vision for the lifestyle and ministry of Jesus followers we have to ask ourselves how it came to be that the Church took on the trappings of Empire From the 4 th Century on historians trace the relationship between Church State growing closer and closer And as the social power of Church leaders grew so the vestments they wore more more copied the robes of office for Crown and Council The leaders of one institution were deeply influenced by the leaders of the other each protected the other s interests We could point to the example of the Crusades as apparently religious battles which also advanced the strategic interest of empires In the centuries following those wars princes appointed priests to parishes on their territories with no regard for the needs of parishioners who had to support both prince and priest no questions asked Now our Presbyterian tradition grew out of protests against this

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  • We were there
    they handed Jesus over to the soldiers He could barely walk by his own strength And we were there while he was hanging on that cross We saw him die we heard him die We watched as they took his body down We followed Joseph to the tomb We were there all of us women And after the Sabbath we were ready We had the spices we knew what to do But we weren t counting on angels I ask you do you expect an angel dazzling in your eyes on the saddest day of your life So bright we threw ourselves on the ground in front of them But those angels they sounded as if we should have known better Why do you seek the living among the dead Well Mr Angel were you there when they crucified my Lord Did you see him suffer Did you hear him breathe his last desperate breath I did I was there My heart was broken on Friday And you don t get over a broken heart in a couple of days But then hindsight is so much clearer isn t it When I look back now after all these years I can see how God was at work in Jesus In our very midst For all those years But face to face with those angels I didn t know what to say Still my heart started to beat a little faster Jesus definitely was not there But I was And he was not there Unison Prayer God of mystery we can understand why those women were perplexed We know the Easter story but we do not understand how things happened as that day dawned Yet your gift of hope is dazzling to us too We would like to believe that death is not the end And so we sing our song in hope 252 He is Lord he is Lord he is risen from the dead and he is Lord Every knee shall bow every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord Remember Luke 24 5 b 11 The men said He is not here but has risen Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again Then the women remembered Jesus words and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest Now it was Mary Magdalene Joanna Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles But these words seemed to the disciples an idle tale and they did not believe them A woman speaks Remember how he told you Remember Of course we remembered being with Jesus in Galilee We women were always there watching listening herding the children organizing lunch Of course we remembered Jesus in Galilee How he spoke How he taught us that God s kingdom was

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  • On whose word?
    take Thomas at his word Are we in any better position to trust Thomas given the times in which we live Jesus anticipates our struggle Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe Jesus understands the challenge for his followers On whose word will we stake our faith He knows we have to come to trust him for ourselves Reflecting on the story of Thomas and the stories swirling through the news this week brought to mind a woman I met when I was Inter Faith Secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches Part of my role back then was to share in dialogue opportunities between Christians and Muslims in Canada It was quite a learning experience Through these discussions about how Christians Muslims approached common themes like marriage family life a bit differently I came to know a woman named Aisha She had grown up in Eastern Europe raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church She immigrated to Canada and eventually married a Muslim man She was not required to convert when they married but as their family life developed she eventually did and took the name Aisha I was quite curious about her conversion finding it hard to imagine why someone would leave the Church and her faith in Christ for Islam I ll never forget her answer She said I have a more personal relationship with Allah than I ever had with Christ A more personal relationship This week I began to wonder if some personal relationship attracted those young Ontario men to radical Islam Did they seek what Thomas sought a personal encounter that took away their doubts Did they find what Aisha found a more personal relationship with God praying five times a day Friends we need to hear the challenge to our own life in Christ when people are drawn away from the faith we cherish and commit themselves to a different and in the case of these young men a dangerous allegiance When Jesus says Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe he lays that challenge before us all How will we encourage our children and grandchildren and anyone seeking a meaningful personal relationship with God to find that relationship in Christ and through Christ These young men who turned away from their churches challenge us to consider this question very seriously Of course what the story of Thomas shows us is that no one can establish a personal relationship for someone else Thomas had to encounter the Risen Christ himself But his friends told him about the possibility They had a story to tell about their own encounter We have seen the Lord they declared with warm conviction So if we want to encourage others around us to seek Jesus we have to model that warm conviction in how we live our lives and how we speak of our own faith That s not always easy for Presbyterians to do because we re

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  • Do you know that I love you?
    was naked and jumped into the lake But the other disciples came in the boat dragging the net full of fish for they were not far from the land only about a hundred yards off When they had gone ashore they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it and bread Jesus said to them Bring some of the fish that you have just caught So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore full of large fish a hundred and fifty three of them and though there were so many the net was not torn Jesus said to them Come and have breakfast Now none of the disciples dared to ask him Who are you because they knew it was the Lord Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish Reflection It is the Lord These words from the disciple whom Jesus loved suddenly activate our characters And surely some of the details make us smile There s Peter naked standing in a boat on open water trying to get dressed while his friends struggle with that net now teeming with slippery fish Apparently it was common to fish naked in those days so your clothes didn t get soaked or caught up in the nets Still it s a good thing Peter didn t have to pull on blue jeans in that boat No I imagine him tugging his tunic over his head and plunging in for a quick hundred yard swim against the waves desperate to reach Jesus first Now we should note there is a little tension in this story among the disciples Did you catch that curious phrase the disciple whom Jesus loved Didn t Jesus love every disciple Well John s Gospel mentions this beloved disciple many times without saying his name It s almost as if John is raising his eyebrows about Peter the rock on whom Jesus was to build his church it s as if John is reminding posterity there was another leader even closer to Jesus heart Perhaps that s why Peter was so desperate to get to Jesus first He knows he has things to straighten out His last two encounters with Jesus were painful Jesus rebuked him for drawing his sword in the scuffle when Jesus arrested And then there was his denial those fearful moments when Peter distanced himself from Jesus to protect himself during Jesus trial Do you know how it feels when your final encounter with someone is filled with such unhappy memories Can you sense the regret and shame burning in Peter when he plunges into the sea Peter has to get to Jesus first to prove his love to make amends Don t you know that I love you Jesus That question hangs in the air and lies on Peter s heart And to show his commitment to Jesus Peter wrestles to bring their catch on to the beach while the

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  • Beyond the Valley
    is never all green pastures and still waters Our paths will take us into terrifying territory sometimes without warning But the psalm doesn t leave us there And that s one reason we love it so much God the shepherd comes to us to walk us through the valley to calm our fears and give us courage and comfort so we don t get stuck in the darkness or give up under the shadow of our sorrows The psalm takes us beyond the valley promising us refreshment nourishment and a future secured by God s love The third scene in this psalm introduces new characters a host and guests reminding us that in ancient shepherding cultures the commitment to hospitality was absolute You fed your enemies when they were on your territory they laid their weapons down to come to table with you So we watch God inviting unreconciled parties to gather for a meal pouring out oil to revive wounded spirits and soothe the tired and anxious This third scene is a feast of new possibility to mark the fact we can get beyond the valley Evil and enmity do not have the last word There is hope for us in this world and the next For this last scene of the psalm is often read as an invitation to the heavenly banquet where faithful souls will find rest in God s house forevermore That s certainly one faithful way to read these images But this week I learned something new about this beloved psalm as I studied different translations of the Hebrew We ve grown accustomed to the words Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life Yet this translation is too weak I learned Mere following is not what the poet had in mind A better translation is Goodness and Mercy shall pursue me my whole life long The verb has much more action determination than following implies God comes after us with goodness mercy day after day after day When we let goodness and mercy catch us claim us we can find the green pastures and enjoy the still waters all over again because we have truly travelled beyond the valley of deep shadows Think about the stories which have caught our attention this week If the people of Boston and West Texas are going to flourish again they have to get beyond the valley of death destruction Their hearts have to be claimed for goodness mercy once more Otherwise evil intent has crossed the finish line and won the day in Boston Despair will have devoured more than the homes in West Texas Of course I m not saying goodness and mercy arrive the minute after disaster strikes or sorrow shakes us to our boots No goodness and mercy pursue us God keeps coming after us with comfort and blessing to embrace us and hold us until we are able to walk the paths of righteousness again But the truth

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  • Do you want to be healed?
    s hope to call him beyond his past defeats and refocus his thinking on God s future for him That question Do you want to be made well asks if the man is willing to take a chance on a new outcome to put what little energy he has left into God s hands Jesus ignores his discouraged complaint Instead Jesus challenges him Rise Take up your mat Walk It s a string of commands And it begins with the command to rise from the dead For that word rise doesn t just mean stand up That verb points to the power of Easter which raised Jesus Jesus is not just healing this man s weak unstable legs Jesus is offering him new life But to claim it he has to get past his own discouragement He has to believe in that new possibility for himself And there s where this odd old story connects with us When we ve lived through a time of discouragement if we ve faced a lifetime or a long time of pain and loss our lives can be captured by our suffering Like the man in the story we don t see any hope for ourselves We begin to tell the story of what s gone wrong over and over again and we begin to believe nothing will ever go right again But when discouragement holds us captive we often surrender the spiritual energy to keep going keep trying keep believing That s when Jesus asks us Do you want to be healed That s why Jesus breaks into the stories we tell about ourselves with commands Rise Take up your mat Walk Get busy believing Engage your future with the power of God if you want to be healed These are words we sometimes need to hear as individuals when we ve faced any long disappointing struggle not just illness but unemployment or a business downturn or difficulties in our relationships Jesus words mean to motivate us These are also words we need to hear as a Church For in this very moment as a congregation it would be possible for the sadness we share over the many good friends who ve died recently the loss we anticipate as other good friends move on to capture our spirits We could tell a story of loss about fewer young people in our midst and events we can t manage because we re feeling weary We could excuse ourselves from the future because of what we ve lost So Jesus puts it to us Do you want to be healed Do we want a future Are we willing to participate in new life If so rise Get up off the past and move into that future Like the man in our story we have to trust the power of God to hold us up and give us strength while we learn to walk all over again Now we ve seen people do this If you

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  • A Commanding Presence
    realm of evil powers powers that stood against God So by force of his faith and in the power of God s Spirit Paul commands that nagging evil spirit to disappear It s a scene to make ministers envious If only we had the opportunity and the power in our preaching to silence critics of the Church I d give a piece of my mind and my faith to silence Richard Dawkins and his crew of atheist skeptics who so skew the message Christians proclaim But these days preachers don t have the commanding presence we once did You might not appreciate me commanding you from the pulpit either Preachers have to be a little more entertaining a little more educational to keep our audience engaged in this day and age The story shifts gears in the third scene Now it s the slave s owners who can command obedience Two commentaries I read this week called them The Philippi Chamber of Commerce Not quite a fair comparison I think but we do know that in every town there are a few powerful interests who can throw their weight around These guys have the muscle and the influence to haul Paul Silas into court manipulate the outcome A little exaggerated rhetoric and the crowd attacks the preachers A quiet word with the jailer and Paul Silas find themselves shackled in the darkest cell deep inside the jail Some people do have such a commanding presence in society even the justice system can be bent to their will at least temporarily Happily Christians in Canada don t face such threats but elsewhere in the world this story still rings true especially when the faithful challenge economic interests in their homelands Three kinds of commanding presence fill in our story the head of the household the municipal movers and shakers and the passionate preacher Which kind of commanding presence has influence in your life In the times in which we live Which kind of commanding presence ought to influence us Or do we find ourselves in a moment when commanding presence is no longer effective for achieving results It s a question worth considering on a Sunday when we welcome new elders to the Session of our congregation Time was in years past when elders had a commanding presence in the daily life of every church member When the elder came to call he for we are talking about decades even centuries past he called individuals and families to account for lagging church attendance for public indiscretions and for private matters which somehow reached his ear If you didn t shape up you d be cut off from Church and your neighbours would notice because you d be missing on a Sunday when everyone else was at worship Seems hard to imagine those days in this generation doesn t it But please don t think I m eager to return to those days People began to resent elders sitting in judgment on

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  • People of the Wind
    from Sometimes we phrase this question a little differently We say Where are you coming from When we ask the question this way we re asking What makes you say that Explain yourself When we ask where someone is coming from we are trying to understand each other And that s when people of the wind link up with the wind of the Spirit in John s Gospel Remember Jesus words The wind blows where it chooses You hear the sound of it but you do not know where it is coming from or where it goes So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit People who follow Jesus are people of the wind But people of the wind of the Spirit have to listen to each other if we re going to understand each other if we want to experience the miracle of Pentecost all over again Just remember what happened in our story Nicodemus thought he heard Jesus say If you want to see God s kingdom you must be born again And Nicodemus couldn t figure out how any one could crawl back inside their mother s womb and be born a second time Nicodemus was thinking about birth in terms of family trees and home towns the way we usually talk about where we come from But Jesus used a word that has two meanings in Greek It can mean born again a second time or born from above the translation we read this morning The same word has both meanings Nicodemus heard the first meaning but we must also hear the other meaning if we want to feel the wind of Pentecost If you want to see God s kingdom you must be born from above What does that mean Well John wants us to think about Jesus play on words and explore the meaning Nicodemus missed So imagine that you could stand somewhere very high up and look over God s shoulder Imagine you could look at the world and see what God can see To be born from above is to see with newborn eyes to see from a Gospel perspective and understand things in a new way The Holy Spirit shows people of the wind where God is coming from When we are born of the Spirit God will show us a new perspective on the world We are not just coming from Medicine Hat or Duck End or Dunmore People of the Spirit see with new eyes and hear with fresh ears like they did on Pentecost Two stories come to mind when I remember how God s Spirit gave me a new perspective on Canada Once I was driving with a friend from Toronto to Halifax We planned to stop in Quebec City and stay with another friend over night My friend was sure she could find the place and drove right up to a house she recognized No problem until we rang the doorbell An old

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