Monday, 26 March 2018

The clash of Kingdoms

Isaiah 50: 4-9 (page 611 in our pew Bibles) The word "servant" is not used here but this is often called the third servant song and is the most intensely personal. Parts of the body mentioned are tongue, ears, back, cheeks, beard and face - a forceful reminder that God uses real human beings for his purposes. His word always has to become flesh.
Philippians 2: 5-11(page 980 in our pew Bibles) Sometimes said to be an early Christian Hymn, it chronicles Christ's pre-existent nature, his self abasement to earthly life and death and exaltation to universal Lordship, 
Matthew 21: 1-11 (page 826 in our pew Bibles) "The clash of two opposing Kingdoms" is how the theologian Marcus J. Borg described Palm Sunday which has retained its grip on my symbolic imagination ever since and is certainly what I shall be concentrating on today!

Isaiah is full of beautiful prophetic poetry and none more so than the celebrated “Servant songs” which from the very beginning Christians have applied to Jesus Christ.
This particular piece we heard to today is the most intensely personal of them and mentions parts of a human body like the tongue, ears, back, cheeks, beard and face and is a great reminder that God works through Human beings to fulfil his purposes, which includes us of course, but none more so than his unique son, Jesus Christ.
He worked through and revealed his unique character and will, through the actions of Jesus Christ.
So what did he reveal through Jesus on Palm Sunday?
What Jesus was introducing on this day was the essential differences between all the kingdoms  of this world and comparing them with the Kingdom of God.
Because the truth is there would have been two great processions entering Jerusalem before the Passover feast.
Pontius Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. He lived by the seaside at Caesarea Maratime on the coast. For Pontius Pilate to be present at the feast he need to get from the coast to Jerusalem so entering the city of Jerusalem on the West side was the procession of Pilate.
What a magnificent sight that would have been. Soldiers and horsemen in full gleaming armour, accompanied by trumpets and banners, and Pilate carried aloft in a bier or carriage – showing off the full spectacle of Roman power.
It was meant to impress and frighten. It was intended to send the message – this is where real power lies in this country and don’t you forget it. And if there is to be any trouble we will deal with it with overwhelming force!
This was representative of how all power works in this world. This was representing all the worldly kingdoms.
That was on the west side. On the East side of the city, over the mount of Olives came a man representing the kingdom of God. A man wearing the ordinary working clothes of a carpenter, riding on a donkey, a sign of peace. He came not with armour or swords or spears, but lauded by yhe ordinary people who  strew his way with palm leaves.
You could say that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a parody of what was happening in the west of the city. Today who might call this a counter demonstration.
It was an acted parable of the essential difference between the kingdoms of this world, built on power, coercion, vanity and force and the kingdom of God based on peace, love and mutuality.
To emphasise the difference between the new way and the old, the very next thing he did was cleanse the temple of the money changers to drive home just how corrupted religion had become by getting too close to the centres of earthly power.
And he really wanted people to note what he did. In Mark’s gospel he didn’t cleanse the temple straight away after entering Jerusalem. He went home and came back the next day to do so. Why was that I wonder.
Well Jesus didn’t do it that evening because it was already late (Mark 11:11), and there wouldn’t have been many people there to see it. This was all pre-planned for maximum impact – both the entry and the cleansing. He returned the next day when there were crowds of people and plenty of Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees would have been there as well as hoards of money changers and then he made his symbolic gesture for maximum impact.
In a lesson for us nowadays, Jesus said ( in Matthew 10:16)we have to be as innocent as doves but as wise as snakes – just like He was in this instance.
Our palm crosses, this palm Sunday are a stark reminder that we are involved in a Spiritual war. We are soldiers in the Kingdom of God fighting against the corrupt powers of this world. But our weapons, are not violent like the Roman army’s were.
Our weapons are (Ephesians 6:10 -) prayer, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the spirit working through the word of God.

Monday, 12 March 2018

God is love.

God is Love! Says John and today we celebrate a particular aspect of love and nurture that most people experience from their mothers.
Not every woman is or can be a mother but one thing I am sure of is that everybody in this church has a mother.
Fatherhood is important too of course and I believe necessary for the healthy development of a child but motherhood is special and the bond people have with their mothers is often so powerful, and they exert a huge influence on most people’s lives.
And in this service we honour that role and simply say “Thank you”.
Just as Moses was found in that basket, we use this basket to symbolise God’s loving care for us all. This love holds us, just as Moses, as a baby was held.
If you can imagine each strand of this basket that has been woven together,  as one of us, it can show that all of us woven together as the body of Christ can hold people in both our good times and our bad times, just like a mother.
Humanity was made in the image of God and in Genesis it says - “male and female he created them” so both male and female aspects complete the picture of God and indeed of humanity.
Today we concentrate on the mothering, nurturing side of both God and human mothers. The mothering, nurturing side of God is a part of the Godhead (the completeness of God) even though we tend to talk about God in male terms.
Mainly of course we do that because that’s how Jesus referred to God – as Father. And Jesus was God incarnate. But the whole picture of God would be incomplete without these feminine, mothering attributes.
Mothering Sunday is the time where we can remember our own mothers;
We can say thank you to God for our relationship with her.
And even if that relationship was less than perfect, was perhaps difficult and testing, as I’m sure some of us might have experienced it, We can ask forgiveness and healing for our mother’s shortcomings and the part we might have played in sometimes fractious and difficult relationships.
We can say thank you for the protection, the nurture, and the boundaries we learnt from our mothers
We can say thank you most of all for all the love that we received.

And as we started we remember that God is love and that therefore Love is God.