Sunday Sermon 18th April
The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus Stand Among Us and Yet Not I can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Beginning in Jerusalem...
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 18th April.
Over the last few weeks we have gone through Easter and continue to look at resurrection stories; the stories of how the disciples learnt and coped and began to understand the significance of Jesus rising from the dead.
Last week we read of Thomas and how hard he found it to believe, how hard he found it to get past his grief over what had happened.
This week we look at an incident that happened before that and we continue to look at the conflicting emotions that the disciples were feeling.
We will reflect on this after John shares with us the reading and a time of prayer.
Luke 24: 36-48.
So the timescale of our Bible reading today is this.
Jesus died on a cross and was buried in a tomb.
Then he has risen from the dead.
Jesus hasn’t appeared to the disciples yet.
Some women followers of Jesus have seen Jesus and told the disciples that they have seen Jesus.
Some of the disciples have gone to the tomb and seen that the tomb is empty but they don’t know what to believe about why the tomb is empty.
Then two followers decide to go for a walk to Emmaus.
They were not disciples, they were just ordinary followers, they were not going to any place of any great religious significance, they were just going to Emmaus.
Ordinary people, doing ordinary things, and there Jesus meets them.
But because they don’t expect to see Jesus they don’t see Jesus.
Now that is a living parable I could talk on for hours.
How often are we blind to Jesus, just because we don’t expect Jesus to be part of our life?
How often do we miss what Jesus is saying to us because we honestly don’t think God would want to speak to someone like us?
It reminds me of the story of the pope, the archbishop and the choirboy all praying.
And the pope suddenly comes out with, ‘Oh God I realise that I am nothing.’
The archbishop, so taken with the humility of the pope follows his example and prays out loud, ‘Oh God, I realise I too am nothing.’
The choir boy, hearing the pope and the archbishop pray also cries out, ‘Oh God I too think I am nothing.’
At which point the pope turns to the archbishop and says, ‘Look who thinks he’s nothing.’
We Scots have a natural reticence when it comes to things.
If someone says, ‘I think I have had a message from God.’ We suddenly look at them and think, ‘Who do they think they are that God would talk to them?’
And if we think of that with others, we think it doubly about ourselves.
‘Who am I that God would talk to me? What would the neighbours think if I told them that God was talking to me?’
This passage tells us that God speaks to ordinary people, like you and me, while we are doing ordinary things, like going for a walk.
And like them, we miss out because we are not listening.
We miss out because we are not hearing who is talking to us.
We need to be mindful that at any time, God will be talking to us.
But I don’t think that is the main point that we should get from this passage.
I think the main message is the one to the disciples.
‘This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.’
Here are my thoughts on this.
We start this scene with these two ordinary followers rushing to the disciples to say they have seen the Lord. Jesus has talked to them, just like he has talked to the women.
The disciples are still unsure of all of this, rightly.
Then Jesus appears to them and takes them from where they are, to where they need to be.
The first thing Jesus says to them is, ‘Peace be with you.’
The standard greeting of hope that God offers to all of us.
Then ‘Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds?’
That’s where they are.
Why are they alarmed? Well there are so many reasons why they are alarmed.
For a start their world has been turned upside down.
Jesus is alive, but what does that mean?
Will Jesus seek revenge for his betrayal and death?
Will Jesus want to create an example of them of what happens to those who run away when they are needed?
The Romans may still be after them. Jesus was crucified as a traitor to the Empire, maybe the Romans won’t stop with Jesus and seek to hunt them down and crucify them.
The religious leaders will be terrified of the stories of Jesus’ return; they will probably want to hunt out anyone they suspect of creating those rumours and make an example of them.
Th disciples don’t know who to trust or what to do.
They don’t even know if they can trust each other, remember it was one of their own that betrayed Jesus to the temple guards, how do they know whether Judas worked alone or if he had another accomplice within the group?
No wonder they are alarmed, no wonder they have doubts.
And Jesus takes them from there to what really matters;
the message of forgiveness, the message of second chances, beginning where they are, in Jerusalem.
Recently I have been thinking a lot of where the church is, because we are in a bit of a mess.
Like the disciples we are going through a bit of a crisis.
Our national church has decided to go through a huge reorganization.
They are dismantling the infra structure of head office.
While that is going on the presbyteries are all changing to mega presbyteries.
Our local presbytery of Stirling with about 37 parishes is becoming part of the presbytery of Perth which will have over 100 parishes going up past Dundee.
We don’t know how these presbyteries will be funded, what their structure will be, how they will organise themselves.
While that is going on we are looking at a reduction of about 200 ministers and all the local readjustments that will be happening because of that.
And that is all happening as we are still working our way through a pandemic that has seriously affected how we worship and when we worship.
That is all happening when the national church finances have taken a huge dip as local congregations have themselves struggled with the finances of many of our buildings being closed for over a year.
When we return to normal we don’t know the commitment of those who have been off during that time. We don’t know how keen people will be to volunteer the way they did, or whether due to illness over this time they will even be able to volunteer the way they did before.
Any thinking person that cares about the church will rightly be alarmed at the near future, rightly have doubts about what our future will look like.
And that kind of crisis in the church is a reflection of all the many areas of crisis individuals like yourself have faced and are facing over last year and the year to come.
And I think Jesus message to the disciples is the same one we need to hear.
‘We have a wonderful message from God. There is forgiveness, there is a second chance. Let the people know where you are.’
I recently heard a wonderful quote from St Francis de Sales that sums up what we need to do, what we need to hear, ‘Bloom where you are planted.’
Bloom where you are planted.
Forget about infrastructures and redevelopment.
Forget about finances and volunteer numbers.
Forget about the potential struggles and potential worries that are creating a shadow over our lives.
Just bloom where you are planted.
Let those of your family experience God’s love through you.
Let your neighbours experience God’s love through you.
Let your workmates or those in your pensioner groups or walking groups or sowing bees feel God’s love through you.
Let the receptionist at the doctor’s clinic or the nurse that gives you your vaccination or the checkout woman in the Co Op or the wee man at the bus stop feel God’s love through you.
Whatever it takes for them to feel and know the love of God for them, let them feel it through us, here, where we are.
If we do that, we are fulfilling the work of the disciples; we are fulfilling what God wants us to do.
There may be so many other things that we end up having to do, there was for the disciples, but it starts with this, let us bloom where we are planted.
Let us pray
In a world of uncertainty may we feel the constant word of hope you bring to us.
May we in turn bring that hope to others.
In a world of darkness may we feel the light of your love shine around us.
May we in turn bring that light to others.
In a world of fear may we feel the gentle touch of your reassurance that we are in your hands of care.
May we in turn bring that assurance to others.
Help us to believe that you are part of our lives, may we in turn seek to make you and intricate part of our existence.
May we do our part to seek your path for us, seek the way you would wish us to follow, seek the road where our future lies.
But in this moment of our lives, may we seek to be the best we can be, seek to be open to the needs of others, seek to be ready to help where we are needed.
The disciples had t lot to take in, but with time their understanding came as they followed and acted in faith.
We know our journey is the same, only by following, only by serving, will we see the wonder of your work in the world.
We believe, help our unbelief.
This we ask in Jesus name.
A closing blessing.
May the God beyond sight open wide your eyes to his beauty
The God beyond stars open wide your world to his presence
The God beyond thought open wide your thinking mind
The God beyond words open wide your ears to his calling. Amen.