Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Easter Sunday Message

Even though, as Christians, today on this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the "Risen Lord" across the world, life continues in its present form without a pause. The recent bombings in the subway in Moscow and other parts of Russia still dominate the news. Did you see the picture of the 17 year old widow - one of the suicide bombers - and her late husband, whose death at the hands of the security forces apparently triggered her actions? She was holding a small handgun and he a much larger one, in a photograph released by the Russian authorities. Meanwhile back here in Jamaica one newspaper reported that over 400 persons have been murdered to date - and we are only 94 days into this year, thus averaging well over 4/day. And it is not just murder, on account of passion or revenge, it's the sheer wickedness that would move a grown man to abduct a your 12 year girl, who he knows well. Then rape her and attempt to kill her by strangulation and place her " apparently dead body", in a shallow grave leaving the body to rot. Well, thank God that in this case, she survived, almost miraculously, and he is now behind bars. Life is still cheap in Iraq and Afghanistan, as ethnic and religious wars result in continues mayhem and acts of violence. Natural disasters still occur, and without any warning as the powerful earthquake
- 7.0 on the Richter scale - which rocked South California and parts of Mexico, demonstrated today. and they are predicting more to come. People are still losing their jobs in powerful USA, despite the slight uptick in the number of new jobs created, and a white supremacist group is threatening revenge after its leader was brutally murdered in South Africa. And millions of persons in Asia have died without ever hearing the gospel - is that really true in this connected world - according to a well respected journalist and a devout Christian, in an article which questioned the accuracy of the Easter date and the appropriateness of the celebration for the Christian church, given its rather, " shaky and rooted in paganism," origins. The writer, Ian Boyne, was kind enough to quote sections of a previous Internet Ministry message, and use them as the basis for his very scholarly review of the evidence which, he says, raises serious questions about the Easter celebration
So, given all these realities, why this excitement and commitment to remembering a " Risen Christ"? How does this celebration affect "the way how the world turns". Recently, I read, actually browsed through, a book on how to preach effectively, and which written by one of my pastors who teaches at a local theological seminary. What struck me was the writer's acceptance of the fact that in today's world, many persons no longer view the Bible as " the truth" about life. And therefore what is important, in connecting with them, is a confession of our faith in God, and the inerrancy of the Bible, and pray and hope that God will use this faith and our witness to touch the lives of others, rather than depend on the old maxim of " Thus saith the Lord".

It is in this context, of witnessing to the love, power and mercy of God, as shown in the death, resurrection and glorious ascension of our Lord Jesus, why (the Internationally acknowledged) Holy Week and especially Good Friday and Easter Sunday, are of critical importance to the Christian church. A church which is struggling to maintain high moral standards and promote bible-based ethics in an increasingly secular society which is seemingly blind to the obvious link between sin - rebellion against the commands of God - and murder, and rape, and corruption, and immorality of various forms and the destruction of family life. A church which has to contend with journalists and politicians and entertainers and other leaders whose patterns of behaviour greatly influence the young and the not so young. And whose lifestyle and worldview are openly and sometimes unapologetically in opposition to the teaching of Christ, but who nonetheless expect and hope to live in a peaceful society. Yet when trouble falls on the nation, many ask
" What is the church doing"?

This Good Friday, I was given the privilege, for the first time, of preaching on one of the seven words from the Cross. " Today thou shall be with me in Paradise" said Jesus to the " penitent thief in response to the cry - at the last moment before his death - and therefore belief in Jesus as the Messiah and long awaited Saviour of the world; " Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom". The essence of the story is that Christ will appear , or His story will be told, to all mankind and a decision will be demanded.
My faith which I confess and which rests on God's Word as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, as I read during Holy Week, tells me that :

" But do not forget this one thing, dear friends; With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance". 2 Peter 3:8-9

So this is a God who does not want anyone to perish. As this is a God who sent His Son so that whosoever would believe on him should not perish but have life everlasting. John 3:16. And further, if we believe the prophet Zechariah's assertion that God said that: It is not by might nor by power but by my Spirit" chap 4:6, and that Salvation by Christ was ordained before the world began, then we begin to appreciate that all those who have not yet heard the word, whether dead or alive will be given an opportunity. How? That's a mystery! But the same God who sent His Son to die on the first Good Friday, and with mighty power raised Him from the dead on the first Easter Sunday, so that those created in His image should not perish, I believe has the power to accomplish what He promised through Peter. And there are passages in the same book written by Peter, as again I was led to read during Holy Week, which give us a hint, without being dogmatic, about a ministry to the dead:
" But they will have to give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached even to the those who are now dead, so that they may be judged according to men in the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit".
1 Peter 4:5-5 NIV
I am no theologian, but surely that passage of Scripture cannot be ignored by those who claim that when one dies, without ever knowing about Jesus, I am being very careful here, that there is no hope of salvation. In fact without quoting any particular scripture which led him to that conclusion, my mentor and friend, the late Anglican Bishop of Kingston, Herman Spence, told me one more than one occasion, that we should continue to pray for the dead, for we do not fully comprehend what God can do. Halleluiah! So who can say with any authority, that there is no hope for those who die, or live, and did not, and have not yet heard about Jesus Christ?

So we who believe in the Word of God as revealed in the Bible and which word tells us that :
" Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord ( the unrepentant thief's problem, and thus the challenge for many today, wasn't that Christ did not die for him, as He surely did, but that he according to God's Word, did not fear God) , we try to persuade men.......For Christ's love ( as manifested on Good Friday) compels, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died....We are therefore Christ's ambassador's, as though God were making an appeal through us". 2 Cor. 5: 11-20

we therefore have the enormous responsibility to so present Christ to all nations that people may make a choice - to perish or have everlasting life. This is the challenge thrown out to the church by our Rector. To remember our Baptismal vows:

Question: Will you be a witness in your daily life to God's saving work in Christ?
Answer : I will

This is the challenge which Holy Week presents to all Christians, to remember that Christ's love on the Cross on Good Friday compels us. And the power exerted to raise Him from the dead on Easter is available by faith to enable and empower us so that God can make His appeal through us to all mankind - so that they may be given an opportunity to repent and live a new life in Christ. And as we say here in Jamaica, God alone knows how to appeal to the wickedness in the hearts of rapists and murderers; to suicide bombers and arsonists; to those hell bent on creating mayhem. Go alone knows how to protect us from earthquakes and storms and to provide water in a time of drought.
So to celebrate the resurrection of Christ is not about , God forbid, the eating of easter bun and cheese or the searching for easter eggs, or about giving thanks for a holiday as we have here in Jamaica from Friday to Monday. But rather about becoming a new person in Christ Jesus. leaving the old self behind in the " grave".
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:old things are passed away ; and behold all things are made new". 2 Cor 5: 17 KJV

So celebrate Easter is to put away childish things, to stop thinking and reasoning like children, and to become more and more like Christ. To leave behind the old leaven of anger, bitterness, gossiping, slandering, greed, immorality, fornication and infidelity, pride and personal ambitions and clothe one self in Christ Jesus. Then allowing God's Spirit to work in and through us to perform works of compassion, to be patient, to accept trials and tribulations and persecutions as an inevitable part of the Christian journey, in the same way that our Master suffered. To have a new attitude to prayer as recommended in quoted excerpts from medications from Chris Tiegen.


I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone. 1 Timothy2:1
.....So Paul instructs Timothy and the people under his charge to pray. A lot. For everyone. There are no limits here. We aren't just to pray for Christians or just for the lost but for both. We aren't to pray just for people we know but also for we simply hear about. We pray for individuals and groups, people in authority and ' nobodies', those in deep need and those who can provide. Everyone is fair game.
And we don't just pray one type of prayer either. Paul uses four different words: requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving. Some of these are rather expected and self-explanatory, but some are startling. In addition to our prayers for personal need and of intervention on someone's behalf, we also give thanks. For everyone --those who we have never met, those inside and outside the Kingdom, those who rub us the wrong way, government leaders we don't like, and more. Somehow our prayers need to recognize the preciousness of every person God has made and His desire to use them directly or indirectly in our lives and the lives of others. Everyone is a cause for gratitude. That's what the verse says.....


...that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:2

Many Christians pray for God's judgment on corrupt leaders and for he downfall of those whose policies we disagree with. And while god certainly hears our requests for righteous leadership and godly policies, the spirit in which we pray is often far from His heart. Perhaps he wants to hear prayers that leaders, even godless ones, would finally turn to Him for wisdom and seek His favor. Perhaps He even allows unholy but otherwise effective kings and prime ministers and presidents to govern well so that His people can exercise their faith in peaceful times. The relationship between God, governments, and the societies and cultures of this world is hard to understand. But that's not the point. Regardless of whether we understand, we are told to pray for everyone including those in authority. Why? So that we might "live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness".....

The second meditation in particular, although there is a hint in the first one, has helped me tremendously. Not necessarily in explaining everything, but calling me to obedience, at a time when on account of one man, about whom I wrote already, Jamaica is suffering much on account of a diplomatic standoff with the USA. But this change of attitude to prayer can only come about when we are determined to leave the " old man " behind and which process is helped by the lessons learnt during Holy Week.

So we who profess our faith in the Word of God as revealed in Holy Scriptures continue to celebrate every Sunday, as Easter people, the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Word says:
" We always carry around in our body the death of Christ, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you". 2 Cor 4:10-12 NIV. This then is why, even though the world does not recognize is fully, or even in part, nor even stops to pause, why the celebration of Easter and Good Friday is so important to the witness of the church and so that men may not perish.
This is the faith which moved the hymn writer to declare:

Hark my soul! it is the Lord;
.......I delivered thee when bound
And, when wounded, healed thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turned thy darkness into light.

Pray God that men and women across the world and in my country may come to know how much they were fast bound in sin; how God in Christ healed their wounds - by His stripes we were healed.
And how the same God came down from heaven to seek us in our wandering and lost state, to set us right free from sin and the wrath of God. And so rescued us who were in the shadow of death and in the darkness into the glorious light of His Risen and ascended Son. And pray God that we His Easter people, may acknowledge His mercy and goodness to us by surrendering our gifts, our intellect, our money, our very lives, to the will of God in the same way that Christ did. All in order that men and women , made in God's image, may not perish.
For Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Halleluiah.