Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter 2020
Two weeks ago I showed you a rabbit that I put into a hat, this hat, and it disappeared. Like the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday, my hat was empty. Still today, the hat is empty, look! However, if I told you that now, after waving my hand mysteriously over the hat, the rabbit is back in my hat, who will believe me. Let’s see, hands up if you believe the rabbit is in this hat that still looks very empty. Anyone? I don’t see any hands. So maybe I must show you that the rabbit is in the hat, by taking it out…now do you believe me?
It was exactly the same for the disciples. They had the knowledge, in fact, Jesus even made it more clear how the Messiah is evident in the Old Testament. The disciples Jesus walked with on the road to Emmaus said “didn’t our hearts burn while he was showing us the Messiah in scripture?” They had the knowledge, they had the information. Today we could say that they had the benefit of Google, or DuckDuckGo or any other search engine, to find the information. But, like us, they did not believe until they had seen it. We didn’t believe until we saw the rabbit come out of the hat.
If we need to see to believe, how much more does the rest of the world need to see to believe? Even the hope that we share requires some belief, and the need to see in order that belief can follow. Now I remind you, WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST, and so, through us, Christ can be visible, and through us the world can believe. But we need to make it clear that we are the body. Just the knowledge is not good enough. The world needs to see that we are the body.
Our acts of generosity, of love, of support, the prayers we pray, all go a long way to making Christ visible. I commend you for the support you have shown one another at this time of lockdown. I commend you for the acts of kindness carried out. Within the St. Thomas family CHrist is visible. The challenge is, will He be visible in the world as restrictions are lifted? Will Christ be visible, so that the world may believe, after the COVID-19 crisis is over?
This is up to you, and it does depend on whether you have knowledge or belief. To assist with the distinction between the two, we plan to relaunch all Bible Study Groups and I hope to create some more that can meet, online, during lockdown, and continue after the crisis is resolved. My hope, my prayer, is that we can get ALL of the St. Thomas family taking part. I have started the education process (with me) and will pass this on, so that all group leaders (may I rather refer to you as hosts?) have been equipped and challenged. If you are a host, or would like to be a host, please drop Brenda Acutt, or me, a line to indicate this, so that we can include you in the initial training.
May God use you as a blessing in the lives of folk you support. May you be blessed beyond what you can think or imagine, and to the only wise God, our loving Father, selfless Christ and empowering Holy Spirit, be all glory, honour, power and praise.
Sermon for Resurrection Sunday 2020
What an amazing picture our collect for the day has painted:
You transformed the tomb of death
Into the womb of new life
This leads me to think about Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus about being born again, and here we have the very image we need. Jesus died, and then rose, or was reborn, into new life. In doing this, Jesus paved the way for us to die (to the flesh, to sin, to pride, to self-centredness) and to be reborn into a life with Him. A life that is so full of abundance, a life with so much promise and hope. A life lived, not for self, but for others, and especially for God. This is the same symbolism Paul uses when he talks about baptism. When we are under the water, we die to sin, and when we emerge from the water, we are born again, into new life, into which the Spirit breathes abundant life.
For the younger folk I have this illustration (magic tricks).
Jesus was not to be found in the tomb, he was, and continues to be, alive and walking among his creation. However, many of us are like Mary. Mary steps out of the tomb, and sees a man whom she assumes to be the gardener, and she asks of him where they have taken Jesus body. Jesus responds and only then does Mary recognise him. In the same way, we may see Jesus, but not recognise him. The world is in this situation too, very much so, in fact. The world may see Jesus, but does not recognise him.
Allow me to explain. The world not recognising Jesus is the easier part, because we, who are the body of Christ, do not always love in such a way that Jesus is present and visible. We, even pastors and priests, are often so self-centred that Christ cannot be seen in, or even through us. How is the world to see Christ when his image is suppressed, when his image is placed behind our masks? I will let you ponder on how the world does not see Christ when we say one thing and live another.
As for us not recognising Christ. We see many “co incidences” in our lives, but I refer to these as “God incidences” God, or Christ, working in our lives so that all things work to the good of those who love him. What about the angels who call to check in on us, the Barnabas ministry? The pastoral care team who do small, yet life-giving things for folk in the parish. Each one of these is the body of Christ caring for, loving you.
In our speech and attitude too, we should be the body of Christ visible in the world. Another way in which Christ can be made viible is when we share the hope that we have, hope for better things to come, like the new Jerusalem, and even hope in the lives we now live, in that we have no fear of death, sin does not have a hold on us, and love flows in abundance.
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Through us the risen Christ continues to make his dwelling among his people. Pray with me – Lord let me decrease so that you may increase. Let the world see the risen Christ in me today, and every day. Amen.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2020
Our readings are the first Passover, with instructions; the Last Supper in which Jesus shares the Passover with His disciples’; Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and Judas’ departure and the prediction of Peter’s denial. The standard readings for Maundy Thursday, and as such, most likely taken for granted.
On reflection on how to have these scriptures come alive, to burn in our hearts (our Lent Course) I was reminded of Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2:5ff
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
There is no doubt in my mind, and hopefully you will agree, that Jesus Christ is God. So, Paul says that Christ, who is God, willingly became human, taking on flesh and living with us (John 1:14). But that was not sufficient for Christ – he humbled himself further, becoming a servant. We see this humility played out as Jesus does the work of a servant by washing the disciples’ feet, this is something that the least of the servants was expected to do.
In the day of Jesus, footwashing was normal and necessary, not unlike our current state of handwashing and disinfecting wherever we go. On that point, how do you treat the folk who have been stationed at doors to limit numbers and assist with disinfectant? Do you see Christ in them? Or are they an irritation?
What is foot washing to us? In the prayer book, where the priest washes the feet of 12 elders it is a symbol of humility, and a reminder to the priest that we are no better, nor more important, than anyone else. I don’t believe that this is sufficient though. Just out of interest, the Passover Supper requires that a servant go about assisting folk to wash their hands. Jesus went the extra mile!
Jesus also didn’t wash the disciples’ feet out of necessity, because it is in the liturgy, or that is what the prayer book expected of him. No, this he did out of love. Through the washing he demonstrated his love (and how a good leader should act) by washing their feet. I can imagine the blessing Jesus gave to his disciples as he washed their feet, and so I pray a blessing on those whose feet I wash. This is the practice I have encouraged for the last four years, and which I will continue to encourage.
We see the supper continuing as normal, except for when Jesus says that he bread will be his flesh, and the fourth cup (the common cup) of wine his blood, both reminders of the new covenant. Note what Jesus says (according to Paul),
[do this] in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
This tells me that Christ expects the Eucharist, in fact, any communion meal, to be a witness to non-believers. So why do we share communion behind closed doors, and make it such a mysterious thing to the general public? Putting it another way, everytime we have a meal with at least one other person, if we pray (say grace) and spend time remembering what Jesus has done (counting our blessings) then in effect we are having communion.
In conclusion, we are encouraged, no, commanded, to love others, and through this love we show that we are Christ’s disciples. We are encouraged to share meals and remember Christ, in essence, to have communion as often as we eat, counting and sharing our blessings.
May this Easter weekend be a meaningful one to you and all whom you love.
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2020 (Revd Ian Blyth)
Most of us, if not all of us will not have been through a ‘lockdown’ as we are experiencing at the moment. A time which we can use to consider the priorities we live by in our daily lives. All of us have time which we can use to do this. When the Hebrew people were fleeing from the Egyptian army and embarking on an epic journey that would take them to the land promised them by God at the time of Abraham, they did not know what they were going to face along the way. Their main priority was determined by Moses as a result of his encounter with God in the desert, and the conviction that they were doing what God was making possible.
However, as they journeyed, things happened that would indicate that there were other priorities; priorities that they could not achieve on their own and were dependent on God. When they ran out of food and water they complained to God through Moses and even considered going back to Egypt, where they used to have enough to eat and drink. They forgot, it seems apparent, that their main priority was to get to the Promised Land. Every journey requires faith; in this case faith that the God, who was still being discovered by them after Moses had announced his name: Yahweh; I am who I am, was in control.
There are times when we can solve our own problems, and follow our own plans to get us to the goals we set. But there are other times when we have to be dependent on the greater power of God for the guidance we need to get to where we want to go. We may complain and think that we have been deserted by God, who seems to be unconcerned about our plight and find that it is difficult to keep on trusting that God knows what is going on and is still concerned about us. We may ask, “Why do things happen as they do?” but we need to learn to trust God and hang in there while God works. Psalm 23, for example, suggests that we should be willing to allow the shepherd to lead us to the place where we can eat and drink and be at peace and know that when we are most vulnerable, God is there for us.
On Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, the people saw a possibility for their priorities to be achieved: the overthrow of the Roman powers and their control over Palestine, leading to the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. This was not going to happen! It was not even a priority for the High Priest and his cohort. They wanted to rid themselves of this person who seemed to be going to bring about a radical change in the way of life in Judah. John records that Caiaphas said to a meeting of the Sanhedrin, that if Jesus was not dealt with the Romans would “take away both our temple and our nation.” And, “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John11:47-50) They had to find a way to make this happen. The events of this week will be determined by this priority. God’s will is going to be tested through the events to come. Malachi’s vision (Chs 3 and 4) is dramatic: the Lord will come through his messenger and will bring judgement on those who have turned away from the terms of the covenant and those who have been faithful. A new dispensation will follow through the remnant of those who are faithful to the covenant priorities. Jesus struggled with this outcome in the Garden of Gethsemane and submitted: “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
HOMILY WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL 2020 (Dr Elaine Fourie)
Greetings to all God’s children,
I am deliberately going to avoid the ‘C’ word, although you may sense some covert allusions to it in the text. The reason is that I am concerned that this virus is becoming all we think of, our lives are becoming defined by it, our anxieties and fears are all attached to it somehow. Have we forgotten Jesus? Have we overlooked that fact that we are in a sacred Lenten space, as we prepare to celebrate the risen Christ in a very short time, on Easter Sunday. Perhaps we can divert our attention from this earthly crisis long enough to turn toward God.
Let us dwell on this – and lift our hearts in gratitude to God.
Psalm 24 reminds us that this earth, however tainted it is, is the Lord’s and those of us with clean hands and a pure heart can rise above worldly chaos and ascend to the mountain of the Lord.
Let us dwell on this – and lift our hands in gratitude for God’s protection over our lives.
The gospel message in John raises the paradox that many of us experience -we profess love for God, whilst we harbour sin in our hearts. Jesus says to the Jews who were wanting to kill him “If God were your Father, you would love me.”
Let us dwell on this – and love God and one another as he commands.
In closing, I would like to share with you one of my favourite scriptures which informs the theme of my Lenten journey.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy
Meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:6-8 (New King James Version)
Yours in the love of Christ
29 March – Fifth Sunday in Lent
All three the readings today speak of great hope. Let me show you.
In Ezekiel we see his vision of the valley of dry bones, that God’s Spirit breathes life into, causing them to come together, be fleshed out and become God’s chosen people once more. Not only is God able to do the impossible, but he is able to bring his people together from wherever they may find themselves. We know that God’s Kingdom is not a physical place, but is where He dwells in his people through his Spirit. When we pray, when we stand together in worship, God is there and his Kingdom is manifest. We, the Church, are his kingdom, his people, and most importantly, we are his body. The body he raised up for himself through his own death and resurrection.
Note in Ezekiel that the bones become people in order that they may know that God is the Almighty. Our time in LOCKDOWN is as if we were the scattered bones, but God calls us together, as we pray and worship together in spirit, wherever we are, so that we may know he is Almighty, that he is more powerful than the virus and disease that grips the world. God is greater than the enemy who is using these times to cast fear, doubt and unbelief in our hearts. We must not allow this, not in our own lives or the lives of the folk we interact with.
In our Gospel passage, when Jesus is told that Lazarus is unwell, he continues with his ministry and says to his disciples that Lazarus’ illness will not end in death. Imagine the disappointment in his disciples when news gets to them that Lazarus has died. Even worse when Jesus eventually arrives in Bethany to find Lazarus has been in his tomb for four days! In the midst of everyone’s anger, disbelief, grief and sorrow, Jesus simply speaks to Lazarus and shows us that he has all power over death and life.
The lesson for us is twofold, if he chooses, God can and will raise up those he wishes to, in order that God may be glorified and that we might believe. Yes. I certainly think we need reminding, frequently, that God is Almighty AND that he loves us. The second lesson, this is the one Jesus teaches at the beginning of the story when he says that Lazarus’ illness will not end in death. Here Jesus is speaking of the spirit, knowing that his chosen have life, in abundance and everlasting. For us this is hope that regardless of what happens to us here, we live on in the New Jerusalem, as the Bride of Christ.
Our greatest lesson this week is in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Let me quote:
Romans 8:10-11 “…if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
What hope, both for now and the hereafter. Because of the righteousness that we have in and because of Christ, we have life, even while we are flesh. So we are to hold onto hope, we are to hold onto Christ who gives this hope, and we should allow our minds to be transformed as we learn and accept God’s promises as our own. Paul says in Romans 8:6 “Having one’s mind controlled by the old nature is death, but having one’s mind controlled by the Spirit is life and shalom.” In other words, the life, the mind that focusses on Christ, has peace AND WHOLENESS, well-being and life in abundance and eternal.
Let us encourage one another with these words as we draw closer to our Lord, and through him, draw closer to one another. Let us be beacons of hope wherever we are, let us share the knowledge, joy and shalom we have in Christ, and let us live our lives, to the fullest today, and all the while we have breath.
May the Lord bless you, keep you healthy and strong.
25 March 2020 The Annunciation
Today’s Isaiah and Gospel readings talk about the birth of Jesus, through God’s chosen maiden, Mary. The Romans reading explains, in Paul’s usual convoluted way, why this birth was necessary.
It is this argument that I want to focus on, the need for Jesus’birth.
I’ve heard it said that God created a perfect world, and when things went wrong he tried different ways to make things right. This theory goes against God being the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus’ birth was not because God was trying different things and then decided that Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice, the scapegoat. At creation, when all things were made through Christ and for Him, even then the plan was that at some point in His story, God would make himself manifest and dwell among his people.
This Romans reading today is inspiring. Paul acknowledges that we are sinners, and that we have been justified by the blood of Jesus (God’s action, not ours) so therefore as God’s enemies, because we chose to do things our way, without God’s guidance and help, we have been saved from God’s anger. Now here’s the great part, having been reconciled to God, having been justified by faith, we are now God’s children, His chosen, and the promise of salvation is even greater, through the LIFE of Christ.
Paul reminds us that sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and salvation has similarly come into the world through one man, Jesus, who is the Christ. And if Christ gives us life, how can we let anyone, or anything, steal this life away from us?
Yes, we are in “Lockdown” for 21 days, but that does not mean that life has come to an end. This may be an opportunity for God to teach us what it means to be the Church, it is an ideal opportunity for God to re-teach the lessons we have forgotten about what it means to be the family of St.Thomas. There is still a focus on the type and style of worship, the songs chosen and so on. This is all a selfish attitude, it is about “ME”, what I like and what my preferences are. SImilarly the church furniture, the books, the organ vs the band and I could go on. Our focus should be on God, Father, Son and Spirit.
This lockdown time will hopefully give us an opportunity to see the church as the people. I want to commend ALL who have said that they will help others in purchasing of groceries etc. In this, we are faultless, our Pastoral Care is great! Thank you all and well done! This is where we see the church in action.
We should also see the church in action in reaching out to those on the fringes and those who feel unworthy of setting foot into the Church. On one of my recent rides I had an opportunity to talk to a car guard who is one of many who is losing their source of income because of the lockdown. I know the government has put some things in place, but do these folk know about it? Do they know where they can go for assistance? How can we help?
During the lockdown, let us show the love of Jesus to those who may be without a home to be locked down in. I welcome ideas for how we can do this. Please share in the Facebook comments, or send me the ideas and I will broadcast them.
Remember – this will pass, and more importantly, God is good, all the time!
The Rev Henry Naidoo
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
22 March 2020
In the beginning, (John 9:2-3), of this story of Jesus giving sight to a blind man, the Bible records that the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Who sinned, this man or his parents? Jesus answered, ‘It is not that he or his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him. Jesus says it’s not anyone’s ‘fault’ but rather the man is born blind for the glory of God. What? How come? Are you joking?
How often have we heard questions like this? Why is there poverty in the world and why does God allow poverty? Why is there suffering in the world and why does God allow suffering? Even with what we are facing at this time all over the world, the corona virus, some people are asking why is this so and why doesn’t God do something about it?
Like the disciples, people are too quick to blame someone or to blame God for their crisis, disasters and ills, that we experience from time to time; Wars, Tsunamis, earthquakes, and injustices that bring about so much suffering. When marriages are failing we look for someone to blame. When our children go astray we blame ourselves; what did we do wrong or what didn’t we do? Where did we fail? Someone must be responsible for these things; he or his parents? Whose fault is it? We always look for a scapegoat.
Jesus, in this story, teaches us that instead of judging and trying to find answers for the question or questions that are asked, when disasters like this happen, we as Christians, believers and children of God need to see this as an opportunity for us to lift up God in Jesus name. It is not a time to feel weak, powerless and hopeless. Like Paul, we should be singing the song that he sang to the Corinthian church; that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It is a time to declare that in Jesus name we can overcome. God is still sitting on his throne and he is still in charge of the world. Jesus is John 16:33 says, “In the world you will have suffering. But take heart! I have conquered the world.” Times of disasters and ills should not bring about fear, anxiety and loss of hope but rather we should see it as an opportunity to reveal God’s glory to the world. As people of hope we need to assure the world that God will see us through this time.
Use the scriptures firstly, to lift ourselves up and then to lift the spirits of others around us. Let us remind ourselves of the victories over evil and share this with people that are negative or scared. E.g. tell them about the story of David and Goliath and how God came through for his people. Here was a challenge the children of Israel faced in the form of this big, huge giant. David said to the giant, Goliath, as we should say to this giant corona, “I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts…The Lord will put you into my power today. I shall strike you down and cut off your head…the battle is the Lord’s, and he will put you all into our power. Use the prophetic stone against this virus. Say we will not back down in fear but speak death in Jesus name. May our prayers bring you to your knees?
There are many such victory stories. E.g. In the story of Elisha at Dothan; God’s chariots of fire were more than the army that came to capture Elisha and they overcame the enemy army.
1 John 4:4 “Greater is he that’s in me than all the spirits of this world put together.” So I will overcome through him who lives in me, in us.
As we are confronted by death that this virus has brought and is bringing, let us remind ourselves of Jesus’ victory over death through his precious blood. Let us recall the blood of the lambs that was smeared over the door-posts in Egypt that saved the Israelites from death and say to this Corona virus that threatens us with death we plead the blood of Jesus against you. Thank you Jesus that your blood does not only protect and defend us but it also destroys and we pray that the blood of Jesus destroys the power of the corona virus. Corona you will bow down to the name of Jesus and be destroyed through the blood of Jesus. This is how the power of God can be displayed in times of disasters. This is how God’s glory can be revealed through his faithful and strong believers.
We should not be surprised when Jesus says that these disastrous situations occur so that God’s power might be displayed and God’s glory can be revealed.
I pray as we heed the call from Government and Church leaders to isolate ourselves during this time, we as Christians will not see this as a triumph for Satan, the devil to keep us apart, but see it as a challenge and an opportunity for us to rise up and be united in our spirits as we all pray in our different spaces and read the word of God to encourage us and listen to spiritual messages coming to us through technology and claim our victory over this virus in Jesus name. Be a source of encouragement to others by giving them hope in the midst of this dark time. Be the light that shines in the darkness. Now is the time not to hide our light under a bushel but to let it stand as high as possible for the world to see, our God is an awesome God, our God is a mighty God, our God is a conquering God. Amen.
To God be all glory, praise, power and dominion. Amen.