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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home! Part 2 (2/3)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

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Many people who go to liturgical churches
don’t like the prayer of confession,
and when they have to say it in unison,
they do so only to conform to the pattern of public worship;
they don’t feel what they say.
So we have dropped the word sin from our vocabulary,
and from our way of thinking.

I say that we’ve dropped the idea,
but the strange thing is that we can’t.
No matter how many people there are,
who will help us find reasons
for dropping the idea of sin, we can’t really do it.

The only way, I can see that we can do it,
is to put our conscience to sleep,
so that we don’t have any sense of right and wrong.
It’s as though we demagnetized the needle of a compass
so that it no longer pointed to the pole star.

Some people have done it rather well.
They’ve reached the point
where they can do almost anything,
either in private or in public, and not be troubled by it.

People who appear respectable
can steal the public’s money without giving it a passing thought,
or tell a lie about another person and never think of it afterward.
But most of us can’t, because our conscience is there,
and even though we let it slumber, it wakes up at inconvenient times
and boldly points us toward the pole star.

No, we can’t get rid of the idea of sin that way.
We are too dipped and dyed in the idea that God is righteous,
and that when we worship God we reject evil,
and that when we sin we commit evil.
So we’re left with our sins. 
We can’t get rid of them.
We can’t even get rid of the idea of them,
even among the smartest of us.
We turn to Jesus. 

He spent most of his short life fighting sin,
not the sins that the morality squads go out to fight,
but the invisible sins of good people:

the sin of thinking that one is better than other people;

the sin of trying to get the best seat wherever one is.

the sin of getting one’s own way by force.

the sin of putting all one’s trust in material things.

the sin of sitting in judgment upon other people.

the sin of satisfying one’s desires at the expense of someone else;

the sin of making the House of Prayer a place of business.

I could go on and on.

In the few brief months of his public ministry,
Jesus spent a large part of the time fighting sin
in the sense that he tried to show people what it was and give them both the power and the incentive to overcome it.


End Part Two (2/3)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home! Part 1 (1/3)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

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On one occasion Jesus was in a house teaching.
In the midst of his teaching
some men arrived carrying another man on a stretcher.
He was on a stretcher because he couldn’t walk; he was paralyzed.

They couldn’t get through the crowd that surrounded Jesus,
so they went up the outside stairway that every home had
and let the man down through the opening in the roof.
At the end of a sentence, or in the middle of one,
there was a paralyzed man lying before Jesus.

If you didn’t know the story, I wonder what you would say might have been the first word Jesus spoke to the man.

I should be willing to venture the guess that almost no onewould come up with the words that he actually did say.

What he said was, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”
What sins? 
We don’t know. 
We know nothing else about the man
and it’s presumable that Jesus had never seen him before.

Jesus didn’t know what the man’s sins were,
but he did know that he was a sinner
because he was a human being.
He knew that it’s the tendency of all human beings
to turn inward upon themselves, rather than outward,
and that as they turn inward, they turn away from God
and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

He also knew that sin and sickness
sometimes work together in close partnership.

Especially was it so understood by the Jews
at that particular time.
They had been taught, that suffering of any kind,
whether it be bodily sickness,
or failure in business,
or exile in an alien land,
was a sign of God’s displeasure.
Jesus knew that in the minds of the people
sin and sickness/ were closely associated.
They don’t always go together, for sure,
but, even today
they sometimes walk hand in hand with each other,
the sickness the outward sign of the inner sin,
the sin the consequence of the physical limitation.

We call these disorders psychosomatic,
and we probably understand this
even more clearly than Jesus did,
but I’m perfectly sure
that he knew more about it
than many people now give him credit.

He knew that the man was suffering
from paralysis of the body,
but he also knew that the man’s body might be stiff -
might, I say – because his conscience was stricken with guilt.
At any rate, whatever his sins may have been,
Jesus forgave them.

The conservative leaders who were present were shocked.
They said, “Who can forgive sins but God? 
This man is guilty of blasphemy.”

While they were arguing back and forth
as to the degree of his blasphemy
and about what he had done,
Jesus turned to the man and said, 
“Get up, pick up your bed, and go home.” 
And the man did!

The record says that when it was all over
the people said, “We’ve seen incredible things today.”

Before we stop to look
at the light that this throws upon Jesus,
and it throws an enormous amount of light on him,
let us look for a moment at ourselves.
First of all, let’s admit that we don’t like the idea of sin.
I’m using “we” in the sense of a corporate society,
we as good Christian people, don’t like the idea of sin.
It suggests to many people repression,
and repression is anathema.

It suggests also an unnatural suppression
of so many things we so clearly like to do.
It implies a limitation of our freedom as human beings
and an unfair restriction of our right
to make the most of the few brief years we have on earth
and to go our own way, and to have our own way.

It brings to our minds
a thin-lipped self-righteous person
sitting in harsh judgment on someone who has made a mistake.

It also brings to mind
the picture of a God that sees everything we do
and thinks that most of the things we do are wrong,
especially something that gives us pleasure.
So, by and large, we don’t like the idea of sin at all.

We like even less to say that we’ve sinned.
We admit, that we make mistakes from time to time.
This is our own responsibility, our own fault,
natural and to be expected in human beings,
and may not involve anyone else.  

But sin is a different thing because sin implies
that we’re responsible to Something beyond ourselves.
It’s not only a mistake that we’ve made in our checkbook;
or a mistake in judgment/ about our child.
It’s something that breaks the relationship
with Someone infinitely higher than we are.
It implies that in the long run
we’ll be called to answer to that responsibility,
that these things will not simply be forgotten and swept aside,
but that they’ll be a part of us and that we’ll be called to answer
in ways and at a time which we don’t know now.


END PART ONE (1/3)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE RAISING OF LAZARUS Part 3 of 3

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

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THE RAISING OF LAZARUS  Part 3 of 3

A certain group of the Jews had come to believe
that at the last day when the world would come to an end,
everybody would be resurrected automatically.
They would be raised up and judged,
and the good would be sent to the proper place,
and the bad to the place where they belonged.

Jesus began to lead Martha into the mystery of life
that was not mechanical, but personal.
“I am the resurrection. 
If you’re looking for life”, he said,
“You’ll find it not in some future event;
you’ll find it in me and in the quality of my life.”

That was John’s great insight into the meaning of Christ.
What he’s saying is something like this: 
when a person gets into the Spirit of Christ
and when the Spirit of Christ gets into a person, there is life.
And that life is totally different in quality
from every other kind of life he or she may know!
He went on to try to make it clear to them
that when people have that kind of life that begins now,
they have a life that can never be destroyed. 
That he said, is eternal life, not something that happens
at some distant day in the future, but life that comes
when you put yourself into the stream of God’s creative love in Christ, and when that gets into you, you begin to be less selfish,
more trusting, more natural and simple in your relationship with God, and more generous in your relationship to others,
that is eternal life and nothing in the world can destroy it.

We’re not like Mary and Martha;
we’re not, most of us, looking for life in the future;
we’re looking for life in the present.
But we’re looking for it on a lower level,
in the money we make,
in the success we achieve, in our own happiness.

What John is trying to tell us is this:
You’ll never find life there.
You’ll find life only
when your life is raised up to another level
so that it is immersed in an ongoing life of love.
Only in that kind of life will you find anything
that ultimately fulfills the deepest desires of your life.

These things, you see, are beyond the realm of speculation;
these things we announce to people
because we’ve seen them happen.
When people can lose themselves in Christ, they have life,
for he is the Resurrection and the Life
and whoever lives and believes in him will never die.

Let us pray:
As we open our minds
toward these great mysteries,
may we also respond
with our hearts and wills;
that seeing where real life is to be found,
we may be drawn up to that higher life in Christ. 

Dr. John Sullivan


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE RAISING OF LAZARUS Part 2 (3)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

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THE RAISING OF LAZARUS Part 2 (3)

The second problem is that the miracle seems to have been staged.

I left out a section
because it interrupts the movement of the story
and because it comes in better now.
When one of the sisters sent word to Jesus
and told him that Lazarus was sick
and was probably going to die, he didn’t go to help them.

Yes, according to the story,
Jesus deliberately let Lazarus die!
This is what the story says:
“So when he heard of Lazarus’ illness,
he stayed two days longer where he was.”

If you heard that for the first time
you would be surprised and shocked.

Then he decided to go;
he told his disciples that he was going
and said: “Lazarus is dead, I’m glad I wasn’t there.” 

Why was he glad?
Because he points out quite definitely,
Lazarus’ sickness wasn’t to end in death, ultimately.

The purpose of Lazarus’ sickness and death
was to provide an opportunity to show God’s glory
so that the people who saw the raising of Lazarus
might believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

I can’t speak for you,
but that doesn’t match the picture of Jesus
that we have in the other gospels.
In all the other records, the motive of the miracles
was the concern of Jesus for human beings in need. 
The miracles happened because people believed in him!
Here, in John’s gospel,
they happen to make people believe in him!

It’s always dangerous to put these things in general statements,
but I think I can perhaps best convey to you the total meaning
of the difference between John’s gospel and the others
if I say that John is preaching a sermon, more than writing history;
and in preaching a sermon, he uses material from the life of Christ
to illustrate the point he is trying to make.

When he chooses an illustration,
he chooses the most impressive one that he can think of.
Just as I might tell a story about one person
who, having come into the fellowship of the Church
has been raised from the dead,
and I would pick the one that was most likely
to stir people and convert them
and draw them toward Christ and the Church.

One thing that I must say in passing
is that most people are more impressed
by the strange and the unusual
than by the familiar and natural,
and it’s just as true today
as it was true two thousand years ago.

If for instance,
you are on the brink of death and you get well,
that’s a revolutionary experience in your life
and you don’t forget it. 
But it also seems to me,
the things that happen normally every day
are just as much evidence of God’s power and presence as those unusual things, perhaps more so.
So much for the difficulties,
I’m afraid that I’ve spent too long on them
because we find something in the story
that more than compensates for them,
and, if it were not for this,
we wouldn’t tell the story in the first place.

It comes right in the center of it.
Martha, when she met Jesus outside Bethany, said,
“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha, with her practical mind, said,
“Yes I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection at the last day” –
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life;
those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Martha was looking for life in the future.
Jesus announced it to her life now.


End Part Two (2/3)