Monday, 31 March 2014

Thank you mum.

Once upon a time there were two festivals. One was called mothering Sunday and the other more modern one was called mothers day. Although the surface reason for both of them was different – the original one was about going to visit your mother church, and the later one was to celebrate motherhood – the underlying reason was exactly the same – and that was gratitude.
Nowadays the two festivals have merged into one and it is the second reason that we are all here today.
This celebration gives us all the opportunity to express grateful thanks to our mothers. Not all women become mothers,  that is perfectly true, but we all of us, both men and women had or have a mother, and in our formative years especially it was the closest relationship we had with any other human being.
This is as it should be. We were all attached physically to our mothers. They carried us for the first nine months of our lives and then gave birth to us into the world. They fed us, nurtured us and in the majority of cases brought us up.
So common and normal is this closeness that we can actually take this love and care for granted.
How many people take the time or if your mum has passed away, how many times did we take the opportunity to simply say thank you.
Thank you for being my mum. Thank you for giving me life, for loving me, for standing by me through thick and thin, for sacrificing yourself for me. Thank you for being there for me.
Today is such a time for saying thank you to our mothers. And if your mother is no longer with us, today is still an opportunity to say thank you to your mother in prayer.  Perhaps to light a candle for her. To acknowledge the debt of gratitude we all owe, yet was probably seldom expressed.
Your prayer is valid and true because it was prayed our of a sense of  Love.
 Romans 8:38-39
New International Version (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Spirit we are joined with all that is so your prayer, prayed out of love and gratitude will be heard.
So to all mothers, our mothers, to mothers here in this church we say Thank you.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Take up your cross and follow me.

The difficulty with a gospel passage so rich in different themes and meaning is that it is hard to know where to start. It is about growth in faith, mission, worship, and the very nature of God, all encompassed in a beautifully crafted story.
So what I did is read it through slowly, decide which bit hit me the most and pray that what I come up with would resonate with the people here in Evenwood. You can let me know afterwards if any of that worked...but do it gently.
As I wrote in my weekly email, the verse that leaps of the page for me are the words placed into the mouth of Jesus “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”.
 Jesus worshipped God the Spirit, a Spirit he called “Father” because God the Father is the sourceless source of all things. The Father is the source of all creation which includes you and me. We are a part of the whole. It follows then that we are all related which leads to Christians calling ourselves brothers and sisters.
Jesus, our friend and brother invites us to join with him and pray with him to “Our Father who art in heaven.”   So, as Jesus taught, all Christian worship is directed to God the Father. Our Eucharistic prayer is a prayer to the Father, in union with Christ, in the power of the Spirit. All authentic Christian worship is directed towards the Father who is Spirit.
Jesus our friend and brother, as the person in whom all the wisdom of God was pleased to dwell, and in whom the Father chose to work and reveal and reconcile, shows us the way to God the Father.
Jesus shows us the way, in his words, actions and manner of life. The way leads us to God who is Spirit.
Now here is a surprising thing for many Christians. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ask anyone to worship him but In countless examples he asks us to follow him. In following Jesus we arrive at God because God the Father is both our source and our destination. This is why the early church, before the word “Christian” was coined was known simply as the way. It is a way of life, a way of living and behaving and being that leads us into the arms of God the Father. Following Jesus is the truest worship we can offer.
It is much harder to actually live out what he tells us than it is to worship him. But following him on the path is exactly what Jesus wants . I am certain that Jesus would trade all our worship for simply getting up and following in his footsteps.
It is by being led by Jesus we come to God.
What does such a life look like? It is one marked by self-sacrifice and undergirded by love.  It is a life marked by quality relationships based on that primary relationship of love between ourselves and God. It is a life where the fruit of the Spirit is actively growing. They are also lives marked by tragedies transformed.
There is not a single person here today who has not suffered, who doesn’t live with a host of regrets and disappointments, large and small. The Christian life is one where those tragedies do not have the final word. The central motif of Jesus’ life, is death and resurrection and it is this central motif that marks out the Christian life in our response to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”
We believe that dark will never have the last word. That even in the midst of the ultimate tragedy, the murder of an innocent man by being nailed to a cross the seeds of renewal, light and new life were there waiting to be revealed.   That is the message of Easter which we are preparing for.
This is the source of Christian hope. Death, suffering and all forms of darkness can never have the final word. We are a people marked by faith hope and love, and as St. Paul famously said, “the greatest of these is love”
In our Sunday worship we are here to be strengthened in order to be the people of God, by worshipping God in Spiirit and truth and learning to walk in the steps of Jesus, by developing our character and nurturing Christian virtues.
We have something valuable to offer a needy people. We have the words of eternal life. We can be confident that what we have is worth having and if it is worth having then it is worth sharing with others in what we say and do.
You the congregation here in Evenwood are the salt and light of God in this place. Worshipping God by following Jesus, the son of God, we become children of God as well.
As Jesus said. I call you servants no longer. I call you my friends if you do what I command you. And he wants us to take up our cross and follow him.
As brothers and sisters and friends of Jesus, we come to worship God in Spirit and truth, in order to be transformed into a people worthy of the name. 

Follow Jesus and you are worshipping God in Spirit and truth.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Be transformed.

If someone were to ask you what the point of being a Christian is, what is our goal, or even the point of the journey we are on, I wonder what you would say?
If asked myself I would have no hesitation in saying that one major point of the journey, is that I myself am changed, that I become a more rounded, more virtuous, more content human being who through my actions people might see God at work.
Being changed, being transformed, in common parlance “becoming a better person” is a part of every  Christian tradition and denomination, but nowhere is it given greater prominence than in the Orthodox churches.
Being changed through knowing the presence of God’s spirit within us and shining with that light is the whole point and goal of the Christian faith which is why the transfiguration of Jesus, the story we heard today, is absolutely pivotal to their self-understanding.
The transfiguration is a symbol, a representation of the goal of every Christian which is to shine with the light of God.
In Peter’s letter in which he talks of seeing the transfiguration on the mountain he says “You do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v.19)
I think Peter means by this, Gazing with awe on the spectacle of the transfiguration is good but it is not the end, it is the means to an end – the end is when the morning star rises in our hearts.
To be transformed as I have emphasised before was the core message of Jesus. “Metanoia” he said – be transformed because the kingdom of God is at hand.
The motor that drives this process of transformation comes with the realisation that God loves you as a Father loves his child and that this God of love is close to you. This process Jesus calls being “born again”.  Knowing that each of us has another source other than our biological parents – a spiritual Father.
Change is not pain free though. As I wrote this week, all change, no matter how positive  carries with it a sense of loss.  Resistance to change in other parts of our lives, church life included, is a good example of the resistance to change that we have regarding our own hearts and minds and actions.
Overcoming that resistance takes a group effort which is why we meet communally every week. Encouraging and strengthening and yes, challenging each other is also a part of church life. All of Paul’s letters bear witness to that fact.
As we enter the period of Lent, a time where traditionally we set aside time to contemplate and discern our priorities in life and the nature of our faith. Stephen Cherry, whose book “Barefoot prayers” is the chosen book for this year’s Big read calls Lent a journey to resurrection (that ultimate symbol of transformation). And that without our sights set on resurrection Lent would be a sad and sorry time.
The motor of all Christian transformation is love, and Stephen’s prayer for this Sunday before Lent is titled very simply.....
As I set my sights on your empty tomb,
As I begin to imagine the dangerous route
Of desert and temptation,
Fasting and fear,
Loneliness and crowds,
Silence and noise,
Desertion and betrayal,
Bread and wine,
Cross and nails,
Vinegar and gall,
Water and blood,
Spice and earth,
Cave and rock,
As I imagine and foresee all this,
And stoop not to tie but to unlace my boots,
Take off my shoes,
Slip off my sandals.....
I pray for just one thing:

Your gift of love.