Sunday, 27 April 2014

Spirit of the living God Fall afresh on me.

In the gospels we have two different accounts of “the giving of the Spirit”. The most familiar one, because it lends itself more easily to a church calendar of services is the one placed by Luke (who wrote the book of Acts) on the feast of Pentecost. The less familiar one is from John’s gospel where the Spirit is breathed on the disciples on Easter Sunday.
The meaning that Luke means to convey by placing this event on the Jewish feast of Pentecost is nowadays lost on most modern Christians but by the time Luke was writing the feast had also gained a significance as a festival celebrating the giving of the law to the Jewish people.
Luke wanted to say load and clear that the New Covenant (the new law) is to be written on our hearts, and is available to all people. By placing the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost Luke is saying The New Covenant surpasses (or fulfils) the old covenant.
The version that comes to us in John’s gospel is much more Christological. In John’s gospel the Spirit of God is breathed through Jesus to the disciples whereas in Luke’s account there is a sound from heaven like a rushing wind followed by tongues of fire.
But in both, the Spirit is the Spirit of God, an immediate presence, a counsellor , a comforter. To use picture language, If the Father is God outside of us, Jesus is God beside us, then The Holy Spirit is God within us.
We are to listen to the promptings of the Spirit of God who will guide us into all truth. Discerning the voice of God in our life is the true work of the Christian. Why? Because that is what Jesus did.
He prayed with others, he prayed on his own, and constantly sought the will of God in any situation. As he prayed in the garden of Gethsemene “Yet not my will but yours”.
Jesus interpreted the commandments in the light of the Spirit of God prompting him to do so. Instead of making the commandments looser, it made them even stronger. For example,  hating someone in your heart became as bad as murder in an individual’s soul because both things were caused by the same impulse!
Praying for yourself or someone else to receive the Spirit of God is the highest spiritual work you can do. A prayer like that is like a voice crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of God, to carve out of the moral, social, political and personal wildernesses that we find ourselves  a place for God, for his will and character to be worked out through us, to build God’s kingdom on earth, to continue the work started by Jesus 2000 years ago.
That is our work. Both individually and as part of the corporate entity we call the church. That is our mission.  In choosing to listen to and be directed by God’s Spirit, discerned through prayer and attentive and insightful attention to scripture, we become agents of God’s will in the world, just as Jesus was a vessel used to reveal God’s character and will in the world.
This is what I mean when I say that all Christian witness must be “Pentecostal” to be truly Christian.  Pentecostal is understood as being led by the Spirit of God.
Given that I’ve already said that praying for either ourselves or others to receive the Spirit of God is the highest spiritual work any of us can do it would be odd if that wasn’t exactly what we are going to do now.
So let us pray.
First let us still ourselves and consciously open ourselves to the possibility of God making himself known to you and to others in our lives and allowing ourselves to be changed by that encounter, to become spiritually alive to the Spirit of God;
Ask God to show you who to pray for. It might be yourself, you might want to name a friend or family member, you might want to pray for people in your street, or this village; make your request known, and as we sit in openness and anticipation let me pray this familiar, ancient, catholic yet thoroughly Pentecostal prayer on behalf of us all.

Almighty God   
Unto whom all hearts are open,
All desires known, and no secrets are hidden.
Cleanse the thought of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you
And worthily magnify your Holy name
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Christ is risen!

After the defeat of Good Friday when Jesus was nailed to a cross and died, after the desolation of Saturday when the disciples felt abandoned like orphan children came something extraordinary.
The details differ of course as all accounts differ when written by different people from different backgrounds and different perspectives and preoccupations but the one thing all the different accounts are united about is this; Jesus is alive; Jesus rose from the dead.
It is this simple yet awe inspiring and frightening fact that propelled the Christian revolution that saw the faith balloon and spread with lightening speed across the known world.
What an earthquake Christianity caused is testified by the fact that the authority, the Roman empire that executed Jesus and later persecuted Christians wholesale had within 300 years became Christian itself. Nothing like it in history has ever come close to emulating this feat.
What happened on that first Easter morning changed everything and has had more effect on human development, history, art, culture, philosophy and everything else than any other force before or since.
It is significant that Matthew calls Sunday after Jewish convention the “first day of the week”. That first Easter Sunday is indeed the first day of the dawning of a new era, a new way of perceiving and experiencing relationships, a new way of living, a new way of perceiving  God.
What happened on that first Easter morning resulted in a new sense of unbridled Joy that has sustained the church through good times and bad times for two thousand years. 
Two things changed on that first Easter morning. One was that it dawned on those first disciples that there really is life after death but that everything that Jesus said and did in his life suddenly had the seal of approval of God himself.
The resurrection was God’s YES to everything that Jesus said and did and God’s NO to the corrupt and exploitative powers of this world.
These two things together point to a radical reorientation of our lives when we come to believe.
We are not alone, drifting aimlessly through space on a dying rock, completely separate from everyone and everything else. We are known – we are Loved.
We are known and loved by the very source of life itself and are forever held in the palm of his hand in this life and in the next.
What we do matters. How we live matters if we truly believe.
In Jesus’ life we have been given a template to follow. Jesus said. “Follow me, if you want to be my disciple”. Christianity is not an empty and disconnected philosophy plucked out of the ether. It is built upon a real life, lived to the full in obedience to the law of love.  It is built upon a real death, faced with courage and resolve. More than this, Christianity is based upon that real man who lived and died a real life and ROSE AGAIN.
Christianity is built upon a man who re-defined our relationship with God and each other. 
In our Christian life, which can often be arduous and confusing it is tempting to stop working so hard at it, we fall back into an unconscious way of living because following Jesus seems so difficult.
It is at these times that I find the words of the risen Jesus to his disciples so comforting.
The last words of Jesus, indeed the last words of Matthew’s gospel are ones of loving relationship and love;
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.
We have a God, who is outside of us, within us, and who walks beside us on this journey of life. A God who will not leave you, and will pick us up when we fall, brush us down and set us back on the right track.

A very Happy Eater to you all.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Praying in the kingdom

The raising of Lazarus is the last great sign in chapter 11 of John’s  gospel that started with the keynote sign of “turning water into wine” This final sign has Jesus bringing a dead man back to life quite literally.
This story doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels – a strange thing as John’s gospel was the last to be written but the historicity of it is irrelevant.
What does john mean to say to us through this story?
The answer to that is that God and his love is the author of life and with God not even death can overcome true life.
Life comes out of death in a literal way after we die but even more than that, God can transform your life in the here and now while we are very much alive.
In John’s gospel “eternal life” is NOW. It is a quality of life that is rooted in Love and Connectedness.
Eternal life is not simply something waiting for us on the other side, eternal life can be enjoyed NOW.
Eternal life means that our lives are not bound by death but that our lives are lived against an infinite horizon.
There is no situation, or a person, or an organisation, or a church, is never so moribund that its life cannot be transformed. The water of anything can be transformed into rich wine.
This is the source of Christian Hope.
 If you want a subject for your prayers I’d suggest that as a church we commit to praying that the hearts of people in our village may be touched and turned by the Spirit of God to seek Him. That prayer doesn’t exclude ourselves of course. Let us pray that spiritually they may be brought to life by God’s spirit, not just to fill the church or to make me happy but to fulfil our role as Christians and to expand our role and ability to be the salt in our community.
We often say we’d like this church to grow don’t we? Well let’s pray for that to happen.
Let us pray: Almighty God our heavenly Father, we turn to you and pray with all our heart and soul that the hearts of many, starting with ourselves are turned towards you. We pray for our spiritual health and vitality, that we may be strengthened, that we may flourish as salt and light in this village. Amen.

Let us not leave this as a one off prayer either. I invite all of us to make a prayer for growth and renewal a regular part of all our personal prayers.