Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The miracle of miracles

Amongst the clergy, Trinity Sunday is traditionally the day when they would rather not preach.  And If you were lucky enough to have a curate then you’d give them the task!
The reason is that on the face of it the idea that one can be three and three can be one is so complicated and counter intuitive that it is beyond rational explanation.  Well I’m paid to have a go in any case so here goes. God may be beyond all adequate explanation......
........But then so is a human being! And as it says in Genesis that we are made in the image of God then perhaps we can look at ourselves to get some insight.
We all of us have consciousness. We are alive. We are something rather than nothing. Where does that life force come from and what is it? This first fact about our very existance is beyond scientific study. Consciousness is still a mystery.
The former professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge university John Polkinghorne, now an Anglican priest wrote once that “about 11 billion years ago all creation, us included, was nothing but a chemical soup. The greatest miracle in the universe is that billions of years later a part of that soup came alive, became conscious, and gained an intelligence so great that we could examine the universe in which we find ourselves and know that we were all once chemical soup!” This is the miracle of miracles.
This consciousness of ours is not disembodied. We have a physical presence in the world. Our consciousness is embodied. We have hands and feet and eyes and ears.
And what links those two things together is our will, our intelligence – that which guides and directs these bodies of ours as to how to act.  We are one but we have three aspects to our existance
So with God.
The Father is the sourceless source of all things, the creator, the first cause, the source of all life and consciousness. It is to this source that all our prayers are directed, as Jesus taught us....”Our Father, who art in heaven”
Physical creation is the result, the outworking of that primal consciousness
And the Spirit was the creative wisdom, the word, that was there with the Father in the beginning that caused this physical universe to come into being.
Christians believe that Jesus was the “word made flesh.”  The Greek word Logos which which we translate “Word” can mean simply “word” or it can mean “wisdom” or it can also encompass “meaning” We can say Jesus was the “word made flesh” because we believe that in Jesus we have the perfect human response to  the Father’s Spirit. His body, his will and his actions were in perfect accord with God so he attracted the title “Son of God”.
Our job as Christians is to do likewise, to seek the Spirit of God and so grow into a Christ-like response to his spirit as modelled for us by Jesus Christ.
This is what we are doing here. Opening our hearts to the guiding Spirit of God who speaks to us in many and various ways. He speaks as a still small voice within, he can speak to us through scripture, He can speak to us through music, beauty, science, He can speak to us through sacraments and prayer.  He can speak to us through other people and he can speak through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
In order to hear, we need to be listening. Let’s resolve to open our ears and our hearts to God’s prompting. Let us try to see and hear God in nature, in each other this morning, in scripture, in communion, and in the life of Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, 9 June 2014

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life”
We say this every Sunday. For us the Holy Spirit is not “out there” it is very much “in here”.
As Jesus said “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” – The Spirit comes from within.....the heart.
Christians are alive to God, alive to possibilities, optimistic, have hope and trust in the future. All that animates, excites, motivates and changes us for the better is from the Holy Spirit.
We are fairly au ait with the fact that the fruit that grows in us – gentleness, patience kindness etc grow from the seed of that Spirit, but seeds need watering and nurturing. They grow as they are used. Neglected plants will most likely wither and die or be overcome with weeds – I feel a parable coming on........ 
The Spirit also gives us gifts. Paul highlights the gifts of wisdom, faith, prophesy, healing , and speaking in tongue (or other languages). Not an exhaustive list and not everyone receives all of them, but in the same way as the fruit of the Spirit needs to be nurtured to grow the Gifts of the Spirit need to be opened and used.
If you give a child a toy and it remains in the box, sitting on the shelf, just being looked at, the gift is being wasted. Gifts need to be unwrapped, played with, enjoyed, and allowed to add value to our lives which in turn adds value to all life. The child will be thankful for that gift that was given in love.
That is true of the greatest gift any of us ever received which is the gift of life itself and true of the more specific gifts and fruit of the Spirit.
They have to be nurtured. We have to nurtured, and we also have to take responsibility for nurturing the fruit and gifts around us. We all have gifts. We all have a special gift that has been given to us by God unless we want to say that Jesus and the Father were lying to us.
Those gifts need to be discerned, nurtured so they will grow. There reason Paul gives for God giving us spiritual gifts is so that we build up the body of the church. We strengthen ourselves and so the whole body is strengthened.
It doesn’t matter how old or young you are – we all have a special role to play here. It is discerning what that is. We all have something special to offer. It may not be spectacular that being a prophet. It might be having the ability to cheer everyone up with your sunny personality and optimism. It may be you can use your physical strength, your organisational abilities, sewing, baking, compassion, your wise counsel.
This is exciting. It has enormous knock on effects when you understand the church community not as a number of people passively sitting in serried ranks but as a living breathing body with each part valuable with an important part to play. It changes our consciousness. We are a body of people each with a vital part to play in the life of this body. Worship becomes not something that you attend as a spectator, it becomes a participation sport. We worship together in Spirit and in truth.
All this is possible when we learn to trust and believe God’s will and commandments. I know that our church, the quality and depth of our worship, the quality and depth of our engagement with God, our world and each other can be transformed.
I know it and I trust it because;

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.  

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Suffering for Christ

Sometimes you just feel impelled to talk about something or someone. We have just returned from a serene week on Holy Island but I couldn’t get one person out of my mind. That person is  a Christian woman in Sudan called Meriam who was sentenced to death when eight months pregnant for giving up the Muslim faith – a faith she never held – and a further 100 lashes for having sexual relations with a non-Muslim – her husband.
Meriam gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday morning in prison chained to the floor. Her first son Martin, 20 months old is also in prison with her.
Because she has had a baby Islamic law says that the death sentence should be delayed for two years to wean the child. Reports on the news say that the Sudanese Government has caved in to intense international pressure and says they will release her. We’ll wait and see about that but that something like this can happen at all beggars belief.
The death sentence was served after Meriam refused to give up her Christian faith in a four day “grace” period.
All she had to do to save her life was say “I’m a Muslim” but she refused.
Think about that. What would we do in a similar situation?
Rotting in a third world hellhole prison waiting to be executed and all you had to do was renounce Christianity and declare “I’m a muslim” to save yourself but you refuse to do so. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had have done. I wouldn’t blame her is she still does give in, but in not doing so she has become an example of courage to the whole world.
Meriam’s Christian faith is not just a formality, not just a form of words, not an abstract set of rituals, her faith is a part of her. Denying her faith would be denying her very self. Her faith has literally become a life or death issue.
It brought me up sharp as I’m sure it brings us all up sharp. We in Britain were born in freedom and we exercise our religion freely. It is hard to imagine what Meriam is going through but unfortunately it is not unique.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.
According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.
I could go on forever documenting the persecution.
For example, of the 65 Christian churches in Baghdad, 40 have been bombed at least once since the beginning of the 2003 US-led invasion. The thriving Christian population of 1.5 million is now numbered in thousands
India’s northeastern state of Orissa was the scene of the most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century. In 2008, a series of riots ended with as many as 500 Christians killed, many hacked to death; thousands more were injured and at least 50,000 left homeless.
The abducted Christian girls in Nigeria are just the latest in a catalogue of barbaric acts carried out against Christians in Nigeria with monotonous regularity.
When we sing and pray and break bread together today in freedom and safety let us bear in mind the people who are actually being killed for their faith throughout the world.
Let’s break bread in solidarity with people like Meriam, languishing in her cell today with two children under the age of two waiting to be executed for being a Christian.
It is shocking and disturbing but also inspiring and challenging. Let us feed off her courage. Let her strength be our strength. Let her resolve be our resolve.