Monday, 14 July 2014

You can't beat experience.

You could say that the parable of the sower in Matthew is a gift to a preacher because the parable is then explained to us just after it is delivered. It is how people receive the gospel when it is preached to them.
But the states of reception, understanding and fulfilling of the word of the kingdom differ according to our own state of mind, and our personal circumstances .
And because our state of mind and personal circumstances change then we can experience one or more of these conditions in our life more than once.
Who here hasn’t had their faith tested to breaking point by money worries or bereavement or loneliness or desperate disappointment. Who hasn’t sidelined their faith in pursuit of some other goal.  Who at some point has admitted to themselves that actually I just don’t understand, find it all so confusing and the words and ideas just don’t resonate at all sometimes?
At the breakfast club Claire described her faith in terms of a journey. And on any journey there will be different landscapes amidst which you will be travelling, and these different landscapes, the backdrops and circumstances against which you live your life will affect your faith.
Which is why at some point in your life you also need a deep experience to carry you through. And by experience I don’t necessarily mean a vision or revelation (though it doesn’t exclude those things). By experience I mean the support of people around you, an experience of kindness, friendship, forgiveness, a helping hand when you are making heavy weather of life, experience of love, an experience of Grace. An experience of peace or oneness whether at the Eucharist or standing in awe of natural beauty, or being comforted by a favourite verse of the Bible.
We are each other’s travelling companions along the way, so we are all a part of the travelling experience of those sitting around us.
Ideas can be challenged and changed but an experience is a constant companion etched deep into our souls. I am convinced that Christianity has to be experienced rather than just taught for it to become a part of our souls.
This places a certain burden of responsibility on all of our shoulders – but if we claim the right to be children of God then this comes with responsibilities.
Just as in society  as a whole, if the culture of rights is elevated far beyond any sense of responsibility, then the rot sets in.
If we need help to fulfil our responsibilities as a child of God we have our fellow Christians who are part of the same body as us because we are bound together by the spirit of God.
That same spirit dwells in our hearts also, encouraging and strengthening us, unseen and unheralded. For as Paul said this morning;
“If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to us through that same spirit that dwells in your heart”.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The eternal invitation

Jesus recognised that many people are contrary and will see what they want to see.
It hardly mattered what Jesus and John the Baptist were saying - the former was dismissed as a glutton and a drunkard because he loved life and parties and the latter was dismissed as demon possessed because he was an ascetic.
Jesus described them like children squabbling in a playground because they can’t agree whether to play “funerals” with John and mourn over their sins or “weddings” with Jesus and celebrate the dawning kingdom of God.
But Jesus said “Yet Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”. Spiritually both mourning and a wedding are needed. Mourning our separation from God and acknowledging our need of him gives us humility and knowing that gap between ourselves and God has been bridged by Jesus (because God was in him reaching out to touch us) gives us joy. Both are necessary and complement each other. Both John the baptist and Jesus have been vindicated by their deeds not just their words.
After criticising childish behaviour in one respect Jesus then commends other positive virtues attributed to children like sincerity and honesty and innocence, contrasting those with the too clever by half so called “wise and intelligent” who imagine they can undermine anything and everything with their cleverly constructed arguments and cynicism. 
Last week I was involved in a very deep and honest discussion about death, grief and love with people who like me had all lost someone very close to them. It wasn’t a debate using lots of clever clever arguments – it was a disclosure of true experience of love and loss.  It became clear to me that Loving Relationship is at the heart of life. It is fundamental and necessary. It is what makes us fully functioning persons and it is then that it dawned on me why Christianity is true and will never die.
It is because Christianity is fundamentally at its heart a relationship; a relationship with God who is revealed in the person Jesus Christ. Loving relationship lies at the centre of creation, between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When all is said and done, when all pretence and image and vanity are shed, when all our defences are lowered that is all that is left – the love – a lovethat binds us.
Loving relationship stands at the centre of our lives and so two things are needed to experience fullness of life; Close personal relationship with God and each other.  The Father is revealed in the Son so we can enter in to that most primal of relationships – that spiritual relationship between ourselves and our creator that you can call salvation or eternal life. But human beings, because we are enfleshed and not just disembodied spirits need more. We also crave and need deep personal relationships with each other if we are to flourish.
For Matthew the gospel of the healing relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus cannot be separated from patient learning, and obedience to the “wisdom” of God revealed through Jesus Christ.
Jesus invites us to turn our lives towards God by following him on the way. It is a personal invitation with everlasting validity. This invitation is current and addressed to every single one of us.;

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Catch the vision!

Have you ever seen the film the “Blues brothers”. The whole premise of the film is their attempts to raise money for the “penguin” - the chief nun who runs the catholic orphanage they went to as children.
They used to say that “they were on a mission from God”.
That is what you call getting “the big picture” if ever there was one.
Expanding our own vision of what we are doing is something that would help us all.
We can all be very dismissive of our own roles and contributions to church life. We see them all as so little and ordinary
“Oh, I just do this or I just do that. I just make tea or I just help prepare the altar. But everyone and every contribution is needed to make a church community run. The more people get actively involved the church starts to not just “run” but thrives and prospers.
In the Blues brothers, everything they did was seen in the context of the big vision – the mission from God.
That is true for all Christians. We are all on a mission from God. That is the Big vision and catching hold of that vision and holding on to it is the best motivating force we have.
Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV says “Where there is no vision the people perish”. Everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator, trivialised and easily dismissed. But with vision we raise our sights, do what we do with greater clarity and are motivated to do much more.
Why did we bother to raise money for our repairs? Well, there are at least two answers to that question. One set of answers would be. So we can keep dry or turn the lights on without being electrocuted. But in the context of the Christian vision we are doing these things for the glory of God to provide a house where the gospel of Christ can be effectively preached, where God can be worshipped where the Kingdom of God can be proclaimed and people’s lives enriched by hearing the good news.  It helps us further our mission to bring the Christian faith to the people.
Our vision should flow from the vision of Jesus Christ. For Jesus, his preaching, his parables all concerned the “Kingdom of God”.  Everything he did and preached about was to that end. He held his vision always before him and every aspect of his life was a reflection of the kingdom.
Seeing ourselves as emissaries from God – people on a mission from God is the highest calling anyone could ever aspire to and Jesus tells us that anyone who welcomes us as a Christian or receives a cup of cold water from us when they are thirsty are actually welcoming Him and the Father – they are being helped by us, who is also Jesus helping, who is also the Father helping them.
In talking about and proclaiming our faith, and in helping others in his name we are doing God’s work. We are on a mission from God.

Jesus said to the twelve: whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one that sent me. Whoever becomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”