Monday, 26 January 2015

On the third day......

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.
“On the third day” Now what in the Christian story happened on the third day?
Once that connection is made and you realise – oh yes, Jesus rose from the dead - we have the key to unlocking the secrets of this passage.  John called these types of events “signs” because he wanted us to direct our attention to their inner spiritual meaning beyond the mere superficial “wonders”. In fact when you put those two words together “signs and wonders” John uses them in a disparaging sense.
This story operates on different levels and in it Jesus’ mother Mary symbolises old Israel and Jesus the new revelation – the new faith – which explains the rather brusque way Jesus talks to his mother. Loving and respectful but the new faith is breaking away.
The water too can be interpreted as the Jewish religion. The water jars were for ritual washing, an important part of the faith – but significantly there were only six of them – a sign of imperfection because in Hebrew numerology seven was the number of perfection. So the turning of water into wine can be seen as the perfecting, or the fulfilling of all the Old Testament prophesies, finally all coming to fruition in Jesus.
All true, but if we look a little deeper again you can glimpse something still more.  
On the third day there was a marriage in Cana.
On that day there was a marriage between heaven and earth. They were joined together and could become one flesh. The Spirit wed permanently to our hearts and our lives.
And in so doing our life – plain water – could be transformed into rich wine.
The water in this story is you and I. We have the good news of Jesus, his rising from the dead, his Spirit joined to mankind to ensure that we have life in all its fullness – which as Jesus says directly later in John’s gospel (10:10) is the very reason that he came.
This first sign in John’s gospel coming right at the start of the gospel is the keynote sign – it is the gospel in miniature. When God’s Spirit is poured into our hearts we become truly alive – born again.
Our perspectives and priorities change. We want to please God by walking the way he’d like us to walk on the path that leads to life.
 As  James says(Jesus’ brother 2:19) when explaining the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.  “You believe in one God. Good. Even the devil believes in God”
Walking the walk happens when our hearts are converted and the Spirit rests there and his presence positively affects our life and actions.

It is when we respond to Christ that our lives that to turn from water into wine. That is not a leap into the dark but a step into the light.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

I am the bread of Life.

Epiphany as we know means “revelation” and we still talk of having an “Epiphany moment” in common parlance.
No-one in the New Testament demonstrates this better than Nathaniel. He went from a sceptic saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” to saying “You are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel” and the catalyst for that change was just one meeting with Jesus!
The most written about conversion in the New Testament was Saint Paul of course. His conversion too came after a meeting with Jesus except in Saint Paul’s case this was a meeting with the risen Christ. Paul or Saul as he was also known heard Jesus speak to him and say “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
While both conversions, that of Nathaniel and of Saul happened in very different circumstances, the common factor was a personal encounter with Jesus.
Relationships are the most important thing in our life, whether it is with our husbands or wives, children, parents, friends, colleagues etc..
Christianity is first and foremost about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Christianity is about the most important relationship you can ever have – that between yourself and your creator.
The reason God revealed himself through a human life is so that we could get to know what God was like in a way we could understand. Through Christ we know that God is loving, forgiving, righteous, compassionate and sacrificial.
That close personal relationship with God is evident in the lives of the Patriarchs and the prophets in the Bible but for most ordinary Jews God was a distant and fearful entity. So distant and Holy that they dared not even utter his name.
Through Jesus we learnt to think of God in terms of personal relationship. Jesus thought of God as His father and He encouraged us to think of Him in the same terms.
Later on in John’s gospel Philip asks Jesus to show us the Father, and Jesus responds by saying “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” in terms of his nature and character and general will.
And that is what Jesus also meant when he said  “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”
This is a reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder in the book of Genesis (Chapter 28) when in a dream Jacob sees a ladder stretching from the place where he slept reaching right up to heaven.
The spiritual meaning of this allusion is that that place for Jacob was a place connected to heaven, a place from which access to the Lord God himself was possible.
Jesus is saying that He is that ladder, that access point through whom you have access to the Father.
Through Jesus we have access to God, giving us the greatest and most satisfying relationship anyone could ask for.
This central and important relationship is the one that can truly satisfy our deep spiritual hunger. This is what Jesus meant when he said “I am the bread of life”. I am the spiritual food that satisfies. Perhaps this morning those are the words that should be on our lips when we take the bread at Holy Communion....”I am the bread of Life”


Monday, 12 January 2015

God speaks

This is where it begins. This is the point where Jesus has this tremendous overpowering religious experience of the Holy Spirit that confirms his relationship with God.
God is his Father and He is his son.
And through Jesus, the good news is we Christians are in that same relationship. God is our Father and we are His sons and daughters. When Jesus was asked how they should pray the answer started with the words
“OUR Father who art in heaven.
This realisation is what it means to be born again or born from above. When you realise that quite apart from our biological forebears we may have we also have a Spiritual Father “who art in heaven”.
Once this realisation was felt in full force it often produced moments of ecstatic  praise and excitement as we read in Acts when Saint Paul laid his hands on some disciples.
Important to note I think that these people, who had never even heard of the Holy Spirit were still counted as disciples but all they knew was that God forgave sins and they had repented. They lacked the FULLNESS of the revelation of Jesus that in him we were reckoned children of the living God.
It was this moment that propelled Jesus into his full blown ministry – a moment when the full import and destination of the Judaism he had been brought up with was made apparent and real to him in a very special and personal way.
This was a moment of revelation to Jesus that pushed him to reveal the full ramifications of this revelation to the world through his life and ministry, his death and his resurrection.
Exactly how Jesus was to react to this tipping point in his life wasn’t immediately apparent. The first thing that the Spirit did was lead Jesus into the wilderness for forty days to pray and contemplate and confront the demons and temptations that plague all of us.
Unlike most of us He stood firm and refused to be seduced into taking an easy path. He freely chose a path of love and service that eschewed power and wealth – a path that would lead to the cross.
Jesus heard the voice of the Father and the presence of his Spirit in his life. That is a gift for all Christians and God speaks in many and various ways.  Here is how John Wesley records the same thing in his diary.
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

That was God “speaking” to John Wesley and God speaks in many and various ways.
God spoke to me recently. For two awful days due to a medical misunderstanding I thought I had cancer and thought I was going to die. I didn’t tell anyone about it until after the event which was in the event a false alarm but I remember with tears in my eyes at my lowest point and at my point of need I turned to Jesus Christ and from that moment on I knew the fullness of my faith which had been so battered and bruised over these past few years.
That, alongside my marriage is the source of my renewed strength and commitment to the faith that as Paul puts it “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”.
God spoke to me direct to my heart bypassing all normal religious channels and spoke to me in my pain and distress. I resolved then that I would not turn my back on Him again and try my utmost to bring his gospel to a needy world.
Let us pray.
Loving Father,
Wherever we are in our Christian journey
Let us pray that God will warm our hearts and let us know  
That He loves us completely.
Help us to turn again to you in renewed faith and hope
and hear those words we all need to hear,
You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased

In Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The mystery revealed.

Epiphany is the season of revelation. How do we and how can we know anything at all about God except by revelation?
Things are revealed to us progressively in history. The patriarchs and prophets had wisdom and insights into the nature and character of God in former times but the unique decisive and definitive insight into the heart and purposes of God for Christians comes through Jesus Christ.
God is as Christ is.
For Matthew the purpose of re-telling the story of the visit of the Magi is not just to affirm that Jesus is that decisive and unique revelation, but also that this fact is to be revealed to the gentiles also and that the saving Grace of God is for all people and not just the Jews.
The Magi, or wise men, or in some traditions kings came from the East. They weren’t Jews. This is not said in so many words but the fact that they had to ask where the king of the Jews was to be born and they used the term king of the Jews instead of “Messiah” are the tell tale signs.
The three gifts that were brought are all prophetic symbols – further revelations - of what the meaning of Jesus was to be.
Gold for a king. God as revealed in and through Christ was to reign in our hearts and command our loyalty.
Incense for Jesus’ priestly ministry. He was to be the bridge between humanity and the heart of God. He was to open up direct line of communication person to person.
And Myrrh for the sacrificial nature of his death – a ransom for many – a self offering for the sins of the whole world that opened up that access to God.
The mystery of Christ is there revealed to us in those three symbolic gifts.
This is exactly what the first six verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says. He writes about the “mystery made known to me by revelation”
Verses 7 to 9 go on to tell us of Paul’s role in this revelation of the mystery of Christ. His role is to proclaim “the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who has created all things”
But that work is not Paul’s alone. Paul goes on “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might be made known”.
We have a role in God’s plan. We are to make the gospel of Christ known.
You will be aware that over Christmas that I invited everyone who attended a service to come to a session that explored Christianity a bit further. This is me trying to take that commission seriously. If you remember I prayed at each service that the Holy Spirit would move in people and that everyone would at some point would experience the presence of God. I hope and pray that people were moved at some point.
Currently a small number have taken up that offer and we thank God for that. As the prophet Zechariah wrote (chapter 4:10) “Do not despise these small beginnings”.
The C of E has been in historic decline for decades and this is felt most acutely in rural areas. Turning this situation around will be slow work like trying to turn around a super tanker. It will take our loyalty, our commitment and our self-sacrifice to take up the challenge
We need to grow and we need to evangelise and we need to take some risks. If you have a friend who you think might benefit please take an invite and give it to them. Accompany them to the evening . If you yourself feel like you’d like your faith refreshed, for a form to explore unresolved issues – sign up yourself.

We are at the beginning of a new year and a new year in the life of this Christian community. Let us resolve to be more outward looking – and armed with the gospel of Christ we can unashamedly step out in faith, nervously perhaps but also full of hope.