Monday, 25 May 2015

I am with you always.

Loneliness is probably the biggest affliction that besets human beings and it comes in two forms – one much more apparent than the other – but they are related to each other.
One is the loneliness one feels when we have no human contact or inter-action – that sense of isolation and lack that can eat into your soul.
There is also a kind of cosmic loneliness where as a human being we feel alone and isolated in a cold unfeeling universe where no-one cares, no one loves us and in the end all we ever were is just destroyed by our own death anyway. 
At it very root you know, Christianity addresses those two kinds of loneliness head on. In the end, Christianity is not so much a set of rules to follow and creeds to recite, but at root a relationship.
A relationship with God the Father through Jesus His Son, and maintained by the power of the Holy Spirit. We get access to God through a relationship with Jesus. How is that achieved but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
So you see the Holy Spirit is indispensible to the Christian faith. Without the Spirit in your heart you cannot see the truth of Jesus who leads us into the mystery of God.
When the disciples had Jesus with them I’m sure everything was bearable even if things were difficult because it was like having your big brother always there with you to shield you, guide you, fight your battles for you, give you advice etc..
When Jesus was killed in the flesh can you imagine what the disciples must have felt like? Well, we don’t have to imagine, because it is well documented. They were grief stricken, frightened and demoralised and they fled.
What brought them back together and galvanised them into the greatest evangelistic force the world has ever seen? Two things!
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit in his place to be with us for evermore.
And that second bit is what Pentecost is all about. We are celebrating the fact that God Himself is with us for evermore and will never let us go. It is the Holy Spirit that brings Jesus close to us as our brother and friend. It is the Holy Spirit that comes alongside us, guides us, strengthens us and mentors us in the same way that Jesus did for the disciples when He was alive in the flesh.
It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes Jesus’ famous promise at the end of Matthew’s gospel “I am with you always until the end of the age”. It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this which is also known as the Spirit of Jesus. 
This essentially is what the passage in John really means in real terms.
Jesus also says that the Holy Spirit will convince people of the sinfulness of their actions in engineering the murder of Jesus, and that He will convince us of Jesus’ righteousness, and the fact that we will have to face God face to face one day to account for our actions.
Of course as Christians, we have no fear of this because we know that the love of God demonstrated on the cross is so all forgiving, all knowing and righteous that if we place our trust in his atoning sacrifice we have no fear – only love and gratitude.
The Spirit - by working in us and through us will bring glory to Jesus. Achieving that one thing is the most extraordinary achievement of the Holy Spirit
It is the most glorious work of the Holy Spirit that He has convinced Christians that the executed Jewish criminal Jesus was and is the son of God. An extraordinary thing when you think about it.
So the Spirit is in our hearts and reminds us that we are never truly alone but always connected to God, the creator and redeemer of the whole universe.
And in the church we are called to remedy that other bane of our lives, the spiritual loneliness that keeps us separate from others.
We are members, one of another, of the church which is the body of Christ. How? We are one body because of the Holy Spirit that binds us.

“Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”  

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

I have made his name known

In this confusing environment where there are competing religions giving different accounts of God and where the prevailing orthodoxy is secular liberal humanism, which tells us that all religions are to be treated the same and of equal value - how can we be confident that to put it bluntly that Christianity is true? Is Jesus’ account of who God is, the definitive and true account? There may be several things to take into account but in the end it comes down to - well who and what you trust? When you hear the words of scripture do you hear and recognise the voice of the good shepherd?
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life”. In today’s gospel Jesus says “Father I have made your name known”. Now “name” is used in a very special way in the Old Testament. It doesn’t mean a name by which someone is called it means the whole character of a person.
In the first few verses of our gospel reading today that is what Jesus is saying to the disciples – that in his body and speech He has revealed the whole character of God as far as we can understand it. He has made His name known.
So we should know that our Christian discipleship is based on the realisation that in Jesus’ words we hear God’s voice, and in Jesus’ deeds we see God’s action. So when we hear Jesus’ commands we obey them for we recognise God’s voice.
When we begin to trust, we can be confident that in following Jesus we are following God.
After three years active ministry we could say that the results of Jesus’ life were pretty meagre. True there was a wider circle of followers but the inner circle consisted of twelve Galilean peasants – one of whom betrayed him and Jesus ended up being executed.
And yet Jesus was confident. He had confidence in God but He also had confidence in humanity. He trusted God and He trusted us to carry on the work he started to spread the truth of God throughout the world. As Bishop Mark said at the confirmation service last Thursday – He is counting on us!
And it is for us disciples that he then prays. A Christian disciple is a person given to Jesus by God by means of a movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Jesus prays for us who are “in the world”, and in John’s gospel “world” means “human society without God”.   We are in this world and Jesus is praying for us that we may keep faith and win the world for God by bringing it back to the way of Christ.
Jesus doesn’t call us “out of the world” he wants us to get stuck in and wants to equip us to lead a Christian life within it as faithful witnesses. It is in the world that we live out our faith. We are not to disown the world or try to retreat from it but to affect it as salt and light.
We don’t do this on our own. We do it in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of Jesus.
Jesus also says that “He has been glorified in us”. How do we do that? In the same way that a successful athlete brings honour to their trainer, or a great scholar brings honour to his teacher, a transformed human being bearing the fruit of the kingdom brings glory to Jesus. It is a testimony to the truth.
Christianity is in essence a missionary faith. Jesus was sent by the Father, and in turn Jesus sends us.
To be sent effectively means we must have something to proclaim, something to give. The first and most important thing we can give is an accurate picture of what God is like. The full truth of God is in Jesus Christ and no other.

Jesus said. “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

"You did not choose me, I chose you"

We did not choose God, God chose us and made us a wonderful offer to accept or push aside;
How are we to respond? In order to make our choice we have to consider what has been offered;
We are chosen for joy! However hard the Christian way might be we are offered joy and there is a joy and satisfaction in doing the right thing. Gloomy Christianity is a contradiction in terms, and the image of Christianity of a dour, joyless person dressed in black has done untold harm to us down the ages. We are sinners, but we are redeemed sinners. We have forgiveness and walk the way that leads to eternal life
We are chosen for love! We are sent out into the world not to compete, and argue and bicker with each other but to model a new way of relating to each other. Some might say, how can He order us to love each other? His answer is to say that “No one can show greater love than this – to lay down his life for his friends” and Jesus did just that. He earned the right to tell us by going before us to the cross.
Jesus chose us to be his friends! Some of the greatest figures in the Bible were proud to be called servants, or slaves, of God but Jesus offers something much more, a friend of God. We no longer have to gaze on God from afar but have unlimited direct and personal access to God. We are no longer standing in the crowd watching the king ride by in his magnificent carriage in the distance – we are in the carriage, by his side.
He chose us to go and bear fruit; To be adverts for Christianity certainly but simply as an end in itself to enhance and improve the world. Not to bully people into becoming Christians but to attract them to it – that they would want what we have.
So Jesus chose us to be privileged members of an extended family that could approach God in prayer that whatever we ask the Father in his name it will be granted.
Now we must approach this last saying about prayer with a right attitude. Now that sounds as if we can pray for anything and God will grant it but there are definite Biblical laws concerning prayer we must take into account.
Prayer must be a prayer of faith (James 5:15) and not just a formality, a repetition of words. It cannot be hopeless. There is little use praying to be changed, if we don’t believe it is possible to be changed.
Prayer must be in the name of Christ. This means we cannot pray for something which we know Jesus would disapprove, like personal gain or vengeance.
We must pray “Thy will be done”. We never know better than God, so real prayer must often be not send me the thing I want but make us able to accept the things he wills.
We are chosen for joy, chosen for love, chosen to be his friends, chosen to bear fruit and to seek his will in prayer.

He chose us. What do we choose?