Monday, 29 June 2015

Turn and be healed.

It is good to remind ourselves sometimes why anything in the gospels was written at all. It was written that we might be drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so why might someone be drawn to Jesus by this reading from Mark?
Well first of all it portrays Jesus as the great healer – not just of serious medical issues like the woman with the haemorrhage but even has power over death.
Healing has both physical and spiritual dimensions. Conversion to Christianity is most often portrayed as passing from spiritual death to life and the baptism rite is supposed to symbolise that. We recall what St. Paul said about it.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6: 3-4)
So baptism itself is a spiritual healing prefigured by these physical healings from death and illness. 
What Mark wants us to get from this passage is that Jesus is Lord of life and is someone who has dominion over all life.
What is also interesting is that the woman came to Jesus of her own accord, whereas the Father interceded on behalf of his daughter. On both occasions Jesus responded. We know the woman had faith that she would be healed but there is no indication that the little girl had any faith at all but because her Father had faith and asked on her behalf, Jesus still responded.
His grace and mercy are wider than we are often able to see or admit and can act through the faith of third parties.
Healing in the Christian tradition is primarily spiritual. The Hebrew concept of Shalom speaks of much more than peace, but speaks of wholeness, completeness, and this is the spiritual healing we all want.
Physical healings also take place but why one and not another eludes us. For an insight into a Christian response into physical suffering as opposed to spiritual suffering and healing we need look no further than Saint Paul himself.
He was famously afflicted with a debilitating physical condition which is never spelled out but to which Paul refers to as “my thorn in my flesh”.
It is significant that Paul writes that he prayed to be healed three times that this thorn should leave him but God spoke to him and said “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (Romans 12: 9)
God’s Grace and power was shown up better with Paul’s thorn in his flesh than without it.  The word “perfect” means “complete” in the Hebrew idiom.

As we ponder that, our thoughts might inevitably turn towards the sufferings of Jesus, borne graciously and made complete in and through the suffering on the cross, that through suffering, completeness, perfection, healing and salvation  were revealed.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

God is Love.

If I were to ask you all the question “Have you ever experienced the presence of God in your life” there would obviously be a huge range of replies, but I am going to make a bold statement.
Everyone in this Marquee has experienced the presence of God in their life!
How and when did that happen you might want to ask?
Well let me re-phrase the question.
How many people here have experienced Love in their life – either in the giving or receiving or more naturally both.
John writes in the Bible that God is Love and therefore Love is God.
When you experience Love in any true sense you are experiencing the presence of God who is the first cause, sustaining presence and driving force of the future of the whole universe.
The universe was created in Love, is sustained by Love, and is redeemed in Love. And love can be defined as a relationship expressed and made real in unselfish service to the other, without counting the cost.
John goes on the write “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us”
Love is multi-faceted and shouldn’t be conflated to become synonymous with romantic feelings, rainbows and ribbons. Love is tough and costly.
The supreme symbol of Love in Christianity is not hearts and flowers, it is a man flogged to within an inch of his life, mocked, spat upon and then nailed to a piece of wood to die by drowning in his own blood.
In submitting to such a torment, Jesus spelled out to us the limitless love of God. This was a shocking demonstration of the length, breadth and depth of the Love of God shown to us in a human life.
In that shocking event, we believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself as St. Paul put it.
Loves ultimate expression is complete self-sacrifice for us. This is the God we worship and sing praise to, sing hymns to, pray to, kneel to, and to whom we return His Love in our own sacrificial way.
God cannot die or be replaced because Love cannot die or be replaced. In a few moments we are going to sing “Be still for the presence of the Lord”. We will sing of his presence, his glory and his power.
This is not a theory – we are singing of a presence, a glory and a power that you all already know and all of you have already experienced in your heart.


In this world you will have trouble.

When the great gales of life come and rock our boat and threaten to engulf us our response will usually be just like that of the disciples – fear.
It is significant that even at the height of the storm Jesus found it easy to sleep. The disciples in their fear turned to Jesus for help and He stilled the storm.
The most important spiritual lesson to be gleaned from this parable is just that. That our first port of call in times of trouble should be to approach Jesus in prayer and faith.
I am reminded of another quote from Jesus where he says “I have come that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
It is very important to note from both this parable and the quote from John’s gospel is that we cannot avoid trouble in this world. On the contrary, we are assured that we will have trouble.
It is how we respond that will make the difference. Jesus listened and then He acted and also rebuked them for not having enough faith that in fact Jesus does have divine power to act.
In a very important sense this is a parable about our own salvation. Who do we turn to for help?
I am again drawn back to my experience not too long ago when I thought I was near death, of consciously turning to Jesus in my hour of need. That was me in the boat being swamped and turning to Jesus for help.
From that experience has come a spiritual peace – a security that I needed that confirmed to me that when the chips are down – I am a follower of the way of Jesus. Perhaps I needed that experience to confirm to me where my heart truly was.
What it has done is make me more confident, more sure of my faith. Whatever else life throws at me I have the assurance of God that says to me “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.”

Such assurance and peace -money, fame, possessions cannot buy. It is simply given but must be received to become effective.   

Monday, 15 June 2015

Sowing the seed

The parable of the seed growing spontaneously is first of all a call to patience.
But it is patience with a promise and therefore hope.  Jesus bids us to calm down, don’t force the issue. If the seeds are sown then as another parable tells us, whilst some will fall on stony ground or be choked some will fall on good ground, so have patience and let it grow.
That assumes of course that any good seed is being sown in the first place. I mean we could ask ourselves in the silence of our hearts right now; How many people over the last year have I spoken to about my faith in Christ?
Or, my whole life how many? Would there be too many to think about or too few to mention – perhaps no-one? If it is no-one, it is never too late to start.
If no-one was sowing any seed at all, there is no chance whatsoever of any new shoots growing anywhere and the church would stagnate and die.
But we can be prone to look around us and say things like, “no-one is going to listen to little old me”, and “well I don’t think I’m a very good advert for the faith anyway” and “I won’t know what to say if I get cornered or they ask me lots of other questions I can’t answer.....”
Well let’s transport ourselves back into the Palestine of Jesus’ day. To any observer the visual evidence for some great new era dawning was scant. It all depended on the poor, tiny, unremarkable band of Jesus’ followers – not many great good or wise there! None were schooled in Philosophy or had access to great libraries or as steeped in the Bible as the Pharisees. But they were armed with something much greater – their experience of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection and the experience of the Holy Spirit. They were confident in what they had seen and experienced and it is this that they shared.
Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is apt. When sown it is tiny but can grow under the right conditions into a mighty plant.
If you imagine your own words and actions as your own personal mustard seed, small and insignificant in your own estimation perhaps, they still have to be sown if we want to see any chance of any growth. And the seeds you sow are your own lived experience of your faith.
A good exercise would be to make a list of all the positive things that having faith and being a member of this church gives to you. Whatever that thing or things are that make a positive difference to your life, this is your seed that you can sow. They are the things that have helped you to cope or grow, or live, or come to terms with something or someone, given comfort, purpose, meaning or led you to forgive; these are the positive things that you can tell other people about at an opportune time.

As Jesus said before, don’t expect results quickly, don’t force things – have patience. Some won’t grow, but some will. And watching it grow is marvellous.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Born of the Spirit

In the middle of the night a very learned and devout man, a Pharisee, came to visit Jesus. Nicodemus is also described as being a leader of the Jews which probably means he was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the 70 member supreme court of the Jewish people whose jurisdiction was worldwide.
That such an important man should want to visit Jesus, a penniless charismatic preacher from Galilee probably explains why Nicodemus chose to visit Jesus under the cloak of darkness.
A more learned, pious and influential man it would be hard to imagine. The Pharisees devoted their lives to scrupulously reading and interpreting every word of the law and applying it to every day life.
But something was obviously missing in his life. That’s why he slipped out in the darkness to seek out Jesus and his wisdom.
He was seeking wisdom and he was given it. He was told that for all his intellect, all his powers of interpretation and deduction gleaned from the Bible and applied in formulating laws for the people to follow there was a gaping hole in his life – an emptiness that in going to Jesus Nicodemus was obviously trying to fill. He needed a relationship with God; the spirit of sonship.
It was there that the missing piece of the jigsaw was given to Nicodemus. What he was missing was an experience of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that no amount of study and disciplined reading of the Bible could give him.
It is not that anything that Nicodemus was doing was wrong in itself – rather it was to be commended but his knowledge of God was incomplete without personal knowledge and experience.
Without him knowing it explicitly Nicodemus was drawn to the enigmatic man Jesus because he recognised in him the wisdom of God. Jesus was making the “name” of God, the whole character of God known and Jesus could do so because Jesus had been born of the Spirit.
Remember Jesus’ experience at the river Jordan when John baptised Him? The Spirit of God came upon him in bodily form like a Dove.
The result of this spiritual experience was that Jesus would here those words. “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When we too are born again we hear the same words resting and felt burrowing into our hearts; Lynne, Rachel, Jim, Martin, Kitty, John, “you are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”.
Thus you are born again as a Spiritual child of God and Spiritual friend and brother of Jesus.
This is both a great gift and privilege and also a great responsibility. To be a part of that family, bearing the family name,  means that you should never, nor should you ever want to, bring shame or reproach to your family. Nor would you want to disown your Family.
There is a well known phrase used by parents to children that goes “When you’re under my roof you live by my rules”.
So it is with the family of God, except that we choose to follow the way out of a love that comes from within. We should pay no attention to the ways of the world, what seems current and trendy in terms of morals, virtue and behaviour, especially in terms of sex and relationships generally.
If we claim to be a part of God’s family then we should be exhibiting that family likeness in those areas of our lives.
You can experience the power and presence of God in many and various ways. Jesus uses the phrase “by water and the Spirit” which immediately conjures up the image of baptism. So at first it seems clear – you experience the Holy Spirit through baptism. But then Jesus goes on....the Spirit is like the wind, and cannot be pinned down and examined, or forced into a box, but nevertheless the Spirit is the key active person of God so missing from so many lives.

It is the Holy Spirit that brings us into that living relationship, that confirms to us that we are children of God.