Monday, 31 August 2015

What would Jesus think?

“You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human traditions”. Harsh words!
Perhaps we should take a good hard look at ourselves. It is necessary and of course inevitable that a lot, if not most of what we hold dear in the church are in fact man made traditions – robes and stoles, choirs, both ornate liturgies and evangelical praise services,  the Latin Mass or the BCP, the Papacy, ornate Gothic cathedrals....I could go on and on.
If I could amend an evangelical phrase WWJD (What would Jesus do?) I might wonder, in the light of that sentence about the traditions of men “What would Jesus think about all this?”
“What would his reaction be? Do you think this is what he had in mind?”
It seems to me that the answer to that question would sound something like this. There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these traditions so long as you realise and know in your heart that they are all signposts pointing to a greater truth and a greater reality. They have no power or validity apart from the Spirit and presence of God to which they all should lead us to.
The sin is when we start to give greater worth to the form rather than the substance. The substance is always the divine and God’s character and will, revealed in scripture and in Jesus himself – his life, teachings, death and resurrection.
When religion or church becomes an end in itself we have short circuited the system. We are communing with death rather than life.
Our link to this greater reality is the energising and active power of God’s Holy Spirit.
We all have our preferences when it comes to church forms and traditions but if any of them fail to reveal God’s will and purpose, fail to reveal and immerse us in the divine Grace then they are dead and deficient.
We can often forget that the purpose of all these traditions is to make us more alive, to bring fullness of life by plugging us in to the source of life itself. The mode of doing that is secondary.
A Quaker service will do it for some people, a BCP service for others, a modern communion service or a praise service for others. These man-made traditions (some work better than others, some may be past their sell by date) all have the same aim, the same rationale.
To challenge, admonish and instruct us in the ways of God certainly but primarily they are constructed so we may feel God and his saving love for us. And through that touch be changed.
One of the saddest things about much Christian worship of whatever form or denomination is that if we don’t enter into it with anticipation that we may touch the divine, or be gathered in to God’s presence to be sent out energised with the Spirit, then we won’t be. We don’t expect it and we don’t experience it because even before we start we are disengaged, literally dis-spirited. And worship then becomes a lifeless thing fuelled by grim duty rather than any sense of life giving joy.
Regardless of the forms used, the only reason any of this makes any sense is if Jesus is risen.

He was and is alive, not far from any one of us, and in bread and wine we are encouraged to reach out, to taste and see his presence with us at all times by His Spirit, but in a specially focussed way in our sharing a communal meal together where God is the host and Jesus is our food. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Holy war.

Putting on the armour of God is a wonderful and well known metaphor in Ephesians chapter six. But in the 21st century, in the era of Jihad mixing Religion with military imagery is perhaps a bit more problematic.
Though even here, the Muslim concept of Jihad, Holy war, has two aspects; The outward, physical, military war against the infidel (That’s us) but also Jihad has a spiritual dimension; an internal Holy war; the spiritual struggle against internal malign forces, temptations, and impulses within that counter and undermine the influence of God.
And Paul, predating Islam by several centuries makes the same point.  He says our battles ultimately, both within and without are essentially spiritual. He writes “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness”.
These forces are unseen but have a power to influence us to do things that we know are counter to the purposes of God. They lead us into what in Medieval times were known as the seven deadly sins; wrath, self destructive anger; greed, sloth, spiritual as well as physical laziness; pride, the belief that we are better than others; lust defined as an uncontrolled desire be it for sex, money, fame, power; envy, and gluttony; defined as over indulgence generally or faithlessness or they can also be powerful cultural and social movements that tempt us to water down and moderate the gospel and our values for the sake of an easy life. 
Against all these temptations, Paul urges us to use every tool in the box to defend ourselves against these impulses and temptations. And while they are military metaphors they are nevertheless for our own self defence. The only offensive weapon in this armoury is the sword of truth, the word of God. This array of defensive items are given to us by God so will ultimately be more powerful that any adversary, if we trust in them.
Truth, righteousness, faith, knowledge of your salvation (believing in the resurrection of the dead; and wear courage or whatever else is lacking to make you able to proclaim the gospel.
Finally, Paul instructs us to pray in the Spirit at all times. Not a cursory prayer, but a prayer that earnestly seeks God, to ask and to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and to pray for each other, to build each other up in the Spirit.
Paul, in the piece we heard today (Ephesians 6:19) asks for people’s prayers that when he speaks, the Spirit will give him a message that will make him bold in proclaiming the gospel.
And Paul needed those prayers. I read the book of Acts on Wednesday to prepare myself  for a Bible study course in September and was reminded of what a rough time Paul had, in times no more accommodating to the gospel than ours is.

Derided, laughed at, called insane, flogged and imprisoned many times, subject to many false accusations. Paul needed those prayers and so do we. As another essential part of our defensive armour, let us pray for each other.

Monday, 17 August 2015

In Him was Life

“The bread I will give you for the life of the world is my flesh”
We continue on this most extraordinary piece of writing in John’s gospel. When any minister places a piece of bread or a wafer in a person’s hand we are used to one of the stock phrases “the body of Christ” but what if I or anyone else was to say “the flesh of Christ” I think that would evoke a very different feeling.
I think the reason that the word flesh is used is to hammer home the fact that Jesus was flesh and blood just like us. He is just like us – a human being.  
This means that we commune as Christians with the very humanity of Jesus. There is a transformed human being in the new creation – not a disembodied spirit or soul unsullied by a real human body.
Jesus was not an angel – he was a human being and nowhere in the New Testament is that fact made more starkly than here. John is making absolutely clear here that in his own words of the prologue to his gospel the word did indeed become “flesh”. Jesus was a human being.
But this has to be held in tension with something else written in this gospel in John 6:63. “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless” This echoes Paul’s contention in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”
These things have to be held in a dramatic tension. What John and Paul are trying to convey is the central truth of the resurrection. Jesus was a man and in his resurrection - He was a man transformed – given a spiritual body – which is still a body but different. A body that was not immediately recognisable for example – by either Mary Magdalene or the disciples on the road to Emmaus. A body that could enter locked rooms – appear in different locations at the same time.
This human being became a “transformed” human being – the first fruit and template for each and every one of us. This should give us great hope. Jesus was flesh and blood just like us but God raised him and if He raised Jesus he will raise us.
That I think is the great message that John wants us to take from this. You will be raised into a transformed existence because you and Jesus were no different – we are both flesh and blood.
Jesus’ resurrection will be ours too. Jesus says “I will raise you up on the last day”.
That is future tense but the last verse of this extract is even more surprising. “But the one who eats this bread will live forever” Living forever in John’s gospel means having eternal life “now”. The technical term for this approach in John’s gospel is called “Realised escatology”
All we need to understand is that not only will we be raised to a new transformed life but that life to come can be tasted now by communing with the Lord of life. “Life in all its fullness” is another phrase that Jesus in John’s gospel uses to describe how now in this life you can connect, or plug in, to the very life of God and get a foretaste of eternal life in this present life and get a taste of what is in store for us all in the New Creation when we commune with Jesus. A communion with Life itself – a communion with God – a communion with the source of life itself.

For John has already said in his prologue. “In him was life. And that life was the light of all mankind”.

Monday, 10 August 2015

For the life of the world

No matter how many times we hear that phrase I don’t think it ever really ceases to shock.  “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In the first century it led to people to accuse Christians of being cannibals – eating the flesh of a human being in these secret rituals
“Flesh” is a worldly carnal word. It speaks of the physical and material rather than the spiritual.
But that is not the only reason the people began to take offence. Hold on. They were saying. Who does this guy think he is, talking like this. This is Jesus the carpenter’s son. We know him, and his mum and dad. How can he possibly say “I am the bread that came down from heaven”?
He is just a human being just like us. And they were right. Jesus was and is a human being just like us in every way. But there was much more to Him than that. He was an agent of God’s will and purpose in the world.
Saint Paul put it like this. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)  
Jesus was a fusion of heaven and earth and his resurrection from the dead is the seal and guarantee that this is true, and because Jesus was just like us in every way except sin what happened to Jesus on the third day is our own future revealed to us. Jesus died for us and opened the gates of heaven to all creation in a redeemed, transformed future where there is no more death, decay or pain and every tear will be wiped away. 
The fusing of the physical and the heavenly is what happens in every Holy Communion we ever celebrate is a foretaste of the glorious future that has already been inaugurated by the raising of Jesus from the dead. Ordinary bread, ordinary wine, but alive with the Spirit of God it becomes for us also something else, something more.
Jesus’ resurrected body is a fusion of heaven and earth and is our guarantee that the bread and wine becomes for us, in similar fashion, a fusion of heaven and earth, both bread and wine and spiritual body and blood.
This happens when we respond to the Holy Spirit and realise that we too are both flesh and spirit, both a collection of individuals and also the “body of Christ” by the same Holy Spirit.   
In the communion the bread and wine we offer to God to be blessed and given back to us to share represents the entirety of creation. Physical things offered back to their creator, to be blessed and given back to us as spiritual food. Jesus in his human body is the perfect offering of all humanity to God which was blessed raised and offered back to us as Spiritual food.
In both cases it is the Spirit of God which is the active agent.
In the Eucharist we unveil the true nature of reality, its past, present and future. Our meal, based on the Passover meal is a foretaste of the blissful heavenly banquet when God will be “all in all”.
In this great Thanksgiving meal we are acting out the good news that was revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future participation in the great heavenly banquet in our common future. Past and future are here in this present moment.
Our Communion joins two other great meals together. It is based on the Passover meal which celebrates the liberation from bondage of the Jewish people. Our communion celebrates the liberation from bondage of the entire creation and is a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that awaits us.
And living in that moment that links the great unfolding of God’s great rescue plan together brings the responsibility to live in that great light. There are so many things to say about how we do that. Jesus, in his teaching and example of his life is our prime source, but others, particularly Saint Paul also have much to say.
Some of it as we heard today is homespun morality and advice like “Do not let the sun go down on your anger; we must amend our ways – thieves must stop stealing; don’t be malicious, instead try building people up instead; do not consciously do anything counter to the Spirit of God; be kind and forgiving.
All these things however homespun or elementary have the same rationale for them – and that is that God has forgiven and renewed you, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ so in gratitude, be like this!   Be imitators of Christ.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”

Monday, 3 August 2015

He who satisfies

I am the bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”
We heard last week of the boundless love of God that even after everyone was satisfied, there were twelve basketfuls left over.
You know, human beings are almost impossible to satisfy. We are restless, always reaching out beyond ourselves, always hungry for new experiences, more things, more achievements, the grass is always greener on the other side.
We are restless, often unhappy in our own skin, in our own life. We spend hours, days, weeks, sometimes who lifetimes dreaming of leading a different life, a better life than the one we have been dealt. Even our families don’t satisfy us. Too ordinary, too humdrum, not exciting enough. We always crave more. We dream of the life that is always just out of reach, the one that will start one day when I will fulfil all my potential.
Why is this? The Bible says that we are made in the image of God. At root, a human being is made with the God like desire for communion with all things yet we are finite beings confined to our frail bodies that are all subject to decay and death.
The only thing that can satisfy us is communion with the boundless reality that is God Himself. He who transcends time and space.
In one man, the risen Jesus of Nazareth, we have a person who in the doctrine of the church is a meeting of the finite and the infinite, of flesh and spirit, of heaven and earth. He is the first fruits of the new creation when we will be eventually and eternally satisfied, where decay and death have no place, where pain and tears are no more.
The awe inspiring thing about the risen Jesus is that he shows us the way to our own futures. We see our own future, as resurrected people in a restored and transformed creation.
This is the glorious hope of Christian people. But there is still more. For that glorious future, premised on that history changing event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is available to us now. It can become real to us in our lives now when we come to Christ. When we in all humility come to the source of all things and can experience the liberating forgiveness, mercy and love of God.
As Paul writes, this is the one hope of your calling – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in all.
The one who satisfies, now and forever. By the inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts, Christ, who binds heaven and earth together – is uniting us with the sourceless source of all things.
God is the only one who can satisfy our deepest longings and desires – because being made in the image of God as we are, the only thing that can satisfy us ultimately is God Himself.    
We play that scenario out every time we commune with God when we share bread and wine together.
In Jesus, the first fruit of the new creation, the fusing of heaven and earth, we feed on Him, the source of life and in doing so, we commune with the true source of Life and Love itself.

“I am the bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.