Monday, 27 June 2016

Follow Jesus

The great theme this morning is “Following Jesus”
I’ve said before that never does Jesus actually say in the New Testament “worship me” which some may find surprising, but he says “Follow me” many, many, times.
Our O.T. reading seems to have been selected on the basis that it was the call of Elisha to follow in Elijah’s footsteps.
Over time Elijah came to represent the prophetic tradition as a whole and significantly when Jesus was transfigured he was seen speaking to Moses, representing the law and Elijah, representing the prophets.  and Jesus was of course the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.
Paul in Galatians speaks of the kind of character a follower of Christ is expected to exhibit.
Great play is made by Christians that we enjoy freedom in Christ, and we do, but Paul says sagely  - don’t misunderstand. Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like – that is not freedom – that is licence where you imagine you can do whatever you want despite the consequences for others and particularly yourself.
Immoral behaviour will harm yourself as well as others. Paul says ,” everything might be possible for me, but not everything is edifying”.
We have to keep in step with the Spirit and be imitators of Christ. Those who ignore this simple fact or teach others to do the same lie outside of the Kingdom of God.
Being a follower of Christ entails being an imitator of Christ. We should be working to take on his characteristics.
And in Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus say directly that following Jesus is costly and has to be our top priority. There is no time for looking back over our shoulders. In another place Jesus says, you should count the cost of following Jesus before you commit as it is not an easy option. 
In one of his most enigmatic sayings he tells one man “Let the dead bury their own dead”.
What can he possibly mean?
Well the people he is referring to are very much physically alive but are spiritually dead, unregenerate, not "born again" as Jesus says you have to be to see the Kingdom of God.
Don’t waste too much time with people who are spiritually dead. Don’t be forever casting your pearls before swine. Once you have made your decision your first loyalty is to Christ. There is a small burden to bear (Matthew 11:30)  but my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
So as followers of Jesus we need to be spiritually fit and committed. We need to develop our spiritual muscles through engagement with prayer, Bible study and engagement with the Christian community which is the body of Christ.

The more we do that the more we are pleasing to God, the more we start to follow Jesus by acting on our faith by putting our hand to the plough and not looking back, the more we grow and the more the church grows. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb

There is no-one who doesn’t want to be made well in body, mind, or spirit or to be rescued from death and annihilation.
We want it for ourselves and we want it for all that we love.
God is the author of all life, all creation and when he created he declared it “Good” and declared us especially “Very good”. And it is the whole creation that will be redeemed. We are so anthropocentric that we scarcely raise our sights to consider the cosmic scope of redemption and re-creation.
I used to believe that when we died we went to a place called heaven but that is not the content of Biblical hope. When the first Christians talked about their hope is consisted of a bodily resurrection when the old heaven and earth passed away to be replaced with a new creation where heaven and earth became one entity, an embodied existence where the Lion would lie down with the kid. Heaven is the “sphere of God” and whilst that is where our immediate destination will be, our final destination is far more exciting than that.
Here Paul talks about this in Romans 8, the highpoint of his theology.
Romans 8:18-23
Future Glory
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Our future hope is to be set free in a completely new creation and Jesus’ resurrection body is a glimpse of our future hope in historical time. In fact, if we follow Paul’s beliefs all things will be set free.
Every healing or sign or miracle that Jesus performs in the Bible is a little sign of that future hope which was even  more fully revealed when God raised Jesus from the dead.
In a very real sense everything from the stilling of the storm, from curing a blind man to turning water into wine, to the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage to raising Jairus’ daughter is a sign that points to the greater fulfilment awaiting all of the created order when the old separate heaven and earth are abolished and they become one, an embodied existence where there will be no more tears and no more pain, where Isaiah’s vision will be fulfilled;.
Isaiah 11:6-9

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Monday, 13 June 2016

God forgive me.

The story of David and Bathsheba is one of those stories that holds a mirror up to all human foibles, our attempts to justify our own bad behaviour. It should remind us of ourselves   and yet doesn’t because just like David we are adept at lying to ourselves.
Our sense of self, self preservation, self interest, self obsession, self image stops us from admitting the truth about ourselves and blinds us to truth of what we have done.
We are equally adept at justifying ourselves and our behaviour with ludicrous excuses which after a while we convince ourselves are the actual truth.
As human beings we’ve all done it at some time.
In our story we heard today God used Nathan the prophet to see deeply into David’s heart and to connect with him, and Nathan used a clever parable as a device to get Solomon to convict himself. All the excuses that Solomon doubtless used to justify himself in his own eyes were stripped away and exposed as the tissue of lies they were, and David came face to face with himself and his own sin. He came face to face with his own true reflection.
One day that will be us – our souls will be bared and exposed to the searing white light of God’s gaze. There will be no-where to hide, no refuge except one, faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Or would you prefer to push Jesus to one side and fight your own corner perhaps and try and self justify just as most of us do in life? 
God knows all and sees all and can see straight into your heart so there can be no pulling the wool over his eyes. You’ll be on your own, defending the indefensible with someone who already knows the full truth about you.
In the gospel reading that same perception, the same wisdom that can see through outside appearances and reputations and see straight into the heart of things is also a property of Jesus Christ of course and using a similar device as Nathan, a parable, he attempts to show Simon the Pharisee that despite his outward appearance as an upstanding man he too is a sinner, or as Jesus says in the parable, a debtor.
Perhaps not as great a debtor as this woman, but it is she who is right with God because she knows she is a sinner and was undeserving of any forgiveness. She recognises her need, is sorry for her sins and comes to Jesus in a spirit of repentance and Jesus freely forgives her.
But Simon doesn’t know his need, he deludes himself, lies to himself, and he is convinced by those lies even though he truly strives to keep the law. He never fully did keep the law of course but he cannot admit that to himself, let alone Jesus.
Those are the two pathways that are open to all of us. That is the choice we all have to make – whether to admit our own need of forgiveness and put our faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus or to try and justify ourselves.
And this in a nutshell is what Paul is talking about in our reading from Galatians. No-one could fully keep the law but just as that woman experienced in that parable in Luke, through genuine repentance and faith in Christ, forgiveness is freely given.

I believe that it is pertinent that she is unnamed. She represents all of us.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

By whose authority?

For me, there are two main strands working through the three readings today.
The first one is the universality of the gospel. This means that the Good News of the God of Israel is for all people at all times and not for a particular people at a particular time. Both the people of Israel – the Jews – and the modern church are and always were instruments through which God would reveal His Love to the whole world.
The second strand is really one of authority. By whose authority does Elijah, Paul and Jesus speak and act. Why should we pay any mind to them?
In terms of universality and authority, Elijah raises a widow’s son to life. The widow was both a foreigner and as a widow perhaps the most vulnerable people in their societies in their day. There would be scant opportunity to provide for herself so her son was her sole provider now her husband had died.
Elijah’s authority came from the fact that God worked through him to raise this woman’s son to life so demonstrating his care and healing love to people way outside the confines of the chosen people. And it was God working; for no man can raise another to life. This is the work of God alone. Elijah was being used as an instrument of God who was showing his concern to the world beyond Israel’s borders and being able to demonstrate this gave him his authority at the same time – because God saw fit to use him.
In an almost carbon copy of the raising of the widow’s son in 1 Kings, we read of Jesus raising a Widows son. In Jesus' day widows were still the most vulnerable of people (just as in the days of Elijah) and her life support system would be her son. In this extract, nobody asks Jesus to act, and nobody is said to have "faith". Jesus simply responds to great need, and his presence is enough and the power of God is given freely. The same validation that was given to Elijah is here given to Jesus through whom God acts in the way that only God can act.    
And where did Paul get his authority from? Well his defence of his authority as we heard last week is that his gospel (the good news) is the only true gospel because it was communicated to him direct by a personal encounter with the risen Jesus Christ Himself.
So Paul’s defence of his authority is that Jesus has personally sought Him and is working through him and has appointed Him as the apostle to the gentiles (i.e. foreigners). It is quite telling that it was through a direct intervention of Christ in his life that the gospel was revealed to him. He didn’t need to be taught it by any other of the disciples.
In fact it wasn’t until three years after his experience on the road to Damascus that Paul eventually travelled to Jerusalem to speak to Peter and James, and then not in order to be taught anything, though obviously Peter and James would have filled Paul in on some of the details of Jesus’ life and ministry but the gospel itself had already been deeply imprinted on Paul’s life.
In fact it was less about learning from Peter and James than engaging with them and explaining to them the full ramifications of the gospel of Christ.
Paul could be quite confrontational and in fact in one of his letters basically calls Peter a hypocrite for refusing to eat with foreigners when other conservative Jews were around (Galatians 2: 11 -14).
Authority is a still a hot issue today. On whose authority do we speak and preach? The Pope, church councils, Bishops, experience, the Bible, church tradition?
This is a very tricky area but evangelicals at least are clear. The final authority is the Bible, as the record of the dealings of God with mankind culminating in his revealing of himself and the fulfilling of God’s promises through Jesus Christ.
The Bible is therefore our final authority.
Doctrines may be developed by the church, so long as they don’t contradict the Bible, like the Holy Trinity, but quite often the church has corrupted and contradicted the truth of scripture which resulted in false religion which led to the reformation and through the reformation to the Church of England.
The Book of Common Prayer, seen by many as a safe and warm retreat from modernism is actually a radical Protestant response to the perversions of the Church of Rome. Just take a look at the 39 articles in the back of the prayer book!
In terms of authority the C of E has traditionally said that our authority is derived from an interplay between Scripture, reason and tradition.
I would agree with that so long as it is scripture that always has the last word, enlightened by the guidance and light of God’s own Spirit.
But in the end, by whose authority should preachers preach? Well if you believe that the Bible is the God breathed word of God, it is not a little scary.
On nothing less than the authority of God, as revealed in Christ, as recorded in the Bible and brought to life by the Holy Spirit through a preacher.