Monday, 24 April 2017

Christ has no body but OURS

Acts 2: 14a, 22-32 (Page 910 in our pew Bibles) Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost says that everything, even Jesus’ death was according to God’s plan as revealed in scripture
1 Peter 1: 3-9 (page 1014 in our pew Bibles) The recipients of this letter were Jews of the dispersion which had no first hand witness experience of the resurrection, so were just like us! Peter is at pains to say that Jesus is not just a past event, or expects him in the future but is a present, transforming living hope. They have been born again!
John 20: 19-31 (page 906 in our pew Bibles) The resurrection of Jesus is not completed until the gift of the Holy Spirit is breathed on them in the same manner as God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2:7. The incident with Thomas seems to be there in order for Jesus to bless all future believers.

Which out of all the information we have just heard is the most important message for us today?
In my view it is from Peter’s letter. There is important contextual stuff in both John and Peter’s own speech in the book of Acts, but the MOST important message it seems to me is this;
Everything that happened in the past is great, but it is all still just history. Everything we look forward to is great, but it hasn’t happened yet.
But we live in the here and now, not in the past or the future.
The most important thing that Peter says in my view is that Jesus, is a present transforming reality. The Spirit of the living God transforms our present. We are born again to a living hope says Peter. Jesus is alive and the Father has sent his Spirit to inspire, strengthen, transform our present.
What really distinguishes churches that are just coasting and those which are vital and truly exciting and alive is when that fact, that experience becomes embedded in the culture and informs everything we are and do.
That sense is conveyed fully in Acts when the healing of a leper, something Jesus would have done, was done by Peter in Jesus’ name. The restorative healing power of God that dwelt in Jesus has been made manifest and exercised through Peter.
The life giving power of Jesus is made available through his disciples by means of the Holy Spirit breathed out on the disciples.
Jesus’ life giving and life enhancing Spirit was breathed on the disciples in much the same way that in the Garden of Eden – God breathed life into Adam.
The only evidence that Jesus really has been raised and the evidence that the Spirit has been given is us – Jesus’ modern disciples.
How we are and how we treat each other is the only credible evidence that any of this is true to an outsider.
If we have peace of mind, if we can keep the narrow way, if we can heal our troubled spirits, and act as a coherent body, and can be a blessing to everyone we meet, if we can be examples of a changed life; then that is the evidence that speaks far louder than anything else.
God wants to bless our lives – which appears to be the point of recounting the episode with Thomas, who couldn’t believe until he had put his fingers in the wounds in his hands and his side.   He didn’t need to do so actually, just seeing Jesus was enough but gave Jesus the opportunity to bless all future generations who would believe even though they had not seen his risen body in person.
But the point of the church is that people might be able to catch a glimpse of his body through a transformed community that Paul calls – the body of Christ. I want to end this sermon by saying the prayer of St. Theresa which sums up perfectly what I am trying to say;

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but OURS.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

He is risen!

Acts 10:34-43 (page 919 in our pew Bibles) Peter gives as thorough and concise an overview of the Christian message as you will ever hear. The result of which was that the non-Jews had the Holy Spirit fall on them as they heard the word.
Colossians 3: 1-4 (page 984 in our pew Bibles) When that happens our lives are hidden in Christ so that what happened to him also happens to us. We will die like Jesus, but we will also be raised.
John 20: 1-18 (page 906 in our pew Bibles) John's version of the resurrection is based on the progressive experience of one woman, Mary Magdalene whose grief turns first to bewilderment, then to calling Jesus "Teacher" and finally she refers to Jesus as "Lord"

Mary Magdalene. Now there is a name to conjure with and many people have over the centuries, weaving myths and tall tales and confusing here with other Biblical characters, from being a repentant prostitute to being Jesus’ wife or lover.
The Biblical evidence supports none of this of course.

And John’s gospel centres his story of the raising of Jesus from the dead on the progressive revelation  to that one person, Mary Magdalene
We do know that she was a prominent female follower of Jesus, a group that supported Him in his ministry (Luke 8: 1-3) out of their own means.

Jesus had healed her of a presumably severe psychiatric disorder as “Seven demons” had been cast out of her and in her gratitude she became a fervent disciple.

Mary was the first witness to an event that we believe lies at the centre of world history. We even measure time in terms of the “Jesus event” everything that happened before Jesus and everything that happened after Jesus – B.C. and A.D.

Mary witnessed a man who was raised to a new order of life. Jesus wasn’t raised to a life only to die again like Lazarus.

Jesus was not resuscitated – He was resurrected to eternal life.

We, as Christians are privileged to have seen the future. Jesus is the future – our future – which has broken into historical time – to show us what lays in store for us.
The importance of the belief that says that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine is that what happened to Jesus will also happen to us – his brothers and sisters. We have seen our future.

Yes we will die, as Jesus did, but we will also be raised just as Jesus is raised. We have a Golden future and that Golden future had to be communicated  and the pivotal figure in communicating that message was Mary Magdalene who was called by the early church – The apostle to the apostles.

Now Mary’s dawning understanding of the full importance of this event can fairly mirror our own.

At first she was just wracked with grief over a loved one’s death as we are. Then a dawning bewilderment over what might have taken place, incomprehension, believing of course that resurrection was a thing completely unknown and unexpected.

The person she encountered couldn’t be Jesus, because Jesus had died and people don’t come back from the dead and she mistakes the person in front of her for the gardener

The full import of what had taken place only came about when Jesus called her by name. “Mary”. 

Then a dawning realisation that something wonderful and earth shattering may have taken place as she recognises her friend and leader and she calls Jesus “Teacher”.

The full import and understanding came when Jesus explained that he had yet to ascend to “my Father and your Father”. And when Mary ran to tell the other disciples Jesus is referred to as “the Lord”.

It is the same for us. At first hearing that a man has been raised to everlasting life we may treat that news with scepticism or bewilderment.

It is only when in some mystical way we hear Jesus call us personally that we understand the full import of what has happened and we are personally wrapped up in what happened.

The God of Jesus is our God also. Jesus’ Father is our Father also. Jesus’ death we will share.
But we will all share in His resurrection also.

That personal relationship with God through Jesus is ours to have and enjoy now. We have eternal life as a personal possession.

Close your eyes and hear your name being called by the Lord of Life.You have a wonderful future and that will transform your present.

Monday, 10 April 2017

For thine is the Kingdom.

Isaiah 50: 4-9 (page 611 in our pew Bibles) The word "servant" is not used here but this is often called the third servant song and is the most intensely personal. Parts of the body mentioned are tongue, ears, back, cheeks, beard and face - a forceful reminder that God uses real human beings for his purposes. His word always has to become flesh.
Philippians 2: 5-11(page 980 in our pew Bibles) Sometimes said to be an early Christian Hymn, it chronicles Christ's pre-existent nature, his self abasement to earthly life and death and exaltation to universal Lordship, 
Matthew 21: 1-11 (page 826 in our pew Bibles) "The clash of two opposing Kingdoms" is how the theologian Marcus J. Borg described Palm Sunday which has retained its grip on my symbolic imagination ever since and is certainly what I shall be concentrating on today!

Isaiah is full of beautiful prophetic poetry and none more so than the celebrated “Servant songs” which from the very beginning Christians have applied to Jesus Christ.
This particular piece we heard to today is the most intensely personal of them and mentions parts of a human body like the tongue, ears, back, cheeks, beard and face and is a great reminder that God works through Human beings to fulfil his purposes, which includes us of course, but none more so than his unique son, Jesus Christ.
He worked through and revealed his unique character and will, through the actions of Jesus Christ.
So what did he reveal through Jesus on Palm Sunday?
What Jesus was introducing on this day was the essential differences between all the kingdoms  of this world and comparing them with the Kingdom of God.
Because the truth is there would have been two great processions entering Jerusalem before the Passover feast.
Pontius Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. He lived by the seaside at Caesarea Maratime on the coast. For Pontius Pilate to be present at the feast he need to get from the coast to Jerusalem so entering the city of Jerusalem on the West side was the procession of Pilate.
What a magnificent sight that would have been. Soldiers and horsemen in full gleaming armour, accompanied by trumpets and banners, and Pilate carried aloft in a bier or carriage – showing off the full spectacle of Roman power.
It was meant to impress and frighten. It was intended to send the message – this is where real power lies in this country and don’t you forget it. And if there is to be any trouble we will deal with it with overwhelming force!
This was representative of how all power works in this world. This was representing all the worldly kingdoms.
That was on the west side. On the East side of the city, over the mount of Olives came a man representing the kingdom of God. A man wearing the ordinary working clothes of a carpenter, riding on a donkey, a sign of peace. He came not with armour or swords or spears, but lauded by yhe ordinary people who  strew his way with palm leaves.
You could say that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a parody of what was happening in the west of the city. Today who might call this a counter demonstration.
It was an acted parable of the essential difference between the kingdoms of this world, built on power, coercion, vanity and force and the kingdom of God based on peace, love and mutuality.
To emphasise the difference between the new way and the old, the very next thing he did was cleanse the temple of the money changers to drive home just how corrupted religion had become by getting too close to the centres of earthly power.
And he really wanted people to note what he did. In Mark’s gospel he didn’t cleanse the temple straight away after entering Jerusalem. He went home and came back the next day to do so. Why was that I wonder.
Well Jesus didn’t do it that evening because it was already late (Mark 11:11), and there wouldn’t have been many people there to see it. This was all pre-planned for maximum impact – both the entry and the cleansing. He returned the next day when there were crowds of people and plenty of Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees would have been there as well as hoards of money changers and then he made his symbolic gesture for maximum impact.
In a lesson for us nowadays, Jesus said ( in Matthew 10:16)we have to be as innocent as doves but as wise as snakes – just like He was in this instance.
Our palm crosses, this palm Sunday are a stark reminder that we are involved in a Spiritual war. We are soldiers in the Kingdom of God fighting against the corrupt powers of this world. But our weapons, are not violent like the Roman army’s were.

Our weapons are (Ephesians 6:10 -) prayer, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the spirit working through the word of God.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Spirit lives to set us free.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (page 724 in our pew Bibles) The Valley of dry bones. The Lord of creation breathes life into the scattered bones of the dead. God is the God of the living, not of the dead (Mark 12:27) says Jesus. Our lives are secure in His hands.
Romans 8: 6-11 (page 944 in our pew Bibles) The same Spirit that raised the dead in the valley of dry bones is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and is the same Spirit that dwells in our hearts
John 11: 1-45 (page 897 in our pew Bibles) The raising of Lazarus. Jesus says that "I am the resurrection and the Life". The Spirit of God in Christ raises his friend from the grave. Lazarus was raised only to die again but we are all to die to be raised to eternal life. 

The theme of today’s readings is unmistakeable. God is the Life giver.
He is the source of all life – he promises New Life.
He is also the source of Full life.

Wonderful but what is our link to this Life giver – who creates, sustains, fulfils and brings new life even out of death?  Our link is the Spirit of God.

Even mention of The Holy Spirit can frighten some people because even the mention of the word “Spirit” conjures up images of “Ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night” but there is really no need to be afraid, for God is wholly Good. There is no darkness at all in God so any encounter with the Spirit of God is always for our benefit, always life giving and life enhancing.

The Holy Spirit is essential for the Christian faith. When Christians say things like they have Jesus in their heart, or God is with them, what do they mean?
What they actually mean is that the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Jesus lives in them.
The Spirit of God is the Spirit that convinces people that Jesus is true; it is the Spirit of God that works in you when you pray; it is the Spirit of God that worked through Jesus to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead; It is the Spirit of God that raised the dry bones of a dead people in the Old Testament; and it is the same Spirit that dwells in our hearts through faith.

It is the same Spirit that will be active, in the baptisms of Sean and Bobby. From the moment of their baptism, regardless of whether they feel anything or not, the Spirit of God will be a constant companion from now on. How they nurture God’s presence with them in their lives is down to them – God never forces anyone to do anything, but the Spirit of God is always willing and active and available.

The Spirit of God that raised Lazarus back to life was just the preamble to the main event.
Lazarus was raised back to this life, only to grow old and die again, a natural death when he got old.
What we celebrate on every Sunday and especially on Easter Sunday is a completely different order of bringing back to life.

That resurrection, that we claim as Christians, is a raising from the dead to a completely different order of life – eternal life – a life that never ends.

That is our personal possession that we all have as people who put our faith in Jesus.

Jesus knows first hand our hopes and fears. When it was clear that Lazarus had died and He was led to the tomb, the reality of death truly hit him and Jesus cried. It is the shortest verse in the whole Bible and yet says so much.  “Jesus wept”. Jesus was weeping over all our deaths – weeping over death itself – the final enemy.

Jesus offered his own life so that those bitter tears that we all shed over the death of loved ones is not the final word.

The final word to us is Jesus himself – God’s word made flesh and blood which speaks to us of new life, new possibilities, new relationships.

The new relationship that we enjoy between ourselves, with life, with our families and work colleagues is all based on that fundamental new relationship that we all enjoy with God the Father, when his Spirit comes to live within our hearts.