Monday, 19 June 2017

Hope springs eternal

Exodus 19:2-8 (page 60 in our pew Bibles) "You are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" a verse describing the Jewish people and appropriated by Saint Peter (1 Peter 2:9) and re-applied to the church
Romans 5:1-8 (page 942 in our pew Bibles) Classic Saint Paul and a cornerstone of Protestant belief that it is through faith that we enter into God's Grace and reap the reward that is peace with God.
Matthew 9:35 - 10:8 (page 814 in our pew Bibles) The calling of the twelve disciples as His inner circle often thought to symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. The phrase "The harvest is plentiful and the labourers few" is an inversion of the dire economic realities of 1st century Palestine.

The shock and deep horror of the fire at the tower block in West London is a sharp reminder of how terrible life events can be.
Lives ended in unimaginable pain – the fire making no distinction between men women or children – whole families killed – leaving those spared traumatised and in despair.

In such circumstances, any faith in God could seem hopelessly irrelevant and inadequate.
Sometimes it may seem so, but take God out of the equation, the situation won’t change – all we have removed from the situation is hope.

Hope for a better, glorious future where tragedy, suffering and death are no more, and the whole creation lives in a wonderful creative peace with God is such a vision that can comfort, sustain, and inspire a person to keep going even when things are dark.

But I would say that it is just at these times and in the face of such tragedy that faith in a loving God, who cares and holds us in his arms is needed more than ever lest hope is squeezed out of our lives and the light in our eyes get that much dimmer.

It was faith and hope, often shaky and uncertain, that eventually led the Jewish people through 40 years in the desolate wilderness to the promised land.

So many survivors of that fire are now going through their own period of desolation that may last just as long or more, but the hope of a new dawn at some point, where loved ones are raised and reunited has the ability to sustain on that sometimes long lonely trudge through life that would otherwise seem lonely, sad and directionless.

I attended my first humanist funeral on Friday and was taken by just how one dimensional it was. Stripped of the context of human life being loved and supported from a higher being, stripped of prayer and all liturgy, stripped of any hope of anything more, all that was left was the eulogy itself.

God tells the Jewish people in our Exodus passage today that despite what they are going through they are not abandoned or worthless, of no worth to anyone; they are instead a kingdom of priests and a holy nation – they have dignity and purpose – and God’s blessing leading them onwards towards their glorious future.

Through the troubles of the early church,which was small and persecuted,  Peter takes that phrase and applies it to the new Christian believers who were also feeling like they were trudging aimlessly in the wilderness to give them, and through his words us, hope. 

Hope meaning not a vague wish, as in “I hope it doesn’t rain later” but hope in its Biblical understanding as a certain expectation based on thousands of years of fulfilled promises, culminating in the sending of Jesus Christ to save us.

Proclaiming hope in times when all seems black is surely the message of the gospel. The message is contained within the central image of Jesus, an innocent man who came through unimaginable suffering and death of the cross to be raised by God to eternal life in paradise.Out of darkness there came light.

God knows and relates to the suffering in that Tower block because his own son was subject to the same fate in a different manner. He lost His only Son, who had only ever done good, yet was subjected to such ignominy.

We have no easy answers to suffering and death, and it would be wrong to say that we do, but we offer a God is certainly not aloof from death and suffering. We offer a God who in Jesus knew deep darkness but who is also a living hope.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The truth revealed.

Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-31 (page 600 in our pew Bibles) The primal and overriding majesty and glory of God espoused in lovely poetic terms. 
2 Corinthians 13: 11-14 (page 971 in our pew Bibles) The very end of this letter that includes what we all know and say in many situations and services called "The Grace", obviously because of its Trinitarian nature.
Matthew 28: 16-20 (page 835 in our pew Bibles) The end of Matthew's gospel called "the great commission" because we are called to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Claire my daughter spent a great deal of her life in and around church and she often used to ask me "What's your sermon about this week Dad?"
It became a bit of a family in-joke that I would always say "God".
Well this week is cartainly about the being of God but it made me think about what it was about on another level and what this week is really all about is revelation!
As I wrote on my email- No-one wanting to start a new religion, especially a monotheistic one would have come up with the notion of the "Trinity" by choice. We have had the notion of the three fold nature of one God revealed to us.
Do I fully understand the Trinity? No, but God has revealed himself in this way so I accept it and offer the maxim of Anselm of Canterbury - Credo ut Intelligam - I believe so that I may understand.
The Fathers of the church had it revealed to them through scripture and the Spirit speaking through the church community after much argument. The notion of the Trinity did not come easily -  They discerned this spiritually.
In psalm 42 it says “Deep speaks to deep” and the deep of God’s nature and purpose spoke to the deep of the church’s consciousness and revealed to us in this way.
It was Anselm of Canterbury who noted that I don’t need to understand before I can believe – I believe in order that I might understand.
Through the Trinity we can look at Jesus, his character, action and service and know that this is what God is like. Jesus revealed him to us.
When we experience a movement of the Spirit in our lives, we know that Jesus is with us, animated by the same spirit that led Jesus.
The Trinity is therefore a very practical concept and not an obscure theological construct. In prayer we pray to God the Father – Jesus taught us to pray to “our” Father – the creator and sourceless source of all things.
We pray through Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us, who knows our human faults and frailties so can represent us perfectly.
We pray in the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit, the active spirit of God who is our link between our soul, through Jesus to the Father.
In Paul’s words “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) so we know that God’s will is redemptive and reconciling, and done our of his nature which s essentially loving. Love in the Bible is essentially “self sacrificial” rather than pink hearts and flowers.
Love is practical and down to earth – it achieves something.
Finally, Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with God’s presence and the means of that presence is Jesus who Matthew describes as Emmanuel or “God with us” and at the end of his gospel has Jesus tell us that He will be with us to the end of the age.
So Jesus is with us now, but how? He is here by his Spirit, which is sent by the Father which is also the spirit of Jesus.
What are we to do with this knowledge? We are to go to the nations and baptise people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit says Matthew.
God above us, God beside us, and God within us. The God who is all in all.
The Holy Trinity is God revealed to us by Himself. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Spirit lives to set us free!

Acts 2: 1-21 (page 910 in our pew Bibles) The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the fulfilment of the prophesy in Joel 2: 28-32. The promise is that God's spirit instead of just being for certain people for specific tasks is now available to anyone who believes. 
1 Corinthians 12: 3-13 (page 959 in our pew Bibles). There is one Spirit but many gifts. None of us have all of them which is why we need each other to make ourselves whole. The gifts are for the common good.
John 20: 19-23 (page 906) John's version of the giving of the Spirit & John 7: 37-39 (page 893) Jesus promising the Holy Spirit make clear that while the Spirit comes from the Father, it flows out through Jesus. The whole Trinity is involved.

New Life. Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life. That is what the Pentecost narrative transmits.
All the stops are pulled out for this one – a heavenly sound like a rushing wind, descending fire, speaking different languages, all try and convey the new birth of the church.

The day is highly symbolic as well. The feast of Pentecost, or weeks, comes at the end of the spring harvest, symbolising the great harvest of souls this event was to usher in, and at least for some Jews this festival had come to celebrate a renewal of the covenant – in the Jewish religion, the giving of the law, but now marking the giving of the new covenant – the law that would be written on our hearts.

A highly poignant symbolic occasion then. It is a birthing, a moving forward. It is both an end and a beginning.
The meaning of Pentecost is new life for the church. New life for individuals within the church. New life through the Spirit of God for each and everyone. No one is excluded.

Some mocked, some tried to attribute the occasion to alcohol but some will always react like that.

Peter knew exactly what was happening and why. This was God fulfilling his promises made in the Bible and promised by Jesus as well and he quotes Joel 2: 28-33. This was God unleashing his Spirit, but with one major change.

In Joel the outpouring of the Spirit was a prelude to destruction but on Peter’s lips this is transformed into the prelude to new life and its purpose, fulfilled in Jesus Christ was the redemption of all humanity.

After his sermon, some who had either mocked or said they were drunk were “cut to the heart” and converted.
“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”

Now there is one spirit but many gifts and these gifts, are for the common good. All Christians have a role to play in the church.
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
These are all spiritual gifts, but practical gifts of service as well, and there are many gifts of service but one Lord says Paul.

Then Paul goes on to make his famous analogy that the church is an organic body and each of us has a role to play – all included.
We each have a role because each one of us who proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord has the Spirit in our hearts.

It occurs to me that in our current position at Holy Saviours, that is just so true.

As I sit near clueless in front of the church computer I am reminded that whatever other gifts I may have, administration is certainly not one of them.

But we all have gifts. As I am standing here in front of a multi-talented, educated and erudite congregation, many with great skills in diverse fields, all that stops us is having your gift identified and named and the confidence and license to use them.

Now no-one could say there is not a tension between the day of Pentecost and Jesus giving the spirit to his disciples in John’s gospel, but the manor and timing of the giving of the spirit are surely not as important as the fact of the spirit being given and John gives us a new perspective. The reality of the spirit is the main focus of this celebration not the chronology of when it was given.

John says that Jesus breathes the spirit onto the disciples on Easter Sunday after hs had just risen from the dead making the link between Jesus and the spirit much more direct and personal.

Many commentators have tried to give rational reasons for the rapid rise of Christianity throughout the world, claiming social and phychological conditions were just right for the emergence of a new faith and certainly these will have played a part, just as the moral vacuum that exists in China has helped pave the way for the explosive growth of Christianity in China in the 21st century but the gospel writers, whatever their perspective are united on this fact,

They are united in saying that the rapid growth of Christianity is due to God’s spirit being powerfully at work in the young church.

The spirit is a permanent gift and what was true then is true now.