Monday, 25 June 2018

Consider the Lillies....

Reflection on Matthew 6: 25-30
The words of Jesus are profound and are as relevant today as they have always been.
But we must be sure just what Jesus is telling us.
It is not ordinary, prudent forsight and planning that Jesus has an issue with – for that is essential and necessary for life.
It is worry that He has an issue with. The care-worn worried fear that robs life of all its joy.
First of all he says, trust God. After all, God gave each of us the gift of life, a gift that far exceeds our often petty worries about the material aspects of life.
Then He makes a comparison between ourselves and other parts of God’s creation.
He first speaks about the birds. They have no worry in their lives, and make no attempt to pile up goods for an unseen and unforeseeable future; yet their lives go on.
The point that Jesus is making is not that birds don’t work; no-one works harder than the average sparrow to make a living; it is that they don’t worry.
Humans have a tendency to worry and strain and to seek a security that is ultimately illusory, for God is in control of your ultimate destiny.
Then he tries to tell us that worry is in any event useless because it achieves nothing. It won’t add a second to your life anyway – what it does do is robs your present of its joy and peace and serenity.
And then Jesus talks about the flowers, which is most pertinent for us tonight.
They enjoy a brief lifespan, yet in that brief life they are clothed with a beauty that surpasses the robes of Kings.
If God clothes such a short-lived flower with a beauty that is beyond man’s power to imitate, how much more will he care for humanity which is the crown of creation.
Then Jesus prescribes some ways of defending oneself against life’s worries.
We sing a hymn “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”. Concentrating on doing of and the acceptance of God’s will is the way to defeat worry.
The second way is living in the present moment. Handle the demands of each day as it comes.
Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment in the West now, taken originally from the Buddhist tradition.
But here we have Jesus advocating the same thing. We spend too much time worrying about an unforeseeable future or stuck in the past going over things that we cannot change because they are gone.
Live and love more in the present and really appreciate your life.
Consider the lillies. Look at the beautiful flowers around you. Really look at them, enjoy them. Let them enhance your day.
Use them to appreciate their maker and yours and to give Him praise.

Calming the storms of life.

Job 38: 1-11; We all suffer and sometimes rail against the injustices of life. This is part of the human experience. The message of this book is that while human questioning is not to be discouraged we are nevertheless so small and insignificant and powerless in comparison to God that our speculations have no chance of understanding the mysteries of life. The only proper response to the omnipotence of God is submission and faith. There is no automatic connection between spirituality and health and prosperity. The only option is to believe that God has a good plan for our lives. 
2 Corinthians 6: 1-13; God's plan for Paul's Christian ministry has resulted in plenty of hardships, misunderstandings and opposition but as this mirrors the ministry of Christ, Paul is accepting of it and in a way sees it as a validation. The opening verse is interesting "As we work together with Christ" Paul sees Christian ministry as collaborating with Christ and every believer as caught up in God's work of salvation. 
Mark 4: 35-41; The very first report of the content of Jesus' preaching is in Mark chapter 1 and is "The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel". Today's offering provides an example of what that means. The calming of the storm has a deep spiritual meaning so it matters not one jot whether the incident itself can be convincingly explained or not. Jesus' sleep is key. In the depth of the storm Jesus enjoys perfect calm and peace. The waters (as elsewhere in the Bible) double as a metaphor for chaos and disorder and Jesus has mastery over it. The disciples are rescued from the chaos and fear of life.    

Is there anyone in this church who has never suffered, or who life has dealt a body blow, which left you reeling; or someone who has been conned, belittled, seen disreputable people prosper and good people go to the wall and has been left wondering what on earth is going on and wondering whether there really is a guiding hand in the universe that we can say is “good”?
I suggest we have all experiences like that and therefore the book of Job is for all of us.
It is part of our human nature to try and understand what is going on but in the end we fail miserably. We have to admit defeat and succumb to the fact that as it says in Isaiah; 
Isaiah 55:8-9 New King James Version (NKJV)
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
We have to submit to the sovereignty of God. There is no direct connection between having faith and worldly success, health or good fortune.
If you need convincing look at the life of Jesus, any of the apostles or especially Paul here today.
He has endured “afflictions, hardships, calamaties, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger” all for doing God’s work. And it is God’s work.
This passage today starts “As we work together with Christ”. The risen Christ is living and active and as Christians we work together with him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Being at one with God and doing his will, will not win you many friends or plaudits in this world but what you will gain is the inner peace and joy that comes from knowing that you are at one with God and his people.
This kind of serenity, deep inner peace is shown in the acted parable of the stilling of the storm.
Now I could spend ages trying to convince you that this incident actually happened, or conversely I could spend ages convincing you that it didn’t, and neither makes any difference to the spiritual truth that is being conveyed by this acted parable.
This storm was so great, that the boat was already being swamped and the disciples were terrified.
It is no accident that Jesus was asleep, totally at peace amidst the storms and chaos of life.
We must understand that in Biblical Hebrew thought, the sea, water in general stood for chaos and disorder. In Genesis 1, in the creation story, God created the world by parting the waters. In creation God’s Spirit brought order out of chaos.
In calming the storm, Jesus displays that same divine mastery over the waters, and through him the disciples are rescued from the chaos and fear of life.
This is one of the gifts of faith in God and his gospel of salvation. Whatever is going on in this world, whatever is happening to us, however much injustice and opposition there is from our unbelieving and fallen world, we have a faith and hope that can never be taken away from us.
It is that gift of faith and hope in the future that is the ground on which our faith stands. It is that peace, which is God’s gift that we wish to impart to others.
It rests on the identity of that man Jesus Christ. When the storm was stilled, it says they were filled with great awe and said to one another “Then who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
He is the person who revealed God’s character and will to us. The man who died for us. Jesus Christ, the son of God. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Seeing through God's eyes

Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17; Mark 4: 26-34.
The central theme of our readings today is the contrast between outward appearances and God’s strange hidden design.
It is the theme of the mustard seed and more pertinently for us as Christians it forms the basis of what Paul was telling the Corinthians that there is a difference between how things appear to Christians and how they appear to non-Christians. 
Paul himself initially saw the death of Jesus from a merely human perspective – perhaps as a common criminal or a fool. It was only later, after the dramatic road to Damascus encounter with the risen Christ that Paul learned to see Jesus and his death through the eyes of faith and hope….through God’s eyes.
Paul explains the change in perception of Jesus’ death with the phrase “one has died for all”.
However one unpacks that short statement, it certainly means that we are all, as believers, bound up in Jesus’ death, not just as a historical fact but a living present reality.
As believers, our lives are bound to Jesus Christ.
We say in our liturgies don’t we….”We have died with Christ” because we share in that death; but dying with Christ is only half the story of course.
Because we died with Christ we will also share in his resurrection, not just as a future hope – pie in the sky when you die – but as a present reality.
That is how Paul can write that” if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, see everything is new”
This is part of the joy of the gospel : knowing our personal connection to Christ : which we describe using words and phrases, like being saved; healed; or as Jesus described it -  “born again of the Spirit”.
This is the good news, the gospel – the only reason that this church or any other church is here. We are bearers and purveyors of that life changing  gospel. As this is my first sermon in the Raleigh Mission Community there may be people wanting to know what kind of Christian I am.
So I ‘m going to tell you. The terms I am going to use to describe myself have been appropriated and emphasised by various groups and parties within the church and turned into nouns as in I am an evangelical, or I am a Catholic or I am a charismatic but what I want to say is that these terms are not nouns but adjectives and they are normative for all Christians; We have taken purely normative descriptive terms for all Christians and perversely use them to divide us into warring factions.
So I am not “an evangelical”, I am an evangelical Christian. What does that mean? That means that I believe in the truth of the gospel “the good news” that Jesus lived, died and rose again for us all as Paul states in our reading today. I believe in salvation by faith in God’s grace. It is fundamental and normative to being a Christian. You cannot call yourself a Christian unless you believe in the gospel, so all Christians have to be Evangelical.
I am not “a charismatic” (noun) I am a Charismatic (adjective) Christian. What does that mean? That means that you believe that Jesus asked the Father to pour out his Spirit on all who believe and that the point of that is as Jesus said “To go and bear fruit in accordance with the Spirit”. To seek the guidance of the Spirit in all things, in our lives, through other people, in the Bible and to open oneself to growing the fruits and gifts (the charisms) of the Spirit because Christianity is a transformative, distinctive force and again is normative for being a Christian. You are a charismatic Christian if you believe you have access to God’s Holy Spirit. Christians believe that God is with us now, that we have access to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is normative for being a Christian to be charismatic.
I am a born again Christian. Jesus said that you can’t see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. You are born again as John’s gospel says in his gospel when you acknowledge God as Father. Everyone who prays “Our Father who art in heaven” and means it in their heart is born again.
I am a catholic Christian. I believe that the worldwide church in all its various denominations is one! Why? Because we are bound together by one God and one Spirit  and in John 17 Jesus prays that we would be one. He wasn’t taking about ecumenism because there wasn’t even a church then let alone the thousands of different sub-sections of it we have today. He was talking about something far more fundamental – the Unity between God and his children bound together by the Spirit. This again is normative. This describes you if you believe in one God, one church, one baptism. You are a catholic Christian.
I am Orthodox. I believe in having right beliefs or right opinions when it comes to faith. In religious terms it means conforming to the truths declared especially in the creed of the ecumenical council at Nicaea. Yes it has been adulterated by Rome since then and has thus split the Western church off from the East (and we can argue about that) but apart from that clause we accept the Nicene creed as a fundamental statement of belief.
A Christian is necessarily a born again, evangelical, charismatic, catholic, Orthodox Christian. This is me and this is you. This is us. This is the substance of our faith.
Things like high church or low church, kneeling or waving your hands in the air, robes or casual,  incense, bells, are all just man-made traditions. They are just human forms, not the substance of our faith I have been describing.
Those forms are simply means to an end – the end is the substance of our faith. Manmade forms divide the churches. We have three slightly different traditions within the Raleigh Mission Community itself but I have never heard it said that the others aren’t Christians because they don’t do things like we have always done it.
Let’s not fall into the trap laid bare for us in the Bible today. Don’t discern just by outward appearances. Look at the heart. Look at the substance, not at the outward form. That’s what Jesus did.