Monday, 29 July 2019

Immersed in God's Spirit

Trinity 6 (Proper 12)
I am at St. Peter’s in the morning and Karen is in the villages. We have a baptism in the morning service of Albie Kelly. The readings of the day are as follows;
Genesis 18: 20-32. In this important piece of writing, a moral question is being resolved by discussion, and in the discussion, it is God’s morals that are being investigated. Two moral absolutes collide; that wickedness must be punished, and righteousness should not be punished because of the wickedness of others, and in this case, it is justice for the innocent that prevails over punishment of the wicked. 
Colossians 2: 6-19. Paul is desperate to convey the fact that Jesus is the one thing (way) necessary to understanding our spiritual health and relationship to God. Nothing else is necessary, not religious rituals, angels, philosophy, or asceticism. We have direct access to God through Jesus without any other mediators being needed.
Luke 11: 1-13. The Lukan version of the Lord’s prayer is shorter and less well known than Matthew’s version and the rest of the passage encourages persistence in prayer and that God will and can only give good gifts which are all gifts of the Spirit.

When someone is being baptised, as when we ourselves were baptised, and as Albie Kelly is being baptised soon, we need to remind ourselves what we were, and Albie will be being baptised into, and what baptism itself signifies and Paul’s piece in Colossians today gives a good description of that.
Baptism literally means “Immersion”, though of course we will just pour water over Albie’s head today. It speaks of being immersed in God’s Spirit, that same Spirit that was so evident in Christ’s life and works.
That same Christ who Paul says today is all you need, to be healed, or made whole, or made clean, which are all ways for describing what the word Salvation means. The root of the word Salvation is “salve”, a word we still use to mean a healing balm.
We were baptised into the salvation of God revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the knowledge that this is all we need and doesn’t need any supplementary input, whether that be good works, the intercession of Angels, self-mortification or asceticism, thorough knowledge of theology or philosophy, nor attendance at certain religious festivals.
Some of those things may be good in and of themselves but they can’t add anything to what is already complete. Salvation – divine healing – is the ground, the foundation on which everything else is built. You can’t be “more saved”.
And baptism is the full and complete rite of initiation into Christ. The newly baptised have all the rights and privileges of incorporation into Christ, including the main one of being declared a “child of God” and part of the body of Christ, the church.
We baptise children as an act of faith in God’s prevenient Grace, a grand term that means that we believe that God always makes the first move and is working within an individual long before there may be any formal acceptance of the faith. We believe that our prayers for Albie are effective whether Albie knows he is being prayed for or not.
God is working within each one of us whether we are conscious of it or not.
We of course hope that one day Albie will consciously accept the baptism promises that will be made on his behalf today, but that is not a given. God requires us humans to do some of the heavy lifting ourselves. Baptism is not magic and God doesn’t force Himself into anyone’s life.
The truth only has the power of truth when it becomes true for you.
That is the role that faith plays in the human economy of salvation. The Baptism promises of God only have an effect on the life of an individual when they are believed and lived.  
God and his promises of love and commitment will need to be made known to Albie when he is old enough to understand. He will need to be introduced to worship and a worshipping community if he is to understand what those things really mean.
He will need the prayers and encouragement of parents, godparents and the church.
We thrive as individuals when we have the love, encouragement and support of others and of God and this is what the church at its best offers to its members. That was what was offered to us at our own baptisms and that is what is being offered to Albie later this morning.

Monday, 22 July 2019

She sat at Jesus'feet and listened.

Genesis 18: 1-10a. The visit of the three men (The Lord in verse 1) to Abraham is one of the most enigmatic stories in the Bible and provided the subject matter for probably the most famous icon of all time, Andrei Rublev’s Trinity. In this icon the three men represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (from left to right) depicted as such through the colours of their clothes.
Colossians 1: 15-28. “The image of the invisible God” is a phrase that immediately testifies to the inadequacy of language when trying to express divinity, for something invisible cannot have an image, and yet we somehow know what Paul means. He then describes what Jesus has achieved for us “reconciling all things to himself”
Luke 10: 38-end. The story of Martha and Mary, coming as it does after the story of the good Samaritan is no accident. It affirms that discipleship is not only limited to love of neighbour but also love of God. The Samaritan and Mary belong together. Doing without listening can degenerate into purposeless busyness while listening without doing just mocks the words. We are told only two things about Mary – that she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to Him. This story has nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of housework!

Let me say right off that the story of Mary and Martha is not about housework or its importance. I don’t think Jesus held any strong theological convictions about dusting!
The key to understanding this story is noting its position in the text. It comes directly after the parable of the Good Samaritan for good reason – they are to be seen in parallel.
The Good Samaritan is about putting your beliefs into practice and loving your fellow man. Mary and Martha is also a parable if you like. It emphasises that as well as loving your fellow man, loving God is quite important too.
We are told only two things about Mary. That she sat at Jesus’ feet and that she listened to Him. There is a tendency amongst some more activist parts of the church to see the church as only being church when it is doing something and that time spent in worship is time wasted. This is the people this story is aimed at, just as the Good Samaritan is aimed at people who are happy to spend time in worship but don’t put their faith into practice.
Worship and action are two sides of the same coin. One should feed the other in fact.
It might be good to think of worship as the time to stop reflect and re-fuel. It is the strengthening of worship that feeds and empowers the manner and character of your life – like a virtuous circle.
That sets the scene for two readings that extol the glory of God nature and purposes.
In Genesis, in a story that has always captured my imagination we are told that Abraham was visited by the Lord. In the very next verse, the Lord becomes three men. Sarah is detailed to prepare an appropriate meal, so if anyone is still perturbed by Martha’s treatment in the gospel reading, let it be know that hospitality and taking time and trouble to welcome visitors, especially so here as it is God himself, has always been central to the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
But the striking thing about the visitors is that their concern is practical and related to the lives of Abraham and Sarah. Their concern is that there be physical offspring even at this time in their old age. Carrying on the theme of last week that God is both transcendent and at the same time intimately involved with creation.
What an episode like this emphasizes, much like the birth of John the Baptist, or like the virginal conception of Jesus, is that, God’s power is able to overcome all human limitations.
Being interested in the lives of humanity, Christians believe that God visited his people decisively, not in the guise of three men, but one special man Jesus Christ, and Paul’s description of Him starts with his role in the creation of everything, then moves to describe his redemptive work for all people, then moves to the work of the church which is the vehicle for continuing life, and all held together by the cosmic universal nature of our faith.
In this, the church has a vital role. Paul tries to describe how the Spirit of the risen Christ is bonded with all the disparate Christian communities that were rapidly springing up.
He was trying to express a bond that was much richer and more intense than just a teacher and his followers – it was experienced as much more personal than that.
My hope and prayer is that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ wherever it happens to be now continually matures and deepens into a more personal connection. Paul affirms here the oneness of Jesus and his people, even though it is hard to articulate exactly how that occurs – Just that is to what the experience of the church bear witness.
A oneness Jesus prefigured in life when he instituted the act of Communion that we celebrate. Do this in remembrance of me, and word remembrance is anamnesis, which carries with it not just the notion of remembrance but also of “making present”. So lets make manifest God amongst us as we commune with both earth and heaven.

Monday, 15 July 2019

The kingdom of God is within you

Deuteronomy 30: 9-14. The word of God is near you – it is not so remote that we have to strain to hear. It reminds me of Jesus saying in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God is within you”
Colossians 1: 1-14. God wants us to have “life in all its fulness” as it says in John and here Paul too prays for our growth as human beings, a process called “bearing fruit” in the New Testament. This is in fact the purpose of God for every individual. To grow into the person that God always wanted us to be.
Luke 10: 25-37. Perhaps one of the best-known parables of Jesus in the New Testament. “The Good Samaritan” tells us not only who our neighbour is (all fellow human beings), but that neighbourliness is demonstrated when we answer their need.

We believe two different things about God at the same time. We believe he transcends all things and is in some way outside and distinct from the created order – the Orthodox call Him the source less source of everything.
But we also believe that God is involved and present to us within the created order. We believe that Jesus Christ was as Paul describes Him in the very next verse in Colossians “the image of the invisible God” but that is the start of next Sunday’s reading from Colossians
Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”.
So God is distinct from the world, yet entered the world, to bring that world back into a relationship with Himself that had strayed from his way and his truth.
I think it only fair to tell you at this point that there will be a test on all this at the end.
Everything I have said so far speaks of relationship. How God relates to Jesus, how God relates to the world, and because we are made in the image of God, therefore how we relate to God and how we relate to the world.
The Bible is a book dedicated to those two twin dilemmas facing humankind.
Through Jesus, God communicated with us directly through parables how to address those two dilemmas and one of the most famous is this parable we heard today called the good Samaritan.
The Golden rule is basically Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
But the question “who is my neighbour” was asked because the questioner wanted to know where to draw the line between neighbour and non-neighbour.
In the parable Jesus makes clear that real love does not ask for limits, but only for opportunity, so if a person has real love in his heart, he won’t ask the scribe’s question.
Jesus was saying, using their own terms and prejudice against them, “Here by your own admission is a half-breed heretic fulfilling God’s law better than the pillars of the Jewish religion”. This is what neighbour love means my friend and this is the kind of action God requires of you.
So while it is natural for humanity to organise ourselves into groups, nationalities, languages, social classes, religions and nations and a hundred other ways of drawing lines between us, those lines must be porous.
Before ad behind all those divisions, we share a common humanity. In Christian terms we are all made in the image of God, and love knows no barriers.
If we can relate to people in that way, we are doing what God requires of us when we relate to others.
That is one of the hallmarks of being transferred from the powers of darkness as Paul puts it today, into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Bringing people into the kingdom of God was the central feature of all Jesus’ preaching. The first record of what Jesus preached is recorded in Mark, “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near.”
The Kingdom of God is present wherever God’s ways, his truth and his life reign or hold sway in anyone’s heart. That is what we mean by saying “Jesus is Lord”.
Jesus is only Lord if you actually follow and do God’s ways. Someone is your Lord when you owe them your loyalty and allegiance and they direct your thoughts and actions.
Everything I’ve been speaking about this morning is neatly summarized in a beautiful exchange in Luke.

Luke 17:20-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Coming of the Kingdom
20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, [a]‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The kingdom of God is within you. It is all about the disposition of the human heart, mind, soul and spirit.
Following Jesus is how we enter the kingdom of God. In doing so we heal our relationships with each other and with God creating peace.

Monday, 8 July 2019

He died to save us all.

Isaiah 66: 10-14. The exiles who had returned to the ruined city of Jerusalem were the recipients of this text, and it first portrays the city, and eventually God himself, as a nurturing mother. Though the piece promises a materially prosperous future (never to be discounted) to the Jews, Jewish history shows that this is dependent on social justice and spiritual prosperity.
Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16. Verses 1-6 say that within the Christian community kindly repair is preferable to a ticking off when it comes to dealing with any problems. 7-16 say that the harvest of the future is sown in the present. The meaning of “flesh” and “spirit” here can be described as the difference between suiting yourself and only yourself or serving God and neighbour.
Luke 10: 1-11,16-20. Jesus appointed people to go before him “where he himself intended to go” to prepare the way of the Lord in a kind of echo of John the Baptist. That is our mission by extension as well, but it warns us not to waste too much time and energy with people that reject the gospel. Those who reject us reject Jesus and therefore reject God. We have to marshall our resources and energy wisely.

A Spiritual attribute I pray for more than most is wisdom. The wisdom to discern what is most important in a piece of scripture, wisdom to discern accurately what is desirable or possible at any given moment, and wisdom to read the recipients of difficult pieces of scripture.
There is much practical wisdom displayed in these readings today particularly by Jesus when He says “wipe off the dust from your feet those places that don’t welcome you”. Don’t waste precious and finite energy on people who have already rejected God – we have a much bigger job trying to reach even the ones that are open.
To that some pious people might say “but isn’t everyone a potential child of God? And worth trying to convert?”
Well of course Jesus of all people knows that – He died for everyone both near and far off – but He recognises practical wisdom. When evangelising, when you hit the buffers, recognise them for what they are and don’t push against locked doors. Look for doors that are already ajar for we don’t have infinite mental and physical resources.
From Paul in Galatians we have some practical wisdom as to how we deal with people who transgress in some obvious way. We are advised to be gentle and work to restore someone to fellowship while acknowledging they did wrong. That takes forgiveness which is the hardest thing for a lot of us. Practicing what we preach is not the easiest path to take.
But in the doing of God’s revealed will we are sowing the seeds of our and the world’s future. When doing good we don’t discriminate between believer or unbeliever, good or bad people, insider or outsider. God’s good will is for all people even while many people reject it.
“For to this end, we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe” (1Timothy 4:10)
One of the most important verses in the New Testament. Paul there says boldly;
“Everyone is saved by Christ, whether you believe it or not”. It is an objective fact.
We both evangelise and do good works, whatever they may be, because God so loved the world , not the church or religious people or the Jews or Christians, but the world.
The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t that one is saved and the other isn’t. It is that one knows they are saved, and the other doesn’t and knowing that has a better quality of life because they have life in all its fulness. What we try to give to non-believers is a gift that enables them to see the truth about life. For Jesus is the way, the truth and the life”. Amen

Monday, 1 July 2019

"But who do you say that I am?"

Acts 12: 1-11. I suppose the essential message here is that God works for the good of anyone who has the gospel in his or her heart and that (just as were readings a few weeks ago) freedom from either mental or physical chains is a central gospel message. An angel (or messenger – the word is the same in Greek) frees St. Peter from his chains to do God’s work.
1Peter 2:19 – 25. Suffering, as we know is part and parcel of life. Buddhism says that explicitly, but Christians imply it by having the cross as our most important symbol. Though for most protestants the cross is empty which speaks of suffering transcended. Peter says here that bearing suffering for doing right we are allied with Christ himself who walked that walk first.
Matthew 16: 13-19. Jesus commends Peter’s insight as pivotal, and such faith is the rock on which the church will be built. Armed with such faith we are given responsibility for deciding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the yardstick we will use is love.

Jesus said to them “But who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter answered,
“You are the Messiah, the son of the living God”.
This is the rock on which the entire Christian church has been built, the insight of Peter revealed to him by God’s Spirit.
But as well as having this great insight, Peter himself was also very human and famously demonstrated fear and betrayal when Jesus was eventually arrested and denied even knowing Jesus three times when he was challenged and put to the test. Peter had a great fall out with St. Paul because he came under the influence of Jewish Christians who said he shouldn’t eat with gentiles so he started avoided them.
That combination of human frailty and great faith coexisting in St. Peter speaks to the vast majority of us I’m sure as describing ourselves in our lives.
We are only here at all because at some level we agree with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God but we are also aware of our shortcomings, our capacity to sell Jesus short, and in worst case scenarios to deny Jesus as Peter did, perhaps not so much in our words but perhaps most frequently in our actions.
Our goal is to try and make sure that however often we miss the mark we are also continually strengthened by the knowledge that if God is for us, who can be against us, and that ultimately the divine insight is stronger than our human frailty and reveals itself in our life more fully.
We can identify with Peter and gain some  solace in that even after he denied Jesus three times he was reinstated on the beach after Jesus was raised from the dead – and in the book of Acts we are assured that God in Christ will always be batting for him in the remarkable story of him being released from his prison chains in a way attributed to divine intervention.
In his own contribution to the New Testament via his first letter today he writes about overcoming our fear and frailty and facing up to the consequences of doing so as being a reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus who bore all the suffering and pain as a direct consequence of following God’s will.
Jesus sets us an example for how we face life itself. Into every life comes pain, torment, unjust suffering and situations we find it hard to deal with.
We have a choice. One of the most influential books I've ever read is "Man's search for meaning" by Viktor Frankl who notes that none of us have any control over what life throws at us. The only control is over how we react to what life throws at us.
We can wilt and become bitter, and lose any sense that life is worth living at all, or like Jesus we can face up to all that life throws at us, battle against injustice to the best of our ability, knowing that life is a gift and innately worthwhile no matter what happens. Do good and live well even when the consequences are dire.
Peter writes that by following the example of Jesus in our own lives we return to the way of God, the way of Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls.
Following the way of Jesus is what Peter and most of the disciples did in the end in that as prophesied by Jesus on the beach when he was reinstated he was eventually led where he did not want to go and by tradition was executed in Rome by being crucified upside down.
Peter was weak, fearful of his own safety, and easily led. But aren’t we all?
But he simultaneously showed great insight, showed instances of great bravery when preaching the word, and followed the way of Jesus literally in the end.
In the end, following the way of Christ won out over his very human failings, and as such is a great and honest example for everyone who has tried to follow Christ ever since.
Peter was truly one of us and using his life as an example we know it is possible to overcome all the failings that inhabit our souls , know like Peter that we have been set free from the mental chains that bind us, and like Peter can follow the better angels of our nature.