Sunday, 31 May 2009

Urmmm...

That's Ezekiel, of course, not Elijah - in my own defence I was writing the sermon & simultaneously baking two cakes for a visiting choir!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Sermon - first draft

I'll come back to this tomorrow, I hope - but I think it's getting there...

Pentecost (Ezekiel 37: 1-14, Romans 8: 22-27, Acts 2: 1-21)

I have to confess that there are certain films that I still think of as ‘Sunday afternoon’ films – the ones that seemed to be on time and time again on Sunday afternoons in my youth. Even when I watch them today, many years later, I can almost taste the tongue sandwiches and tinned peaches. One of these films is Jason and the Argonauts – which is packed with truly fantastic sequences, thanks to Ray Harryhausen’s stop-frame animation. One of the most memorable scenes is where Jason & his men fight skeletons brought to life by the baddy with the beard.

Perhaps when you heard the story of Elijah and the valley of bones you were imagining something like that – I know I always do. God tells the prophet to prophecy to the bones, and they come together as whole skeletons, and then the breath of God – God’s spirit - comes into them and they are fully alive and stand as an amazing army.

There the resemblance with Jason & the Argonauts ends, because this army is not there to fight, but to be an illustration of how the Spirit and power of God will take a scattered people and bring them together again, breathing new life into them, and making them one people. The Spirit makes many, one.

In Acts, too we have examples of many, of diversity, of variety – many tongues of fire are seen, many languages are spoken and understood by people from many different places. Many different classes and ages of people are promised that God’s spirit will be with them. Yet again the Spirit makes many, one: as all are enabled to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Spirit. We are many and varied – from different churches, different villages, different backgrounds. We are each unique and rightly so, God has created us to be an infinitely varied species. Yet God has sent us his Spirit – to make us one. One in Christ, one church, one faith, one in purpose.

On Ascension Day we were left, with the disciples, looking for the vanished risen body of Jesus Christ. Waiting…. Today we see the body of Christ is here again – but the shocking news is, it’s us! We are called to be the body of Christ, to chosen vessel for God’s Spirit in the world. We who were scattered and lifeless and many are pulled together into one people of God, one body of Christ.

We have seen a small example of how this might happen for our seven churches – the prayer for healing network, with the cards and boxes for people’s prayers in all 7 churches, is a god example of how, when we listen to the Spirit, we can be pulled together in God’s work. It is a small start, but it has been amazing to see that work grow from vague thoughts of what we might do, to a growing sense of working together.

And what next?
I have no idea.
Just as when we started out on exploring the healing ministry we had no idea what we might end up doing together. But we wondered what to do…together: we explored as one church, listening for the one spirit to tell us how we were to be pulled together in God’s work.

Of course it isn’t always easy to hear what the spirit is saying to us – we have to listen together and listen to one another – we have to remember that the prophet Joel taught that God’s spirit would be poured out even on the lowliest and the least. Peter states on the day of Pentecost that this prophecy has now come true – God’s spirit is poured out on all people. We need to learn to trust that when we listen to one another and seek God’s will, God’s way will open to us.

And if all that sounds too difficult – relax!

It is the work of the Spirit to help us – Paul says in his letter to the Romans that we do not even know how to pray as we ought – but the Spirit himself intercedes for us. When as one body we seek God’s will, the Spirit is there among us, breathing new life into us, empowering us to be Christ’s own for the world.

And to God by the glory, in the church and in the world, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Pentecost 2009

Readings will be:
Acts 2: 1-4
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Romans 8: 22-27
Acts 2: 1-21

No I've not made a mistake putting the Acts reading down twice - the idea is that while the children are still in the service they hear the story of the coming of the Spirit, and join in with streamers...

We have a 'coming together of congregations': 7 churches of 2 different denominations, who are exploring how to work together across 5 villages. After all that complicated maths, I want to preach on unity in diversity - many tongues, many different people and different walks of life (and in Ezekiel many bones come together in one army) BUT - one Church, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit...

There's lots to organise, too: readers, music, a walk of witness at the end with banners to say who we are to the cricketers on the green, fizzy wine. Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sunday 24th May 09

The problem with this Sunday's readings are that they are dealing with the rather strange time between Ascension and Pentecost - they have a sense of waiting for something bigger and better - and quite right too.
However, I have a baptism at one of my churches on Sunday, and trying to explain about Ascension AND Pentecost AND the fact that we're in-between the two seems a bit tough on all of us, so I've gone for celebrating Ascension, and linking this in to the Baptism, whilst also trying to prepare from next week's Pentecost service.

So the readings are
Acts of the Apostles (1.4-11)
Luke 24.44-end

And for the sermon I'm taking the Radio 2 campaign for this week 'Love where you live' from three different angles:
Love where you live can be about celebrating where you are - the Radio 2 campaign is about community involvement and talking to your neighbours. But as well as celebrating the specific place where you are, we can celebrate the world into which we have been born - celebrating life itself.
Love where you live can also be about recognising the love which you find around you. When Jesus' risen body was finally taken back into heaven, the disciples found that it wasn't that jesus had gone, but that Jesus had been released from the confines of that body to be with them wherever and whenever they lived. So jesus is where you are - Jesus is with us - and Jesus loves us - so there is love where you live.
And if you punctuate the phrase differently you get to another great cause of celebration: love - where you live! God's love shown us in Jesus enables us to live full lives where we grow and learn to love God and others.

Now I just have to work those thoughts up into a short sermon for the baptism service and an all-age service at the other church...

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Sermon notes for 17-5-09

As you'll see, I went in the end for a straight-forward sermon about the love of God. Here it is:

Easter 6
There is no doubt that both our readings have a lot to say about love.
Perhaps the greatest statement is that of Jesus, saying ‘There is no greater love than this, that someone should lay down his life for his friends’.

To give your life is the ultimate in self-sacrifice, it is true. It would be a faithful friend indeed who would offer their life for another. Just yesterday on the radio there was a programme giving the result of a survey that the average Briton has 3 really close friends. You might like to think about your own friends, and wonder whether any of them would give their life for you – or whether you would give your life for them.

But of course the symbol of Christ’s death on the cross is not only a symbol of a man laying down his life for his friends, but the ultimate symbol of God’s

vast love for us. We might sing or talk of Jesus stretching out his arms in love for the world on the cross – and not pause to consider how profound this sacrifice really is. This is not just the death of a man – this is the creator of all that is… become flesh and submitting to the worst that human beings can do. We need poets and hymn-writers to help us to marvel at this love.
Betjeman’s description of “The maker of the stars and sea, become a child on earth for me”; or Graham Kendrick’s description of “Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered”.

This is why for so many centuries, Christians have chosen to look at depictions of Christ on the cross, and to see not just awful torture, but immense love. God’s love for everyone – for you, for me.

Sometimes people have asked me why I feel that God loves me, where this sense of being loved comes from. I have to reply that I begin with the wonder of creation, and cannot help but believe in God as creator. The faithful people of God tells me that this God chooses to relate to people, and that ultimately God chooses to become human in Jesus Christ. The historical evidence is that this Jesus Christ died on a cross. This is the depth of the love of God – to die for us; and to rise again to show us the power of the love of God. This makes me – makes everyone who chooses to accept it - a loved child of God.

Flowing from this realisation of God’s love for each one of us is the command of Jesus – love one another as I have loved you.
It may seem strange to be commanded to love. I’m reminded of the often-heard parting shot given to children by adults ‘be nice’. It seems to me that each of us may have a tendency to be nice, or quite nice, or really rather nasty – but that largely it’s a character trait we can do very little about. But of course the adult isn’t telling the child to change the way they intrinsically are – what they really mean is ‘behave yourself’ - perhaps not ‘be nice’ but ‘act nice’ would be more accurate.

When Jesus commands us to love one another, he is not expecting us to magic up soppy feelings about other people that really aren’t there at all – he is telling us to act lovingly, and by reminding us that we are all children of God he is reminding us of what it is that makes the other person lovable – not their appearance or behaviour, but that fact that they are as precious to God as a beloved child – as precious as a friend for whom you would lay down your life.

Jesus knows his disciples – over 3 years he’s heard them bicker and compete and argue – but he wants them to see each other in a different light after his sacrifice for them – to see one another as the ones for whom God lays down his life.

This love – this sacrifice – changes the way we see God and changes the way we see each other – but it should also change the way we see ourselves.

God loves us. Absolutely, wonderfully, sacrificially.
There was a time in my life when I saw this love of God as being the thing I needed to help me live with the things I disliked about myself. My thinking went something like ‘I don’t think I’m a very nice person – but it’s Ok because God loves me anyway’.

But the love of Jesus on the cross is not that sort of ‘anyway’ kind of love – it is deep and sure and complete.
God loves me - each one of us – lock stock and barrel. This love doesn’t paper over the faults or overlook the foibles, it is a love which knows us to our core – and loves what it has made. It is a love which wants to see us flourish as loved children – growing into the people we were made to be.
Because when we can accept that we are so deeply loved we can grow in that love – becoming more like Jesus each day, loving others as precious children of God and as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so learning more about what it means to love God.

May that love fill us and transform us and free us to love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, 11 May 2009

May 17th

Lectionary readings are:

Acts 10:44-48
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

My first thoughts are that these are very similar readings to last week's - Acts deals with conversion and adult baptism; John's letter talks of love for God the Father, jesus the Son & our brothers and sisters in Christ; and in John's gospel Jesus continues to talk about abiding in Him & loving one another.
It might seem very basic but I'm wondering about focussing on what it means to love God. Why would God need our love anyway? What can we give God that God does not already have? What difference does it make to our lives to love God?
Think I need time to think about this!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The true vine: 10th May sermon

The Vine John 15:1-8
We are used to the image of the vine in our lives as Christians – our beautiful pulpit reminds us each week that we celebrate Jesus in the fruit of the vine. In our gospel reading today Jesus tells his followers that he is the vine & they are the branches. So what does it mean to be part of the vine?

In my last manse I had a vine growing against the wall – it was South-facing and in the spring and summer it grew like mad – if I didn’t prune it back it would have covered up all the windows. So I learnt quite a lot about vines as I went and did battle with my secateurs.

The first thing is that a vine isn’t like a tree – if Jesus had said ‘I am the trunk, you are the branches’ that would have meant one thing, but saying ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ says another things altogether. The branches aren’t just one part of the vine – the whole vine itself is made up of branches – if there were no branches there would be no vine. It’s very like St Paul’s picture of the followers of Jesus as parts of the body; the branches of the vine are all a part of the vine, and no one branch is more important than any other branch.

The second thing is that the vine can only continue to grow and thrive if all the branches are joined together. The minute you cut off a branch of the vine, it starts to wither and die – unless it is joined to the rest of the vine, the entire branch has had it. The branches need to remain part of the vine to live and to grow.
But the third thing I learnt was that you couldn’t just let the vine grow wherever it wanted to – it would soon reach the roof of the house and just keep growing all over the guttering if I let it. But if you wanted any chance of grapes at all (let alone keep looking out of the windows) you had to prune back the vine. In fact someone once explained to me that if you really wanted the fruit to grow well you had to get right in there with your secateurs and make sure there weren’t too many fruits trying to grow in any one bunch.

So what do all these facts about vines mean for Jesus picture of his followers as parts of the vine?

Jesus is the vine – we are the branches – and therefore together we are the vine, we are one with Jesus. It doesn’t matter what each branch looks like, what its position is, as long as it’s part of the whole vine, joined to God in Christ. Being the vine means recognising how we belong together, how we need each other as a church and as different churches.

We must be joined to one another and we must be joined to Christ. We must talk to Jesus in prayer, read God’s word, gather together in worship. These are the things which join us to Christ. Being fruitful then means showing God’s love in the world, showing in our lives the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy , peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness & self-control).

There must be union with each other and union with Christ – but there will still be pruning – we cannot expect all growth, all success, all positive things in life.
Even joined to Christ, we will not be immune from any difficulty in life. Jesus says that the unfruitful branches of the vine are cut off : but that the fruitful branches are still pruned. Whatever difficulty comes, we must remain part of God’s life in Christ, even if have been severely pruned back.

Steve Chalke, who is a Baptist minister from a fairly evangelical background, has written that he used to talk to people about their short-comings and try to convince them that they needed Jesus to sort their lives out. Then he realised that Jesus ‘never nagged people’ but tried to inspire them to live God’s way. So now Steve Chalke’s approach is to ask people he meets ‘If you could know what God is doing and be part of it, would you want to?’ – and he says he gets a much more positive response.

Being part of the vine is about being part of what God is doing in the world, continuing to be joined to Jesus Christ by seeking to follow Jesus, and accepting that. Like Jesus we will know difficulties as well as successes.

We gather as part of the vine to celebrate the gift of Jesus, the true vine. Eating bread & drinking wine is a way of saying we are prepared to be part of the kingdom, part of the on-going life of God in the world in the living Christ, part of the vine.

And so may the life of Christ fill us & bless us & make us fruitful. Amen.