Friday, 25 May 2012

Pentecost sermon notes

We have an ordination of an elder at one of the churches on Sunday and a baptism at one of the others. For each service, the final paragraph will be different according to what the service is for...



Pentecost
Every year we come round to Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Easter. We have had the usual celebration of the death of Jesus on the cross, his rising from the grave on Easter Sunday, and his ascension back into heaven to the father. Now the Spirit comes down on the disciples, as Jesus promised before he died.

No wonder little Patrick, in the Reception class at William Westley, wanted to ask me last week ‘Jesus died and rose and where is he now?’.

I would want to add to that question the further question – what relevance does Luke’s account in Acts of the pyrotechnics of the first day of Pentecost – the coming of the Spirit with a great rush of wind and with tongues of fire – what relevance does all this have for us today?
Perhaps the answer to both questions can be found in the account of Jesus words to his disciples at the last supper, words we find in John’s gospel.

Jesus promises his followers that the Spirit will come – in fact he says that unless he goes away from them, the Spirit cannot come. The Spirit will be an advocate, one who speaks to them, comforts them, inspires them.
Jesus says “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
What is this proof about sin, righteousness and judgement that the Spirit will bring? What’s it all about?
Jesus speaks of the Spirit as the one who will shine a light on the things that Jesus has done and said, for the disciples. They will be able to see that not believing in Jesus is a sin – it is something that takes people away from God. Jesus says he is from God & is going to God the Father – he is one with God and the Spirit will help people to understand that when they don’t see this they are wrong.

That light will help people to see the way forward in life – that Jesus is the one who can put us right with God: he has shown us God’s love for us and now we need to live in that love, even though Jesus is not physically present in the same way.

And the light will help his disciples to judge between what is from God and of God and what is not – to find God’s way for their lives.

The Spirit is a light which guides us. It does not just give us a general sense that Jesus is still with us in a vague sort of way. The Spirit comes to each person, to help them to see that Jesus is with each one of them as truly as if he was right next to them – even though he is not present in his bodily form any more.

That is why I think Luke, in Acts, tells us about the real shock the disciples receive when the spirit comes to them. Tongues of fire rest on each one. Suddenly they see who Jesus is, what he is, and where he is.

In response to Patrick’s question – ‘where is Jesus?’ the Spirit tells us – Jesus is Here and Now – with us and for us, always.

So what about the other question – what relevance does the coming of the Spirit have for us?
We will ordain Llandre as an elder today – we will ask the holy spirit to come and help her in the work she is promising to do. We are asking for the blessing of the Father, the companionship of the Son and the power of the Spirit to help her and bless her.

May it be so. Amen.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Pentecost

Among all the pyrotechnics of the events of the day of Pentecost, the lectionary also has us listen to Jesus' promise of the spirit in John's gospel:
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

I was very struck by this part of what Jesus says:
'And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.'

If there's time this week (and I am beset by funerals) I would like to think more about how the Spirit helps us makes sense of this world and of God's place in it...

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Between Ascension & Pentecost!


 The Father & the Son   1 John 5: 9-13, John 17: 6-19)

About 15 years ago my brother gave me a Christmas present: “juggling for the complete Klutz”. You know how it is with brothers – mine knows me very well & he knows that I have not been blessed with manual dexterity & good hand-eye co-ordination. But he also knew how fascinated I was by juggling.

So here was the chance to learn the principles & see if even a klutz like me could learn to juggle.

First, one juggling ball – learning to throw easily from hand to hand, trying to keep your hands as still as possible – learning to relax & have confidence in your ability (never did master that part).

Then, two – trying to keep them at the same height, trying to move easily, smoothly…
And then three – but that’s for Trinity Sunday.. but I’ll tell you the principle – you throw one and as that begins to fall you throw the other and empty your hand ready to catch the first ball, then each time you have to catch you need to throw first.

Sadly, I understand the theory but I still can’t do it.

So why share this undeveloped skill with you?
Well, I think that the disciples’ understanding of God, and perhaps ours too, develops rather like juggling.

First they come to know Jesus.
They follow him, they live with him for three years, they see all he does and hear all he says. They realise that he is a good man, an amazing teacher… they realise more – he is a man of God, he forgives sin in God’s name, he lives close to God in prayer, he even calls God ‘Father’.
Then Jesus begins teaching them about the true relationship he has with God the Father. He is the Son of God, he is more than just a Godly man, he is God made human, he is God in the flesh.

In the passages which we heard from the first letter of John and from John’s gospel, the relationship between Father and Son is explored.

Jesus prays for his followers. He prays to the Father, making clear the relationship between Father and Son, and asking for blessing for the disciples.
‘Now they know that all you gave me has come from you; for I have taught them what I learned from you, and they have received it: they know with certainty that I came from you… All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine’.

By living so close to Jesus they have come close to God the Son and through the Son have come close to the Father.

John’s letter puts it even more strongly: by knowing life with Jesus, through seeing eternal life and love in him, Jesus’ followers have seen the very life of God and have become part of God’s kingdom:
“This is the witness: God has given us eternal life, and this life is found in his Son. He who possesses the Son possesses life”.

In Jesus, God has come into the world, reaching out to humankind and inviting those who will follow Jesus to know and enjoy eternal life.
As Jesus himself puts it “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”.
The Father and the Son are One God.         (juggling with 2 balls).
This of course has profound importance for how the disciples understand who Jesus is.

It also helps them now that they have seen Jesus ascend to the Father. Jesus is no longer physically present with them but they can still receive the protection of God the Father.

And in the power of Jesus, who is God  - one with the Father – they are sent out to continue to do the work of Jesus.

So as we take this bread and wine we remember the self-giving of Jesus Christ. We celebrate his being One with the Father and we join with the Son and the Father in promising our lives for the building of the kingdom.

 But of course the juggling is not complete – we know that God is not only Father & Son in relationship, but the Godhead also has contains the Holy Spirit, to make up the three of the Trinity.

So In all this we anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will descend now that Jesus has ascended, to enable us to move in the power of God and to complete the circle of eternal movement that is God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.        

Amen

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Easter 6 'Friends of Jesus'


John 15: 9-17
Acts 10: 44-48

One of the things I enjoy in life is switching on the radio when I get into the car to go somewhere & just happening across really interesting programmes. So this week I ended up hearing ‘Start the week’ on Radio 4. It was a conversation between 4 people who try to work out what inventions and ideas are going to be used in the future.
The 4 guests explained how they do this in different ways: through a magazine which combines science-fiction and scientific developments; through exploring new inventions and asking how they can be used; through looking at successful companies who market new devices; and through examining how people react to new inventions.

One of those being interviewed said that to help people understand the future they need to actually see the physical objects they are going to use, even if the science behind them hasn’t yet been fully developed – people need to handle physical objects rather than just being told about ideas.
What will a hand-held computer look like, what will you be able to do with it, when might it be available? – these are all questions people ask, rather than wanting to understand the ideas behind it. I could see the point – on the few occasions when I’ve been looking at buying a new phone I want to know what it looks like & feels like, and be assured that it will work well. I’m not really interested in any of the facts and figures of the technology behind it.

I felt there was a link between all that thinking about technology and the Gospel reading today: you might wonder quite what it is!

Jesus is teaching his disciples ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another’.
And in case any of them haven’t yet ‘got’ what that love might look like, Jesus adds ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.’

Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He is all of God’s love in a single human life. And if we still haven’t worked out how to love for ourselves, Jesus uses one word to show his followers what he means: friend.
‘I have called you friends’, says Jesus.

So we are called to be friends of Jesus.
And Jesus is keen that we don’t just think this means we think we are OK, that we are somehow ‘in’ with God and have no responsibility to share God’s love. Jesus also tells us that we are ‘appointed to bear fruit’. We who are the friends of Jesus are called to share that love with other people.

In case ‘friends’ sounds a bit cosy and not very challenging, let’s remind ourselves of the sorts of people Jesus made friends with.
Jesus was often criticised by the religious leaders of his day because they said he was a ‘friend of tax-collectors and sinners’. He spent time with people who were considered unclean, because they were sick, or troubled, or did the wrong sort of work. He made friends with all sorts of strange people – and he calls us friends and appoints us to take his love to all the strangest people of our day.

Suddenly ‘friend of Jesus’ starts to sound like less of an honour and more of a liability, doesn’t it?

We shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves if we have been slow to remember that Jesus said ‘I have not come to call (or befriend) righteous people, but sinners’.
Jesus came for the outsiders in life, and sometimes we make the gospel a message for those who are already on the inside. But as I say, we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves if we have got it wrong. Jesus’ first disciples, the very ones to whom he said ‘I have called you friends’, the very ones he sent out into the world, those disciples were a bit slow to understand that Jesus’ message of love was for the whole world.

Take the story we had from Acts. Peter and the ‘circumcised believers’ – the people who were born Jewish  - were astounded that the Holy Spirit came ‘even to the Gentiles’.
Shock news! God’s love is for the whole world, even the foreigners who are not Jewish, the people they thought were unclean, strange, not part of God’s people…

When Jesus says ‘I call you friends’ he is speaking to the whole of humanity – to the forgotten, the rejected, the despised, the foreigner, the outsider, the sick, the tormented…even us, even them.

We come to share this meal of bread and wine because Jesus calls us friends and invites us to his feast. But through us he continues to call, to call the whole world, to call everyone. It is our task to bear the fruit of his love – to share his love with everyone around us – to invite absolutely everyone to this table, so that all may know what it is to hear Jesus call them ‘friend’.

In the name of Jesus – friend of sinners.
Amen.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Interesting ideas about 'truth'

Today is a Bank Holiday, so I decided to start the day by ironing some clothes and listening to 'Start the Week' on Radio 4 here, if you want to listen



It is a fascinating conversation between 4 people who try to work out what inventions and ideas are going to be used in the future. The 4 guests explained how they do this through a magazine which combines science-fiction and scienitifc developments, through exploring new inventions and asking how they can be used, through looking at successful companies who market new devices, and through examining how people react to new inventions.

One of those being interviewed said that to help people understand the future they need to actually see the physical objects they are going to use, even if the actual science hasn’t been developed – people need to handle what they call 'props' physical objects that they can touch, rather than just being told about ideas. For example, what will a hand-held computer look like, what will you be able to do with it, when might it be available – these are all questions people ask, rather than wanting to understand the ideas behind it.

I was struck by the connection between this way of working and the God who comes to us as the Word made flesh.

I might develop this idea to help to illustrate this week's gospel reading where Jesus uses the term 'friend'. Jesus shows us God as our friend - a real, hands-on loving God!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sermon 6th May 'Abiding in the true vine'


The true vine
Jesus says ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’

I love that word abide. Somehow it sounds stronger, deeper, better than just the word ‘live’. Of course your abode is where you live – your home – but home is so much more than just where we sleep, isn’t it. So the word ‘abide’ contains a meaning of stay, live, inhabit, dwell.
Jesus could have said be at home in me as I am at home in you. Inhabit my love – live entirely in it.
Abide in me.

The key to discipleship is right here. It is not just agreeing that what Jesus says makes a lot of sense, and deciding to try to live the same way. It is a real, loving, relationship with God through Jesus. We must abide in him and allow him to abide in us.

Jesus uses the example of a vine to help us to understand this.
The branches at the end of the vine cannot continue to live and grow and thrive if they are cut off from the rest of the vine. We know this from trees all around us – branches that are cut off the rest of the tree wither and die. But it’s interesting that Jesus uses the example of the vine rather than a tree.

I once had a vine in the garden of a church house where I was living. It grew all over the back of the house, and if I didn’t trim it back from time to time it was very happy to grow all over the windows, like something out of the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’! I had never really paid much attention to the branches that I cut off – just gathered them up & put them on the compost heap.
But one year I decided as we were decorating the church for harvest, that I would take some branches of vine to decorate the pulpit. The pulpit had carved stone vines on it and I thought it would be good to have real live vines on it , too.
So on the Saturday afternoon & cut some long branches of the vine and took them to church and they looked very attractive. I thought, on the pulpit.
Until the next morning and the service. Overnight those vine branches had completely shriveled up and looked awful.
That’s what Jesus knew. Branches cut from the vine almost immediately shrivel and die and can no longer survive. That’s the image he wants us to have of how vital it is for us to abide in him. Cut off from Jesus we simply can’t live as we should. Immediately we start to shrivel.

It is by abiding in Jesus and allowing Jesus to abide in us that we learn to live in God’s love, in the knowledge that we are loved by God and that God wishes us to have eternal, full, unshrivelled, life.

The writer of the first letter of John puts it more elegantly : God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”
And “ God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”.

This has consequences for us personally and as a faith community, because abiding in God’s love shown in Jesus is vital for each one of our lives, but it’s also vital for passing the faith on.
I've just started reading a book by an American Youth Pastor called Kenda Dean. Her book's title is "Almost Christian" - and examining data about what young people in the US believe, her theory is that it is not that our generation has failed to teach the next about the faith, it's just that we have taught them a wishy-washy, watered down faith which basically tells people to be nice. She calls this Moralistic therapeutic deism  - a belief in a God who doesn’t interfere with our lives too much, but who encourages us to be nice to other people and seek the best in life for ourselves.
This belief in a God of the side-lines isn’t harmful to people, but it is not a real living faith in Jesus Christ. If we abide in Christ we are light-years away from this sort of luke-warm faith, and instead inhabit a living faith and allow it to inhabit us. Then we can teach our children, and anyone else around us, what real faith is.

So the really important questions needs to be how do we abide in Jesus. It’s vital for us, it’s vital for passing on the faith – so how do we do it?

Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t once mention ideas in what he says about the vine & abiding in him. Abiding in Jesus is not about accepting ideas and signing up to truths – it is about living in the love of Christ Jesus. The only idea we need to accept is that God chose to come to us in Jesus to show us his love for us – to share his love with us. God loves us more than we will ever fully grasp and he wants us to know that love, and live in its light, and walk the earth as loved children of God our Father, who love God and others because we know what it is to be loved.

‘The rest’, as a good friend of mine says ‘is just fluff’. 
Abide in Jesus. Live surrounded by his love, walk with Jesus at your side, know you are loved and held in God’s arms. Allow the love of Jesus to live in you, and flow through you, and stay connected to Jesus, the true vine. There are ways to help that connection to stay strong, of course – prayer (by which I mean sitting quietly in God’s company as well as actually saying anything), reading the Bible, singing praise, receiving God’s grace in this bread and wine. All these are ways to abide in Jesus.

May you know yourself, today, filled with the love and light and life of abiding in Jesus. And may you abide in him and he in you now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Easter 5 Abide with me

I do wish that blogger hadn't changed the publishing thingy: I haven't got time or patience to work it out right now!


1 John 4:7-21
 John 15:1-8



I'm interested in the word 'abide' in both the John and the 1 John readings. 
We must abide in Christ and abide in Christ's love: that is the only way to health and strength as the body.

I've just started reading Kenda Dean's "Almost Christian" -and  have been very struck by her assertion that it is not that our generation has failed to teach the next about the faith, it's just that we have taught them a wishy-washy, watered down faith which basically tells people to be nice. If we abide in Christ we are light-years away from this sort of luke-warm faith, and instead inhabit a living faith and allow it to inhabit us. Then we can teach our children what real faith is.


For the first time I can ever remember, I may actually choose 'Abide with me' as one of the hymns for the service on Sunday!