Friday, 31 May 2013

June 2nd - Trinity 1 - 2nd after Pentecost

(Wow : the Sundays get hard to 'label' from here until Advent!)

I'm not actually preaching this Sunday - but looked at the gospel reading: Luke 7: 1-10 and the healing by Jesus of the Centurion's servant.

There are all sorts of things going on here about race, and authority, and culture. This is a story for our mixed up world - whose faith is real? which race is blessed? who deserves God's healing?
The word that leapt out at me from the story was 'worthy'. The Jewish elders, speaking to Jesus on behalf of the Centurion, say that he is 'worthy' of Jesus going to him, because he has sponsored the synagogue. But when jesus approached, the man himself says 'I am not worthy.. only say the word'.

This is a story about grace - none of us are worthy yet God's will is to bless and heal all of us.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Trinity Sunday

Psalm 8 ; John 16: 12-15



Trinity Sunday rolls round again. Last Sunday we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit and so when putting together the church’s lectionary somebody decided that the week after Pentecost, this week, we’d better try to sort out how this Spirit relates to God the Father. And while we’re at it, let’s try to sort out what we think the relationship is between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.

So here we are with a day of preachers talking about shamrocks, triangles, the three states of water, icons, Celtic symbols… all in an attempt to help people to understand the Trinity.

But the most important question about the Trinity is – why does it matter?
You could argue that since Jesus never uses the word Trinity it can’t be that important: actually ‘Trinity’ isn’t a 
Biblical word at all – it was probably first used by Tertullian about 150 years after Christ.


But just because the word Trinity isn’t used that doesn’t mean that the idea of God as Trinity -  Father Son & Holy Spirit – isn’t there in the Bible.

In the short passage from John’s gospel we find Jesus talking of the coming of the Spirit. ‘He will take what is mine and declare it to you’. But Jesus, as he often did, also talks about the Father and his relationship with the Father ‘All that the Father has is mine’.

What Jesus has, what Jesus is, ‘all that is mine’ – is at the disposal of the Spirit. And all that Jesus has and is also belongs to the Father ‘all that the Father has is mine’. Jesus, the Spirit, the Father are in a depth of relationship where they can each say ‘that is mine – and it also belongs to the other two persons’.

A relationship of three complete equals, where each can speak of the other two as if they were part of ‘me’.
This is how Jesus speaks of the relationship between himself, the Spirit and the Father.

Why does it matter that we try to understand this? Why have so many theologians tried to explain the Trinity and argued long and hard about this doctrine?
Because Jesus shows us that this relationship between the three person of the Godhead helps us to understand more about the God of love who comes to us.

When Jesus prays ‘Our Father..’ there is no distance between God the Father, who hears the prayer, Jesus the Son who prays it, and the Holy Spirit who helps prayers to be articulated. There is no distance between the Spirit who is sent into the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost, Jesus who promised that Spirit, and God the Father who sends the Spirit.
There is no distance between Jesus who cries out on the cross, God the Father to whom he cries, and the Spirit who carries the cries of all into the heart of the Godhead.

There is, at the heart of God, perfect relationship, perfect communion, perfect love – and that love reaches out to relate, in three persons, with the world God has made.

So in Psalm 8 we are reminded of the God who created everything that is – heavens, moon and stars; the God who is worthy of the praise of every living creature that has been created by God’s power. And yet the writer of the Psalm knows that human beings are loved and cared for – given a special role within creation – loved and cherished.

The perfect love of the God who is three-in-one and who defines loving relationship is not content.
When the perfect love of God is asked ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them?’, the answer comes eventually in a human form, in Jesus. Human beings are the thing I love so much that I will reach out in love to them – becoming one of them – living with them and then coming to them in the Spirit and living in them – to show them the love of Father Son & Holy Spirit.

Why does the Trinity matter? Because it shows us how God relates to Godself in love and then shows us how God relates to each one of us in love.

Because the Trinity is dynamic and loving and relating – and restless. God – the Holy Three in One wants to recruit new lives and new lives into this relationship. God in Trinity wants to reach out in love to us.

And perhaps there is a final and very timely reason why it is important to think about the Trinity.

This week has been dominated by the shocking news of the incident in Woolwich. There has been a lot of ill-tempered comment about ‘them’.
Them – the Islamic extremists who might have convinced 2 young men that an off-duty soldier was a legitimate target.
Them – people with mental illness or distress who lose touch with reality
Them – the English Defence League who seem to want to capitalise on people’s natural sense of horror by fuelling racism
Them - the media who want to show us pictures of carnage and distress.

God-in-Trinity tells us there is no ‘them’ – there is only ‘us’. God is perfect community and calls us into perfect community – with God and with one another.

We are loved – we can all be included – we must struggle to understand and love others.
We can be changed by God’s love – we can live in peace – many and yet one.

May the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the remembrance of Jesus at this table make it so – in the name of God – One and yet Three, Three and yet One. 
Amen.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Trinity Sunday first thoughts

It's going to be a busy day, Trinity Sunday 2013: I have an 8am communion (short sermon - usually a 'filletted' version of a later one), 9.30 communion, 11.15 all-age service, a baptism at 12.30, and then "beer and hymns" at the local pub in the evening.

I think my starting point is going to be Psalm 8: which speaks of the glory and wonder of God - but also of God's mindfulness for humanity - a God who is at once transcendent and immanent. Somehow we need to hold onto the idea of God as both immense and near to us and in us: perhaps one way of handling the idea of God as Trinity is to try to similarly hold onto God as over all, and with all, and in all.

Only God in Trinity can make sense of what Jesus says in John 16: 12-15 of the coming of the Spirit
'All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he (the Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you.'.

The phrase 'all that the father has is mine' implies complete indwelling - otherwise it makes no sense. I might say 'all that I have is mine' - but I could not say that all that someone else has is mine, unless we are one: even then, in a human sense I would say 'all that we have is ours'...

Trinity Sunday - busy AND thought-provoking... more to follow!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Pentecost


We might feel we have had a busy 8 weeks since Holy Week and if you’re anything like me you’re wondering quite where the time goes. But the first disciples of Jesus had had a positively torrid time.

First they suffered the trauma of seeing Jesus arrested straight after their Last Supper and almost immediately executed. Then the utterly amazing events of Easter Sunday – the empty tomb, the appearance of the resurrected Jesus in the upper room, the Emmaus road story. A week later there was a second appearance in the upper room, to Thomas. The gospels speak of ‘other times’ that Jesus shows himself to people, including the appearance on the beach when he forgives Peter, and finally the events of Jesus’ ascension, when he blesses the disciples and his resurrection body disappears into heaven.

And the final things Jesus says to his friends were ‘wait here in the city’ and ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’.

And so they have waited – for 10 days. In this time, Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts, they have prayed together, worshipped God, chosen a new disciple, Matthias, to replace Judas.
They have waited and thought and prayed… and finally the Holy Spirit comes.

However many times I read it, it seems like a strange story. A loud rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on each one, the gift of other languages.

It’s a strange story and we might wonder quite how this thing happened. But perhaps instead of getting side-tracked into how the Spirit comes, we should look at what the Spirit does to these disciples.

Jesus said ‘you will be my disciples in Jerusalem, throughout Judea & Samaria and to the ends of the earth’.
It’s a bit like Jesus saying to us ‘You will be my witnesses in Pampisford/Duxford, throughout South Cambridgeshire & the city of Cambridge.. and to the ends of the earth’.

Jesus tells his disciples to go back to all the places that he traveled with them, but then he hints that they will need to go much, much further, to be much bolder and even to encounter strange and unknown people – in his name.

So when the Spirit comes the disciples are given the ability to speak in many languages.

There are people gathered in Jerusalem from the four corners of the known world: they have come from the North (Cappodocia), South (Egypt), East (Mesopotamia) and West (Rome) – and they can all understand the disciples telling them about ‘God’s deeds of power’.

The Spirit demonstrates to the disciples that Jesus sends them to be his witnesses to all corners of the world.

And more than that, the Spirit does not just send them to spread good news to all people, everywhere; but the Spirit gives them the power they need to be able to do that work of witnessing.

The Spirit gives the disciples the energy, the power, the words and even the language they need to tell the world what God has done in coming in Jesus Christ.

So what the Spirit does to Jesus’ disciples is to send them out into the world, way beyond where they are comfortable,  with the power to spread the Good News.

How will the Spirit come to us, this Pentecost?
Rushing wind, tongues of fire, new languages…we don’t know. But surely Jesus tells us to wait, to pray, to gather and to trust that the Spirit will come.

And when it comes, it does to us what the Spirit did to the first disciples.

It challenges us to think about new people and new places into which we should speak the good news of God’s love – perhaps way beyond where we are comfortable.

And through the mercy of God, the Spirit gives us the power and the ability and the energy to be witnesses to what Jesus has done.

So come and receive this bread and wine today, and pray that through it Jesus will send the Spirit to empower you to be his witness.

To God’s praise and glory.
Amen.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Ascension

Preaching at an Ascension Day service today (Thursday) & will 'tweak' this a bit for Sunday, too...


So is Ascension day important or not?
Unfortunately the “40 days after Easter Sunday” calculation means that Ascension day is always ‘tucked away’ on a Thursday!  - which implies it’s not too important.
But on the other hand the story is so good that Luke tells it twice – at the end of his gospel and at the beginning of the book of Acts.

OK – so it’s important – but why is it important?
I don’t think its importance lies in the problem of physics – or maybe it’s geography – that it throws up. The question of what really happened: especially where did Jesus ‘go’?
The disciples see him ascend into heaven, and are left gazing up with open mouths.
But we might feel suspicious of the idea that heaven is ‘up there’. Nikita Krushchev, leader of the Soviet 
Union, tried to discredit Christianity by saying of the first Russian cosmonaut – ‘Gagarin went into space but didn’t find God there’. Heaven is not simply, physically, beyond the sky – we know now that that’s space. And if we start asking questions about what’s beyond space we soon bump into the issue of the relationship between time and space, what’s referred to as the space time continuum... and I can just feel some of you glazing over.


So let’s not get bogged down in the ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions around the Ascension of Jesus and ask just three questions.

First of all if e agree it’s important - Why is it important to the disciples?
We see how important witnessing the ascension was by the reactions that the disciples have.
Luke tells us the disciples saw Jesus go from them and knew he had gone back to God – and so they worshipped him.

Whatever the physics of where Jesus went, the reality is that his resurrected body wasn’t to be seen any longer and that the disciples knew that he had returned to God. This was the final piece of ‘irrefutable proof’ that Jesus – whom they had followed for three years and then seen die – was risen and that he was God made flesh. In order to become incarnate he came to earth from heaven – wherever or whenever that is – and his physical presence has gone back to heaven.

The ascension convinces the disciples of the divinity of Jesus, and so they worship Jesus as the Christ – the Son of God. This is an important moment in their discipleship.

Secondly, What did Jesus do at the ascension?
This is not just a story about Jesus taking his leave of his disciples. We have heard how Jesus first raised his hands and blessed them. This is just the end of the resurrection chapter – and the beginning of an amazing new chapter in the life of the followers of Jesus. Jesus blesses and commissions his followers – he wants them to continue the work he has begun. But first he tells them to wait (for the Holy Spirit).
On Easter Sunday he found them waiting to see what the authorities were going to do next – waiting behind locked doors in fear. Then they were surprised by the arrival of the risen Jesus. Now they are told to return to Jerusalem and wait – but this time to wait in joyful expectation – waiting for arrival of the Holy Spirit, which will drive them out beyond any locked doors to tell the world the Good news of the love of God.

So at the Ascension the disciples learn about the divinity of Jesus and Jesus blesses them and tells them to wait for the Spirit to empower them.

But what difference does the ascension make to us?
Today is so much more then just a chance to remember the events of the ascension. We, like the first disciples, learn about Christ’s divinity, and wait, with them for the coming of the Spirit. And maybe our hymns encourage us to be triumphalist about Jesus, our Lord who soars through the clouds back to the right hand of the Father.

But more that that, the Ascension shows us that the Jesus who died and was raised is taking the marks and the pain of crucifixion, still evident on his resurrected body, back into the heart of God. The ascension tells us that the crucified, vulnerable, human flesh of Jesus is now received back as part of the Godhead.
Never again can we tell ourselves that God doesn’t know what pain is, doesn’t understand, doesn’t feel as we do. Even at the heart of the beauty of heaven there is a place for the wounds of Christ.
The same Lord who accepted the lowliness of life as a human being, the same Lord who accepted humiliation and death, the same Lord who was raised in triumph at Easter, that same Lord takes the pain of our existence and inhabits, enfolds and transforms it utterly.

And then he promises to come and make us part of the body of Christ, broken and yet transformed.
So at his invitation our earthly lives may be lifted up to reach the heights of heaven with him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.