Thursday, 25 June 2015

Methodist Ordinations at Liverpool Cathedral June 28th

Readings are : Isaiah 6: 1-8, Romans 12: 1-18, John 20: 19-29

Today is the day when it all comes together.
Your experience of God in other people, your study of the Bible, your training as a preacher, your theological learning, the people who have loved and encouraged you, and that strange, hard to explain sense of God’s call to ministry. All that comes together, and the Methodist church will ordain you into the Order of Prebyters. The many strands of each of your lives come together in this place, at this time, in a moment you will never forget.

There will be tears and laughter here today, as we celebrate and thank God, as it all comes together.

And it is not just the Methodist Church but the whole Christian church that celebrates with you today and if you listen carefully you just might even hear some of the angels of heaven, full of joy that you repentant sinners are going to be ministers of the Gospel, helping other repentant sinners to find their way back into the waiting arms of God. What a moment.

So what can I say about our Bible readings, each one so full of wisdom as you start this new chapter of your Christian journey?
I think as they speak into this moment when it all comes together, God’s Word reminds us to keep it together. Never forget your calling, never doubt God’s ability to use you, never doubt that Jesus is with you. The God who brought you here, & brought this all together will keep it all together.

Isaiah’s call speaks powerfully to many people. Isaiah is in strange company. He is surrounded by the fiery ones, the seraphim, with their three pairs of wings – two wings to cover their faces (so they don’t look directly at God Almighty), two to cover their feet (to preserve their modesty), and two to fly (because it would be a bit sad to have wings and not be able to fly). Surely these are the beings best suited to serve God and take God’s message to God’s people? But Isaiah gets carried away and when God muses ‘who shall I send..?’ – Isaiah leaps in “send me!”.
He doesn’t stop to ask who else there is, or to wonder whether he is the best person for the job. He knows there is a task to be done and he offers himself to God. He doesn’t wait for God to knock on his door to say “Isaiah, I have a task for you” – his awareness of God’s presence and the world’s need drives him to offer himself in God’s service. So purified by God’s fire, he is sent out as God’s own.
God’s presence helps Isaiah to be aware of the reality of the world’s need. God keeps it together for Isaiah – sending him out with God’s word, never forgetting whose messenger he truly is.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans also talks about an offering, the offering of lives to God by those who follow Jesus Christ ‘Present your bodies as a living sacrifice’. But Paul doesn’t want his readers to get lost in all the spiritual stuff and forget the earthly stuff – the Christians in Rome need to hold together being a spiritual sacrifice in a human body. So they need to be transformed by God, not conforming to the world, not thinking of themselves too highly, not allowing themselves to get haughty, not claiming to be wiser than they are. This is not the calling of ministers only, of course, but the calling of all Christians. Paul reminds us that humility is necessary so that we remain open to the will of God for our lives, keeping together our twin identities as children of God and as brothers and sisters of the lowliest on earth. It is a warning to all Christians, but perhaps it is a particularly appropriate warning to ministers of the church – don’t let your calling become separated from your life. If you find yourself talking to other people about your job or your work or the many tasks which face you, stop for a moment and make sure that you haven’t lost sight of the joy of being called into the ministry to serve your Lord with all you are and all you have. And remember some of the words Paul uses in the letter to the Romans which help Christ’s people to hold it all together – grace, generosity, cheerfulness, love, honour, hope, patience, harmony, nobility, peace – everyone of these virtues is a gift from God. Always be ready to receive these gifts, to help you to hold together your life in Christ and your work for the church.

The Gospel reading brings us face to face with the importance of faith. Thomas doubts. He was not there when the others saw the risen Jesus and he lays down some rather strict conditions for his believing what they are telling him “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.
When Jesus offers Thomas the chance to do just those things, Thomas replies “My Lord and my God”. When the living Jesus is with him, his doubt evaporates. I can’t help noticing that Thomas does nothing to shift from doubter to proclaimer of the divinity of Christ – he doesn’t study more or try harder or talk to the right people or even pray. Jesus comes to him and gives him everything he needs – not proof, but an encounter.
When it all feels to be falling apart in our lives, in our ministry or in the church, we need to be like Thomas – no longer doubting but believing that Jesus is here and living and real.

Today, God has brought you to this point, brought it all together. Go on from here believing – knowing – that the God who brought it all together will keep it all together.
God will help you to keep together the needs of the world and the call of God; God will help you keep together your spiritual life and your earthly following of Jesus; and God will keep you together in communion with the Lord of all life.
So to God be the glory – Father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Where is the sermon? A word of explanation.

Dear far-flung web friends,
I am on sabbatical from May 20-August 20 2015. If you want to read a sermon, you could do what I sometimes do & look back 3 years, when the lectionary readings were the same. Help yourself.

I look forward to re-engaging with God's Word on a regular basis in August - meanwhile I am thinking about the power of words and images and ecumenism, or the work of building unity in Christ.

Sabbatical is a change of pace, but the first three weeks have been pretty amazing for me so far.
I hope you all have a blessed Summer.