Saturday, 26 May 2018

Trinity Sunday

John 3: 1-17

I want us to think for a little while about the story of Nicodemus today.
We have heard the most famous part of Nicodemus’s story: his conversation with Jesus when he comes to talk to Jesus “by night”.
Nicodemus is a member of the Jewish council or Sanhedrin. You might say that he is an ‘elder’, a leader, one who is meant to understand the faith. But he is in the dark. He is trying to work out who Jesus is, and whether he is sent from God, or not.
If he is from God, the council should listen to him. If he isn’t, they should probably punish him for heresy.

Jesus talks to him about the importance of the Spirit – of being born by the Spirit, guided by God’s Holy Spirit in all you do. Then in the verse we probably know best, Jesus states “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him should not perish but have eternal life”.

John’s gospel does not tell us what Nicodemus says in response – perhaps he just goes away to have a long think.

Nicodemus comes into John’s gospel again in chapter 7 v 50 – when the Jewish council are considering having Jesus arrested. They have finally decided that what Jesus is saying and doing is contrary to the law of God, and they are wanting the temple police to arrest Jesus.
But Nicodemus speaks up “Does our low permit us to pass judgement without first learning the facts?”.
It seems that this buys Jesus s little more time before the authorities finally move against him. Meanwhile, perhaps Nicodemus is still considering the facts about Jesus.

Finally, in ch 19 v 39 Nicodemus once again enters the story of Jesus. Jesus has just been crucified and has dies on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea has asked Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus. Nicodemus joins Joseph to carry the body to the borrowed tomb.
It seems that Nicodemus has finally decided what he thinks of Jesus – he risks a lot to carry the body of a condemned criminal, and he brings with him a huge quantity of spices for the burial.

Nicodemus finally comes out from the darkness into the light – the truth of Jesus’ identity has dawned on him.
Did he later hear the good news of the resurrection? It’s not silly to think he would have done – presumably somebody reported to Joseph of Arimathea and to Nicodemus that the body they had carefully laid in the tomb was risen and Jesus was alive.
Finally he would learn that Jesus is the Son sent from God the Father and raised by him from death to live forever and to send the promised Holy Spirit.

It seems from John’s gospel that Nicodemus needs quite some time to think and ponder and realise that Jesus is who he says he is.

In that story we find reason to remember that today is Trinity Sunday, to spend some time thinking for ourselves who Jesus is and how he relates to God the Father & to the Spirit.

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 Three  -  Father Son & Holy Spirit – isn’t there in the Bible. In the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus talks freely of the Spirit of God – and in plenty of other parts of the gospels he promises that he will send the Spirit to his followers.
Jesus is also clear that he is sent from God – but not just as a holy man – but as the Son, sent from God the Father out of love for the world, to save all who believe.

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. God the Father is one with God the Son and one with God the Spirit, and this closeness, this being with, is also offered 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.

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. God is not alone, God is with…

When our hearts ache, when our sleep is troubled, when we live in a state of fear and uncertainty, God is with us, very near, just as Jesus was there in the night with Nicodemus.

God is not distant, or uncaring, or unknowing – God is with us, in us, along side us – always wanting to relate to us, to hear our prayer, to offer us comfort.
The Trinity shows us the God who reaches out to us in love and care – and will never abandon us.

We also see that 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.

Like Nicodemus, what we learn about God’s love as Father, in Jesus, and in the life of the Spirit– about God’s love in Trinity – changes our lives. We become part of God’s love reaching out into the world, we are part of God’s love with people – meeting their needs, holding them in prayer, telling them about God’s love for them.

So may we know God with us in Trinity, and be used by God to build the kingdom of love joy & peace
In the name of God, Father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Jesus prays for his disciples

John 17: 6-19   

This is a passage to give you neck-ache if you imagine the conversation between Jesus, the Father and the disciples. For example, sentences like “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them…”
Jesus refers 20 times to himself ‘I’
And 22 times to they or them – meaning the disciples.

This Passage is at least as much about the disciples as it is about Jesus.
Jesus constantly refers to himself in relation to the Father, but then says ‘as it is for me, so it is for them (the disciples)’ or ‘as you have done for me so do for them’.

Jesus talks about the name of God; the fact that he is sent by God the Father; and the truth that the disciples also belong to God. He then prays that the Father protects them once he is no longer with them.
Then comes this final, rather puzzling sentence;
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Jesus is sent by the Father into the world – John’s gospel makes that clear from the start “God so loved the world he sent his only Son…”. We know that Jesus is praying here at the end of his time on earth with the disciples. According to John’s gospel they have seen him turn water into wine, heal the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, feed the 5,000, and raise Lazarus from death, as well as teaching Nicodemeus and the woman at the well.
Jesus has come to do God’s will and to show the arrival of God’s kingdom with all that that means for the suffering and the needy.
But now Jesus speaks of sanctifying himself. To sanctify something means to set it apart, make it holy and consecrated, being used by God.
Surely Jesus is already holy? Hasn’t everything he has done and said so far showed the disciples that he is the holy Son of God?
But Jesus is speaking just before his death – in this self-giving, this act of laying down his life this sacrifice, he is setting his life down for God – making his life a holy offering for the world.

But remember, this passage is as much about the disciples as it is about Jesus.
Jesus prays “I sancitify myself so that they may be sanctified.”
Jesus lays down his life for the holy purposes of God – to show the amazing extent of God’s love – so that his disciples can also learn to lay down their lives as an offering to God, for the world.

What does this mean for us?
We are disciples of Jesus Christ, sent into the world to do the will of God the Father as he was.
Sent into the world to do what?
At a gathering of URC ministers the week before last we were hearing some amazing stories of faithful, radical disciples of Jesus – Maria Skobstova, Dorothy Day, & Madeleine Delbrel. If those names don’t ring a bell, perhaps you will be more impressed when I tell you that the person telling us the stories was Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury).

All three women that Rowan talked about gave up comfort and home and family to serve the poorest people, making themselves available to help others almost 24 hours a day and often giving away their own possessions for the sake of others. It seemed a bit daunting to try to be like them, but this is what discipleship looks like – refusing to hold onto your own life and your own possessions, for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Jesus gave up everything – even his life-blood; and so we should ask what it is that we should give up, as his disciples.

Rowan Williams suggested that the first thing we should be ready to give up is the church. Not give up coming to church, or caring about the fellowship of people here, but recognise that this is not our church. This is God’s church – it needs to be holy and sanctified, set apart to be used by God for the sake of the world.

Today we start a new chapter in the life of this church as we ordain Marius as an Elder, in preparation for him beginning to lead this church. Some things may change – Marius will bring new ideas about the life of the church, about what your life together looks like and about how you serve your community. But one thing will not change – this will not become Marius’s church: it will remain God’s church, and you will all continue to be set apart as Jesus’ holy followers.

How does this happen?
It is not a matter of determination. You do not achieve holiness by trying really hard, or achieve sanctification by saying the right words. Jesus prays that his followers will be sanctified, and his prayer is answered when the Holy Spirit comes to fill their lives with a knowledge of God’s presence and power.

As we ordain Marius to eldership, we pray for that same spirit to come and strengthen him in his discipleship of Christ.
Being sanctified and set apart as a leader on the church can sound quite grand, until we remember that this is not our church, but God’s and that we are not following our own plans, but seeking to follow Christ. Jesus was sanctified not for greatness but for service.
What is true for Jesus is true for the disciples.
The disciples – and us – all Jesus’ disciples - are not chosen for greatness and sanctified to a place of honour; we are chosen to follow and are sanctified for service to the world in God’s name. Marius is called to serve here – as we are all called to serve God in God’s church.

As we set apart this bread and wine for communion, we make it holy – holy things for God’s holy people. As we take the break and break it, and pour out the wine, we remember how Jesus’ body was broken to be offered to all the world. Strengthened for service by him, and filled with the Holy Spirit, we pray that God will use us in his service and for his glory. Amen.