Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bible Study notes for Sunday July 29th - 2 Samuel 11

Bible Study notes for Sunday July 29th

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21 - Jesus feeds the 5000 and walks on the water

(You might like to read all three passages first to get a feel for how they might fit together)
For the sake of time we’ll concentrate just on one of the passages for now, again the passage from Second Samuel, but keep in mind the feeding of the 5000

Have someone read it through slowly, whilst everyone else listens - (not following in your own bibles) - asking ‘what catches your attention in this passage? Does it leave you with questions?’

[At whatever point you have but a few minutes left for Study, Make sure to leave time at the end to read it through in this way at the end - ‘What is Christ saying to his church in these verses?’ is there a message for us at St John’s? Respond in prayer]


1.  So this week we return to the story of David, and the well known story of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah
1.1.                      There are several fundamental principles of our life under God operating here - take a moment to read Genesis 3:1-7 and bear it in mind as you continue the study.
2.   Last week David was at rest and looking around for something to do. Remind one another of what came to David’s mind.
2.1.                       David’s thought seems to be ‘what can I do for the LORD?’. Refresh your memory of the LORD’s response to David (2 Sam 7.8-11)
2.2.                       Discuss the question “Which more commands our attention and our actions, that which the LORD has done for us, or that which we think we might do for the LORD?”
2.3.                      What Does the LORD require of us?
3.  The Old Testament narratives are not mere recounting of events. The writer skillfully draws our attention to certain features [This is why retelling Bible stories in a disconnected manner is unhelpful - we miss the deeper underlying story which is being told. In this respect a more literal translation is also a great help] In this weeks reading we note that David has not gone out with his army to battle. He has remained in Jerusalem
3.1.                      Compare 2 Sam 11.1-2 with 2 Sam 7.1-2
3.1.1.    What are the differences?
3.1.2.    What are the commonalities?
4.  In both cases David responded to what he ‘saw’
4.1.                      Read Jesus teaching from the sermon on the mount, Matthew 6:19-24
4.1.1.    Note that Jesus puts the teaching about our eyes between a teaching on our treasures and our hearts, and about serving God and Mammon. How does this correspond to David and Bathsheba?
4.1.2.    What does this suggest about the problem with our ‘eyes’
4.1.3.    We talk about ‘setting our heart’ on something, or on a course of action. In both cases his response was wrong, in the second calamitously so - By what Sense is David ‘shown’ his errors? (2 Sam 7:4-5; 2 Sam 12:1)
4.1.4.    Reflect back on the primeval sin in Genesis 3 - what is the fundamental conflict regarding the senses?
4.1.5.    In 2 Sam 11:2-4, David ‘Saw’ and ‘took’ Bathsheba - Reflect once more on 2 Sam 7:8-11 - Here David is Told that it is the LORD who has provided all that he needs and more. Next week as the story unravels further and David’s sin comes home to roost, part of the Word of the LORD to David is couched in the same terms if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight 2 Sam 12:8-9. What is the fundamental principle of faith underlying: the response of Eve in the garden; David and Bathsheba and the provision of Bread for the 5000? (You may also like to reflect further on the response of the Father to the Elder Son in the parable of the Prodigal ‘Everything I have is yours’)

[Reading the narrative of 2 Samuel, we may well miss the import of 2 Sam 7, so great is David’s fall in 2 Sam 11, yet it seems clear that David’s heart was wandering from Devotion to God, back in 2 Sam 7. His heart was not set to respond to God’s command, rather he was already looking to be his own lord, casting around for something he could do for God from his own instigation. Becoming the creator of a new reality. Setting himself up as God]

5.  Read the passage from Ephesians 3 - How does this Speak to all we have thought about today? How well do we Hear this? Why does this magnify the significance of ‘praying continually’ as St Paul puts it?
6.  Give thanks to the LORD for is goodness to us. Pray for a heart to desire only to respond to his living Word, the source of Life.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Sermon for Sunday July 22nd, 2012

Sermons and longer pieces have followed the elves and now can be found at


This week's is to be found HERE

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Study notes for the Old Testament reading - Sunday July 22nd

Bible Study notes for Sunday July 22nd
(Apologies for the formatting which doesn't seem to have transferred from the original)

2 Samuel 7:1-16
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34,53-56 (Note - the verses missing from this passage tell of the feeding of the five thousand - which is the set gospel reading in a couple of weeks time, but from John)

(You might like to read all three passages first to get a feel for how they might fit together)
For the sake of time we’ll concentrate just on one of the passages for now, from 2 Samuel

The theme of our worship this week is ‘Making Peace’ - in this passage we see the beginnings of our misunderstanding of Peace, and how a false peace can lead us into deep trouble

Have someone read it through slowly, whilst everyone else listens - (not following in your own bibles) - asking ‘what catches your attention in this passage? Does it leave you with questions?’

[At whatever point you have but a few minutes left for Study, Make sure to leave time at the end to read it through in this way at the end - ‘What is Christ saying to his church in these verses?’ is there a message for us at St John’s? Respond in prayer]


What is the context given to us in the text (vs 1) for this incident in David’s life?

Always it is worthwhile having the whole story in mind - look at 2 Samuel 11.1 - again David is ‘at rest’ - what is the outcome?

Both passages (chapter 7 and 11) speak of David with time on his hands and a wandering mind. He is musing - his intention to build a house for the LORD is not made explicit, but its seeds are in his heart. Is there some kind of warning here?

To come back to the passage for this week What is David’s concern (vs 2)?
Does this seem a reasonable concern to us?
What do you think might be David’s motivations - what feelings might he have which precipitate this incident? (vs 2)

Nathan responds positively to David vs 3 - but the LORD speaks to David through Nathan otherwise, in two parts vvs 5-7 beginning ‘Go and tell my servant David’ and 8-16

vs 5 - David has good intentions, but they are distorted by a poor understanding of the nature of God and his relationship to him. The LORD refers to ‘my servant David’ and then says “are you the one to build a house for me to live in” What does this suggest is the nature of David’s error?

Read verses 6-7 What do the LORD’s words suggest about the nature of God?

[Take a moment to read from Sunday’s Epistle - Ephesians 2-19-22  - what does this passage suggest about the nature of David’s error? (2 Sam 2:6-7)]

David has it in mind to do something for the LORD
Is that what it means to be ‘the servant of the LORD’?

Read Verses 8-16 - what is the highly repetitive element, emphasis of these verses cf  David’s intention alluded to in verse 2?

David has set out with a desire to ‘do something for God’ (Like Martha in the story of Martha and Mary??) A desire perhaps coming from an inner restlessness, or ‘idle hands’?? Yet the whole emphasis of the passage is on what God has done and will do for David. Sit in the quiet with this for a few minutes perhaps - what is it saying to us?

Although we see a sort of fulfilment of the word of the LORD in the life and reign of Solomon, son of David - the critique of David’s intention still holds good. The Word of the LORD is actually fulfilled in Christ. In John 1:14 we read ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us’ - the word in the Greek which we render ‘dwelt’ is in fact Tabernacled. Take time to give thanks to God that he condescends to dwell amongst his people and build us into a dwelling place for his Name, revealed to us in Christ.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Sermon for Sunday June 24th - St John the Evangelist

Sermon for Sunday June 24th

(Patronal Festival, St John the Evangelist - Sermon)

John 21:20-25

“Purity of heart is to will one thing”
                                                            Soren Kierkegaard

This past week has seen the long planned ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro. Dame Barbara Stocking, the director of one of the world’s largest charitable organisations, Oxfam said this ahead of the summit : "This is urgent. As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources. The situation is dire. We cannot go on living beyond the Earth's boundaries. The people suffering are the poorest. These are issues that will affect us all for ever." This statement, no one in their right minds could possible have any issues with. The very future of the planet is at best on a cliff edge. There are some, and I have to say I tend to agree with them, who say we have already fallen off the edge and are accelerating rapidly towards a Very Messy endgame.

Of course, given the extreme gravity of the situation all the worlds most powerful people were there. Of course? Well actually no. President Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel were all noticeable by their absence. Where were they?? In Mexico agonizing over the economic maelstrom. It reminds me of the story of the man who is having a heart attack, but doesn’t call the ambulance because he is too busy on the phone to his bank manager. Actually I made that story up - no-one would be that stupid or that distracted would they?? Just the other day Sam was reading the story of the first Arctic Explorers and how when their ships were crushed by the ice and they had to go on foot, they took along alll their fancy furniture - or there is the story of the Indian Mutiny when the English families fled with all their possessions - and the way we are told was littered with stuffed owls and the like. We are constantly reminded if a building is on fire - Do not go back for your possessions - yet we are Captivated and distracted by what is secondary

We live in an age of distraction, of captivation by that which is of no value. One in which our attention is being continually dragged hither and thither. There are so many loud, yet thin voices clamouring for our attention that in the midst of it we have not the capacity to determine what really counts. The planet is dying but the worlds leaders are busy bean counting. Obviously we have decided that it is better to be rich on a dead planet or poor on a living one?? We may all starve but at least we’ll have our stuffed owls.

But Distraction form that which really counts - the matters of Life and death is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. Our gospel reading today is prefaced by the words of Jesus to Peter - Follow me! - not just words - a Command of the one who declares “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life - How MOre significant can it be, the One who encompasses Eveything - Follow Me! - Imperative. But even Peter is distracted “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’” Jesus is not even for a moment drawn in - ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ That is None of your concern - and then the renewed command - ‘Follow me!’

Today, in the depths of winter - the season of darkness, we celebrate the feast of our patron St John the Evangelist. The one who writes that the light shines in the darkness -  “the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper” John of course is symbolised by the Eagle - he is the Evangelist who gives us a gospel of breathtaking scope. He soars HIgh above the perspective of the other three Evangelists. His gospel begins at the beginning of Everything, before Creation came to be. And leads us into the Life that is eternal. It is a breathtaking aerial vision, soaring as it were high not over the earth, but above everything.

But why does the Eagle soar so high? Because he enjoys the view? No - he soars as high as he possibly can in order to give us the best possible view of his subject. Like any bird of prey the eagle only has eyes for that which will feed him - he soars high that he might find food, Life. John knows that Christ Alone can feed him, And for John that food is Christ himself. ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’. John’s Vision is utterly consumed by that which he feeds on, the very life of Christ. John the Baptist at the beginning of the gospel declares to us the purpose of the gospel “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and anyone who knows about the Passover Lamb knows one thing - you have to eat the Lamb.

John for all his transcendent perspective is by far the most imminent, the most intimate of all the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all to a certain extent because they see Jesus and his life in temporal context present a Jesus who we follow as if it were through thick woods - we keep losing him - he hides - ‘who do you say that I am?’ is the question they ask. Not John. Soaring High above the story he Sees Christ clearly ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ Cries the Eagle. With John we are not struggling through the woods - continually losing sight of Jesus, no - we are up close - up too close for some

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat? ‘This word is hard. Who can accept it . . . and many drew back from following him’ - ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ ‘ you shall never wash my feet’ Up close - and personal. Whoever eats me has life - whoever knows me has life. John refers to himself as ‘the disciple who had leant on the breast of Jesus’ - John is Intimate with Jesus - and of course he refers to himself as ‘the beloved disciple’. John loves Jesus. Jesus loves John.

And we might say - ‘The Disciple whom Jesus Loved? Well that’s not fair! - Why does Jesus have a favourite?? Our gospel reading with Peter being distracted by the presence of John following Jesus and Peter, follows immediately on from Jesus telling Peter this Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) It is perhaps no surprise that Peter looks back and asks “but what about Him” Jesus words ‘If I will that he remain until I come . . .” Might suggest to us that the disciple whom Jesus loves will get off lightly. Of course this was the way in a sense the way it was read and so John corrects it and says - “Jesus did not say that he would not die, merely If I will that he remain til I come, what is that to you”

Yet John does more - by never referring to himself by name - he leaves the door open. We may ask - How does John know that Jesus loves him . . . but of course that is it. John Knows he is loved by Jesus and thus he is always to be found with Jesus, close to Jesus - even when Jesus is in close conversation with Peter, John is following, John is at the Cross, John looks into the empty tomb and sees and believes, John reclines upon the breast of Jesus.  John represents All who Know that Jesus Loves them, deep in their hearts.

Peter, on the other hand is always a step removed - Peter is bold in his assertions about Jesus, but his actions belie him. I will lay down my life for you! he says. Jesus says that that is the mark of Love - to lay down one’s life. Peter makes out that he loves Jesus, but his actions reveal his heart. It is John (and of course the women) who go to the cross with Jesus - they are shown to be the ones who love him.

John writes in his first epistle - we love because he first loved us. His love for Jesus comes from deep knowledge of Jesus love for him. John knows he is the beloved disciple. And that asks of us two questions. For Peter certainly in some sense knew. In his head he knew Jesus was the Christ. He knew in his head - but he had not yet been captured in the totality of his being by this love of God for him - it was as yet a concept. Do we know we are so loved? Is the love of Jesus for us a good doctrine, a comfortable doctrine even, one that gives us hope and strength - or do we KNOW he loves us, deep within our being. John leaves the door open - for those who come to KNOW that they are loved of Jesus, may love him well in return, may themselves recline upon the breast of Jesus.

Peter as yet has but a weak love for Jesus - lord - you know that I love you he pleads three times . . . but not yet as you love me (in the Greek we see this plainly  - Jesus asks do you agape me (love me with all you have and are) twice - and twice Peter responds I phileo you (love you as a friend) - finally Jesus says ‘do you phileo me’ and that is enough - but Peter is still not there. It is enough, it is a starting point, but as yet Peter doesn’t only have eyes for Jesus - he is too easily distracted by John - what about Him?? - if he loved Jesus with all he had and all he was, then he would never have asked about John.

Jesus asks Peter, he asks us - do you agape me. Do you only have eyes for me? John the soaring eagle spies out the entire terrain, in the midst of history he spies out Jesus of NAzareth - but indeed as he surveys Everything - In the beginning was the Word - All things came into being through him - He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the End - He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. John can say in a way no other lover can - He is my everything - he is Everything. The Eagle as he swoops over all of Creation can only see Christ. He consumes his vision. Behold the Lamb of God! he cries out to us, the Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the Earth.

Such a compelling vision of Christ - but one that is Utterly rooted in the materiality of our world. Some of the early church fathers thought of John as a Spiritual gospel. Love expressed as a sentiment - the eternal Life as something immaterial. Yet it is John who makes the very flesh of Jesus every bit as important as his words, as his message. We may listen to the institution of the eucharist in the other gospels - we may hear Jesus saying, This is my body, this is my blood - but we are required to make as it were a spiritual conceptual leap. John leaves us in no doubt - Eat my flesh - Drink my blood - the Word becomes Flesh. And this fleshly word encompasses Everything.

We cannot read the gospel of John and end up with a faith that is purely about our personal salvation, his Vision is All encompassing, and throughout the gospel John portrays Christ as both the Source and the End of All of Creation, the Alpha and the Omega. And thus to beginning today thinking about the Earth Summit was not irrelevant.

 At the heart of the problem the Earth faces as set out by Barbara Stocking were these words “As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources.” the consumption habits of the richest . . . those who take and take and take from the world.

As we Love Christ as he loves us - we are hidden in him, as Moses is hidden in the Rock - we identify with Him and in Him we Become the way of Love - the way of Love,  not to take and take and take, but to Give and Give and Give. The Earth Summit subtitle is ‘sustainable growth’ - yet the crying need is to contract, to become Less. The Human footprint on the earth is far beyond anything the planet can sustain - for it was created to sustain those who lived from God’s provision, not their rapacious greed. It was created to sustain those who although they had nowhere to lay their head - yet discovered the hospitality of God. It was created as a home for those who though they were poor discovered that in Christ they possessed all things. Christ reveals to us both the Living God and the True human being. He took nothing. He gave himself. That is Love. And John is Clear in his gospel and his other writings that we are to imitate Christ in the way of self giving love - as I have loved you, Love one another

And again as the evangelist writes in his first epistle We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
Behold the Lamb of God - Our Life, and the Salvation of the whole world - The one who calls us away from the distractions of the world to a life lived in, through, and for him alone.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Moving home

The Elves are heading West is heading to theelvesareheadingwest.com

Here is a link to my first serious blog on the new site


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Course on John's Gospel - session 1

Sermon for Sunday June 10, 2012 - First after trinity Year B

Sermon for Sunday June 10, 2013
Samuel 8:1-20, 11:14-15
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

To another he said, ‘Follow me.’
But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead;
 but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

We don’t need to have been keeping company with Jesus very long before he says something which sounds either troubling, or confusing, or unintelligible. If Jesus’ words don’t at some time or other do serious damage to the way we see the world, then to be frank we haven’t being paying much attention. I have told the story elsewhere about a class I once held in which we told the parable of the Prodigal son. On the occasion in question someone was paying attention and exclaimed in a very angry voice - ‘That’s not fair!!’. And I was So happy :) Because it proved that she’d heard it. HOw many times had I told that story and no-one had heard it. It had shaken her that God’s Love is So extravagant, his forgiveness So encompassing, it was a Scandal in her ears

Yet those moments of enlightenment are few and far between. We often hear these discomforting words of Jesus and as if afflicted by a fly landing on our nose as we sleep, we rouse slightly, re-arrange the pillows and go back to the land of nod. It’s not often that the words of Jesus have us sitting up in a cold sweat wondering if the world is just about to end. Which only goes to show how little we understand what is going on, because that is precisely what Jesus is announcing. His death on the Cross is The End of the old order, the end of the World as we know it and he now invites us into a New way of Living, a New Life in which so much that is old and familiar and comforting is blown away, and shown to be a deception. Jesus in announcing the Kingdom of God announces the end of the world as we know it. He says of the coming of the New Age, when the Spirit Comes,  he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 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 judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. the World is proved Wrong by the life death resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The End is upon us and thus, the urgency of the message, to repent and believe the good news.

Can I put off following Jesus til after my father’s funeral? No! This is desperately urgent! If we had a Tsunami warning or an Earthquake - would we be saying hang on a moment! I need to bury my father? Jesus announces The End of the World, the Old ways are dead. The Old certainties, the old securities are being revealed to be lies, false - Wake Up!

Jesus using this Scandalous language reveals that the Kingdom of God is not some version of what we know and are comfortable with, just a little bit better. Indeed that with which you are Comfortable he says is the problem! What makes you feel secure - your money, your career, your family even - this security is false. What you called security was in fact slavery, what you thought Life, was in fact Death. We sense our need of this security when we think say of our Pensions, or lack of them - will they be enough - we sense if they were we would be secure - or we think of our families, ‘will they be around to care for me when I am old?’ We long for the security family brings. But none of these things are at all secure. In Jesus declaration of the Kingdom of God, even the bonds of family are shown to be called radically into question. My Kingdom, he says, is not of this world. My Kingdom is Only to be discovered in letting go of our old securities and discovering our total security in God alone.

And there are clues in our past to this. Deep in our story there was something that happened which prefigured this Kingdom of God. The people were in Slavery in Egypt - they were oppressed by Pharaoh, the whole political order had them in subjugation, they were captive. They were as good as Dead. But God heard their groans and rescued them, brought them from death to life . . . and then took them out into the wilderness where in the words of perhaps my favourite poet Norman Nicholson, there were ‘Nobbut God’ NOthing - Just God and the work of the wilderness was to teach them to discover their Life in God and thus to be his people. -And all of a sudden the people started to yearn for the security of their old captivity. As if woken up - they just wanted to crawl back to sleep - Oh that we could be back in Egypt!! They began to imagine that life was really better in Egypt - they literally started to hallucinate a bout a land of wonderful food and comfort.  God in his endless patience goes to work on this people - training them in learning to put their trust not in any rulers of men, but in Him and him alone - because he has a purpose for this people that they will be a light to the nations - that They will reveal his life in the world. Yet . . . they ache for another security, even though that security is oppressive. As we do when we lose sight of the Scandalous nature of the gospel, that does not baptise the world as we know it but declares it has come to an end.

And so as we come to the story, the prophet and judge of Israel, Samuel, is confronted by the people demanding to have a King. And their reason? ‘So that we might be like other nations’ Because everyone else has one. Having a proper King - a visible King - a real government - well it makes us feel secure. There is nothing perhaps more disturbing than the sense that no-one is in control -  and here is something Scandalous to cosy views of God and our faith, God has lost patience with them. Put another way - he hands them over to the consequences of their desires, but warns them of what will happen. This is what a King is Like “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” And Note - this is not a warning against some kind of bogeyman King - this is what all Kings do - all human rulers - establish their power by putting the people under some form of subjugation - they take people to be in their armies and then they employ vast numbers to run the system they have devised and then they take taxes from everyone to keep his system operating. In other words you will all be slaves again, just as you were in Egypt. You will have a sham security, but bought at the price of your obedience to the way of the world. Or to use the analogy we have been using for some time now - you will be back in the tomb. We all too readily shape our faith so that it conforms to the way of the world and doesn’t threaten or disrupt it.

And so comes the biggest threat to us all, the biggest threat to our securities, the one who will tell us to leave our father’s funeral and follow him - Jesus comes onto the scene - to be the Obedient Israel, that is Free - to be the one who only has eyes for the rule of God his Father. And immediately we are given a sense of Jesus stepping into this place of death, this tomb. We Know that Christ harrows Hell - he descended to the dead. And this is enacted before our eyes. - there is a sense of oppressiveness, of death in Mark’s account - Jesus has just appointed the twelve - to be with him, to be sent out to proclaim the message and to cast out demons, as it were to start the revolution of New Life breaking in and immediately the crowds come pressing in - there is almost a sense of Life being Squeezed out - we hear ‘the crowd came together again so that they could not eat’ Life is under attack - being squeezed out. His family, alarmed by reports that he is out of his mind cannot get in the door, to ‘restrain him’ to make him captive - and then in the midst of it it becomes clear that all hell really does break lose as the Scribes come with their accusations that Jesus is casting out demons by ‘Beelzebub’ - casting out demons by the ruler of demons. All the world it seems is crying out Stop Him!!

As I said - for some the tomb was quite comfortable - in particular the Scribes and Pharisees - they had made friends with the powers that be and exercised considerable power and influence. If we imaging them purely as religious figures, then we may well miss what is going on in all of the gospels - it is too easy to take our categories and imagine that the Scribes and Pharisees were purely religious figures, that Jesus is coming to sort out the religious dimension of our lives, that Christianity is what we call a spiritual message - but that is not to hear the gospel in its context where there were no easy divisions between Spiritual and physical, between religious and political. These are our categories - the categories of those who have made our accommodations with the way of the world. The Pharisees were the gate keepers on issues of ritual purity - thus the peasants who produced the food were dependent on the word of the Pharisees for whether there produce was allowable or not. Matters of religion and economics were interwoven - the Pharisees were as much part of the political as the religious elite. Mark paints them as conspiring with the Herodians. Jesus in his coming is not dealing with purely religious matters - his coming threatens the whole political order. It begs the question Who is king??  To whom will you pledge allegiance? To whom will you pay your dues? For whom willyou live your Life? Who is King? Whose servant are you? WHose servant are we?

And interestingly Jesus both here and later uses an economic metaphor for his Ministry - he is the one who will tie up the strong man and plunder his house - he is the thief who comes in the night.

Just briefly there will no doubt be folk who worry about the unforgiveable sin, blasphemy agaisnt the Holy Spirt - well it is Very clear here what it means - the Pharisees saw the work of the Holy Spirit - the work of God - in the casting out of demons and called it the work of the devil - that is the blasphemy against the holy spirit. It is utter spiritual blindness, it is a denial that He comes to change Everything.

Is that a call to political activism? And in the first place the answer is No. Because God’s answer to the World is his people. That was the original call of Israel, to be the people of God and in their common life to reveal the Life of God. In and amongst themselves to reveal the New Creation, the Life of CHrist who is the first fruits, in Our Common Life. You will remember that I have spoken a couple of times about Jubilee - that the Israelites were called to exercise amongst themselves an economic way of being that was in stark contrast to the political economies of their neighbours. They were a people saved by God for the Glory of God - to be a light to the nations and that light was, as life is, multi dimensional, it was moral, but it was also political and economic. And so it is that Jesus comes to form a New Israel. As he embodies obedient Israel, so he forms a new people of God, a people whose life is his life. A people who in their common life reveal the life of Jesus, because their Life is the life of Jesus. A people who embody the principles of Jubilee as they live the life of the one who fulfils the year of the Lord’s favour. In the beginning was the Word, through whom all things were made. That Life that was the Light of all people, embodied all of life. Such that there was no dimension of life left unchallenged, and that includes the family. As I try gently to tell parents, Baptisms are not what we like to think of of family occasions. A post baptism party shouldn’t be something that mum and dad go off and celebrate - no it is the inclusion of the person in the People of God, the church, the party is the churches party. And for many families that actually means a division. For we are baptised into Christ and thus separated from all those who are not in Christ, because we are set apart to be a light - to be different and thus to reveal the life of our risen Lord. It is only because we have failed to hear the radical call to repentance, to New Life, to a Life where all that we once held dear is seen for what it was, a form of Captivity, that we see how radical Baptism is. And I guess that for many we feel the Scandal of the gospel in those words as much in the call of Jesus to let the dead bury their own. Who are my brother and sister and mother? Here says Jesus are my brother and sister and mother? Who are our brothers and sisters and mothers??

Yet that is the nature of Life - the Life of God revealed in Christ - it disturbs us, but it is Life. It is Not Safe, in that everything in which we have learnt to trust has been shown to be false. Jesus calls us out - to share in His Life - a Life of Freedom, for as the Isrealites plundered their captives Jesus by his death and resurrection has bound the strong man and plundered his property, even his whole house - Everything now belongs to him, and in that we find the only true security.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sermon for Sunday 15th April - John 21

Sermon for Sunday 15th April 2012
John 21

Well as its the last time for a few weeks I’ll be preaching I thought I might just indulge myself a little by choosing the New Testament lesson myself - this Wonderful story from the end of John’s gospel. I Had thought I might indulge myself a little further. When I was a curate in Pudsey at a large evangelical church where the musical tradition was heavily weighted to modern songs and musical accompaniment I began one sermon by playing a piece of music that was Most definitely Not in that Genre - the Dies Irae from Verdi’s requiem. If you know it you will be most aware that it most definitely does Not fall into the easy listening acoustic guitar category of a lot of contemporary church music. And I had thought to as it were balance things up at this evensong service by playing a loud Christian Rock piece which I love, based on this story, but perhaps one indulgence is enough for the evening :)

And in part I have to do this for this reading is not found elsewhere in the Sunday Eucharistic lectionary this year and in part that is because people aren’t entirely convinced that it was in the original version of John’s gospel. It is one of two parts of John’s gospel that seem a little suspect. Interestingly, both have the theme of forgiveness. There is the story of the woman caught in adultery from Chapter 8, which I tend to think might actually be Luke’s and then this story - the restoration of Peter.

I’m spending some time of late thinking about the relationship of John’s gospel to Mark’s. There is evidence in places that John is very conversant with Mark and on one or two points seeks to put the record straight :) But here there is a very interesting connection. Mark has a somewhat disturbingly spartan account of the resurrection. There is no sign of the risen Jesus. Just a young man who tells them ‘Go tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you’

It’s Very interesting that this extra story in Johns gospel seems to follow on from MArk’s bald ending

Go tell his disciples, and Peter - the message seems to put Peter outside the flock - there is a work of restoration as we all know to be done - Peter has denied Jesus three times - but Mark leaves it there

But this addition to John’s gospel seems to respond to this unfinished business. Once more the disciples are fishing in Galillee - the Sea of Tiberias is another name for Galilee - and there is Peter, seemingly at a loose end. When we have failed someone very badly and know it, it can feel just like that - Life stops. What seemed a future of promise becomes one of pointlessness - such is the nature of broken human relationships. So Peter, tries returning to his old ways - in a sense giving up on this whole business of following Jesus. ‘I am going fishing’ he declares and the others agree to come along. And they catch nothing.

Jesus comes to stand on the shore - but they do not know him. the post resurrection accounts of Jesus are not bold - there is doubt, there is uncertainty. These stories are not written as simplistic narratives. Faith in the risen Christ as I said this morning is of a different category. And so the gospel accounts are not ‘Scientifically clean’ Proofs. They are written ‘that we might believe’ - but not written to Compel us to believe, rather to invite us in And so it is a seeming stranger on the shore (to steal the lyric of the rock song :) ) - he Knows them but they do not yet fully Know him. They will only come to fully know him as they love him more dearly and follow him more nearly and Jesus comes to invite them once more to pick up the journey -the disciples, oh yes, and Peter.

Of course they’d been fishing all night before and had a similar experience - a stranger asking them to let down their nets of the other side - a miraculous catch. But still it is not Peter but the disciple whom Jesus loved who Sees - the one who had Seen and believed in the tomb. The one whom I suggested last Sunday stands for us all and Stands for the church, the bride of Christ, the beloved (to use John’s own imagery from the Apocalypse)
It is the beloved disciple who declares ‘It is the Lord!’ - like the herald in the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. SImon Peter we are told - ‘heard it was the Lord’ he does not yet see the mysterious Stranger as Jesus - and so hearing he clothes himself, as our first parents did when they heard Him walking in the garden in the cool of the day, hiding, jumping into the sea ( a place of death - of chaos - a place which denies the God who makes the sea turn back and appoints it s bounds and at the last will declare ‘and there was no more sea’)

Yet as Jesus once more calls, Peter begins to respond - it is Peter who climbs out of the water to finally haul the net ashore - the invitation of Jesus continues to find a place in his heart. They share breakfast. Still their eyes are not open. Still he is a stranger - yet at once known also. They dared not ask him who he was, because they knew it was the Lord. Actually this continues a theme from before the resurrection, when Philip asked ‘Show us the father’ - ‘DO you not yet know me Philip,’ he asked them? Don’t you yet know who I am? NOw they know who he is but the reality is as yet veiled form their sight.

But the moment must come. There is a sense of them eating in silence - a waiting.  To Peter all there is is fear of Judgement - of the anger of Jesus. He has Utterly failed. What more can he expect. Perhaps he too had heard the words of the young man, ‘tell his disciples, oh, and Peter’, perhaps the other disciples weren’t too comfortable with him either - oh yes, they too had abandoned Jesus in the garden, but they’d never been foolish enough to promise otherwise. Certainly the account of John places Peter to one side of the other disciples. Jesus has revealed himself, to deal with Peter.
    And here we see the Grace of God, this Life that is Not like ours - this way that is not like ours. Jesus does not confront Peter with his terrible sin, except in that his restoration is if you like the shadow side. He uses the fact of Peter’s sin to restore him - He had denied him three times? Then he must be thrice restored. Indeed Jesus invites him to restoration on the same bold terms. ‘Do you love me more than these?’ ANd of course the reality was that deep down in his heart he did - that was why he made such foolish claims - he Did love his Lord - he was desperate to Get it right for Jesus. that is why he was utterly bereft, for he had utterly failed the one he loved. And the one he loved, restored him.

Three times - do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? Peter finally is hurt for he knows that Jesus Knows his heart - “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” Jesus is So tender in his restoration. He sees beyond all the falsity and betrayal, he never even mentions it, he just gives a way to full restoration. three time you have denied - three times I will allow you to speak your true heart, to come to yourself.

And each time Jesus restores him to the work he has given him. Feed my flock. Like the Prodigal son, he is not welcomed back just to be the lowest of the low - he is restored to being the shepherd of the flock of the Great Shepherd. As I have just fed my flock at breakfast, now you feed them. As I have cared for them, now You care for them - and the greatest blessing, Jesus restores to him that which in his heart of hearts Peter desired to do but could not. ‘I will lay down my life for you’ he had boldly declared. It was what he wanted to do, but the flesh was weak. And the flesh still is. Peter is still frail flesh as Jesus gracious invitation makes clear.
     Jesus restores to him the grace of the ultimate witness  - Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.‘There was a time Peter, when it was all about you, all about your need to be right, you fastened your own belt, you went wherever you wanted - it was all about you, Peter’ - that was why you could not lay down your life, because you wanted to preserve yourself. But when you grow old, (perhaps when finally Your strength is spent?) you will stretch out your hands, the belt will not now be a sign of your own self assertion, but of submission to others who lead you were you do not wish to go - as Christ himself had finally willingly been led, not turning down the final cup of the Passover.

Yes, Peter Loves Jesus, but at the last his death will not be as the willing lamb - you will not want it. Peter is restored, but he is still Peter. He now knows himself far better. He knows that he doesn’t want death, but in the grace of Christ grace he will finally go that way.
    What happens in forgiveness is not that we are restored to be Better than we were before, but we are Fully restored. And given the depths to which Peter in his denial had stooped, that was No small thing

Peter is Peter. the beloved disciple is the beloved disciple - what of him, Peter asks. If it is my will that he remain til I come, what is that to you? I have told you my will for you, that is all you need to know. Follow me . . . his call is at once particular to each of us. As I said on Easter Day we all need to hear the call - we all need this confrontation with the Stranger on the shore

Follow me - Peter heard the Lord and responded - Follow me - we all need that restoration that Peter knew, he is slow to anger and swift to forgive. Perhaps Peter like the res of us needed to hear Jesus say, ‘you shall not forgive the other seven times, but seventy seven times’. Peter knows who he is now - he is weak and fallible - bold and adventurous - an amazing mass of contradictions - his life one moment speaking one word and the next another  word - Yet Christ, God’s true and Sure Word has drawn him to himself, lifted him up out of the waters of despair as he had once lifted him from the waters of the lake. Follow me - for there and there only will you find All that you need - a sure ground for faith, a firm support for hope, and the assurance of sins forgiven

As we may too if we hear his Word to us and follow - Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, as another errant St put it - bread for the journey and a Home at the last


Sermon for Sunday 15th April - Easter 2 2012

Sermon for Easter 2 Sunday 15th April 2012

This Extraordinary Life

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul,
and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions,
but everything they owned was held in common. And with Great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead defies all categories - it makes no sense in our world - it is totally Other. And the evidence for it is not to be found in anyway like the evidence for anything else in all of Creation. Despite the plethora of books arguing ‘from the evidence’ either for or against and both with Compelling certainty - it cannot be Proven. But that is Not to say that there is no evidence. Rather there is evidence which fits the Extraordinary nature of that to which it attests. As the Resurrection of Jesus is an event Like Nothing ever encountered, it produces communities of people who live in a way that defies any explanation, Except that Christ is Risen and his Life is flowing out into the world.

The idea of a group of people living together in such freedom as the Acts church, not grasping onto things but freely sharing all they had with one another is beyond our categories our understanding of how the world is supposed to work. We hear it and Have to dismiss it. What we as Christians have come to call stewardship is nothing of the kind in the light of God’s Light and life. The Acts church are true stewards of their possessions - they do not understand them as their own - they only exist for the benefit of others. No economic model will account for  this - no theory of life together - only the resurrection of Christ - the one who does not grasp but lays down His life.
The one who does not hold on but lets go

And if we truly believe in the Resurrection then we too should be set free to live likewise, in such a way that people have no choice but to consider the Extraordinary Truth which they see enacted. It is This Visible lif of the church which lends the preaching of the Apostles its ‘Great Power’

So we come to the second Sunday in Easter - as I said last week -it takes time for this Easter message to sink in - it seems just too vast for us to grasp and comprehend and in a sense that is Important. For it is not to be grasped - it is to be received! And lived out. Even He in his great humility does not grasp at equality with God - If we try to grasp, if we wait until we grasp this Resurrection of Jesus - we will Never Live in its light. Mary Magdalene in the garden wanted to grasp - to take hold of him, but He wouldn’t allow her. ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” there would come a time shortly when she would be Given this life as a gift but for now she had to learn not to grasp.
    I remember as a teenager talking long into the early hours with a friend about God and at some point came up with an utterly cast iron ‘Proof’ of his existence. We were utterly thrilled - we’d Got it! We’d Grasped it. The following morning we arose excitedly to tell all we could meet - but when asked, ‘What is your proof?’ - we couldn’t remember :) It had slipped through our fingers
    The Life of God is not a set of rational propositions which we can master, He is Light and Love and Life. Like the daily bread for which we pray - it is His Life which is Given and we are to receive and live out of it, not grasp it. The Israelites in the Wilderness were taught this lesson early on in the Manna - they were told ‘collect only that which you need for the day’ - which is freely provided, but they tried to grasp more and it turned to maggots in their hands. Not grasping.
    Strangely enough it is Thomas of all people shows us the way of faith - the so called doubter - yet the only one who believed far better the way of Christ than his companions - ‘Let us also go that we may die with him’. Thomas Knew that to follow Christ meant Death - unlike those who hoped it wouldn’t and like Peter were prepared to gamble on it not being the case and so promise never to leave him. Not Thomas. But Thomas Knowing where it must go. And thus Knowing Jesus was going to his death he is all the more to be surprised by Joy. ‘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.’ For Thomas it was not enough that one should come back from the dead - no. After all in the days following his resurrection there had been tales of tombs opening and the dead walking around - no for Thomas he had to Know that it was Jesus - I need to Know it is the Crucified one - I must see - I must touch and then Jesus appears to him - and it is Enough. He knows he doesn’t have to grasp him.

And that perhaps is why faith at the end of the day is expressed in obedience to him and not in a set of beliefs - for we cannot grasp what this resurrection life means except through the obedience of faith we live into it. In a sense there is no other way to discover the truth of the Christian faith than to live it. As I said all through Lent - the more we live into it - the more we discover it is true, the More we want to enter deeper and deeper in.
    We have to live the Resurrection life - the Life that Jesus sets free and gives to us - we have to live His Life. And unless we understand that we don’t begin to get off first base in this Christian Life - for the Resurrection teaches us that the Christian life is the life of the Risen Lord. The Christian Life Is the Life of the Risen Lord - there is No other Life.

And Christ begins to share that life with his disciples in these weeks following the Resurrection. Do not cling onto Me, Mary. I have given my Life for you and so now you may receive it ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Some years ago - when I was just starting out in my first parishes - I led a course on the Lord’s prayer. I began one session by paralleling what we might call the old words - with its ‘thee’s and temptations and trespasses, with a more modern form, with its ‘you’s and trials and sins. One member of the group, a good man and very devout, said he could not agree with the new form - he said ‘As human’s we can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’. We then began a very interesting discussion as to what if anything was the difference. But it struck me that this in a sense was precisely how the Scribes criticised Jesus when he healed the paralysed man “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Who Can forgive sins but God alone??     Actually it is a Very good question if we properly understand the nature of Sin, that it is a breaking of the bonds of the Love of God that sustain the world - Sin is Always against God - we are in a sense Never sinned against - Sin is Always a rejection of the Love of God, if often we find ourselves on the receiving end of it, ultimately it s God’s Love that is Rejected. As David said after his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba - Against You, You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’ When we are sinned against we always lose sight of God - We are afronted, but in the end all sin is only ever against God, against Life and Love. Who CAN forgive sins but God alone?? Only God truly Can forgive - which brings us to the next step in this extraordinary Resurrection account. We are already left breathless by the fact of the Resurrection  - our hearts and minds racing and struggling to catch up with the reality of the Crucified AND Risen Lord and then ‘Jesus came and stood amongst his disciples and breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

He breathed on them the Very life of God - and what work did he give them to do?? It is odd how we do not think this so very odd - ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . .Love people?’, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . . heal people?’  But no. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and - forgive’ Everything else is secondary - the first need is forgiveness. The first work of the cross is Forgiveness - Restoration. Because Only when one is Forgiven and knows it can we be Restored and so set free to Love and Heal. God Creates his New Heaven and New Earth by forgiving Sins - by reweaving the broken tapestry of Creation, as it were remaking all the delicate connections through which Love and life can flow.

As anyone who has ever been forgiven much will tell you, it makes All the difference in the world. As Jesus said of the woman ‘She who has been forgiven much loves much’ Forgiveness precedes Love. Without Forgiveness Love cannot flow. We need First to forgive and we say - Ah this is so hard, but the point is this - it s not Our life - it is His life in Us - He forgives Through us. Receive the HOly Spirit - He gives us his life as a gift and it is like the manna to be freely used and spent on the undeserving, in unmerited acts of forgiveness like the prodigal Father does to the errant son. Does he ask forgiveness? Does he come crawling back in sorrowful repentance? No!! - He comes to the Father, that is all - he is forgiven. This is what God does. So he enters into the joy of his father.

You see we gasp at the extraordinary nature of the Resurrection - mocking our careful sense of decency and order and ‘how the world works’, as if we Knew. He is risen from the dead??
But wonder of wonders - this Resurrection Life is then poured out on all who will be open to receive - on all who will become themselves forgivers, on all who would be children of their heavenly father. Who like their heavenly father do not hold on even to their own son. Even God does not seek to possess - He is the Great Giver. And so the early church Lived - not grasping or hoarding - just letting it flow through their fingers, out into the world.

The Christian Life is Pure Gift. We can never grasp it - we can only receive it and Live it.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Sermon for Sunday 8th April - Easter Day - 2012

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2012

‘Early on the first day of the week, whilst it was yet dark’

What can prepare us for Easter?

Today we celebrate The Great Feast of the church’s year. Easter Day. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed!! Alleluia -The church is Full of Glad triumphant shouts - we Celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ . . . but  . . . today is just the first Day which the church in her wisdom gives to us for this celebration of Easter - this Season of Easter is six long weeks long - and it needs to be. For this message of Resurrection takes a long time to sink deep into our hearts and minds wherein it might ignite the fire of death defying faith. This is clearly revealed in the gospels as Jesus appears again and again and again to his disciples, teaching Rebuking, forgiving - it will be six weeks before he has prepared them to receive within themselves that concrete Assurance of the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit. We do not find Peter rushing from the tomb to declare ‘Christ is Risen and preaching boldly to all who will hear. No, bold Peter will not be seen until Pentecost. Today is Just the beginning? We are not yet ready.

I know the church is more beautifully bedecked on this day than any other, yet there is a sense in which we actually need to build the flowers up gradually over six weeks, until this Resurrection message has sunk deep into us - that over the six weeks of Easter the church becomes brighter and brighter. The message is Too big - we cannot receive it ALL at one go. We are not yet ready or prepared. It is early on the first day of the week, it is yet dark. John in his gospel makes much of light and darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark - he doesn’t understand.  ‘For as yet they did not understand’ Here John reveals that Easter Brightness is So bright that it blinds and dawns only slowly in the hearts and minds of Christ’s disciples as their hearts and minds are transformed by this Reality. While it was yet dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb

Of course we have the benefit of having gone through Lent and Holy Week and Easter many many times - We might think we do not need time for the message to dawn in our hearts, we know the story. ‘Of course Christ is Risen!’ Yet are we Alive with indestructible life and faith? We look back to the early church that had taken those six weeks to absorb the message and see what became the most incredible missionary movement the world had ever known, empowered by the Truth of the Resurrection. We think of the many many martyrs of the church in those early years who went fearlessly to their deaths because the Knew that Christ was Risen, and a whole New Reality had been ushered in, in which one might live lives of Bold faith, Lives without fear. And now almost one in 4 of the population of the world in some sense other own the name of Christ. Will this day send us out to do likewise? Have we yet entered into the Deep Magic of this story, to use CS Lewis’s phrase  - have we Particpated in it - or have we been mere observers? Has it become Our Reality?

It was Maundy Thursday in 2001. As was my custom I went to the Diocesan Chrism Eucharist - but I went with a very heavy heart. 2001 was a Very bleak year for some of us in England - it was the year of the terrible foot and mouth epidemic. Our TV screens were full of scenes of burning mountains of cattle and sheep - and for me it was very personal. Just a couple of days before, a farm adjoining my uncle’s farm had had a case of Foot and Mouth found on it - we knew what this meant. In the policy enforced at the time, there had to be in the clinical language of death, a contiguous cull. In an effort to stop the disease spreading, not only the stock on the affected farm, but all stock on all adjoining farms had to be culled. As I went to church that MAundy Thursday, I knew that the stock wagons and the men from the Ministry with their rifles would be rounding up my uncles stock and shooting them. His prized wild fell cattle, the eldest of which was born the first summer they’d gone to the Lake district farm 31 years earlier, all of them were to be slaughtered in an effort to stop the spread of this terrible disease. So I was in tears as I left the mass that morning - barely able to shake the bishops hand as I walked out of church.
    Only to return home to hear of the cruelest of twists. My uncle’s farm is remote and the track up to it deeply rutted and overhung with ancient trees - the stock trucks hadn’t made it up to the farm that day in time to carry out the cull. They would return the following day, Good Friday. It was Appallingly bleak  - and I was due to preach on Easter Day, to a church full of good and smiling folk, wanting to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ - How can you preach Life in the midst of Death? Humanly speaking?

What can prepare us for Easter? It is So outside our categories - the terrible reality of life often denies any sense of hope that we might know for ouselves. To have grieved with my family in that most terrible of days and then to preach resurrection?

What can prepare us for Easter, I was speaking to someone earlier in the week who told me that they found joy on Easter Day all but impossible, for on Good Friday it felt to them like their best friend had died - ‘and now three days later He is Risen?? Excuse me, but it will take time’ - when someone in whom you have invested you life dies, very publicly and before your eyes - and then in the space of only 40 hours or so, you hear a whisper, a rumour of life, are you suddenly going to shout Aloud - He is Risen indeed Alleluia!! When you’ve gone through Hell, Rumours of Life can only first come as a whisper. And a shocking whisper at that. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; - but there isn’t widespread rejoicing. No, it is a total shock to the system - the gospel is silent about the reaction of the disciples - Shock - Silence - what can this mean?? How, humanly speaking could they have ever begun to speak of this? In the face of Death it is an Utterly shocking message - almost Mocking our senses - HOw Can this be!! It will take time and great gentleness - the Risen Christ does not burst onto the scene - compelling people to believe - Grief and darkness must be fully known, because this is not a message of life, but of New Life. The old life must die before the word can come that awakens to this New Life

On Good Friday, the hope of the disciples did not merely die, it was put to death. He was their hope . . . their hope had died. Unlike in our liturgical cycle - Easter was not going to come around. He was their Life and their hope and He was dead. Their hope had to die, because it was inadequate, their faith had to die, for it was inadequate, their dreams had to be smashed, because they were inadequate. It was only those who lost their life whom he said would find it. Humanly speaking all the lights had gone out - ‘it was early on the morning of the first day of the week - whilst it was yet dark.’ And it was Thus He had prepared them for Easter.
    They had in their hearts and minds spent Holy Saturday in the tomb - he had died and in a real sense they had died with Him. And so they were as Ready. Ready to Hear the voice of the Risen one,for there were no other voices now. All was silent. But even so, ready as they were, it would be a a long six weeks of constant appearances and reassurance before they were ready to declare boldly and confidently ‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day’

But, How does that Life come alive in us?
Two of the characters from our Gospel give us each give us a clue. Firstly there is the disciple whom Jesus loved - we tend to think this is John himself, but John uses this elusive term, the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple outruns Peter to the tomb, he sees the folded grave clothes but does not go in - then we can imagine Peter - still full of remorse and now terrible shock desperately pushing him out of the way - seeing - but perhaps his eyes blinded still by his weeping, John uses one word for See - When the beloved disciple then goes into the tomb, he Saw and believed - John uses a different word - he Sees beyond the empty tomb - he sees beyond the evidence to its meaning - but as yet they did not understand.

The beloved disciple can stand here for the Church. In our failure to believe - in our slowness to understand, she leads us for six weeks through account after account of the resurrection, gently teaching us as Christ did his disciples the Reality of the Resurrection. When we as individuals struggle to come to terms with this all, it is the Church in faith which holds us, and leads us through the six weeks of Easter, from the darkness of this first morning into ever increasing light.

How does this Life come alive in us?
. . . then there is Mary Magdalene - The first Apostle - the First witness to the resurrection. She sees the Lord but does not recognize him - no but she Hears him. As Lazarus had lain in the tomb and been awoken by The Voice - that called him by name, Lazarus - Come Out!,  Mary too comes to life and faith by hearing one word - she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

How is this Easter Joy awoken in us? We diligently search the scriptures thinking that in them we may find life - we from our modern ever so well informed, and at times deeply skeptical viewpoint look at these ancient texts and think that this is just to incredible for words - we want a story we can make sense of - we want some neat proofs that we will believe - How can we believe? How did MAry believe??
    Why do so many millions now believe? ‘Mary!’- ‘Rabbouni!! Why do so many believe Because down through two thousand years, the Risen Lord has spoken their name, Mary, Simon, Cornelius, Saul, Irenaeus, Felicity, Monica, Augustine, Benedict, Clare, Francis, Theresa, Ignatius, Martin, John, Theresa, Dietrich, Dorothy, and millions upon millions more - like a Great Wave of Life and Faith - He has come out from the tomb - he has been calling us by name out from ours - Come out and Live!!

Rabbouni! Teacher - Lord - I have seen the Lord - I was in the dust of death and he has called my name! He is Alive - Life HAs triumphed over death - Death is defeated My Lord Lives - Our Lord Lives!

Christ is Risen - Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
And the church responds in faith ‘He is risen indeed!’ Alleluia, Alleluia Alleluia

May we by the Grace of God follow this journey through Easter with ever increasing Joy and Hope and Life and may we hear His voice ever and Ever louder - till it is as clear to us as it was to those first disciples - and now as with those first disciples on the road to Emmaus - may he be known to us in the breaking of the bread.           Amen

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - Participation in the Life of God

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

One of the themes we have been developing in our journey together through Lent and now Holy Week has been that of participation. In Lent we explored Christian practices of Generosity and Hospitality, of Love and Forgiveness, of Truthfulness and Openness one to another, but what I was at pains to point out was not that we should sit around and come up with Our ideas of what these were - asking ‘how might We be hospitable or Generous?’ Rather that we were called to enter into the very Life of God’s Generosity and Hospitality. That Forgiveness can only be understood Christianly in terms of God’s forgiveness  - and that to Live the Christian Life was no more and no less than to live ever more fully into and Participate in the Very life of God in the Life of God. This is the invitation of The Last Supper, an invitation to Participation

As the disciples are gathered together, Jesus revealed the full extent of His Love. He shows them what Love is when it is Enacted. (there is no such thing as Love that is Not Performed). And he does it by washing the feet of his disciples and only then inviting them to participate. ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ It is our Lord’s Gracious Invitation at His table to enter in, to Participate in His Life which He first reveals. To Simon Peter he says ‘You do not now understand what I am doing’ - he is a Stranger to Love at this point only having his own ideas to go on. And of course that footwashing is a reminder of forgiveness - Perhaps Peter does not understand, because he doesn’t yet understand how much he will need Jesus’ forgiveness. Perhaps this is why we all find it so hard to Participate in the lIfe of God, because we don’t yet understand how much we need it ourselves? That we need God’s hospitality before we can be hospitable and that that hospitality is expressed in forgiveness. If we would come in, we needs must accept his Love

As it would be unthinkable for the guests to eat without their feet being washed - and so we see one part of this Participation, that we cannot approach the table of the Lord, unless we have been forgiven. Peter of course doesn’t get this - Poor Peter :) It seems to be his Role. ‘‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’’ Jesus invites us into Participation by first serving us - be One with me is his invitation and He serves us. In so doing he reveals the Nature of the LIfe of His Life that we are called to participate in.

Peter of course has a Big problem with Participating fully in the Life of JEsus. It is He who said ‘this shall never happen to you!’, and perhaps in a fit of remorse - in a very short while he will gird his loins and try to enter the Life for himself Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. We are so quick thinking we can do things for HIm, not understanding that we cannot, unless we first encounter and accept his Hospitality. FAce up to our Utter Need of Him.

Will You lay down Your Life for Me?? ‘No you will not - I Will lay down My Life for You!’ is Jesus unspoken response. Of course Peter was not alone in this bravado, It had been the same with those two Sons of Thunder, James and John. "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?". “You don’t know what you are asking? You will lay down your life for me??

Can you drink the cup? Of course we have been thinking much over the last hour about cups, the four cups of the Jewish Passover. But there is something odd. Try as we might we cannot perfectly match the Jewish Passover meal with the Last Supper. It seems clear it Is a Passover meal - but . . . it seems to be strangely unfinished. We rehearse the story in our Eucharistic liturgy. ‘After Supper he took the cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them’ The Cup after Supper is the third cup . . . we read that after drinking this they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. ‘You do not yet understand what I am doing for you - this Passover is not yet complete’

This is an unfinished Passover - there is as yet, no fourth cup . . .

Can you drink the cup? our minds wander forwards an hour or so, into the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’

‘My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me’ There is yet another cup - and the lack of the fourth cup is not the only odd thing about this meal. A Passover meal is presided over by the Father of the house - He is the one who rehearses the story and blesses the cups - But the Father has not been visible in the story until now. Jesus is continuing the Passover meal out in the garden but now it is not Jesus with the disciples, it is Jesus with his Father. If this cannot pass unless I drink it . . .The Fourth Cup signifies the end of the meal, the Passover cannot be completed unless the fourth cup is drunk, and that lies ahead of Him.

it was not permitted to drink wine between the third and fourth cups - it was not permitted to drink wine until the end. Jesus does not actually drink of the Third cup  - for this is his self offering to his disciples - This is my blood of the New covenant - and he will not drink of the final Cup until the Father ends the PAssover meal. Jesus in the self offering to His Father waits in obedience until the end - At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, . . . the final cup is drunk . . . Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

‘It is finished’ - Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. ‘You will lay down your life for me?’ Jesus asks Peter - No, I will lay down my life for You

Yes there is a Passover meal, but it begins with the Last Supper and ends on the cross and in so doing the Whole focus is shifted , entirely away from remembering the Exodus, to Remembering Christ Himself - but it is no mere memorial. This is Participation in a Way that we could scarcely begin to imagine -  a Huge new dimension is opened up - for the cup is not of wine, but of Blood. ‘drink this all of you, this is My blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins’. Do this as often a you drink it in remembrance of Me.

This is My blood. Do this In remembrance of Me

The Passover meal was meant to be a remembrance of the great saving act of God in bringing his people out of Egypt - Do this in Remembrance of Me? And as for drinking Blood!! Whatever else you did with the Passover Lamb - you did Not drink it’s blood, For its Life was in its Blood

Which begins to make sense of John’s Lack of a Last Supper - it's actually there in shocking clarity ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ Drink the blood, the Life is in the blood. It is a great promise of Participation in the Life of God

To participate in the Old Passover - it was imperative - you had to eat the lamb! Five times the scriptures commanded that the whole lamb Must be eaten - None was to be left. But you were Not to drink the blood for the Life was in the blood -  To participate in the New Creation life of God - you must eat the Lamb, the Lamb of God - you must eat his flesh and drink his Blood - that His Life might be in you.

Christ invites us into Participation in life - His Life - He gives his life For us  - He washes us that we might have a part with him  - and then gives his life TO us. His eternal life, in Bread and Wine.

James and John - they thought they could drink the cup - they thought they were up to it.  but they didn’t know what they were asking. They didn’t realise that the life they were called to was God’s Life to only do what they saw the Father doing.  Peter, desperate to get it right Just once wanted to Go where Jesus went - but he couldn’t - he couldn’t - not yet. For this was God Work and Life For the PAssover was not complete - the eternal life of Christ that is His own self offering had not yet been made. The Life was not yet available - not set free and wild in the world - His Spirit not poured out on all flesh - No Peter, not yet - you will not lay down your life for me - but when at last the work was finished,when God’s Life was released into the world -  he would say to him

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

If you drink the Third cup - the cup of my blood - when it is poured out - THEN Peter you can participate and drink the Fourth in costly self sacrifice - then it will be no act of bravado - no girding up the loins of our will is required for it is His life in us, to will and to act according to the impulses of the Love of the Father

Eat my flesh, drink my blood - now you can follow for it is no longer you who live, but I who live in you - now you can  participate in this Life of God - for when you eat the bread and drink the wine - my Life is in you

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (3)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (3)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (3)

Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
   and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. 
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
   as with the slave, so with his master;
   as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
   as with the lender, so with the borrower;
   as with the creditor, so with the debtor. 
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
   for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth dries up and withers,
   the world languishes and withers;
   the heavens languish together with the earth. 
The earth lies polluted
   under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
   violated the statutes,
   broken the everlasting covenant.

Therefore a curse devours the earth,
   and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
   and few people are left. 
The wine dries up,
   the vine languishes,
   all the merry-hearted sigh. 
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled,
   the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
   the mirth of the lyre is stilled.

No longer do they drink wine with singing;
   strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 
The city of chaos is broken down,
   every house is shut up so that no one can enter. 
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
   all joy has reached its eventide;
   the gladness of the earth is banished. 
Desolation is left in the city,
   the gates are battered into ruins. 

For thus it shall be on the earth
   and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.
Isaiah 24:1-13

As we have made our way through Holy Week, we have been considering the Margins - the place of boundaries and where we have come to. As we considered Jesus entering into the Temple and then leaving we were reminded by the words ‘as it was already late’ that the darkness gathers - and so in the gathering darkness we await the words ‘Early, on the first day of the week’. Boundaries, Edges, Margins, times of great upheaval. And we have expressed this as a sort of turning inside out - of the reality of the Cave or the City which seems to have everything we need being revealed as a place which actually rejects and denies life.

We thought about this at a personal level - our own need of Conversion - our own need to be turned inside out, that God might be our Centre. And then yesterday, being reminded we never think of the Scope of Salvation in large enough terms, we thought of it in terms of the church - of a church on the margins - of how we find ourselves to be outside, thought of as irrelevant - do we try to be relevant and go back into the city - or do we take the risk of being found on the outside - on the rubbish heap, with our Crucified messiah? On the edge. In the place of Salvation.

But we still haven’t really begun to grasp the scope of this breathtaking Salvation. All of which we have so far spoken has been about our perception of where we are, the Centre or the Edge and how we mistake the two, the place of Life being to our observation a place of death (consummately in the Cross). Where are we? What is our Place? Fundamentally that is the issue - it always has been - what is our place as human beings. In the Beginning we were given a place - the crown of God’s creation, but forgot it was God’s Creation - we lost our place. We began to think of it as our home, and I guess that is perhaps why we are so comfortable on the inside, in the City, in the Cave - because we made it to suit ourselves - it became our servant, instead of we its tender and keeper. The Creation became ‘the Environment’ - our Environment. And now we stand on the edge, on the margin. Quite literally the Cave, the City is revealed to be the true rubbish heap.

The earth lies polluted
 under its inhabitants;

for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
What was the Everlasting Covenant? Well it was the oldest of all Biblical covenants - the covenant with Noah - where God promised, Never again would he cover the earth with the floodwaters. And now, it seems as icecaps melt and waters rise above the low lying pacific islands, it seems we are doing it ourselves.

In the beginning was a Garden with two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge.
What we do not realise is that the Tree of knowledge makes us Blind. So many of Jesus’ healings are of the blind. We think we see well enough - but we do not see at at all. Knoweldge, Facts. These reduce Everything to objects. We become Observers rather than Participants. We thought a little about this last night, when I suggested that perhaps we spoke to glibly of the church, as if we could step away from it and observe it and so declare ‘It is clearly in a bad state’ - but immediately we have begun to use the language of ‘It’ we reveal that we have stepped away from Life. We are out of Relationship. Our language has become Impersonal - we do now Know that of which we speak. We are reduced to knowing about it. We do not understand that We are the Church. The Church is an It. And so it is even more so with The Environment. We imagine It as It - A stage perhaps on which we play out life’s little days. We do not understand that In the beginning we were actually woven deep into the fabric of the Created order , that we Participate in it with our Very Being - that in a Real sense we are One with Creation as we are with the Church. We have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. We, being blind never realised for a moment that How we lived with regard to God would affect anyone but ourselves - it may affect the church, perhaps . . . but the Very fabric of Creation?? 

Having drunk deeply of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge we now Know enough to realise what we have done, or at least the damage we have caused but our perception that we have done this because we were Part of Creation is dim at best, for our knowing is impersonal. And there is the most Horrible irony in that this Knowledge is coming to fruition, just when it seems to be too late.

The Temple had always been a profound symbol of the Creation - and so at this very late hour one comes who enters the city and goes into the temple; and when he has looked around at everything, as it was already late, he leaves . . .’ It is Late - Very late - the darkness is gathering hard and fierce.

In the case of us as individuals - it is very hard for us to see that we dwell in a cave of our own making, so used we are to referencing everything to ourselves - with regard to the church of which we are at once part and also observers it is perhaps easier to see there is a problem, but difficult to know how to respond. But in terms of the Creation there can be little or no doubt, we stand on the edge - indeed we may well have crossed the boundary - which with its dark theme actually brings us to Easter

However we try, we Always underplay Easter -Nothing can convey the Wonder of the Resurrection - so accustomed to the darkness of the cave have we become that the brightness is itself like dark - blinding us. We talk of Easter in terms of the great feast of the churches year, but it is Breathtakingly beyond any description. Perhaps were we better to comprehend the darkness in which we all too readily live, we might better comprehend the Miracle of Easter and the scope of a Salvation which encompasses quite literally Everything. We may at a personal level see Easter as the transforming Hope of our Life -we may even hope that the Easter message will transform the church also - but This Sacrifice is for the Sin of the whole World. The first Christians understood the Sacrifice in these truly Cosmic terms, Behold, A New Heaven and  a New Earth.

We are left asking in the darkness - do we believe in Easter?
And if so, just how big is our Easter Vision and Hope?