‘Who do we See?’ Sermon for Easter 6 – Year A 2017

Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter – Year A 2017

John 14:15-21

‘Who do you see?’

Over the years I have engaged in many many bible studies, but one in particular has always stuck out as by a margin the very best. It was given by Margaret Barker, a former President of the Old Testament Society and a scholar of not only the Scriptures but also many other writings which were  well known in the time of Jesus, and indeed some of which the Church continued to refer to until about the fourth century.

I don’t remember much of the content, except that it was about ‘Covenant’, yet I remember being enthralled by her Wisdom and insight. But One thing did stick with me, a comment she made in her opening remarks, ‘you always know when you are in the presence of another Christian’ And I must admit my spirit leapt at this, for it was something I had myself noted. Indeed it is a comment that could only be made by someone who was a Christian – for only a Christian would know this recognition or identification with another which spoke in this particular respect.
For myself I think back to my retreat this year at Ngatiawa and the instant bond which was present in my conversations with the Rumanian Orthodox family I met there, despite problems of language and culture – there was Something which was ‘between us’, and which created a deep Understanding.

But what is it that we See, when we experience this? Or rather Who??

I think the scripture which helps us in this regard is the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Reading from Luke’s gospel – you will remember that the angel Gabriel has just announced that Mary will bar God’s Son – ‘In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.’

‘As soon as I heard the sound of your greetings the child in my womb leapt for joy’! Something Living within me, identifies with something Living within you – and it is an occasion of Joy. And this indeed it how it is to meet with another Christian – even before a word has been exchanged, but often shortly hereafter – there is a bond of Life tangibly present in conversation – a deep agreement which goes far beyond ideas or words.

These past couple of weeks we have been focussing in on Jesus as The Gate and then Jesus as the Temple, the House of God – and last time we heard from the apostle Peter, exhorting us to be built ‘as living stones’ ourselves into a dwelling place for the most High God . . . which brings us to our gospel for today – these beautiful words of Jesus to his Church.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

Now the first thing is to note that the Instigator of this is Jesus himself – “I will not leave you orphaned, I am not abandoning you! Far from it, ‘I am coming to you!’ When we are open to the presence of Jesus, he comes to us – ‘Behold!’, he commands us – ‘Behold ! I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.’

Then having made that promise he goes on – ‘in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me’ The word See is of course as I am sure you may now guess ‘Behold!’ The world will no longer Behold me, for ‘the world cannot receive him (The Spirit of Truth) for it neither Beholds him, nor knows him’. But, ‘if you Love me’ that is if you are in your heart and mind directed towards me, as a plant is to the Sun, Loving its warmth and Light, then you will keep my commands and ‘you will see me’

‘Because I live, you also will live’ to use the flower analogy again, the Light of the Sun is the Life of the plant. Because the Sun shines, the plant lives. Because Jesus Lives, his Light and Life are available to all who turn to him, and they shall See him . . .

Now Seeing and Beholding are ties up with Knowing, Believing – they are woven together is a rich tapestry of meaning. the old saying is true, ‘to See is to Believe.’ Or ‘to Behold is to Know’

Seeing me, Jesus says “On that day you will Know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”  I am in my Father, and you [are] in me, and I [am] in you. As St Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, ‘the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

It is this mystery, which is the Essence of that mutual recognition of Christians one for another, that we ‘recognise’ at a level of deep intuition, we Behold Christ in one another . . . which is the Source of the Reverence which we have for one another.

But many things cloud our vision – things within us. Perhaps we are angry with a person, a fellow Christian. It is as if we cannot see – we talk of ‘the red mist descending’. Not to See Christ in one another we then do not revere the other – we do not treat them as we would Christ. All of the Passions, Anger, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Envy and the like are the things that prevent us from Seeing Christ. As of course Jesus had his biggest problems with the Pharisees, those who were Self Rightesous, Righteous in their own eyes, so to our sense of ‘being in the right!’, or ‘being unjustly treated’ blinds us. We become Spiritually blind. Here again the counsel of St Paul is apt ‘in humility think of [ALL] others as better than yourself’ – I have added ALL to the text, I admit, but I think this is Paul’s meaning, otherwise, being righteous in our own eyes we would pick and choose – we might judge others ourselves as to whether they were Christian or not – that ‘Objective judgement’ has nothing to do with ‘knowing when you are in the presence of another Christian, for it cannot be seen, or judged, it can only be a matter of beholding, with the Pure Heart. For as Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for They shall Behold God’

Who do we see? What blinds us?

As many of you know, I love to cook curry and so one of my favourite shops in Dunedin is the Indian food shop on St Andrew’s Street. If you have visited you will know that it is owned by a member of the Sikh Community here in Dunedin. (Sikhism by the way developed out of Christianity in India) Whenever I go in – we reverence the other as is his custom. A simple bow and joining of the hands. This most sadly is utterly remarkable in our Culture which knows nothing of such reverence for the other, purely in our humanity, let alone as Brothers and Sisters of one another in Jesus Christ. We might well say that this is the clearest evidence of our not being n any sense a ‘Christian society’ – for often if not always there is little more than a ‘Hi! How are you?’ with no expectation whatsoever that we might say how we really are . . . it is increasingly rare for Men to honour Women in their midst, as Bearers of Life in our world, by holding doors, or standing as they come into the room. And this lack of Reverence extends sadly to the Church.

I think if there were one simple practise which might help us better to see Christ in one another, it might be to extend that which happens at the altar, to the whole people of God, that we gently bowed to one another on meeting. Certainly it would give us pause, to hold back from all ‘those important things we HAD to say to the other’ to be together in Christ First and foremost, and there forget ourselves for there is little in little more lovely in life than those incredibly special moments when something leaps for Joy within us at the meeting with another Christian – for it is indeed an encounter with our Own True Life – the Life of Christ in and amongst us – the Life which is eternal.

Amen

‘My Father’s House . . .’ Sermon for 5th Sunday of Easter – Year A 2017

Sermon notes

 

 

Although I have a house, I do not live in it

Father’s house – Dwelling place of God!

Last Week – The Gate – Jacob’s dream – Angels ascending and descending

Nathaniel – Jesus directly quotes Genesis

‘Israelite in whom no deceit’

cf Jacob ‘the Deceiver’

not only the Gate – but also ‘the House of God – Beth’el’ Gen 28:17

But More!

Gen 28:18-19

Pillow becomes Pillar

‘And he poured oil on it’

Pouring Oil over – Consecration – of kings cf. Saul and David in 1 Samuel

Image of Consencration – Crowning – associated word

Nāzîr – Nēzer

Back to Nathanael

Philip – We have found the one Moses spoke about – Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth

Nathanael doesn’t understand ‘Can anything good . . .’

Wordplay – nzr – Jesus coming from his annointing!

At His baptism John declared – ‘I saw the Spirit descend form heaven and Abide on him’

Spirit – Anointing – Oil

Nathanael Recognises Jesus as the Annointed one – Son of God, You are the King of Israel

Last week – Jesus the Gate – this week, Jesus the House of the Father – The Dwelling place of GOd

‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it’

Jesus tells his disciples – ‘Do you not believe, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’ John 14:10

But what of us? 1 Pet 2:4-5

The house starts with the cornerstone – Peter – ‘Come to him a living stone . . .’

(Y’all) Be built into a spiritual house – Temple of the Living God

Christ is the cornerstone – his body is the dwelling place of God

All the hoopla over a bishop – if only we knew what we were? Imagine the drama of baptism as another stone becomes a living stone, as the Father’s house grows . . .

 

 

 

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter – ‘I Am The Gate’ – 2017 Year a

Sermon for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

“I am the gate”

 

[Audio and written content significantly differ]

 

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Well today, the Fourth Sunday of this season of The Resurrection is as you may know often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and our gospel reading certainly seems to point us in that direction at least so why begin with these verses?? Well it is all to do with context. If I say ‘Good Shepherd’ we may perhaps have an unhelpful image in our minds, for the words of Jesus in today’s gospel leading towards himself declaring that He is the good shepherd follow on immediately from the healing of the man born blind, and find Jesus in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees, a dispute which leads in due course to some of them suggesting that Jesus is possessed by a demon. As always, context counts for a great deal – and the context helps us to discern a little more clearly what is going on here – what it means for Jesus to be The Good Shepherd, but also the ‘I AM’ saying in our gospel – perhaps the most obscure of these sayings for us – ‘I Am The Gate’?

Jesus seven times uses ‘I AM’ sayings in John – or 8 if we include his crying out ‘before Abraham was, I Am’
Each of them we have some sense of  – each embodies something Life giving
I am the Bread of Life – The Eucharist of course
I am the True Vine – an allusion to being the True Israel
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the Resurrection and the life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Good Shepherd

but ‘I am the Gate’? The focus of this passage seems not so much to be the Shepherd as the Gate. When Jesus is justifying his claim to be The Good Shepherd, he says, ‘The one who enters by the Gate is the Shepherd of the Sheep’ – but to call himself ‘The Gate’ – In what sense is that an image of Life, indeed Life in all its fulness?? Why would Jesus use this Sacred phrase, I AM . . . The Gate??

Well if we study the scriptures, we discover that the ‘Gate’ is not so much an inanimate object as a Place, a Place of Great Significance. And of course when we think of Jesus, we might also think of him also in terms of Place – He is the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.’ ‘he was speaking to them of the Temple of his body’ Jesus occupies space, He is a place, The place of encounter with the Living God  or Life in all its fullness.

Well I think that two different illustrations of the significance of the Gate as a place will begin to open this up for us,  and how it applies to us as Christians, how we encounter Jesus as ‘The Gate’

So first a line from Samuel –
‘Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.’ (19:8)

There is our Behold word, again, Behold the King, David, the Shepherd King, sitting in ‘the gate’. – and often as here it represents the Gate of the City. This was a most significant place in the Life of the people of God. For it was here that the King along with the nobles would sit and hear cases. It is a symbol of the place of judging disputes – a place of discerning – the King as the Judge – a place of discerning in a sense, who sill enter and who will not enter. The King seated in the Gate was a powerful symbol of the security of the city – as the psalmist says ‘I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones for judgement were set up, the thrones of the house of David. ‘

In the brief text from Samuel, it is precisely the Security of the people of God which is at stake. Absalom, David’s son, has usurped the throne precisely by taking David’s place at the gate and suggesting people come for him to hear their disputes. A dark story follows of the flight of David and the treachery of Joab – and Absalom is slain, and David goes into a deep mourning for his son, and disappears from the sight of the people. He has to be persuaded by Joab to  show himself for otherwise all the soldiers of the army will desert him. It is a deeply ambiguous and anxiety ridden reading, and of course the resonances with the story of Jesus where his brothers are constantly it seems telling him to ‘show’ himself before the people, and indeed ‘an army’ so to speak who deserts him . . . but Beholding The King sat in the Gate is a sign of the Stability – indeed the deep peace and prosperity of Jerusalem . . . of things being as they should be

And that symbol of the Gate as the entrance to the place of prosperity and peace finds another echo, again with strong resonances for us who seek Jesus in the familiar story of Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The Good Shepherd, The Gate – we don’t think ‘what though is the sheepfold?’ This place of security, and abundant life – is it not the place of the presence of God? Jacob realising himself to be ‘in the house of God, the gate of heaven’ I Am the Gate

Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

He is the Gate to the place of God’s Peace – the doorway to Heaven – the earthly Jerusalem called to be the city of peace, but not knowing what makes for its peace – Jesus, comes for judgement into the world and Is the Gate – the place – the place of Entrance into the very life of God – He is the Temple – and he is the Temple Gate – perhaps the allusion is stronger here than to the City of Jerusalem – In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . no one comes to the Father except they come through me.’ The man born blind has been thrown out, but her hears the voice of the Good Shepherd ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. ‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice’ . . . but the pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them, he did not hear them

Jesus the Good Shepherd, The King (Messiah), The Way into the presence of the fullness of Life in God . . .

And us? Isn’t this after all just my ‘talking about Jesus’? Something which I have suggested we should’t do – how do we find ourselves within the Gate?

We turn briefly to our reading from Acts – a scene set within the sheepfold . . .  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

People – responding to the Good News of Jesus, responding by entering into his Life through Baptism, and finding Life in all its fullness. The fullness of Shalom, God’s Peace, Salvation as Life is shared amongst them – having all things in common, eating together . . . and all the while the Good Shepherd calling others into the fold.

We the Church, the household of God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, come into the church by baptism, we walk in via the font – we come into the fellowship of Salvation and Life – in and through The Gate. We are baptised into his death, and thus into his life. ‘Whoever enters by me, will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . Jesus is the Gate, the Gate of Heaven, The Gate into the very presence of the Living God in whose presence there is life forevermore.

Amen

Acts 2 – City of peace – shalom, wholeness, the Church – Baptism

Psalm – lift high the gates

King of Glory king of Peace

Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35

 

‘Meals beyond words . . .’

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise

Amen

Easter 2 – Learning Jesus

Sermon for Easter 2 -Year A 2017
Sunday April 23rd

Acts 2:22-32
John 20:19-23

‘Learning Jesus’

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ John 15

One of the great joys for my family living here in Dunedin is the number of guests we entertain. It’s odd how many people will pass your door if you only live a few miles away, but travel to the far side of the world and suddenly everybody wants to come and stay 🙂

Of course having guests means disruption to our lives. We need to look at diaries and try as far as is possible to clear them, I may need to take time off from work, we plan meals with our visitors in mind and arrange tours and local trips. We reorient our days around what they would like to do. Of course, we can manage this . . . for a while . . . we don’t expect them to stay around for ever . . .

The Risen Jesus is The Great guest, the Great Visitor, but HE has come to stay – as he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel – Behold! (there’s that word again) ‘Behold! I am with you always even unto the very end of the age . . .’ He has come to stay, ‘at our house’, as he says to Zacchaeus – not alongside us, or above us, but within us

You see, Jesus does not merely give his life for us upon the Cross, no. As if something is going on ‘over there’ – between Jesus and His Father – No, this is Personal – He gives his Life that he might give His Life TO us. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit’ John 12:24.

So, when The Risen One greets the disciples He breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ The breath of His Eternal Life, he breathes on and Into his disciples – that His Life might become Theirs.

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.’

‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’ – I remember many years ago, a particularly devout parishioner who did not like the modern words of the Lord’s Prayer. for as he put it, ‘We can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’ Well I never quite got to the bottom of the difference, whether we were just meant to forgive people who wandered across our garden without asking . . . but in a sense he put his finger on it. ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’

Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man – full himself of the Divine Life, Dies and is raised for His Life is eternal. And he then shares that very Life with his disciples. That which belongs to God we come to participate in, to Share in – That which God is doing in Jesus – ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them . . .’ He does Through us – I’ll return to the second clause a little later on.

Receive My Life says Jesus to his disciples, and I think that the metaphor of the Person who comes to stay is an apt one. Jesus The Guest who comes seeking a Home – your Body is a Temple of The Holy Spirit as St Paul reminds us –  let us ponder that for a moment – the guest who seeks to stay, as it were to ‘put up shop in our Living Room’ – these bodies  . . . I am coming in, to you. Put in those terms we begin to feel more of the power of it all and indeed the challenge. What of all that having a guest in our house entails – that guest who doesn’t desire to be leaving? How long before you sense that they are outstaying their welcome

If you were reading Father Stephen Freeman’s book during Lent you might remember the story of a Protestant friend of his who had had can experience of Christ which wasn’t wearing off, and it was too much for her. ‘I just can’t take it anymore, Jesus seems to be everywhere! I can’t get any work done!’ So, she finally told him, ‘Jesus please leave my kitchen and get back on your throne!” Well Fr Stephen doesn’t say, but one assumes that Jesus acceded to the request – The Holy Spirit is after all gentle as a dove and doesn’t compel us . . .’ I must admit, although I first read that with a chuckle, later I read it with a bit of a shiver . . . Really?? “Jesus please just get out of my house??”

You see if the guest shows no sign of leaving, then we are then confronted with a dilemma. What do we do? Do we ask them to leave?? . . . or do we carry on as if they are not there – hoping they might get the message?? . . . or do we allow our lives to be more and more changed so that they become the very centre of our existence, not just for a season but for Good – And in my text I capitalised that  – for GOOD. For if Jesus is staying he is staying for Good. Although I find some of the sentiment of ‘There is a Green Hill far away’ difficult, there is a deep truth in the line  He died to make us Good – He, The Good One, comes to dwell in us, so that our life becomes His— if we truly desire ‘the good’, not as an abstract idea, but as a lived reality then we will desire he stays and we are changed

We don’t have the screen today, so you can’t see the theme – “Learning Jesus”. In a sense its good you can’t see it as you’d perhaps be distracted – thinking ‘what does it mean “Learning Jesus”? is it about ‘Jesus the learner??’ No, not that – ‘Oh, more likely then it is a typo, Shouldn’t it be ‘learning about Jesus’?? After all isn’t that what coming to Church and Children’s Church is all about, isn’t it??’ Well no it isn’t – if we merely ‘learn about Jesus’  – indeed we perhaps need to get rid of the phrase all together for we are in danger of missing the point entirely, and so missing the Life. Jesus isn’t ‘over there’ as we ‘standing here’ give some thought to him – no!
Jesus doesn’t die to just to give his life For us, he dies that he might share his Life with us, that he might give his life to us . . . to be the guest . . . to Live in Us – to Change us

The Christian Life is not a matter of getting our thinking straightened out – to paraphrase James the brother of Jesus, it’s not a matter of right thinking, The Devil himself has got perfectly good doctrine! HE knows all about Jesus . . . he knows everything . . . No it isn’t a matter of right thinking, it is a matter of changing our lives around the Life of Jesus given to us in the Holy Spirit and weekly renewed by Grace in Word and Sacrament, as he comes to us afresh – as we pray at the end of the Eucharist – Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit! . . .

We do not learn about Jesus. No, as he comes to stay, as we day by day and week by week renew our desire to have him dwell in us, we learn Him, we learn His life in us, we learn to discern what is HIs Life in us, we learn to respond to his movements within us, to his promptings. We feel the tension when our life does not align with His – we feel it. Like Good hosts we are always looking out for our guest – what does he desire, now in this moment. We learn to be paying attention to Him at all times and in all places, and at times we notice how we have been not paying attention . . . We Learn Him and in so doing, our Lives bear witness to His Life.

As Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost to announce the Gospel to the crowds he says  – ‘This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.’ How are they witnesses? Because the Holy Spirit has filled them. They are full of the Holy Spirit – Their lives Naturally bear witness to Jesus – they don’t have to think about how to  – the Holy Spirit gives them words, and the Community of the Church bears it out. And so it should be for us – but we must allow Him to have that space, we must note when we are in danger of growing weary of our guest, for changing our lives is not an easy work, and his work in and amongst us is not yet complete – our lives do not as yet bear full and eloquent witness to Him – we are still learning Jesus.

It may be we once were learning him, once taking the time and the trouble, we may once have been so engaged an then it became too much, or we got distracted by many things, inattentive to our Guest – but Christ is Risen – His Spirit is present! Ask and you shall receive once more!
It may be you have never started out on the journey of ‘Learning Jesus’ paying attention to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to direct your life – even though you are baptised although you learned all about him, you’d never been taught to ‘Learn Jesus’ . . . but Christ is Risen! – His Spirit is present! ask and you shall receive.

It may be you are in the midst of the battle of learning Jesus and it is a battle, the temptation to ask him to leave you to your own devices is great, Yet – ‘do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Continue to say yes to his gentle work of transformation.’ Persist in forgiving Sins, over and over and over until your Soul is conformed to the Life of God within you. This I think is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven – not that there is a limit, but because it needs to become your first nature, you need to get over the idea that this is about you – that it is about The Life of Jesus In You –  bearing witness to the God who forgives.

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’. We need to get away from the idea that being a disciple of Jesus is anything to do with getting our ideas right – rather it is about allowing our lives to be changed – to be re oriented – shaped by the guest who has come to stay.
Allowing ourselves to be changed by desiring that change and co-operating with the Life of Jesus In us. The early Christians were mocked because they preach d aNEw Life in Christ – and as everyone knew and still knows change of Life is about The Hardest thing – a leopard doesn’t change its spots – you cant tech and old dog new tricks . . . Bt God Can change lives – Receive the Holy Spirit – Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven them – whosoever sins you retain are retained. Do you know what that means – have you so learned to forgive sins, that the Life of Jesus in you is doing it – perhaps then we might know what it is to retain them – only when we have sufficiently learned Jesus and His Life in you to forgive and to forgive might we dare to say we might possibly be able to know in fear and trembling, but only in step with the Spirit – to retain sins. Only when we forget it is about us – and come to know that it is all about Him. The Risen One, standing in our midst

Amen

Do angels burp?? . . . One Must Laugh!

 ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ John 20:11-13

 

As the women came to the garden they heard the song of the birds, and what was that other strange note? With stifled laughter mixed in?? . . . but no . . .

One of the ‘joys’ of parish work in the rural North of England was the friendships I developed with our local funeral directors. Often people who had grown up in what was a family business, they brought a necessary almost medieval earthiness to their work. Of course such grace notes are less and less in demand in these mechanised days, but many of the older rural folk still see and hear things the modern world hasn’t blocked from our imaginative existence.

One director in particular had a ‘naughty’ habit which it took me a few funerals to get used to, not least because cremation was not yet, it being a rural community, the Way of Things. On those less frequent occasions the director in question would give me a lift, driving with the hearse to the crem, with the family cars in close attendance. The man, for man he is, was meticulous in public, and upon leaving the hearse walked with a steady and dignified gait and solemn countenance, tall hat with grey scarf in hand, to open the car door for the chief mourners – leaving the Priest, to whom he had just told the most wicked joke, creased up and desperately trying to compose himself for the business of also facing the family and the liturgy of the committal.

I couldn’t help think of my friend this morning as we sat in the Church in darkness, waiting for the dawn and the Liturgy of Light as we bring the newly lit paschal Candle into the building for another year. Sat in the darkness as we listen to readings from scripture – one priest to the left of the as yet unlit candle, one to the right – one at either end, sitting where just a day or so earlier a cross had been . . . and there rising up from my hungry belly, only just supressed, a burp . . .

 

And I wondered, that first Easter morning, was there perhaps a suppressed burp? Did one of the angels with a redeemed ‘wicked’ sense of humour tell a joke, were the angels laughing? Before those solemn moments?? ‘Quick! pull yourself together, they’re here!!’

For after all, they knew, what is more that had always known. This was The Moment in the temporary Created history when that which had always been true, would be manifested amongst mortals. Something beyond their ken, yet always present.

The association of angels and young children is an old and rightly treasured one, for it reminds us that ‘Heaven’, or life with God is Jovial, full of Joy and gladness, of happiness and delight and, if it is human at all, laughter! And one cannot but imagine these two angels, like children, in the Garden, full of Joy at the Revealing of something they have always known, that the Lamb slain since before the foundation of the world, has trampled down death by death . . . They unbound by time weren’t waiting for it to happen, there had never been a time when it wasn’t true, but Now Everyone was going to be let in on it – I doubt they could contain themselves

‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ For those who have not been let in on the great Story, for those who do not See, seems like a ludicrous question, but in the Presence of the One who is Life perhaps Not . . .

Time for laughter – Time for joy, for Christ is Risen!!!!

(and time for a bacon buttie . . .)