Reflection for Holy Week – Light and Love I

Reflection for Holy Week 1

Light and Love I

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

On Sunday we concluded our journey with Jesus through Lent and began our journey with him through Holy Week. And we undertake this journey not as spectators, but as participants.

Through Baptism – we exchange our life for His Life – and so to live truthfully as Christians, we must live with Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus. We must remind ourselves daily that we have no other life. This is what it is to ‘walk in the light’. To participate and share in the Life of Jesus, our Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord.

This week at Compline we are to reflect on three passages that tell the story of Holy Week as recorded by St John in the twelfth chapter of his Evangel. Each one has a double theme – that of Light and that of Love – although in each case these themes are expressed in different ways.

We begin with these verses

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

John’s account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem closes with the Pharisees all but in despair, saying to one another “You see? You can do nothing. Look! the world has gone after him” That theme of Sight is key to John’s Gospel. The world is now divided into those who See and those who do not and it is clear that here the Pharisees DO See. John uses the strong word for Look! Which our traditional translations read as Behold! Behold the Lamb of God! the other disciple entered the tomb, he Beheld [the empty tomb] and he believed! John uses this word for as it were truthful sight. Behold, the world has gone after him. And so Greek converts to Judaism have come to Jerusalem for the Passover and ask Philip – ‘Sir we wish to Behold Jesus . . .’

Philip and Andrew, the two Greek named disciples who had been responsible for bringing the boy with five loaves and two fish to Jesus – Philip who is always bringing people to Jesus – report this to Jesus.

How do we Behold Jesus? Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified – Now is the hour for him to be lifted up from the earth.

It is in Seeing Christ Crucified that we Behold Jesus – we see him in his Glory. And Seeing Is to believe. To Believe in Jesus, is to believe in the Crucified one – to have our eyes enLightened – to Behold the Love of God. To Know it in truth.

Herein is the Great Contradiction of our faith. As St Paul puts it Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. To Believe in Jesus is to look into the darkness of the Cross, and Behold the Dazzling glory of God. Light In Darkness. In this apparent Utter negation of life – Life is revealed. Love springs as it were ‘ex nihilo’ – the New Creation – out of the Nothing of the Cross – Everything bursts forth. Light, Life and Love – the triumphant fruit of what can only seem to be Darkness, Death and Hatred.

Amen and Amen! I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John as we know, announces the gospel in a different manner to his fellow evangelists. Yet it is the same Gospel. In Matthew, Mark and Luke – Jesus says ‘whoever would be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me. In John, the invitation to participation is even clearer. Having announced his glorification in being lifted high over the world on the Cross, he declares Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This Gospel of Light in darkness is also The Gospel of participation. We Behold the Love of God in the Crucified One. We Participate in this Love by laying aside all other loves. We shall see this more in the coming nights – but for now we hear the clearest expression of it. We, beholding the Love of God in Christ, Beholding Love, Seeing Love are graciously invited to participate in the LIfe and the Love of God, by hating our lives in this world – by laying them aside. As we heard yesterday – to lay aside all our agendas – To Seek the Kingdom of God in purposeful manner – in the words of the writer to the Hebrews ‘looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the Joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.’

And thus we know the blessing of God – ‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour’ the LIfe that God blesses is the Life of Jesus and the lives of those who follow him in Truth.

God glorifies himself in the one who lives solely for the glory of God.

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

 

 

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2014 – Behold! The Servant of the Lord

IMG_5787        ‘I have set my face like flint . . .’

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2014

[2 Kings 9]
Isaiah 50:4-9
Phil 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

Behold the Servant of the Lord!

(Spectators or participants?)
Whilst I have been contemplating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem this past week, one story form the old testament has consistently come to mind – that of the anointing of Jehu as King over Israel, and instrument of God’s judgement against the house of Ahab. Briefly, the prophet Elisha sends one of the company of prophets to Jehu with instructions to anoint him King. The prophet takes him aside privately, anoints him and declares his mission, to wipe out the line of Ahab and the priests of Baal. Then he flees. Jehu then takes his men and sets off to Jezreel, the city of Ahab’s line. As he approaches – the watchmen say ‘Look! There is Jehu! Send someone out to see whether he is coming in peace!’ As each emissary reaches Jehu’s advancing army, he is told – ‘what do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me!’ And so it goes on – an almost terrible intensity of purpose as the annointed one, the instrument of God’s judgement approaches the city

An intensity which is seen in Jesus. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. Luke 9:51-53 There is something about the manner of Jesus as he sets his face, flint like towards Jerusalem, that causes people to draw back. In Jesus, the long heralded Servant of the Lord, there is utter focus, intensity of purpose – Isaiah says 
4 The Lord God has given me
   the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
   the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
   wakens my ear
   to listen as those who are taught. the Servant of the Lord awakens to hear that which the Lord God has to say – he is sustained by these life giving words and so he sustains others – Jesus says, ‘my food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ – When Satan tempts him in the desert with bread – he replies ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. Jesus in his humanity knows the sustaining of the word of the Lord.

This is what he lives for
 – The Lord God has opened my ear,
   and I was not rebellious, 
   I did not turn backwards.

And Jesus does not rebel, he does not demur, He is obedient – even to the point of death, the death of the cross

I gave my back to those who struck me,
   and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
   from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me;
   therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
   and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near

As Jesus comes to Jerusalem, his purposefulness is evident. In the words of the Psalmist ‘Behold it is written of me in the scroll of the book. I have come to do your will O God’
Singleness of purpose – the one who fulfils his own words – ‘seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . .’ Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the instrument of the judgement of God, coming Only to do the will of his Father.
And what of us?? Through Lent we have been reading together John Kirkby’s book about the establishment of Christians against Poverty. As people have mentioned to me, there are many times when humanly speaking it seems as if the game is up – usually because the financial resources have dried up, but throughout John remains committed to what he perceives to be God’s call on his Life – the way in which he is anointed to serve the purposes of God, and God has mightily vindicated that trust.
I think of Andrew Scott at Brockville – from times living from day to day, not knowing where the next dollar might come from, but as he has consistently told me since I first met him – this is what God has called me to, so here I stay. The issue is not the money, it is my obedience to God’s call. And like the story of John Kirkby, God has vindicated his servant. From nobody, in three months Andrew now has 16 people reading the BIble in a weekday study group – there have been numerous adult baptisms – there is little or no money – but there is obedience and so there is life.
When we speak of the blessing of God upon us, I think very often we misunderstand – what is the Life that God blesses? It is the life of faithfulness to his purposes. If we desire to serve God – God will honour that and through that conduit of faithfulness produce fruit to his glory. The one who lives for the glory of God, sees the glory of God.
We have lived for too too long with a narrative that says – God blesses our lives if we are ‘good’. The truth is that God glorifies himself in the one who is focused to live entirely for the purpose of the glory of God. The more clearly our life together is focused on the purposes of God, the more clearly His glory is revealed.

We have lived too long with a narrative that says, this is all about us and our happiness – whereas it is entirely about God and His Glory. That is the purpose of our very existence. The Image of God – revealing God’s glory in and through the Creation

This surely is the Truth revealed in Jesus. ‘The one who honours me, says the Lord, I will honour’ – ‘How will I honour him? By glorifying myself in him’ There is no greater blessing than for God to reveal his glory through us. Even in death.
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus emptied himself, and thus became the place wherein the glory of God might reside – therefore God highly exalted him – to the glory of God the Father.

And what of us?? Through Lent we walk with Jesus, with him we fast pray and give alms. We search our hearts and pray for the Grace to continue the journey with Jesus through Holy Week. Unlike those first disciples, we know where this story ends – and Jesus’ gracious invitation is that Holy Week is not for us a spectator event, but one we participate in. It is in truth the renewal of our Baptism – we are included in the death of Jesus that the Life of the risen Jesus might be revealed in and through us – to the glory of God the Father.

As he walks into Jerusalem with but one purpose in mind, we lay aside all other concerns and set out also to die with him. Last week we heard the story of Lazarus – and early on in that long story we hear Thomas say ‘Let us also go with him, that we may die with him’ These are the words of faith. Thomas speaks the words of the one whose life Is Jesus, who desires one thing, to hear and do the will of God, even unto death.

I began with that strange story of Jehu – it might sound a very very odd parallel. Jehu, the anointed instrument of God’s judgement against the house of Ahab. Yet there are powerful parallels, except in one key aspect where the true nature of the King of Israel is revealed. Jehu rides towards Jezreel for Judgement with a mighty army and riding in his chariot. Jesus, with similar intensity of purpose, His Face set like Flint, comes also to the city for judgement – that Jerusalem, all her people and as we shall see all of humanity stands under the judgement of the Living God. And the King comes, but not upon a chariot to kill and destroy – but ‘humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’. The violence of the Kings of Israel thrown into stark contrast with ‘The King of the Jews’, who is ‘gentle and humble of heart’.

As Jehu approaches Jezreel he says to those who come to ask if he is for Peace, ‘What have you to do with peace? ’ Jesus also declares, I have not come with Peace, but with a sword, but the execution of Judgement will fall upon him.

Jehu says to those envoys ‘Fall in behind me.’ And so Jesus, face flinty with purpose of the Servant of the most High God, says to us, ‘Fall in behind me’ ‘Let the same mind be in you, as was in Christ Jesus’ – the one who emptied himself that the Life of God in all its purposes and all its glory might be revealed in the world.

This is the reason for the existence of the Church – This story of Holy Week is Our story – we are a people born from above with one purpose and one purpose only – to be those vessels for the Glorifying of God. As with Our Lord, We lay down our lives, the world in its violence and hostility to God’s just and gentle rule is judged. God’s glory is revealed.

‘Let us also go with Him, that we might die with him – for God’s glory, that the Son of God may also be glorified’

Amen

Sermon for Lent 5 – Sunday April 6th Year A- NZCMS Mission visit

So this week, one of my speech mannersims has caused me a little trouble – that is my habit of saying ‘to be frank’ – which is silly because I am not Frank 🙂 [The name of our Kenyan Mission partner]. So imagine my consternation when I tell you that regarding our gospel I want to tell you a story, about Frank – but not This Frank. Another Frank 🙂 a very frank Frank 🙂

Frank was a member of my congregation back in England. He Was Very frank in his speech – something which didn’t enamour him to everyone, expecially on those ODD occasions when his frankness was not, how shall I put it, was not seasoned with Christian Grace and Mercy. Frank and I shared something very important in common in that we were, along with Clemency Wright :-), natives of Carlisle, that DOUR border city in the North of England. I must say, Frank was not at ALL like Clemency :-). It was Frank and I who shared that Northern English trait of being ‘frank’.

OK, enough of frankness in all it’s guises, apart of course from our good friend here with us today 🙂 Except to say that I didn’t call Frank, Frank, I along with his daughter called him Lazarus. I literally lost count of the times over the years that I was either called to a bedside or informed by phone – ‘Oooh he’s fading fast Vicar’, only to encounter him the very next day, up and walking around, being Frank. And so the name Lazarus stuck, for he was always coming back from the dead . . . except of course when he didn’t – well he was in his 90’s 🙂

Now we need to remember that the raising of Lazarus is NOT such a miraculous resuscitation. We never buried Frank . . . except when finally we did, yet Lazarus ‘had already been in the tomb four days’. John is careful to mention this – not three days – he is telling us this is NOT the resurrection. But Lazarus IS Dead. As Jesus said to his disciples when they were unsure, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

We may well hear an echo here of last weeks gospel, the man born blind – This man was born blind ‘so that God’s works (the separation of Light and Dark) might be shown in him.’ Jesus does Not rush off to Lazarus when he hears he is ill, ‘he stayed there two more days’ He does not go to Lazarus, because if he had been there Lazarus would not have died as Mary so rightly says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And, as the man born blind was born blind so that the works of GOd might be revealed in him, so also Lazarus dies, so that the works of God might be revealed in HIM – so that we might believe.

As John says towards the end of his gospel, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

There are many myths about Jesus which do the rounds, none of which do us any help. When it comes to Jesus, we need the medicine of the Truth. As it says in the advertisements, ‘Accept no alternatives!’. As I have frequently said, it is amazing to me how regularly one can be in the company of Christians speaking of faith, and even in the Church’s official pronouncements Jesus is never named – So there is the invisible Jesus ‘myth’.

Then there is the ‘Jesus went about doing good’ myth. Which leads onto that famous question ‘What would Jesus do . . .’ as if copying Jesus was what it was all about . . . Well OK then, so far in John’s gospel, Jesus has gone about doing good by turning water into wine, by healing the dying son of a Royal Official, with less good grace than we might perhaps expect, when the man begs him to heal his son (read all about it at the end of Chapter four); then he heals a paralysed man; then he feeds 5000 people; then he heals a man born blind; then he raises Lazarus from the Dead . . . Jesus went about doing good, so should we – ermmm . . .

The signs that Jesus performs are just that – Signs – they are meant to Direct our Gaze – To Jesus. He is the Messiah, the one who will tell us all things – he reveals by telling the Samaritan woman the truth about herself – He Is the bread of life he reveals by feeding the 5000 – He Is the Light of the World he reveals by healing the blind man – He is the Resurrection – AND HE is THE Life – The One Ezekiel hoped in as the one breathing life into those dry bones.

Mary was right and indeed if he had been there her brother would not have died – but not because he has special powers, because He IS Life – Jesus Is Resurrection – Jesus Is Light – Jesus IS Truth – Jesus Is Bread. And He Is Life.

Why is Lazarus Alive – because of the presence of the Living One – the one who through the miracle of new birth Lives now in him

Last week, as we thought about Loving God with our minds, we reflected that this was to give our minds over to God for His purposes – St Paul puts it like this ‘in view of God’s mercies, offer yourselves as living Sacrifices – Holy and Acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. The woman at the well rushes back to that community which her history had excluded her from to tell them about Jesus; the man born blind bears courageous witness to the Truth of Jesus, to the point of being thrown out of the synagogue. Lazarus? Well how might life be for one whom Jesus Life has so dramatically filled? We read ‘the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.’ Why try to kill Lazarus – for he is now a Living Sign to the Life of Jesus. He is Full of the Life that the darkness tries in vain to overcome – The Life of God in Jesus Christ.

One final myth – the myth of what I call ‘The Chaplain God’ – the myth that is the most pervasive, pernicious and indeed destructive of true faith in Jesus. That Jesus is there for us – that he exists for our sakes – that he is there to help us live our life. No – We Live for Him. If we are born again – as Lazarus is in the most dramatic way – then we are vessels of HIs Life – His Spirit guides and directs our lives in every part. We spend each moment in attentiveness to him – for apart from him we can do nothing. But in response to Him – we can do all things. Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone [from the grave]. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

Jesus Command Is Life – Jesus Is the Creative Word of God – In Him Is Life and that Life is the Light of all people

The presence of Frank – that is This Frank 🙂 and Flora and the rest of the team from Kenya with us these two weeks – is in celebration of the coming of the gospel to these lands 200 years ago. But what is the Gospel? What Is the Good News? It is nothing more nor less than the Life of Jesus Christ, present amongst us. He is our Treasure beyond value. He is Our Life. And apart from Him, we have nothing.