‘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