Trinity 2 ‘Devoted – Your Salvation is not about you!’

Sermon for Trinity 2, Year C 2019

Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

‘Devoted – Your Salvation is not about You!’

Let the dead bury their own! You follow me!
St Matthew 8:22

I’ve always been a little puzzled by big celebrations of wedding anniversaries. Given that people are marriage is, ’til death do us part’, it seems to be a bit odd to congratulate two people for neither of them dying!
Of course to quote Bob Dylan, ‘things have changed’, and one is regularly met with astonishment should one say one has been married for over 30 years. In a sense this is because in a relationship thin world, we have come to invest so very much in finding ‘one’s souls mate’. Expectations regarding marriage are sky high as revealed in the extravagant wedding ceremonies and celbrations, where once people often did little more than turn up before a priest or at the registry office, or jump over a stick.

Ordination services too, it must be said, are extravagant affairs, where once all that happened was that a bishop laid hands on another – and the Spirit did the rest, now . . . And, in parallel with modern marriage, I think that it is beyond dispute that we have in a world where the church seems to be struggling, to invest far too much expectation in the ordained.
I remember one of my tutors expressing his unease at the implicit liturgy of ordination at a local Cathedral where the Ordination service began to the doors being flung open to reveal as he put it ‘the white robed saviours of the church’.
Those inflated ideals are all too often unexamined by the ordained who hold public services of worship celebrating the anniversary of their ordination, be it 25 years, 40 years, or in that first case, 60 years. This I have found very troubling – for it seems to re-emphasise a deep and troubling pattern within the church, that of 2 track faith. Those who were ordinary christians and those who were totally devoted. A little like the cult status that grew up around the Saints in the late middle ages. Why no special services for 90 years a baptised follower of Jesus?
And what is more it creates a comfortable division – so the idea of clergy as ‘professionals’, or people ‘doing their job’, finds a well prepared soil.

The notion of a two track Christian life is anathema. That there is a High Road and a Low Road, not to Scotland but to the heart of God, is a detestable idea. Yet it runs deep. The idea of being devoted to the service of God, given over to God is one which one finds in writing about ordained ministry, but not baptism . . .

Yet, as I will say this until they bury me, “what counts is our baptism”. Baptism is about the totality of our being. It is the total work which cannot be added to. And any understanding of ordained ministry which however unintentionally suggests otherwise, is to be shunned. In Baptism we are totally consecrated to, devoted to the Living God.
(It always struck me as a little odd that those who had concerns over the baptism of infants often had their children ‘dedicated’ – in the background was the offering of Samuel to live with Eli the priest. I never found any of these dedicated babies being left behind, dedicated as they were to God. it was most muddle headed)

No. No one Christian is more baptised than another – we become in the words of St Paul ‘living Sacrifices’. Not, that is sacrifices that got away with just donating a leg or a hand and so are still living, but Sacrifices who having died, Live! Again St Paul, ‘as dying, yet behold we live!’ Priests are called amongst the community of the church to teach this, to bear witness to this, the faith of Christ’s body in it’s totality, the Church, that we might live it out together as ‘a Kingdom of Priests’. To be a visible reminder us that we are a people, a body of Christ – given over in love and service to Him, This is Our Life. And thus, this is our Salvation. Devoted to God.

But what does it mean ‘to be devoted to’ in this regard?

I remember the same college lecturer working through with us to find a suitable metaphor for the priesthood, and his words have stuck with me – they are first in the line at the Coliseum. First in the line – OK maybe they get a certain benefit, the starving lions are likely to make much swifter work of the first meal of the week 🙂 but not that priests ‘go in place of’ . . . they lead the way that all must follow . . . there is One Lord, One faith, One church, One Baptism . . . One Way of Jesus.

We might speak of our Salvation of ‘the assurance of ‘going to be with Jesus’, or the assurance that ‘Jesus is with me’, but that is not the picture revealed in the gospels – which turn it on his head, to wit – Salvation is to go with Him. We might say ‘so and so has gone to be with Jesus’, but that is the language of those outside the Church. For going to be with Jesus is at once our death – you have been crucified with Christ as St Paul puts it – I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. He becomes our Life as the Church. If the Church has any Life at all, it is the Life of the crucified and Risen One.

Which brings us to our gospel reading today – and seemingly two Jesus’s. One who rebukes James and John (not the Evangleist by the way, that’s another John . . . but another time) – the kind Jesus, and then the Jesus who tells thos who’d follow him to leave the dead to bury their own .  . Will the real Jesus stand up?

The clue is in the fire . . . Jesus reveals to his disciples that the fire must come down not on the hapless Samaritans, but on them! Certainly hearing his words, sears and scorches

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Are we going to be with Jesus?

To another Jesus 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.’

Jesus does not die to make bad people good. No, he dies that in Him the dead may live!
‘Let the dead bury their own!’ What do you have to do with the culture of death? You are for Life! Jesus command to follow is a call to Life – don’t return to the place and ways of death – as the angels ask the bemused disciples ‘what are you doing looking for the living amongst the dead?’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

To be with Jesus is to identify with Him as our life – which is to be devoted to God . . . to be living sacrifices

Jesus is at one and the same time God giving his life to human beings, AND the human giving his life to God. As we are devoted to God, we become God’s gift to the world. This is Salvation, and Salvation is not for your own sake.
Jesus is devoted to God his Father – it is his total self giving we call to remembrance – we awaken to afresh Sunday by Sunday. His Body and Blood, Bread and wine are offered to God, and God comes upon them by the Holy Spirit and they become His Life given to us. Every Sunday we are at the Cross, we are at the empty tomb, we are at Pentecost – that Life might flow from us. The fruit of the Holy Spirit. We put aside our life that we might be temples of HIs Life flowing from us. This is what it is to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. One where a life is laid down, and a life flows out in response.

To return briefly to the Coliseum – our forebears in the faith knew this well. As St Ignatius – an early Chrstian was on his way to his death, he urged people not to prevent it – that he ‘might become pure bread ground in the teeth of the wild animals’ As Life, blood and water flows from Jesus’ side, so Life flows from those who witness to Jesus in Life and Death.

There are many stories of Salvation, but this one is unlike any other. Some of them pass as Christian. become a Christian and you will go to heaven when you die!’ It’s subtly, all about you. Many modern churches act as therapists for troubles souls in these days . . . and of course the idea that God loves you . . . whilst there are grains of truth in all of these things, they are not the essence of Salvation – which is Life poured out for the sake the world. We enter into the work of Jesus by laying down our lives in all respects – together, all the baptised, priests and people.

And a suitable metaphor is that of fire – as the sacrifices were consumed by fire, so the fire of God is at work in devotion to God. Living Sacrifices consumed by the Fire [as incidentally Luke will go on to recount in the account of Pentecost . . .]

Just recently I came across these words which speak of this devotion in the way of Jesus

At the very first moment you decide to turn to God, your heart begins to be warmed by the action of the Holy Spirit. [hopefully we have all known something of this] Your heart is kindled with the divine flame that will transform you. This flame will consume you completely, and will melt everything of a fallen nature within you. Once this flame of divine love has been actualized within your heart, do nothing that would allow it to be extinguished. Cooperate with the Fire of God, and let it completely consume you. [That is Devotion]

In Christ Jesus, together with Him, as His Body, we offer ourselves to the refining fire of God, until God resides completely within and amongst us – and His Life flows out for the Salvation of the entire Cosmos

So our writer concludes : Put all your effort into this spiritual transformation that is beginning in your heart. Let nothing else take centre stage over this action by God that is meant to save you, and make you complete. From a little flame, this fire will burn in your heart, and nothing of your fallen nature will be able to withstand it. This flame will transform your whole being, for the action of the Holy Spirit will take you into God’s Kingdom, which resides within you.

As one of the elders of the church said – if you will, you can become all flame. That is our calling, our path, our Way. This is the Life of Jesus. Becoming a sacrifice for the sake of the whole world

Amen

Clothed and in his right mind – Trinity 1 Year C 2019

Sermon for Trinity 1 – Year C – 2019

Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

‘Clothed and in his right mind’

‘And this is the judgement: that the light has come into the world,

and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were wicked’ John 3:19

Whatever it is we encounter when we encounter the Life of Jesus, it is most definitely not business as usual. Our gospel today recounts the second of two consecutive incidents in which this life is manifested. Jesus has suggested to his disciples that they cross the lake, during which a great storm kicks up, which he orders to be quiet, and it is quiet, and the disciples are afraid – more afraid than they were of the storm.

Upon reaching shore, Jesus is confronted by the demon possessed man. Luke’s description is itself terrifying – this is not a bedtime story for small children!

As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

In the same way that we find the disciples more afraid of Jesus calming the storm than of the storm, we find a similar response to Jesus’ work.
The populace of the region when they came to Jesus, found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

As we explored during the season of Easter, the Life of Jesus, Resurrection Life, Life of the Ages of Ages explodes our categories regarding ‘business as usual’ – or ‘everyday life’. We considered how we needed to find new words to begin to speak of such things – like Tolkien’s word ‘Eucatastrophe’ – the Good Catastrophe. We can see the eucatastrophic breaking in here – something which calls to us and invites us to Goodness, Life itself. It calls from beyond because we are held captive by the safety of the known, ’business as usual’.

What do I mean by that?

Well let me ask a question . . . what is the opposite of a disease?

There is perhaps no word in our language which is, which does the opposite of a disease. What does a disease do? It takes that which we call ‘well’ or ‘healthy’ and reduces it – makes us less well, less healthy . . . But what is our word for that which takes what we call healthy, normal, usual, wellness and improves on it??

Disease, change and decay is part of the story of ‘business as usual’ of course. At best we hope to stave off decline and ill health . . . but that there might be something which surpasses this human ideal of staying well as the world knows it – is an alien concept to us . . .

Somehow we are concerned to stave off that which is not Good – disease – but to genuinely welcome the Good? Famously here of course we might remember our brother Jack Philips and his admonition to his grandchildren when in true Kiwi fashion they told him they were ‘good’, replied, ‘you’re not good, you are well!’ But what is wellness? Is it no more than the absence of disease??

We try in many ways to stave off the ill – H&S for example – or keeping fit – or 101 other things we ought to be doing . . . but these are all examples of keeping change and decay at bay. And there are many many more examples of this which operate in far subtler ways.
Consider for example our habit of demonising others . . . what are we doing? Separating ourselves from others – casting the illness onto them . . . We can call it ‘virtue signalling’, but at root it is a way of confirming our sense of ‘being in the right’ by damning others. Demonising them

We live in an era when it might be said ‘through the agency of the internet, demonisation has gone viral . . .’ Interesting that we use a word to do with disease to explain the rapid spread of something ‘going viral’ a ‘pandemic’ . . . We have no alternative Good word

James the brother of Jesus chides us – ‘The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell . . . no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.’

Well James is writing before the internet – before Facebook and Twitter – where ‘good’ people go to town demonising those made in the likeness of God – we seem to need to have ‘enemies’ whom it is socially acceptable to damn . . . Donald Trump anyone?
How many ‘good people’ do you and I know who regularly take to the ethereal internet to damn others? Individuals and groups? And then this or group demonises back, and to use James terrifying phrase, the circle of nature is set on fire . . . by hell itself.

And in our culture this is ‘business as usual’. It is socially acceptable to demonise . . . Respectable members of society, the church even, Lord have mercy, damning left right and centre and no one considers this evil . . . ? ‘Business as usual’
I wonder how much of our discourse – of our conversation with others about ‘the pressing matters of the age’ reveal us to be full of Life and Light and how many reveal our lives to be merely the purveyors of socially acceptable demonisation?

Where do demons come from? They seem to wander around until they find a home. They seem in my experience to find a home in and between people, people who in the world’s eyes are good and respectable people, who then force them onto others.
I have never come across of acute demonic activity which wasn’t tied up with human relationships. That which is means to be light and Life and Love – is infested with darkness and death and hate. So we try to deal with the disease and come up with the demonised . . .
He dwells in the place of the dead, amongst the tombs – far from home – rejected even by his family familial rejection is a common aspect of this. ‘The black sheep of the family’ anyone? And then Jesus comes and brings one back from the dead. The Demonised is sat, clothed and in his right mind. This clearly is not simply about simply restoring someone to society – for it is the society which is complicit in the demons within the man. Rather Jesus performs what is a powerful evocation of the harrowing of Hell. Brings back a man from the place of the dead.

And the people do not see that his healing calls them to their own healing, would they had it. They are still living in fear. Terrifying Goodness has broken out and they can’t stand it. Life, business as usual is revealed as something which happens in the shadows – the Light of Life is too bright – and they asked Jesus the Light to depart from them.

It is not uncommon to hear people argue that Jesus’ healings etc. are contrary to the natural order. They offend for example against Science . . . of course we might ask what is a science that has no place for Goodness beyond goodness? Yet their real disturbance goes much much deeper than that, pressing down into the deep reality of our very existence . . . shocking and terrifying Goodness. Revealing to us the utter brokenness of what we call ‘the natural order, ‘business as usual’
He Manifests Health beyond health. Salvation beyond Safety. The formerly demon possessed man is as it were at peace. As Jesus had stilled the storm on the lake, so the agonising storms within the man have been calmed. He is Saved. Profoundly healed, inside and out. And this is not business as usual . . .

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. To use Marks phrase. The man is free to return home – internally and externally healed. Not least in the area of his relationships. He leaves the people who need a demon possessed man in order to maintain ‘business as usual’ and goes out to proclaim the mighty acts of God

Clothed and in his right mind. The presence of the man resonates with the presence of Jesus. In our epistle St Paul says As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ

Clothed with Christ – in our right minds – the eye of our heart – we are to be clothed and in our right minds. Sitting at the feet of Jesus (by the way this is where Mary is in the story of Martha and Mary) . . . this is our vocation as children of the resurrection – to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, to have nothing to do with ‘business as usual’.
At peace with one another and within ourselves. Clothed with Christ. Such lives stand out – and are light in the World, full as they are of the light of the World, but they may not be welcomed, for they remind the world that it’s end is not business as usual

You may even, indeed I hope you do, form time to time recognise this. You make a simple offer to someone – something which speaks of the reality that is the life of Christ within you. But it is too much for the person – and it is refused. ‘I couldn’t possibly’ . . .

To accept the gift would call the person into a Life beyond life as they have known it. It is too much. And a chasm of separation opens up between you and the person. The Life in you has been too challenging

Whatever else the Christian Life is, it is not ‘business as usual’. It is the Life of God

Amen

Trinity Sunday – Evensong – Great is the Mystery of Faith

Sermon for Evensong
Trinity Sunday 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
John 3:1-17

The Mystery of our faith

As the Modern age has progressed one can to a certain extent map a reduction in the explicit consciousness of God in our human affairs. Charles Taylor in his magisterial work ‘A Secular Age’ asks the question “Why, was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in say, 1500 in our western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” [check quote]

In our consciousness it is probably very fair to say that Man has grown larger and God smaller. For those who follow Jesus, it is becoming almost an embarrassment to speak of The Fear of the Lord. The sense that God is beyond our capacity, in greatness and splendour . . . has receded. We have perhaps reduced God to our own image, in our consciousness – perhaps this was why Freud was so quick to assume that god was merely some ego projection, for the God he encountered in Modern Christians was so human sized – as the human grew . . . so we are told we live in ‘the age of the Anthropocene. The Human stamp is stamped everywhere – human consciousness invades every moment of our day . . .

I speak of consciousness for in part Taylor’s question is a question not so much of belief, but of how we are aware of ourselves and the world around us. We live with forms of certainty – granted in small part by science and technology, couples with what we call ‘the power of human reason’, yet, it seems we are rapidly accelerating into a world where we realise how little we know.
As the Creation falls apart around us – I suspect we are becoming more and more conscious of a reality far greater than we had been led to believe in. That the human brain and intellect so powerfully advertised as of a complexity and power far far beyond that of super computers – turns out on the grand scale of things to be not much more advanced or indeed useful than an abacus in terms of its ability to discern the Truth of Existence.

Of course this huge and I suggest anxiety driven emphasis on Reason etc. has had a powerful impact on our faith where all too many either abandon faith or retreat to the ‘certainties’ of ‘what the bible says’. Biblical fundamentalists are the mirror image of the Dawkins of this world – being imbued with the same ratioreductionist [un]conscious approach to faith. We can see everything – nothing is hidden from our unseeing eye – perhaps we have in our own imagining become like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings?
This anxiety driven certainty creates a consciousness which has little time for mystery – perhaps this is why we are so obsessed with Safety – a flight from our inability to rationally calculate everything that might conceivably happen in a world which something somewhere suggests to us might Not be as it seems. If we increasingly limit the possibilities open to us, through for example highly developed H&S policies, then we might conceivably keep Reality from breaking in.

So too mystery and faith. My training incumbent, a thoughtful evangelical has an almost visceral response to the word ‘mystery’ and would endlessly quote Colossians 1:25-27 “I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 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.” There! He would say “the mystery is revealed -there is no mystery . . . however he didn’t than qualify it with other words of St Paul, namely “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” And of course most of Reality is in truth mysterious

Well today is of course one of the days of great mystery in the church calendar – Trinity Sunday – the day when many right thinking, or perhaps rationalist clergy decided to take a holiday and allow someone else to have the benefit of their pulpit! God as Three in One. As the cover of our font reminds us The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – yet the Father and the Son and the Spirit are One God . . .

And no doubt here and there people are being subjected to images of God as a clover leaf etc. Trying to make it visible . . .

And of course the hyper rational age loves the visible – where mystery is done away with. We live in the age of the image – or as the French philosopher Guy Debord calls ‘the society of the spectacle’ I’m not here going to engage with Debord’s thesis but he certainly points us towards a society where our gaze is captivated by that which we see on a screen – and of course if we see it, it must be The Truth. No mystery in what we see is there, after all?

Most tragically perhaps we might apprehend this in the deluge of pornography which is freely available. The cultural critic Naomi Wolf writes on on how this deluge has changed people. On the one hand she speaks with evident envy of a female friend who converted to Orthodox Judaism, and went about with a headscarf. When asked by Wolf why she did this, she responded, ‘my hair is for my husband’. Wolf noted a new incredible erotic charge and energy about her friend, where the sexual had become ‘mysterious’ shrouded, hidden, and thus more vividly alive – Real perhaps?
Her musings closed with a young man who was speaking about the effects of porn on himself and his friends When asked by Wolf about the mystery of sex, responded thus “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

It is perhaps here that we see the root of the familiarity of the erotic with the deeply Spiritual. Both engage us in a deeper knowing. A knowing which cannot be rationalised, a knowing which is beyond Reason, yet somehow far more sure. A knowing perhaps which is truly Personal and hoas to do with the depths of our hearts and our Loves.
Jesus says – ‘now this is eternal life, that they might Know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ Knowledge of The Mystery takes us into the place of the powerfully personal – into the very depth of our being.

Jesus tells us ‘when you pray, go into your inner room and close the door. There, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you’ Here of course the contrast is wth those for whom – its all out there! Those who stand on street corners to pray, that they might be seen by men

And so we come to our two texts for this evening – both of which take us beyond the place of the simply rational – although we must apply our minds, if only to draw us into the mystery of our faith.

Moses alone in the desert – the place of the encounter with the depths of who you are – reminiscent of the old teaching of the church fathers, ‘stay in your cell and it will teach you anything’ It is when we close our eyes to the easy lies of the visual – when the world around us is devoid of fascination, that the vast interior spaces open up. So the wilderness – the desert.

’Nothing to see here’ yet here Moses encounters the bush ablaze yet not burning – and draws aside – it is not a thing of direct vision. It is off to one side, pretty much as this Life which comes to us from God does not apprehend us in the three dimensions with which we are so familiar but comes at us if you like perpendicular to time and space

Who are you he asks? And the answer ‘I Am what I am, I will be what I will be’ An answer that is no answer at all . . . Certainly an answer which places us in a position where we cannot use God for our own purposes, for He does not allow us to touch Him, to lay hold on Him – to Close the story so that we can simply move on – rather we are called to move towards, deeper into the unseen, yet ever near.

And again – Jesus words leave Nicodemus drowning in incomprehension – You must be born again . . .what does this mean? Of course a faith which seeks to abandon mystery must make of this a simple formula. Repent of your sins, believe in Jesus and you will be born again – but with Nicodemus we MUST ask – but what does this mean? To repent is to reorient the eye of the heart . . . it is to turn our forgotten organ of perception, something perhaps akin to our intuition towards God, to Light, to fire, to a burning bush. It is to behold!
As I have been at pains to point out over the years, our English language often does not serve us well, in this case particularly with respect to Seeing. In Greek we have two verbs, one we might say is to see with the eye, as I see you and you I. Yet that that sense is one of the most readily deceived.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate

In our looking, we miss the Big picture -the relatedness of the apple to the provision and command of God.

The second verb is translated in older translations, Behold. This is the verb Jesus uses when he speaks with Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again he shall not Behold the Kingdom of God. Behold the Lamb of God says John the Baptist – when to the eye, all there is is a wandering dusty rabbi from Nazareth of all places! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world . . . surely in part our loss of God consciousness is our reduction of the second person of the Trinity to simply that Nazarene. The divinity of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, is largely ignored – and with it tragedy of tragedies, our own destiny shrinks

What is it to be ‘born again’? Perhaps it is to become the vessel of that uncreated Light – Wisdom – over which we have no hold – Uncreated Light . . .

One of the old fathers of the desert asked his disciples – what does the following verse mean? One after another each gave his answer – until he came to the last disciple, who answered ‘I do not know’. The Abba said ‘you have answered truthfully’

Such hiddenness, such uncertainty, such mystery is so frustrating to we Moderns, but if we are to find our way back, perhaps it is the place to start

How is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not know

Amen

Waiting on God

Sermon for Easter 7 2019

Acts 16:16-34
John 17:20-26

Waiting on God

“Behold, I have come to do your will, O God”
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’ Hebrews 10 vs 7

I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of being waited on – really waited on that is, not merely someone serving you a meal and then popping back half way through to interrupt your conversation and ask if the meal is alright!

Some years ago, Sarah and I went with our family for a camping holiday in Bavaria, in the deep South of Germany. There was a very smart restaurant on the campsite and so on our final night we decided to treat ourselves to a meal. However we were a little apprehensive as our German was VERY limited, and the menu in the window was completely incomprehensible to us.

We need not have worried. Upon entering, before even opening our mouths we were passed menus, in very good English. We were then led to our seats and drink orders were taken. I enjoyed a glass of very good Wiess bier – the light wheat beer – as my eyes carefully surveyed the menu, wherein I read, ‘3 types of steak’. That sounded very much like my sort of meal, as my family all readily agreed, and so it was ordered. When the meal came, a small table was placed beside each of us and on it was placed our dishes – in my case, a large platter with the three types of steak. I turned round to notice that without my noticing, my beer glass had been refilled.

My waiter carefully loaded my plate with three types of steak and an assortment of vegetables and withdrew. It was a very leisurely meal, and whenever my plate was emptied, my waiter appeared as if by magic, and my plate was reloaded, as was my beer glass . . .

And then just before everything was finished, I noticed my plate was again empty and no waiter, so I made the cardinal error of trying to help myself – whereupon my waiter re-appeared., slightly indignant. No doubt a little embarrassed – as for a moment he hadn’t been paying attention!

One realised that throughout, the various waiters were paying close attention – we were truly being waited on.

Well our theme this morning is ‘waiting upon God’. We tend I think to consider this in terms of ‘waiting for God’ – waiting for God to show up in this or that circumstance, but as I have said, the Resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Now are baptised into the death and therefore the risen Life Jesus, who is in the words of the prophet, The Servant of the Lord. The one whom says in Hebrews ‘Behold, I have come to do you will O God . . . it is written of me in the scroll of the book’
Jesus is the One who comes to do the will of the Father. He says, ‘ I only do what I see the Father doing. He is attentive to God in each moment of his day. This is the meaning for us of ‘waiting on God’. A moment by moment prayerful attentiveness to God. We wait for God, because we are waiting On God – we live in Him, through Him and For Him – our Life in all its dimensions comes from Him.

Thursday was the feast of the Ascension – I am very aware that we tend to miss it, because it is a mid week Feast day. Jesus is taken from our sight. And we are commanded to wait until we are clothed with power from on High.
We wait for God to send His Holy Spirit upon His people – so we wait on Him. It is a time if you like where we practise the posture of our new existence, ahead of the Gift of His Life. This posture is a posture of prayer ( We will explore this much more fully on Trinity Sunday)
So this season of ten days when Jesus is taken from our sight is a time of readjusting our perception – of learning to wait on God in prayer. of listening to His Word in Scripture and seeking always to do His will in and through everything.
It is a time of tuning our hearts and minds to the life of God, that as I said last week our lives might resonate with His Life, as the air in a guitar resonates in accordance with the plucking of a string. As, if you have ever found yourself humming in a small room, you might notice that at certain notes, the air resonates. You are in tune with your surroundings. Well, as St Paul tells us, ‘you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’. So our lives are to resonate with our new surroundings, the heavenly Life. Our lives as instruments of the Life of God our heavenly Father.

This is a most intimate relationship. Listen to the words of Jesus in prayer.
”Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’
Intimately woven into the Life of God with Jesus – Lives which cannot be known in separation from the Life of God

Our existence the Gift of God. When we live in a way that is illuminated and enlivened by our intimacy with God the Giver, then our lives Resonate – they vibrate, they become luminous. Jesus is the light of the world – and he tells his disciples, those who share His Life – ‘let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven’.
Put another way, lives that are lived in tune with God, reveal God. That is now our Life. Baptised into the death of Jesus we live with him, learning the ways of the life of heaven and revealing them in the world.

And people see this.

As Paul and his companions are in Philippi, they are pursued by a woman with a spirit of Divination. She could see things that others didn’t, and she was enslaved by her owners who used her to make money from this gift. She cried out as she followed the disciples, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ And that is what they were, indeed it is a term often used by the apostles, ‘slaves of God’. To us perhaps it is – well I don’t know – perhaps an undignified or distasteful thing. We may prefer the term servant – but that doesn’t quite get it. A servant has if you like, a life of their own. Even on Downton Abbey, the servant get a day off, they don’t belong to their master. But we belong to God, we are his treasured possession, and we live to serve him, It is our reason for being – indeed you might say that it is our very existence. That we might say with Jesus ‘I have come to do your will O God, it is written of us in the scroll of our book . . .

I suppose I cannot emphasise enough what an extraordinary calling this is. In a beautiful passage from the letter to the Ephesians, St Paul says ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’ This is what we are created for – the word workmanship is poiema in Greek – his poem. His musical instrument – we are created to be tuned to God.

So for this we need to be attentive, to wait upon God – to live for his direction – as dearly loved children who know our life is from Him, through Him and to Him. Loving God with all we have and all we are, in our Lord and brother Jesus, being vessels of His Life into the world.

And notice how that life flows out. As Paul and Silas are in prison, the Resurrection Life breaks forth. Even in prison their life is from and towards God and they are praying and singing hymns to God, when there is a mighty earthquake and all the chains fall off! New Life, Freedom in God.
And their jailer asks – what must I do to be saved and Paul tells him – believe on the Lord Jesus – and you shall be saved, ‘you and all your household’ Paul knows that this new life just flows, and will pass on to others. The stream so flipping water of which Jesus spoke, the Life of God, flows from one who believes. As we hear that the manned al his household are baptised, ‘and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.’

As i said last week – these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost are days of prayer. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls us to pray that people become Christian – and what a good prayer that is – but note, it is only because this ‘Christian Life’ is in Paul and Silas that it can flow to the jailer and then from his to his entire household.
Similarly for years we have prayed in these days for the Unity of the Church – but listen to the words of the Good Shepherd – listen to Jesus

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The glory – clothed with power form on high – our unity is based on the One Spirit. It is only by virtue of sharing in the Life of God that we know our unity. So again we need that Life, and then we are one. It has nothing at all to do with denominations trying to agree with one another. As I say in this months magazine, our unity is the One Life of Jesus – this is why we all drink form the same cup. Our Unity is the life of the Spirit.

I remember years ago going to a most special bible study, still I think by far the best I’ve ever been in – where the lady who took it preface her remarks by saying – you can always tel when you re with other Christians. She said no more, but there Is a bond where the Holy Spirit is flowing between believers . . .

Perhaps as we gather this morning, this may sound strange – perhaps we’ve never known this Life, this Resurrection life. Perhaps you don’t have this deep instinctual knowledge of shared life with other Chrsitans.
Again, Jesus asks, ‘do you want to be made well?’ His offer is there. Then this week, wait on God – Ask. ‘How much more will the your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’, says Jesus.

Perhaps it all may sound like a voice of long ago – we may remember those days when before the weed and thorns gradually began to get in our way, the cares and troubles of life strangled this life of God, days when Yes we knew what it was to live by the Spirit of God. So Pray – wait on God afresh

But whatever you do – remember this – Jesus has ascended and sits at the right hand of the throne of God the Father interceding for us – ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’ These words of Jesus are his eternal words, the words he prays for us – for all those who would be well – who would walk in the fulness of life as his servants. Waiting on God moment by moment, and this being vessels of his life in the world – to the Glory of God the Father.

Amen

Easter 4 – Hearing the voice of Jesus

Easter 4
John 10:22-30

Hearing the voice of Jesus

My sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me

Amongst my most irritating habits is thinking about something else whilst someone is talking to me. As Sarah will  readily attest, what is really irritating is that after being accused of not listening, I repeat back pretty much word for word what she has just said to me . . . thereby proving that I have heard . . . but of course I haven’t heard at all!

I haven’t been attentive and responsive to what was said to me.

We are in the season of The Resurrection. The season of the call to New Life – the Life of the Children of God. Hearing that call is literally Vital. If we do not hear the call to Life we remain dead in the old life. Jesus you may remember emphasises the blessedness of those who have not seen, yet have believed. That dear brothers and sisters is us. We his church are those who have Heard and believed. As St Paul says, ‘Faith comes through hearing’ Romans 10:17. For we Christians ‘Hearing is believing’ Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. This is why we stand for the gospel, to Hear Jesus.

One of the things we notice about John’s gospel if we are attentive listeners is how often Jesus speaks of the significance of Hearing. So when today we hear Jesus say ‘My sheep hear my voice’, we may well remember hearing in John 5

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.

‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

Very Truly – in Greek ‘Amen! Amen!’ [Return to this re receiving the Eucharist.] Not just Amen, but Amen Amen! Twice in two consecutive verses. Amen Amen. Jesus is speaking Words of Deep Truth, Amen! Amen! like a trumpet call to bring us to attention
Anyone who hears my word and believes God has passed form death to Life. Amen, Amen! the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live . . . and then that perhaps makes us think of Lazarus! Who hears the voice of the Son of God and passes from death to Life. ‘Lazarus! Come out!’

The Resurrection of Lazarus is not as it were a sign of The General Resurrection of the dead – for if it were he would be here with us to this day. No the Resurrection of Lazarus is a Sign of what happens to those who hear the voice of Jesus. They come out from death to Life. They enter the Life of the Resurrection, the Life of the Risen One. In which the Life is one of response to the voice of Jesus. That is their very Life.

His voice literally Animates – Enlivens. His Command is Life!

We have learned to Hear his voice – to respond to his command. Those who have heard His voice have moved from death to life.

This is clear in John’s first letter

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. We’ve heard Jesus. Whoever does not love abides in death. Has not heard the voice of Jesus, has not come out from the place of death, to the place of Life. ‘you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice’

Why do we love one another? Because we are responding to the voice of Jesus, we reveal He is our lIfe in so doing. We have heard His voice and so we love one another. But we are responding to his voice. The word Obedience is from a latin root which means to Truly hear! One who lives in accordance with the voice of Jesus is one who has truly heard the voice of Jesus and to hear the voice of Jesus is to pass from the old way of Sin and death to new Life in Him

My sheep hear my voice. What does it mean to be one of Jesus’ sheep? It means that we belong to the Shepherd – put in terms which make this clearer we recognise Him to be our King. The Shepherd was the Image of the King. So we find Jesus walking in Solomon’s porch. He is in the Kings door – no wonder they are asking Him, are you the Anointed One? Are you the King? As Jesus has said – The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. – Jesus walks in the Kings gate to the Temple. The Temple the place from which flowed the life giving water of the Life of God, through the King.
Throughout the story of the children of Israel, the King was called to be the source of Life. The king whose Life was devoted to God was Life giving, a good shepherd. The Life of the King was intimately woven together with the fortunes of the people, and this life giving nature of the King was epitomised in the Temple from where the Life flowed.

Lives woven together with the Good shepherd. ‘My sheep hear my voice, I Know them.

Regrettably we live in world where relationships are horribly thin . . . we may even say that we know someone whom we have never met. We may be ‘FB friends’, but to Know someone in the Scriptures goes much much further. It the the verb used to describe intimacy between a husband and a wife. To Know is to Love and to surrender oneself to. To be identified with – Jesus in saying ‘I know [my sheep]’ is saying he has surrendered his life for them, has woven His lIfe together with that of His sheep so that He is their Life. If we have heard and respond to the voice of Jesus, we are his sheep, His eternal Life is woven together with ours

My sheep hear my voice, I Know them.

My sheep hear my voice, I Know them . . . they follow me

Jesus says, ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’

Those who belong to Jesus, his sheep, hear his voice, they respond to it – they are Animated and enlivened by His command. This is the meaning of faith! Do you believe in Him? Then your life should correspond to His! How do we know we have passed from death to Life? How do we Know that we are Jesus’ sheep? Because He is our Life! His Life is ours and we delight in responding to Him.

You may remember last week – and we considered the climber who climbed that great cliff without a rope? This was his Life – it was what he lived to do. Do you remember what the climber said after he had climbed the mountain, not – ‘I am so glad that is over, that was so scary – I was so afraid.’ But That was so good! So delightful. We know we are the sheep of Jesus when we enter into the knowledge of Jesus of the Goodness and delight of responding to his voice, of loving one another!