Love Resurrection

Sermon for Pentecost 2023

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .

Whoever fears has not been made perfect in love

Fear kills Love

Fear puts up boundaries  behind which we hide – it is the fig leaf behind which we hide – from God. God in Jesus calling us like Lazarus to rise from the death which is Fear, to the Light of Life

Last week we explored part of the work we had to do ahead of Pentecost – to embrace one another in love – to come heart to heart that the healing power of Christ might dwell amongst us – in that lovely image I shared from a colleague who dealt with a very difficult congregation member by hugging them – coming heart to heart . . . (we too readily understand that metaphors are always bodily because we bodily creatures. People talk about a heart to heart, because they know the power of the embrace of love.

And so fear is shown the door. Kicked into the lake of fire where it belongs with all of Satan’s works, for fear is the work of the devil, and the death of Jesus is about nothing if it isn’t about destroying the works of the Devil amongst which the chief is fear. My friend had a aggressive anti vaxxer in his congregation and in the imagery we used last week of Christs vulnerable embrace of All mankind upon the cross, he walked up to him and hugged him, and the healing started to flow between them. Our faith is SO bodily!

As I said the other week when Lisa shared her story about her flight attendant friend – we all have this power in us – for Christ is in everyone, and we are in Christ, the only difference is we know it and so are set free from the Slavery of Fear

Years ago my old diocese sent all the clergy to have a full medical checkup – sort of thing that would cost several hundred dollars. I remember being asked if I engaged in any hazardous activities – I laughed, ‘you mean, apart from my work?’ He was wise enough to get the joke, and then I walked into Dunedin Diocese, the first Boudaries coruse – ‘Keeping ourselves safe in ministry’ Jesus wept. Followers of ones who goes to the cross in the name of love? Or just fans?

One of the reasons we don’t see Pentecost – which is as we said last week, and again Lisa to pick up on that beautiful phrase, is that we haven’t inhaled Jesus DNA. We are stuck on the far side of Good Friday. When Jesus first appears to his disciples they are still there – rumours of life but they are gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. After all they were his fans, not his followers, not yet his disciples for they’d turned back from following because they were slaves to fear. If the Jews had killed Jesus, wouldn’t they also be out to kill his followers – indeed . . .

Peter we know is driven by fear. When Jesus says he is about to go the way of the cross, he rebukes Jesus, ‘Lord this must never happen to you’,  . . . he’s a fan, not a follower – and Jesus sees his oldest adversary facing him with that old lie about keeping safe. Get behind me Satan. Satan controls Peter – he in slavery to fear . . .

Peter doesn’t get this – he wants to make up for his failure so bangs on about how much he loves Jesus – he really loves Jesus – I will never desert you . . . and then he does. He is afraid, and in that moment speaks a truth we miss – he says ‘I never knew the man’ – and that isn’t a lie – it’s the truth. The ‘Jesus’ he loved was not Christ in Truth. He didn’t know him or love him.

This is why Jesus knows Peter will deny him, because he sees Satan pulling Peter’s strings. Satan is sifting him like wheat, but Jesus loves Peter. As he says to Peter, and all the others who will not YET take up their cross and joyfully follow him for Love’s Sake – as he speaks with them at the last supper, he says ‘where I am going now you cannot come [because you are enslaved by fear], but you will come after’

Nd then on the cross, Jesus, who himself took on our frail human flesh which is the soil in which fear takes root, takes on fleshly fear and triumphs over it by Love.  and he pours out his life on his followers – breathing on them, receive the Holy Spirit  . . . receive the Indestructible Life, the Eternal Life that is Love. Breathe in my DNA – be born again as children of God, not ruled by fear, but compelled by Love. As St John puts it, this is how we know we are from God, that we love our brothers and sisters . . .

Fear kills Love. People refuse the Cross of Love because we are afraid. The fear of Peter abandoned Jesus to his fate, and the fear of the crowds, the fear of Pilate, the fear of the Pharisees killed Love incarnate . . . Fear kills Love – as St John tells us, the one who fears has not been made complete in love for Love casts out fear.

But, as St Paul reminds us, Love never fails . . . I often see love most clearly in the lives of those wmongst us who most people don’t notice, just quietly getting on with loving in often terrible circumstances – revealing love, suffering long, keeping no record of wrongs, rarely speaking about Jesus, because they have become Jesus . . . they have his DNA woven into them

For it is Love that is indestructible. You can kill it, out of fear, but it just gets up! And walks right back into the lions den . . . this is Pentecost. And look at the difference in Peter! Jesus has poured out his DNA and now Jesus is back! The Body of Christ, the disciple body is gathered – and Peter standing with the eleven, stands once more before the crowds. Here is Christ again, facing the Jews, the Jews whom if you remember the whole speech says ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ – they are witnessing to Jesus by doing the Jesus thing – rising from the dead, turning the other cheek, coming back over and over relentlessly, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who persecute, revealing themselves as Children of God, living by the power of the indestructible life of Jesus.

The eternal Life of God who Is indestructible because he Is love

St Peter no doubt would now echo the words of St Paul

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Peter, but more in the disciples body as a whole, Jesus is present once more. Going back to Love once more those who have slain Love once, Love returns. Love Resurrection.

And we know what happened next – the church starts to grow. Why? because people need to know that love is unconditional before they respond. They will hit out and thrash like a toddler tantrum wanting to know that it is true, that there is nothing that they can do that will separate them from love, for the world screams out the satanic lie ‘Love is conditional’.

For some that means over and over again suffering for their sake, ‘In the name of Jesus’ – but this is of course to use Lisa’s lovely phrase – Jesus DNA. They have received the Holy Spirit, breathed in his DNA – and have received the gift of Eternal Life – Life that can go on and on receiving all that fear will throw at it, and over and again rise from the dead.

Over the years as the church learnt, the blood of the martyrs was the seedbed of the church, but it wasn’t simply that death, it was the quiet patient acts of Christians who with the life of Jesus in them, blessed those who persecuted them, blessed and didn’t curse – who were not overcome by evil – by fear – but overcame evil by good. It wasn’t simply that they were doing what Jesus told them. No! We Must understand this – it was not simply that they were being obedient to Jesus, Jesus was inside them by the Spirit. They had the same Jesus who endured the shame and humilitation of the Cross in the name of Love, who would die for those who hated him, who knew the power of the indestructible power of Love.

So Peter along with the other disciples step back into the public square, not in their own power but that of the Holy Spirit, with Jesus DNA in them, driven to Love, facing death in the face of the Roman Authorities, maybe even some of those who had driven the nails into Jesus, acing death in the faces of the Scribes and the Pharisees who hated Jesus and wanted him dead  – facing death in the faces of the crown, many who had cried out ‘Crucify him!’ Indeed St Peter says, ‘this Christ, whom YOU crucified’ . . . In the face of Death, Love gets up – Love Resurrection . . . Jesus is back.

For those who are united to Christ – The only thing to be afraid of is fear itself, which destroys the soul . . .

Love Crucified Arose. Jesus is back!

Alleluia, Amen.

Repent! Seek His Face!

Sermon for Epiphany 3

Repentance – Seeking God’s Face

My Heart says ‘Come! Seek His Face’

Your Face Lord do I seek

Ps 27:8

There is perhaps nothing more awe inspiring than a new born baby. It is a profoundly sacred moment -bringing Life into the World.

But new born babies are not as some would have it, blank slates. One of the ways the contemplation of new birth stops me In my tracks is the simple fact that we are born into this world seeking a face, and more, not only are we born looking for a face, within 3 days of birth we are looking for a face which according to our particular culture is thought to be beautiful . . . and we hadn’t even had time to learn how to use tik-tok or other social media to learn the stereotypes . . . We are born looking for a beautiful face . . . but then something happens to our sight.

Rather like the shepherd with his sheep, or the woman with the coin, we are born into the world looking for something we have lost . . . and then we forget . . . We think we learn to see, but increasingly our seeing blinds us.

We find ourselves as a family in the flood season of family birthdays. Our three babies hit the one year mark, Miriam is 3, Ella, Megan, Sam and myself also have birthdays around this time. And birthdays bring presents, and rather like the teddy bears I introduced you to last week there are a multiplicity, which seems to blind.

 To this day I am almost haunted by a memory of Sam being given a small model helicopter – possibly at age 2 – and how his sisters just wanted to ply him with lots of other presents. Yet he was absorbed in turning this one thing over and over in his hand. As we get older we get trained out of the wonder of seeing things as they are and thinking we see and know . . . and seeking a face?

It’s curious, but from the face seeking  of infancy we start to actively hide from faces. Even, tragically those of our own children – Paediatricians note how there is a huge increase in children at 6months who don’t smile – for their parents aren’t seeking their face . . . and again, have you noticed how you might be in a social context, say a café, and there are people whom you don’t know. You are absently mindedly gazing towards someone and then they look in your direction – we seem to know we’re being looked at – and immediately you look away. ‘Don’t stare, it’s rude!’ we’re told in our childhood and we learn not to see.  Bizarrely, the more we are given to look at – Look Here! Look There! The less we see . . . The more faces, the more we look away.

I always remember one of my mentors, a man of much missionary experience saying how odd it was for him to return to England where people asked, ‘how are you?’ without of course being remotely interested in the answer. He compared this with his experience in Africa, where the standard greeting was ‘I see you’. We seem predisposed in our culture to flee from the connection of the gaze . . .

Last week we heard from our own St John’s gospel of how Jesus starts his mission, which is  ‘to draw all men to’ himself, and Seeing is front and centre. How it begins John the Baptist crying out – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! – Open the eye of your heart . . .

Sin as I’ve been saying is disconnection. Disconnection brought about by blindness – we are groping for something, but in the wrong place. This is picked up in Jesus first recorded words in the Gospel of John. He turns, sees the disciples following and asks ‘what are you looking for?’ You might well say that ‘sinners’, those whom Jesus comes for, are those looking for something in the wrong place. ‘What ARE you looking for?’ What a question.

But first Jesus sees them – He is also looking . . . we’ll return to this shortly.

They said to him, ‘Where do you abide?’ to translate more literally – interestingly we are looking in the wrong place, and they ask Jesus to show them the place where he is staying -resting, abiding – and he invites them to ‘Come and See’ – and they came and saw where he abided, and abided with him . . .

This week from Matthew, we hear how Jesus, the light spoken of by the prophet, shining by the Sea of Galilee in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali opens his ministry with the words – ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . .’ It’s near – it’s so close, just a breath away, if you simply repented, you would see it . . .

John in his gospel never uses the word ‘Repent’ – rather his language is of Seeing and Knowing, seeing and knowing God what is more . . . As Jesus says to the disciples – If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you know him and have seen him . . .

Repent. A much abused word . . . This is not about ‘saying sorry’. In fact you will have to scour the scriptures to find this. Yes, there is sorrow for our sins, after all if you are missing the mark, looking in the wrong place, then you are also missing out on Life . . .

The word in Greek is metanoia – which we tend to translate as ‘change your mind’ – so influenced are we by the idea that what makes us special is our rational mind. But the Noia which we must meta – the nous which we must change – is the eye of the heart – redirect your sight

Redirect our sight towards the source of our life. The Lord is my light . . .

This is repentance – turning to seek the face of God.

The Psalmist hears his heart speaking to him, saying ‘Seek His face’ – this is the deepest voice within us, the voice of the heart – ‘what are you looking for?’ An answer comes from within our heart, seek His Face . . .

Each morning especially at this time of year, I like to get some early morning Sun. God blesses is in the Sun which is an agent of his life giving purposes as is all else in Creation. The Sun is sustained by God’s goodness, and so as we look towards the Sun in a real sense we see the goodness of God streaming towards us – we See his Goodness.

If we truly see, then we see the image of God walking towards us in every person. We see in  our food, God’s Goodness coming towards us.

Yet, we grow up in a world of fishing nets, where we are told that it is our work that sustains things, and the curse of the secular age, a bitter poison drunk by so many in the church is that all things are held up by our hard work – but they’re not. Everything is sustained – held in being by God.

Then we think that all we have we have because we worked hard. We are not seeing right. Everything comes from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you . . .  the words of the Eucharist.

All good things come from God – Look! Open your eyes 

Let me give you a simple personal illustration. Did I acquire Sarah? Funnily enough when we got married this was part of the story. Because I worked two summers for her father, putting up marquees, and at the wedding I joked that I’d got off lightly as Jacob had had to work seven years for Rachel, and fortunately I went on, Derek only had one daughter!

But of course that was nonsense. I didn’t work for Sarah, I didn’t earn her.

So, what was the story. Back in 1982 a travelling preacher came to town. Luis Palau from Argentina. Well one night I came far more alive in Christ -woke up to what all this church business had been about, and straight afterwards I saw an apparition – a young woman in a blue dufflecoat and yellow wellies ran up and gave me a hug . . . God’s gift coming to me . . .

And the more I meditated on this, and all the goodness that has flowed from that, none of which I had much of a hand in – and then you see the Sun, and feel the warmth, and you realise that the world is alive with the goodness of God . . . always coming towards you . . . sheer Gift

It’s all Gift.  The Life is continually coming from above – we look to The Sun, the source of Life – listening to the voice of the heart which says, seek his face – and THEN we start to grow up from the earth, to be lifted up. Not making a life for ourself, but receiving Life and Goodness from God. For the disciples, fishing had been their life, it was how they ‘made their living’, but leaving their nets revealed that Life didn’t come from their efforts . . .

When Jesus tells the disciples I will make you fish for men, he is invoking something made clear in John’s gospel. There, Jesus says – ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to myself’ – it’s exactly the same verb used for the hauling of the nets full of fish out of the water when Jesus meets the disciples after his resurrection on the shore of Galilee. The more we grow up towards the source of Life, the more our lives become Life giving, and draw those around us in the same direction.

I started out speaking of two of Jesus’ three parables of the lost. The coin, the sheep, but then there’s the prodigal. The parable of repentance. And the prodigal starts home – looking for where his father lives, because he remembers it as a place of blessing, of life, where food came from – and he thinks it is all about him ‘Saying Sorry’ . . . that’s what he thinks repentance is, and perhaps you do too? It’s a toxic thought. I think we project our own sinful desire for those who have wronged us to come grovelling back onto God . . .

But The Father isn’t interested in our ‘how sorry we are speeches’ – he just wants us home. That is repentance – turning to see Him as the source of all goodness – for everything that is wrong in the world today can be traced to our not trusting God to be Good, not seeing, tryig to take it all into our own hands . . .

You see, Repentance is not about God looking for your apology – he is not looking for your apologies – he’s looking for your face . . . And deep within us, where he abides, in our heart a voice is saying ‘Seek my face’.