Easter 2 – One Life

Sermon for Easter 2 – 2018

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-23

‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’
1 Jn 1:3

As I was reminded vividly last week – words change their meanings over time. We were reading the collect for Easter Day from the Book of Common prayer and it includes these words ‘We humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires’ Grace preventing us? Puts into our minds good ideas? So is God’s grace trying to stop good ideas?? Very confusing – until you realise that prevent used to mean – ‘go in front of’

Well our epistle from our beloved John, has a similar issue – or rather a word that’s meaning has weekened. When he says ‘truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’ he is pointing to something much richer and deeper than ‘we can now hang out with God as we would with a friend’ – or as a cartoon strip used to put it, ‘Coffee with Jesus’. The Deep meaning of this word is Shared Life, Participation in Life.

This is the deep meaning of the Easter mystery, that through it, we may become participants in the very life of God, or become His Children as John has it at the beginning of his gospel – we may share in his Life, the Life of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit which he has breathed upon us.
As of old God breathed into Adam in the act of Creation, so as St Paul puts it, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new Creation.’

And unless we begin to understand this and take hold of it, we never get off first base in Christian Life, for Christian Life IS the Life of Christ, crucified and risen. We are baptised into his death and raised to new life with him. Again, St Paul, ‘since you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on thing above.’ As I have been at pains to point out as we have expired the Lord’s prayer in our evening gatherings, this prayer is not as it were a firing a dart into the unknown heavens in the vague hope someone might hear it, rather it is the Expression of Christian Life.

Well, this may well be news to some of us. Certainly it is not the prevalent understanding of Christianity which is that Christians are people who ‘believe certain things to be true, and then try and live by their beliefs – more or less successfully and if unsuccessfully can be set up as ‘hypocrites’’.
Just this past weekend I read the annual article on ‘how can anyone believe what Christians believe’ – as if it was assent to a set of facts that made you Christian – rather than that to be Christian is to be born anew, to be a participant in the Life of God, to have a share in this Life of God manifested in Jesus. But then, maybe it is just easier to believe in the fact of the resurrection, and get on with your life . . .
This Life we see manifested in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ in other words, they had but One Life – the Life of the Risen Christ – breathed into them. We may well be struck by what follows ‘no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common’. And we might read that as ‘they thought sharing what they had was a good idea’ which of course it is, but that is missing the point. This is simply the same thing – they had one life. Not one of them had part of their life which was separated out from the other. The Life was Shared – there was just one life amongst them – that of the Risen Jesus.

And look at what happened! ‘With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’ Well of course their testimony had power – that Life was evident to anyone who looked at the Church – they had fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ – one in heart and soul – just One Life – the Life of the Risen Lord. In looking at the church you saw the Risen Christ!

This episode is followed by one of the least preached on passages in the New Testament. The story of Ananias and Sapphira – where they both drop dead! Why? Well they sell a field to help out with things, but keep some of the proceeds back. They act as if they have a life separate from the Life of the Church, separate from the Life of the Risen Jesus. And so it comes to pass. They don’t participate in this new life, and to cap it all, they lie about it. The Life isn’t evident – it isn’t manifested in them, for they have cut themselves off from Fellowship, from sharing in the Life of God in the Church. They cut themselves off from Life – they die.

All of which brings us to Thomas – whom I dare to call a model disciple. Again – we have a problem with words – for we are so drilled in the way of understanding ‘belief’ in terms of ‘facts’ and doubt in those terms also.
As if they were something separate from Jesus’ We believe these things ‘about Jesus’ we might say . . . but that is not ‘belief’ in Jesus – for Belief in Jesus is to identify ourselves with Him, with His Life.
Thomas does not need to touch and feel – he purely needs an encounter with The Life . . . which was from the beginning.
And he moves in true terms from ‘unbelief’ or Death – that is ‘not identifying his life with that of Jesus’ – to Belief, to Life – ‘My Lord and My God’. He declares Jesus to be His Life – for this is the meaning of those words. Our Lord – the One whom we take our direction from – our God – that is The Very centre of our existence. He has passed from darkness of unbelief, to the lIght of Life in Christ – and let us never forget that it is this same Thomas who goes out into the World to spread the message of Christ -and establishes perhaps the oldest still existing manifestation of that Life -the Church which bears his name in India – where he is eventually martyred. I
t is in many regards a travesty that Thomas bears the moniker ‘doubting’ – rather we might say he is the first true convert to this Life of Christ.

Like the other disciples he has been in the presence of Jesus but not seen. He says to Jesus ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus answers ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except they come through me’ – no one can know the Life of the Father unless they share in my life for I AM the Way. Not ideas about me, or facts about me, I AM.

And again Philip goes on ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘all this time I AM with you, Philip, and you do not know me?’ To become a disciple of Jesus is to move from unbelief to belief, from not knowing him (as Peter declares three times) that is not sharing in his Death and Life – to Knowing Him. To sharing in his death and Life.

Briefly to digress – these words Jesus to Philip might be addressed to the Church today. I think of our young people who told me that ‘being a Christian’ we knowing someone was there for them. But that is not it at all – rather we are for God. Does not Jesus perhaps say to us – ‘all this time I AM with you, and you do not Know me?’ Do not share in my life, because you still think it is all about your life?

Thomas moves from not Knowing Jesus, to Knowing Him and as he himself prophesied before Jesus raised Lazarus, ‘let us go with Him, that we might die with Him’
————
Thomas I think is very like the two women who went to the tomb on Easter morning. They had pinned their lives on him and he had taken their lives to the Cross. So Thomas seemed to know that following Jesus would lead to his death. What he did not see, what he could not believe, was that following Jesus to his death would eventuate in being raised with Jesus to newness of Life – to sharing in the Life of Jesus, to Knowing Him, in the deepest sense . . . Life with Him is all that is Left –

Yet – Knowing Jesus in this sense is not a message about having ‘a personal relationship with God in Jesus’. As if it is about ‘knowing he is there for us’. No, It is about becoming part of His body in which his life resides. It is about knowing that Life which is shared around HIs body, for we do not have it for ourselves. We can only know it in fellowship with God and with one another – loving him with all we have and are AND our neighbour as ourselves. There is no such thing as an unchurched Christian. We only Know Jesus, His Life as part of His body

Note how often John uses the first person plural . . .

this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and [we have] heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship [our life, our very existence] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Our readings leave us with the question – ‘Do we Know this Life, amongst us?’ ‘Do We Know God in Christ – not you or you or you, or me – but do we know this life amongst us?’ Is an encounter with us an encounter with the Living God for in truth his Life is Ours? Can we speak in truth about our life? Can we proclaim with confidence the resurrection of Jesus, because this Life is manifested amongst us?

This is what our beloved patron Saint, John, calls us to, as Thomas is called – from unbelief to belief, from death to Life – from lives in separation, calling things our own – to Life shared and flowing between us, manifesting the very lIfe of God in our midst . . .

. . . for ‘these things written so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.

May we in Truth say ‘‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’

May we with Thomas declare ‘My Lord and My God’

Amen

Through the Bible in a year – January 17

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 35-36; John 13; Psalm 23-24

Yesterday we noted how John only draws the disciples into the narrative as he needs them. Always the focus is Christ and it perhaps comes as some surprise to us to realise that we have got so far through the gospel and only hear the words of Peter for a second time. “Lord where are you going”. Jesus’ reply to Peter speaks deeply of the significance of His work that he will accomplish in ‘doing the will of the one who sent me’. “Where I am going, you cannot now come”

John’s focus is not discipleship, for we cannot now go where Jesus goes – he is The Way. At this point in the narrative he has not yet gone. It is only the completed work of Christ, Crucified and Risen that makes possible the life of the disciple. He is the door. His Life must be as it were laid open. He does it all.

Peter is revealed as utterly helpless. He cannot even bring himself to allow Christ to serve him in washing his feet. He who as yet cannot be the passive recipient of service must learn that he can only receive Life. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped, the way to that tree was barred to the sons of Adam.  Most especially, here he cannot grasp what it is to be a disciple. He cannot live as a disciple. He cannot take up his cross, he cannot lay down his life. For as yet he has no life of his own to lay down. The life of the disciple of Jesus is the Life of the Risen Christ set free in the world at his resurrection. There is no other Life, there is not other Way, there is no other Truth. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped.

“You have laid a table before me . . .”

Through the Bible in a Year – January 15

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 31-32; John 11:28-57; Psalm 20-21

In a sense what follows next in the story of Jacob foreshadows the Exodus. Jacob has entered the territory of Laban under one set of terms and found himself indentured. Yet as the Israelites plunder the Egyptians who first gave them hospitality and then enslaved them, so  Jacob plunders Laban and makes off, only to be pursued. The story parts company with the Exodus at this point, and in one other key respect – for in the story of the Exodus that is to come, God is more clearly to the forefront of the liberation. And in coming to the water, it is not the advancing Egyptians that strikes fear into ‘Israel’, but the angel of the LORD.

In the same way that the crossing of the Red Sea will irrevocably mark Israel as God’s chosen people, so Jacob is marked as he crosses the ford of the Jabbok at Penuel ‘ as the sun rose upon him . . . limping because of his hip’.

It is in this encounter with the Living God – which turns death to Life – one is encountered in the darkness of night – a voice breaking through into our consciousness like the sound of many waters – “Lazarus! Come out!”

How then can we ignore so great a Salvation – for we have seen the face of the Lord and Lived

Through the Bible in a Year – January 14

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 29-30; John 11:1-27; Psalm 19

Throughout the story of the Patriarchs there are rich elements which are as much comedic as anything – perhaps none less than the deceits between the deceiver Jacob and Laban, as they wrestle with one another (a foreshadowing of the life of Israel with the LORD). Not least in the wonderful set up of Jacob having laboured for seven years for Rachel, to wake up and find Leah in the marriage bed . . . Again there are common themes. Marriage within the broader family, the well, the two spouses echoing Hagar and Sarah, one barren the other blessed – yet as before the one who is barren finally gives birth to a ‘saviour’ in Joseph as Sarah had borne Isaac, the one who dies, yet he lives.

We would no doubt wish for a tidier picture – a neater engagement – a more moral story – but then of course it would truly bear little relevance to the story of our lives. However strange the story of the patriarchs is to us culturally, those who inhabit it are as recognisable to us as those who look us in the mirror. We can only wonder that the Holy One deigns to work out his purposes through frail human flesh. Wonder, and Worship. And certainly our reading from John blows all our senses of moral and right to the four winds

Wonder and Worship – perhaps the pre-eminent Christian posture – is all that we can do before the telling of the story of the death of Lazarus. We cannot hope that God will work in the messiness of our lives, if we hope at the same time he will dance to our tune. There is no neat and tidy healing for Lazarus. The Healer delays. His ways are not our ways. We would not come to save folk like ourselves. He does. We cannot but rush to try and help, he does not. What we do avails little. His Purpose overarches everything. His words leave us staggered. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

That which is humanly impossible – coming to save faithless deceivers – refusing to do the obvious ‘Right’ thing. All we can do is worship and follow. We cannot see the way – Faith alone is an adequate response. “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, The Son of God, the one coming into the world”