Pentecost 18 – Awaiting the Resurrection of the people of God

Pentecost 2018
Ezekiel 37
Acts 2

Awaiting The Resurrection of the people of God

At Easter, reflecting on the experience of the women at the tomb who ‘fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ we were reminded that the Resurrection of Jesus dismantles, shatters and devastates all our ways of understanding the world in which we believe we live. But we should be very careful of merely reflecting, of pondering and wondering, of casual day dreaming . . . before we, getting on with our lives, before getting back to what we have become accustomed to calling ‘the real world’, and move onto the next thing. Of course we are quick to dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus, to infantilize it into a vague wish for the future and ‘a better world’ for it calls into question nothing less than our very existence
Rather we need to sit with it, to Wait on this Word of life which was from the beginning – to ask, ‘what does this mean?’ – to allow it to do its work in us. This isn’t our work – it is God’s work and we must allow that space, or ignore the Resurrection, to our eternal loss. And we have been commanded to this waiting.

Last week we considered the Lord’s command to us, to Wait! To Wait for the promise of the Father – to stay put, until we were clothed with power from on high and in the Church Year we see what happens when we are thus obedient to the LORD – the Day of Pentecost – a Day equally marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment

‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’.

Only the most casual amongst us would pretend that we understand what this means . . . indeed if we dare face the Truth, we find ourselves not amongst the disciple community, but in and amongst the crowds. Even we who unthinkingly bear the name of Christ find this beyond our Knowledge . . .

We are in the crowds who see this disciple community, declaring the mighty acts of God, each of us hearing it without any need of translation, and with the crowd we ask ’What does this mean?’

Perhaps the greatest distortion of the Christian message is to transform it into something about ‘what happens when we die’. In a sense it is, but not in the sense we have comfortably taken into our lives. Treating out faith as a pass for a nice future ‘after this life’ causes us to dismiss it entirely – it is literally a ‘grave’ deception.

If we truly seek an answer to the question ‘what does this mean’? We must go with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, and allow the Risen Christ to ‘open [our] minds to understand the scriptures’. We by baptism the people of God, have been given the Scriptures that we might know what this means. How quick we are to turn to anything except the Scriptures to come us with an explanation for ‘these things that have happened’ Perhaps we find the question all but impossible to answer from the Scriptures, for they like these things that have happened are alien to ‘life in the real world’

Of course if we are to turn to the Scriptures, we must of course first recognise who we are, the people of God, baptised into His name. That apart form Him we can do nothing, that apart from what he reveals we know nothing. That the Scriptures are not just ‘another source of wisdom we can dwell on,’ but that they are God’s gift, they are our very life support. For the answer to the question, ‘what does this mean?’ is found in the Scriptures, over and over again.

We might say, well Peter explains from the prophet Joel . . . as we have heard so many times, and become accustomed to it, yet not questioned why this Pentecost outpouring is so alien to ‘our own lives’ – so perhaps another Scripture might wake us once more. And here we come to our OT reading from Ezekiel. ‘What does this mean’?
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ Before we respond from either naive acquaintance ‘Yes of Course!, or from the cave of ‘life in the real world’ ‘no’ – we ought to pause – If the strangeness of Easter and Pentecost has taught us anything, at the very least it ought to teach us humility in the face of existence – so perhaps in humility we may respond with the Son of Man – ‘O Lord God, you know.’

Why the dry bones? What are they? Who are they? ‘Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

We are cut off completely. We have been captivated, enthralled, literally been enslaved by the lives we have made for ourselves, lives which can only wither for their source is in themselves. They are not trees by streams drawing life from beyond them. Indeed perhaps in this age unlike no other we have lost sense of life beyond us which we may draw upon

Who are they? As we have pondered often, what do we see of the church in these days? Would we not also cry out “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

It is of note that this reading is used in the Easter dawn vigil – as we wait on the resurrection of Jesus ‘early on the first day of the week’, for it concerns mot the resurrection f an individual, but that of a whole people . . . what is the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the King of God’s people the Jews, if it is not the Resurrection of the whole people?

They lie in the dust of death, through ‘ignorance and unbelief’ – choosing ‘life on their own terms’ they have not listened to the voice of the one who addresses them from heaven, that Life, and so they are dead. Dead in trespasses and sin.

‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive – together with Christ’

The disciples Wait – because they know they are dead in trespasses and sin. Dry bones do not live of their own accord – they must Wait!

There is a clue to this in what we have come to call Jesus’ restoration of Peter. Actually it is better to call it Jesus confronting Peter with his sin. Why is Peter distressed because jesus asked him the third times ‘do you love me?’ because Jesus is confronting him with his sin. Peter wants to forget, wants to think that it never happened, that he really can do it on his own, if only he is given a second chance. Jesus reveals to him that he cannot. It is the Word of Jesus to Peter – so he has nothing but the command of Jesus to rest on now, to Wait till Life comes ‘from above’, till he is norm again. That Life is the source of the tongues of flame, of the proclamation of the mighty acts of God, and of Peter’s boldness in preaching, in answering the question ‘what does this mean?’ because he himself has known what it is to be raised from the Dead. He has been there, and the Lord has lifted him up

This is the meaning of these things – the disciple community, knowing themselves to have no hope apart from Christ, knowing themselves to be dead in trespasses and sin, began the journey of obedience, Waiting for the promise of the Father, and God made them alive – together with Christ. Easter and Pentecost are one. Jesus the Obedient one is raised to life in triumph, so to his people – those who show themselves to be his people by Waiting on him

Here is the dilemma we face. A problem created by the Church year – which is a gift, but can be a hindrance. For if we are not careful, we will just move on, in part we will listen to the voice which sees the Apostles clothes in power and subtly suggests, ‘move along, nothing to see here. this is nothing to do with you . . .’

But if we are the people of God, then it is EVERYTHING to do with us.

Maybe it is precisely because this Day of Pentecost is such a day marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment,  demolishing our impoverished way of understanding, that we move so swiftly on . . .

May we be a people who WAIT. Wait like Lazarus for that voice that calls us from beyond ourselves and our the live we have made for ourselves, that calls us out of the illusion we have come to call ‘The Real World’, which is never more than our vain imaginings . . May we be a people who Know that apart from that Word we can do nothing. May we like Peter Know our condition and wait for the voice until it summons us forth until it Raises us.

The Voice of Jesus to Lazarus is also the voice of Jesus to all those called by His name in this day. A Loud Voice crying out to us from beyond the grave, the sleep of death which is the life we have made for ourselves, summoning us to something beyond our understanding, a world where Christ is all and is in all.

Amen

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