Sunday, 26 November 2017
Sermon for Christ the King 2017
Perhaps today more of a meditation or collection of thoughts instead of Sermon!
Last week I shyed away from the Gospel reading because I felt I was that slave who had buried the treasure without even gaining interest on it before handing it back. I was the slave cast out into the place of gnashing teeth. This was a scary pace to be in, so I avoided going there.
This week I am faced with the decision whether I am a sheep or a goat? Needless to say if I am found to be a goat I head once again to the place of gnashing teeth and torment.
Yet I am also aware that Jesus always calls and always accepts us as who we are.
We have got so used to thinking and behaving as if God was somewhere else… out there… beyond, and have forgotten the image of God we all carry within us. As Richard Rohr said this week our best access to God is to realize that he is a lot closer than we had given credit for.. he is within. Our transformation comes from realizing our union with God is right before our eyes… God is right here right now.
The king stands before all the nations (all the world) he stands before us and we look around and recognize that there are people alongside us who we think do not belong before the king…. (Not of our club) He then tells us “come you are blessed”
Behaving in simple human terms to one another, if you like reacting to the image of God in others, means we are blessed.
When we think of God as “beyond”, when we put God “out there” it is all too easy to see “failure “ in ourselves. We do not meet the mark, we do not make the grade, …. The sad thing is we never will because we are measuring in human terms.
The parable of the talents last week was not about money or investment, nor was it in human terms about reward and punishment. The two slaves were received equally, the growth in talents were given back to the master, the slaves enjoyed the success of the master. They remained slave and master.
Today is the feast of Christ the King.
We see this portrayed more often than not as Jesus reigning from the cross. Our crucified Lord is our King. The one who came alongside us through incarnation, becomes our King. We hail him as king.
The king before whom we stand pronounces a blessing on us as we become accepted.
In order to more successfully illustrate this point we need to head to Golgotha. The place of the cross.
What do we see as we gaze on the “Green hill”
Three crosses, not one. Jesus our King is there, the one we have followed and listened to despite our weak humanity.
What do we hear as we gaze on the crosses?
We hear Jesus talking to that good for nothing thief, that criminal, the scum we did not even think was worthy of anything… and we hear Jesus our King saying…. To him of all people….
Today you will be with me in paradise.
No gnashing of teeth here, just wonderful love and blessings.
Christ is our King… O friends rejoice!
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
Today we call Bible Sunday, a day in the year when we especially give thought and reflect on the importance and meaning to what we call “The Bible”
If we were to ask ourselves “what is the Bible” we may get a variety of answers. Furthermore if we were to ask people outside the church we would get another set of answers.
For us it usually comes in the form of a book, though for many today it may be on line or other digital form.
If we were able to ask the early Christians what was the Bible they would give a very different answer to us. For Jewish Christians growing up in the 1st century (Jesus own day and beyond) the Bible as we know it simply did not exist! Strange to think this I know.
Scriptures did exist and the scrolls were regularly read publically yet as we hear in Nehemiah they were always read … with interpretation. The Word of God was never restricted to what was written on the page the Word of God included “the interpretation”.
The Jewish collection of books (what we might describe loosely as “Old Testament” or Tenakh in Hebrew, was not fixed until well into the second century. There are just 5 Torah Book, 13 Prophet books and 4 collections of hymns. (22 books all told)
The New Testament as we know it was argued about for years and consensus was hard to come by and it was not until the end of the fourth century that something was decided and in fact a further deliberation came in the late 16th century that a decision was finally made on the New Testament Canon.
This also excludes the situation that some even today think the Apocrypha is or is not acceptable!! So we cannot even reach a conclusion today!
It may seem strange to us who have been so used to thinking of the New Testament that early Christians did not grow up with what we now simply take for granted. Even the thought that you did not know the gospel of Luke for example might make a huge difference to how we would approach Christmas! And many Christians did indeed not know Luke, and others who may have known Luke would not have known Matthew etc… everything was much more localized.
Perhaps one way of illustrating this for our minds today is how some churches use one hymn book, and others a different one…. Think how attached we become to hymn books!? (perhaps a poor example)
Furthermore we also have that key to scripture as Nehemiah witnessed and also the Ethiopian Eunuch…. Interpretation…. How can we understand without interpretation? This has always been key to scripture throughout Judaism and Christianity.
It goes without saying that Martin Luther’s battle cry “Sola Scriptura” Scripture alone was actually worked out with very rigorous teaching and interpretation…. Even if only to cope with clear contradictions and anomalies we come across in the differing texts.
Biblical Scholarship particularly from the 19th century onwards has opened the pages of scripture even further, and new ancient texts have been discovered since then too. Our current Bible is sourced from hundreds if not thousands of different textual sources, words have been poured over for years now to bring fresh understanding to a text we many have believed to be set in stone.
Whoever wrote the epistle we call, to the Hebrews was probably correct when they wrote:
“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Bear in mind of course that even this was written before a word of the Gospels as we know them had been penned.
I do indeed believe in the strength and wisdom of what we may call the Word of God….. indeed I feel this more today than I did in the 1980’s and 1990s. The Bible is truly fascinating and gripping, but it only so for me because of study and learning about its intricacies. The more I read and learn the more I am able to inwardly digest what is expressed and said. It certainly takes patience too!
The Bible has forever been a text formulated and interpreted by countless believers in countless situations. It is amazing how this is. It is a lifeless thing to me without the people who read it and live through it. The Bible this way does indeed become living and active.
The Bible without a believer is empty… as illustrated by that interesting film called the Book of Eli.. the blind man who learnt by heart the words and in this way was able to save the text from destruction.
And, as has been wonderfully expressed elsewhere
“Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”
On this Bible Sunday let us give thanks for God’s word living and breathing through us. The text is nothing without the believer.
Monday, 22 May 2017
As requested by a few who heard it!
Sermon Easter 6 2017
St Magnus and St Colman
At Synod recently we reflected on the content of the Diocesan Profile. As well as making important changes to it in that it now reflects the life of the Northern Isles more prominently than it did before we also reflected on the phrase “the Dream of God for Aberdeen” a choice of words which was remarked as unfortunate.
Someone spoke about understanding the phrase “the will of God”, but the “dream of God” was something else!
Personally speaking, though I have heard the expression “will of God” more, I am still left puzzled about what t may mean.
Some people seem to use it in a way that makes me at least feel very unconnected to God.
People often ask me how it is that I know God has called me to be a priest…. I am sure the question can and should be used for any activity for that matter…. How do we know God wants us to do something… or to be something?
The answer does not in the end lie with the individual but in the community. Each of us plays a part in helping us hear God’s will.
Jesus poses us today a very uncomfortable challenge….. If you love me you will keep my commandments…. I cannot fail to hear this in a similar way to a mother saying to a child, if you do this then this will follow…
However I am not sure this is a helpful way of hearing wat Jesus is saying to us. I do not find it all that helpful to use the carrot and stick method of discipleship.
If we look more closely the “If you love me…” comes with a promise attached…. Jesus is not leaving us alone.
Jesus at the same time as saying “ If you love me…” also reminds us that Something of God is deep within us and always encouraging us.
As we move in the church calendar to Ascension and Pentecost, that time when it may be tempting to see Jesus leaving his disciples after the resurrection…. So graphically portrayed for us at Ascension Day when the Paschal Candle is removed, we need to remind ourselves of that important thing which Jesus reminded his disciples in today’s Gospel, that something of God truly remains with us and is indeed within.
So often when facing difficulties and stresses of any kind it is so tempting to think we face things on our own, without recognising or taking the time to recognise that we are not all alone after all.
I was reminded very much of this when walking along the beach the other day when I noticed the footprints in the sand. I reminded myself of that famous poem: ……
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
"You promised me Lord, that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."
This is an important thing to remember because feeling alone can be totally devastating for some people.
Furthermore the Gospel paints a picture of being drawn into God and the feast of the Ascension (on Thursday) is one way we picture this happening not just for Jesus but for us too.
We are Drawn into God, we are God’s offspring as Paul says in the court of the Areopogus in Athens. Let us not treat God or think of God as if he were apart from us… he is not above or away…. He is not something made of silver or gold.
God is closer than we ever really imagined so let us live with one another as if this was indeed the case, God is close to each one of us.
Footprints take 2!
Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord's footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace.
But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns.
For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord's, soon paralleling, His consistently.
You and Jesus are walking as true friends!
This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus' are now walking precisely in His steps.
Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, you and Jesus are becoming one.
This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger.
Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints.
They have become one.
This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is
back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Gashes in the sand. A variable mess of prints.
You are amazed and shocked.
Your dream ends. Now you pray:
"Lord, I understand the first scene, with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You."
"That is correct."
"And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps, following You very closely."
"Very good.. You have understood everything so far."
When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way."
"So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first."
There is a pause as the Lord answers, with a smile in His voice.
"You didn't know? It was then that we danced!"
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.