Sunday, 21 April 2013
Sundays sermon so eagerly waited for.
My friend Rodney thought it was worthy of hearing again!!
"No wonder we do not loose heart" and again, "Set your troubled hearts at rest" John 14
I have used these many times at funerals and at other times of crisis, it is patently so obvious that it is far easier to say them than to take them to heart, and to feel really comforted by them.
In reality we do often tend to loose heart and our hearts despite our Faith, continue to be troubled.
We have all known people, if not ourselves who have carried very heavy hearts with them for a very long time, lives crippled and crumpled by suffering.
What real impact will that comfort have, because we all feel that for these people something plainly awful has happened, or is happening, something which rightly brings us and them to question an understanding of life, probably makes us want to in some way question the importance of Faith, and for many to will raise questions about the so called "God of Love" who as far as we are concerned should not allow these sorts of things to happen, especially to the people we feel close to.
So where are we really to find comfort and strength if words fail us, and formulas seem to have lost some of their potency even if they had any
Strangely enough these issues and problems have beset people of Faith and the Christian church for many thousands of years. We have plainly become more complex and clever as the years role by, but the fundamental questions remain the same
The Jews developed a fairly rigorous system to allow and enable them to get through life. It became known as the Torah and with this to hand alongside other books of careful interpretation of it, the nation grew and developed into a nation of sincere and faithful people. The whole of their lives being bound up with God, and at the same time the way in which this was made possible was through the keeping of the Torah, (teachings)
The Early church too began to develop a fairly strict list of rules for all baptised followers. This became so guarded at one time that only the initiated were allowed to know it, and scholars have named this, "the disciplina arcani" the hidden disciplines, because they were so secret. This developed partly due to the scene in which the church had to live, often with lives threatened and frequently under persecution, but it also developed because of the tendency for any group of people to begin to regularise things in order to keep everything tidy and to some extent under control.
There are problems with this approach, and Johns Gospel seems to be aware of these difficulties, and appears to have been written, to combat the move towards presenting the gospel of Jesus as a series of rules and procedures, against thinking it could be contained in a set of doctrines and creeds.
The writer of John's Gospel feels that The gospel of Jesus was running the risk of being made to impersonal, and he wanted to redress the balance towards the relationship between the believer and Jesus.
This is the meaning behind the sixth of the "I am" sayings found in the Gospel, "I am the way the truth and the life." It is not a statement about the exclusiveness of the Christian way, but rather a pointer, an antidote, to those who tended to govern their faith by rules and prescriptions. instead of the person and example of Jesus.
For to have seen the Son was to have seen the Father. Jesus was the way.. It all comes down to the relationship between the believer, Jesus and the Father.
John Fenton wrote on this point,
" Jesus himself is the way; there is very little teaching of Jesus in Johns Gospel except on the subject of who he is. He will be present with his disciples through the paraclete; and his presence will make it unnecessary for them to have any teaching on what is the way in which they are to live. Similarly, he does not provide them with knowledge in the forms of doctrines to be believed; he himself is the truth, and they will have the truth only in their relationship with him. And the life that he brings cannot be separated from him: gift and giver are identical; in him was life."
This brings us back to the point where I started, "Set your troubled hearts at rest, Trust in God... Trust also in me."
Our support, doesn't come in the form which we really feel that we want very often. We would often like neat answers, and certainly an end to what we feel is tragic and awful sadness and suffering.
Our support is deeper and more important than that, it comes in the form of a person, the person of Jesus. Not in the form of answers or words. Just as often for us our support comes from those who are just with us and loving us, instead of trying to give us advice or answers to the problems we blurt out to them.
Cast your burden on me, come to me he said if you are heavy laden. Share yourself with me and I will share myself with you, and in the Eucharist we believe we do this in the most intimate of ways by allowing his own being to physically rest within us, to become part of us "that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us."
Jesus does not give us the answers, he gives us his love and shares himself with us. This is where the power to overcome will proceed from.
Sharing our love with those who are suffering and with Jesus who suffered for us yet was raised to be our comforter.
Monday, 1 April 2013
Jesus is a pretty remarkable character when you think about it.
We really know very little about him considering his impact on human history, we do not really know when he was born or where, he may not have been learned and it wold not appear he wrote much anyway if he did. It does appear he could read and he appears to have been able to tell stories.
We do not know when he was born though notionally “Dennis the Short” Dionysius to his friends suggested the year 0, but he got this wrong! And now we think it was 4 or 6 BC which always feels odd when you say it.
He seems to have lived mostly in obscurity, he may have been a carpenter, he may have been poor, but we know he had a brief public existence that could have lasted as little as three months or as much as three years, and he never travelled more than a couple of hundred miles from his place of birth.
We know he was crucified when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.
And we certainly know that the world is different because of his influence in one way or another.
Indeed we are here today to celebrate the fact that somehow Jesus Matters to each of us, and that without his presence our lives would be utterly unrecognisable.
Furthermore somehow we say that this presence of Jesus with us today and the reason he still matters in the present tense and not the past tense is that his rose from the dead.
Don’t please expect me today to tell you how or in what sense this happened…. After all church history from then until now has differed widely on this point.
We do realise that for the early disciples like Peter, Stephen and Paul it seems the empty tomb was not very significant at all. The fact that Jesus was crucified was important and the proclamation that his life continued after three days was also significant.
How this was accomplished is unknown, how Godly or manly Jesus was is also not clear except by beliefs and doctrines set down by his followers since. You might say it was all a matter of opinion.
But you and I are here because the opinion we do share is that Jesus Matters now, as well as then.
As Christianity broke out into the Greek world and Roman Empire it was certainly more prevalent to speak of divine beings coming to earth. For the Jewish nation this notion was too difficult to swallow.
Paul seems to come down on the notion that it was after Death that Jesus was found seated at the right and of the Father, but thousands of years of controversy and discussion have probably clouded the issue.
So we are left with the “now” for us.
It has been said that the one thing we can be certain of is the now. It is the now where we can make a difference.
The past we can do nothing about, the future is yet to be, it is the present where we live. It is most real part of time for us all.
It is into the now time that we say Jesus lives alongside us. This is what has to transform what and who we are.
This is celebrated in the church not just at Easter but hopefully each time we gather together…. indeed Sunday became known as “The Lord’s Day” precisely because of this transforming power of the life of Jesus that conquers not just his own death but even the death of our very selves.
Paul Bloomer last Tuesday spoke many times about his pictures most movingly as the conquering of light over the darkness. For Christian lives the light (of Christ) has to win over the darkness of “death and destruction”. Paul portrayed this many times in his images, but we all know I expect the feelings of the times when this victory is won in our own lives.
The Passion gospel graphically portrays the times the struggle of light and dark, of death and life, are played out in the story.
The Easter Gospel likewise is constantly telling of the opposite,
the times when life wins
and the light shines through the darkness. Weary fishermen are transformed, strangers and sceptics come to believe and are made welcome,
bedraggled disciples are filled with fresh life and hope..
and even criminals are promised a part of the kingdom too.
It is from beginning to end a story of transforming power. Of the way God breaks into our lives and makes them real today. NOW.
It is a story that is lived through our own lives TODAY … NOW.
Jesus Christ is Rise today alleluia
Now is eternal life, if Risen with Christ we Stand.
We are Christ for our world today. alleluia
Today once again is Good Friday.
Today once again we stand facing the cross on which Jesus was crucified and died. It is significant that his close friends all forsook him and fled when the going got dangerous, and there is no evidence that any of his disciples were anywhere near.
Luke’s gospel records that his friends stood at a distance and watched while others brought cold comfort and sour wine to their friend as he died a most horrendous and inexplicable death.
Pilate had seen no reason for it, neither had Herod, and yet the general will of the crowd had prevailed, and Jesus died. Common justice was not served. His trial was a mockery, and even according to Jewish law illegal.
So it could be seen as a surprise that this day is revered as important for some.
We do face some interesting questions as we come to this place. Questions about Justice for sure, questions about a just God who allowed his son to be punished for things he had clearly not done.
Questions about how it could all work anyway that a death of a man is seen or believed to make a difference to people living even today.
As Christians today these and other questions are not ones we should duck away from, and I don’t think it very helpful to simply blame it all or explain it all on the “way god works”
Opinion has been divided for many hundreds of years about the effects of Good Friday and Easter. For those who like to see punishment as the way of solving crime (sin) then today is key because it is seen as God punishing his own son for our wrongs and thus winning us freedom.
Others find this penal approach to justice flawed and cruel, fulfilling little purpose, yet to see God raising Jesus despite everything after death is a sort of restorative justice where love and forgivness have a real place and heart. And we see something of this as Jesus forgives those who punish him without the need for restitution or even penance, and the repentant thief is gifted paradise despite not being able to do much to “deserve” it.
On Sunday we heard the parable of the workers who were paid a days wage despite only working for a few hours in the day. And God declaring that surely he could do this as he was just it it had been agreed. Many find this approach of God very “unfair” to our way of thinking
God is declares in the Old Testament that he is about to do something new, he tells us that we should not remember the former things for something new is going to begin.
The ways we think are about to be turned on their head, and Jesus teaching also bears this out. Jesus was radical and not conformist, and yet we often like to see Jesus as quite conforming to the way we want to think. It is a bit of a conundrum.
I wonder what it is like to held secure and then to be let free. I wonder what it must feel like to be held in prison and then to be released?
It is perhaps no wonder that prisoners find this moment quite daunting and scary. How will we manage, will we make a mess of it over again as we slip back so effortlessly into the old ways, the ways we know.
Today, we begin to face the cross face to face and realise our own part in it. Our own part in the suffering, not just of Christ, but even of ourselves.
Is God about to do something new, can he make something new happen in us, or are we going to slip back into the ways we are so familiar with?
There is little doubt that the Olympics last year inspired many of us. The tenacity and courage of the athletes to enter the games alone never mind to succeed and win medals was immense. We heard stories of a lifetime of dedication and perseverance. It is no wonder that Paul uses a It It is not easy to believe in Jesus. We may like to think it is comfortable and conformist to do so but let’s face it hundreds of years have made it safe and secure for us to do so. Let us not forget Christians and other believers are still persecuted for believing.
Paul comes to a sporting analogy, when he is talking about the efforts needed to be a believer, the efforts he says are needed to stand alongside Christ in his sufferings so that we can also share the resurrection. It was a life and death scenario for him.
Paul speaks of pressing on to make it his own…. It is a single minded approach, a focused and solitary task. But also a costly journey.
Todays gospel is perhaps a strange sort of “Good News” as it is uncomfortable news as we stand and stare suffering in the face and are powerless to do anything about it. Or we choose not to do anything about it.
Earlier in the Passion narratives we had been contemplating an intimate meal at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Here Mary once again showed us the way as in silence the room is filled with the fragrance of the simple act of contemplation.
Like Mary and Martha today we seem to have a choice. We can busy ourselves or we can be still. It comes natural to be busy, but less natural to be still.
Questions of the justice of God aside, Today we stand at the raw face of the suffering Christ, powerless and yet adoring and as we do so we pray earnestly that God’s redeeming love can be felt within.
I do not see our act as being magical, or even as though we can earn anything by being here. If there is anything Good Friday can teach us it is that action does not win the day, doing things, even attending church today is not the solution.
Christians are called upon to pray, and to do this simple act continuously.
Yet we can even be seen to busy ourselves in prayer and miss the object of the desire completely.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote about prayer in these words “Prayer does not change God, it changes the person who prays” yet our attitude has so long been that we are trying to gain the attention of God when we are praying. We rarely see it as silence and waiting. As gazing and being held.
We see it in the life of Jesus frequently, and it was reflected in the early years with many seeking solitude in the desert, being with God in silence and expecting something new to happen was what the life of prayer was all about.
It is surprising that we habitually react as if being busy is the right choice. God is doing a new thing in us as we learnt that apparently gazing and doing nothing is a way of letting God in.
Stephen Cherry has highlighted this reaction this lent by urging the church to react against the need to proclaim business as the good way. He has challenged many to re think their attitude to living as if it was better to be able to prove that every moment of a working day was crammed with activity.
We are invited today one again to be still in the presence of God, to hear God speaking in the silence of our lives, but we give him little opportunity, as we busy him out or talk over him.
Let us be more still.
It continues to take the years rolling by to uncover what Good Friday and Easter means for the Christian believer.
However we see it, from what distance we see it, let us see God doing something new……. And let is not always expect it to be comfortable or to conform.