Tag Archives: God

Risky Business

Risky Business

Sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25.14-30

How much of a risk are you willing to take on behalf of your faith? Have you ever considered that it’s necessary to take risks? Surely God doesn’t expect us to take risks! Or does he?

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder, what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I could throw in a few example to make you think, ooh yes that’s a risky thing to have done; you might say I took a real risk when I did that; or maybe you don’t take risks because you always weigh up the chances of failure and success and stick with the greater odds of success.

After all taking risks is a risky business – it can involve an exposure to danger, the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening; the probability of financial loss or the chance of incurring unfortunate consequences by engaging in that particular action. The fact is behaviour psychologists have proved that as human beings we are generally adverse to anything that involves a risk – people will prefer not to take a risk even at the cost of letting valuable opportunities pass by.

In today’s gospel we have the example of three slaves or servants and their attitudes to risk. The first two felt able to take a risk, but then it wasn’t their money they were taking a risk with but the third one started to analyse what the risks were and decided to do nothing, not even the soft option of putting it into no-risk low interest bank account. He calculated the possibility, the probability and chance and decided they were too great for him, and it seemed he made the wrong choice.

Our lives are full of opportunities to take risks, especially where our faith is concerned. I cannot speak for all of you whether you have taken risks on your journeys of faith. Maybe you’re like I was just beginning to dare to put your foot through the door because you want to find out what it is that’s calling you to be here. Or maybe you’ve accepted the invitation and want to know what God might be asking you to do next.

For me one of the risks was stepping into the unknown, with no church background or experience, a painful sense of not wanting to step into an arena in which I could be scrutinised and found to be wanting and yet a deep desire to put myself forward despite all of this. You may have heard me say before, but it was reading John Ortberg’s book, ‘If You Want To Walk On Water You Have To Get Out Of The Boat’, which was the catalyst that made me take a risk to get where I am today; and I would suggest that every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that demand a radical step of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfil his agenda for their lives.

What makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk.  We know there are times where God will offer an opportunity and it may be in our relationships; in our career; in regard to our finances, when he says, ‘In order to obey me, in order to follow me, in order to do exactly what I want you to do, this is what you need to do in this situation’. And everything within us is fearful, ‘Really God, you want me to do that?’

The reason it’s radical is because you say to yourself, ‘If this doesn’t work out, this relationship could fall apart.  If I do that, I could be changing my family dynamics, it may ruin my career possibilities in the future, or what if I can’t pay my bills?’ When we are facing a challenge and the possibility of failing, our mind rationalises our fears by coming up with hundreds of logical reasons not to do it. But, where there is no risk, there is no faith. Just like the third servant had no faith in the master.

Without faith there is no power and where there is no faith, there is no joy, no reward, no pleasing of God.  In fact, where there is no faith, what you do get is hollow religious activity, moralistic rules, and dead orthodoxy.  We all know of churches where despite the God talk and the many programmes and course that are run, over time it becomes religious activity and the focus is on, ‘Do this but don’t do that’ Lots of rules and the wrong sort of power. Where though is the presence of God?

We know that when we have great faith we are able to do great things. We only have to think about all the people throughout the history of the bible such Moses, Esther, David, Peter or Paul, God brought windows of opportunity and each one of them took a radical step of faith.  And that radical step of faith meant that if God didn’t show up then Peter was going to fall through the waves or Paul, when he returned after persecuting the Church, was going to die.

Every person’s life that is greatly used by God, that experiences God in powerful ways, takes great risks. When we have great faith we are able to do great things. We can think great thoughts; we can pray great prayers and dream great dreams. We’re not just talking about calculated risks, because let’s face it we all like opportunities that come with the word ‘guarantee’ attached to them. That way we feel safe and satisfied with our decisions. I can think back to the time when I told people I was going to go skydiving and people were worried about the risks, but it was a calculated risk, the equipment was checked, the experts had done it thousands of times before, the step I took to allow myself the liberating and exciting feeling of flying into the vast chasm of the sky had been carefully weighed.

Sky Diving View

Not a bad view from up here!

However, one thing that risk takers have in common is fear; fear of what might happen.  Those emotions that you feel and think, risk takers all have as well, they fear what might happen.  I can tell you, at least my own personal experience, the greatest steps of faith I’ve ever taken I was scared to death, and it’s okay to be afraid.  It’s not okay to allow your fear to paralyze you from taking the step of faith. But you have to have faith to step out in spite of your fear.

God tells us time and time again, ‘Do not fear, do not be afraid, I am with you’, and he equips us as we heard today; ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’.

The other day I came back from our study group quite buzzing. There had been a sense of excitement, a desire to engage with new ideas, of wanting to do something. We’ve been studying John Pritchard’s book, ‘Ten Reasons why Christianity makes Sense’ and we’ve talked about reasons why we should believe in God, the problems people have with faith, how to enliven our faith and the values we need for the church of today and tomorrow.  Above all the need to be communities where a holy fire and passion burns fiercely at its centre because this is what attracts people. We have to take risks, but as we’ve said risk looks very different in different people’s lives.  Often when we think of risk or faith, we always think it’s stepping out. Yes, sometimes we need to leave things behind and sometimes we need to remain and get stuck in to confront and change things, it’s still stepping out – of the security of our comfort zones.

Change is always a risk –  the risk of alienating people, driving them away, the risk of failure, not being able to deliver on the vision.  But not doing anything is like planting that talent into the ground. As Pritchard says, ‘Change is the way of institutions […], and we have to know when to let time-expired practices go. .. the human institutional life of this community has to be kept under constant review if it’s to be a travelling company of spiritual seekers rather than a secret society of defensive administrators.’

The good thing is sometimes even if you take a risk and fail, you end up winning anyway, because you learn valuable lessons in the process and stretch your abilities. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you dared and went for your dream against all odds, whether you succeeded or not. Regret of never trying is usually much harder to live with than failure.

Paul reminds us that we belong to the day – to things of light – We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing our faith, of talking about Jesus. After all ‘he was a man who inspired countless millions to change their lives and the lives of nations. His values were flawless; authority secure yet humble; judgement spot on. His teaching radical and enthralling; decisive, amusing, demanding and encouraging, filled with humanity yet left people aware they had spent time with God. Why wouldn’t we want to point people to this astonishing figure?’

And we need to continue to make links between Sunday and Monday. I could honestly say that 99.9% of the people who are part of this church, regularly make that link. But we’re going to need a robust, whole-life discipleship if we are to stand up to the secularizing pressures of the day. A Christian living his or her faith in an informed, open, clear-eyed way with wisdom and integrity is a hugely attractive witness to the King …  So let’s all take those risks and ‘encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing’

Amen

Peter takes a Risk

If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat – Peter takes a risk

A Seed That Falls Into The Ground

 

Meditation on A Seed that Falls into the Ground

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Every seed created must yield,
in order to produce new life.
It breaks itself, releasing embryonic seedlings,
that bare these scars on tender tips.

Indeed the seed that falls on the good soil,
already at an advantage,
 is nurtured
and fed with loving care and attention,
producing glorious blooms to dazzle the eye
and be heavy with fruitfulness.
When God created these conditions
He saw that it was good.

But He also created those seeds
whose produce is not beautiful or wanted.
Maligned in name, the weeds, regardless,
release seeds that are fruitful and multiply.
Who blossom despite the poverty of the soil
bringing colour to a monochrome world;
and God sees that this also is good

For God provides for all,
requiring neither their labour nor toil.
Lilies and thistles alike;
unperturbed, they flourish
over wildernesses, pushing through fissures,
clothing battlefields and demolition sites in
velvet rich purples and glowing golden yellows.
Glorious treasure shining
to announce the presence of their creator

God, watches the downy seeds
carried aloft, drifting on breezes,
to settle in a new place
and proliferate a new harvest,
that declares the signs of the Kingdom,
with open-ended grace.

The secrets of life and death
are known to God,
who provides the refreshing rain
and balmy sunshine;
the winds that scatter
and insects that dance a pollination polka;
and the seed that falls to the ground
knows it must die to live.

The beautiful and the down to earth,
both speak of the wisdom and handiwork of God.

Inspired and adapted from Jan Sutch Pickard’s The Cheerful Unrepentant Weeds, published in Dandelions and Thistles: Biblical Meditations from the Iona Community by Wild Goose Publications

Walking The Emmaus Road

The Road to Emmaus by Daniel Bonnell

The story of the Road to Emmaus lends itself beautifully for us to think about our own journeys of faith; the processes we go through of discovering who Jesus is, wanting to know more  about him and when we have that moment of revelation, confessing him as our Lord and Saviour. Here is my sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter 2017, based on Luke 24:13-35

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The story of the Road to Emmaus, one of the most vivid and insightful accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. So often there are stories in the gospels that make you really want to be a fly on the wall, or in this case a fly on the road.

We also need to understand that the journey to Emmaus is both a literal and a spiritual journey. On the one hand it recounts the journey of two of Jesus’ disciples who, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, walk seven miles from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. On the other hand it mirrors the journey that we all take from not knowing or recognising Jesus, to understanding what the bibles say about him, to recognising him for who he is and that he is the reason we are willing declare our faith and can call ourselves Christians.

It’s a journey that we are all on; all of us at different stages, independent of length of time or knowledge and understanding, but like today’s gospel story there are waypoints, crossroads, defining moments. A journey we’ll see that those disciples found didn’t end in the house in Emmaus but began a new voyage of life changing discovery.

Over the last few weeks it has been wonderful to journey with some of our young people and adults as we have explored what it means to be a Christian, the joy of the Gospel and prepared some of them for one of their own defining moments when they will confirm and recognise their faith at the upcoming Deanery Confirmation service. Each of them will have their own story to tell, their own unique journey they’ve travelled to get to that point, their own experience of a relationship with Christ. So what does the story tell us about both their and our own journeys?

Firstly it’s interesting to wonder who those two disciples might have been. Well we are told the name of one of them, Cleopas – a disciple whose name or variant of it some scholars claim has appeared before in other gospels. In John he is mentioned only by association with his wife Mary, one of the women standing at the cross with Jesus’ mother, Mary wife of Clopas. Secondly, it’s generally assumed, rightly or wrongly that the second unnamed disciple is a man. Perhaps it might make sense that Cleopas and Mary, husband and wife, both close disciples of Jesus, were making their way back home together

A bas relief on a church at Emmaus showing Jesus with a male and female companion

Of course nobody knows for sure, but it does lend itself to the inclusivity of Jesus’ message to all regardless of gender, race or sexuality. What we do know is that it is Jesus that seeks us in the first instance. On the road, Jesus himself ‘came near to them’ and although the disciples knew who Jesus was, they did not recognise him. They knew a lot about him, they had heard a lot about him and yet they were unable to recognise him when they met him. This could be said to be true for many people, even nowadays; they’ve heard of Jesus and even some of the things that he did, and yet they don’t recognise him or respond to him. They don’t engage in wanting to find out more, despite his presence.

We could also ask why the two disciples were prevented from recognising Jesus. Perhaps God had a purpose in blinding their eyes from reality. It’s not cruelty on God’s part, but by a gradual revelation of himself, Jesus allows them and us to learn that we can trust God’s promises. Remember that the disciples as a whole had been told about these events many times beforehand, but still they had not believed

Maybe it was because events had not happened as expected. Their preconceptions of who Jesus was and what he had come to do had been turned on its head; perhaps they dismissed the whole thing as misplaced hope and trust. When things turn out different to how we expect how often do we give up and admit defeat instead of trying to understand whether there is a reason for it.

It could be that they had too little faith – why didn’t they believe the reports of the women, even when they’d seen the empty tomb for themselves. Or the whole idea of a supernatural event of God raising Jesus from the dead was a concept they couldn’t grasp; had they even considered who Jesus was?

Is this a mistake that’s repeated today? Just because someone knows about Jesus, doesn’t mean they know him. They may have heard about him, read about him, use his name and many claim to know him. But knowing about him and knowing him are two different things

Along our journey there will be others who help us to know more about Jesus, but ultimately it will be Jesus that opens our eyes. For the two disciples on the road he used the things that they would already know about, the scriptures, and how if they believed what the scriptures said about him then they would understand why he came and why he had to suffer. We too today have scripture to help reveal who Jesus is, and we have the double advantage of not only having the Old Testament but the New as well.

When we read and come to know the scriptures better they help to build up our faith, they are a reliable witness to who Jesus really is, and the truth that they contain lead us to a personal faith in Jesus. A personal faith and a personal relationship with Jesus, but it mustn’t stop there. If we personalise Jesus too much he fast becomes God in our own image. The relationship we are called to have is one of fellowship and community. It is not coincidence that it is around a supper table that the disciple’s eyes are opened.

Think how many of the resurrection appearances are associated with table fellowship: the request for something to eat when he appears to all the disciples almost immediately after the two from Emmaus had told their story, or having breakfast on the beach. It was during the intimacy of a shared meal when Jesus broke bread and gave thanks, that the disciples recognised him

When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him
Luke 24:30-31

We too through our sharing of communion also come to recognise Christ in the memorial of the bread and wine shared at the supper, which goes on to prompt us to share with others our recognition of his presence. I can vividly remember my own first communion, a real sense of being filled with the Holy Spirit, as the bread was placed in my hands and the wine sipped from the cup. That was my moment of my ‘heart burning within me’ as I acknowledged who Jesus really was and the transformation he was bringing to my life. Like the disciples in Emmaus when we are moved with similar emotions then surely there is only one thing we can do and that is to testify in our lives, actions and words why we are followers of Christ and invite others to join us on that journey.

It would be lovely to see lots of us there at the Confirmation service, not only to support those who are declaring their recognition of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, perhaps publicly for the first time, but to remember that we too are either travelling on a journey toward that decision or recalling the time when we too made that declaration.

We are called to walk together in fellowship and the great thing is that we also have a Saviour who walks alongside us. So we can never walk alone, however hard or tough the journey. Sometimes we may try to run on ahead, at other times we trail behind, but somehow eventually we learn to walk at God’s speed, and God continues to give glimpses of himself across our lives; enough to sustain us and keep our faith strong on the journey.

Amen

 

 

 

From Alpha to Omega

 

Easter Sunday Evensong brought to a close an amazing day of celebrations and the end of the journey we had been on throughout Holy Week. From the highs of Palm Sunday, with it’s joyous branch waving, through the sharing of a Seder meal and watch on Maundy Thursday via the reflective solemnity of Good Friday to the bursting alleluias of Easter Sunday. Now in this more formal choral service there was room for one more talk,  and it took us to the very end of the story. Based on Revelation 1:12-18 here were my thoughts.

This morning we were at the very beginning of the amazing story of the resurrection of Christ and this evening we are taken to the end times through the apocalyptic writing of John, a ‘servant’ of Jesus.

Jewish apocalypses were generally written at times of crisis and we know that the early Christian church regularly faced persecution from the Roman authorities and that many Christians had already been martyred, and that the writer John had himself been imprisoned and exiled on the Greek island of Patmos, because he had been spreading the word about Jesus.

The first Christians lived in eager anticipation of Christ’s return, but some 60 years after his death it had still not occurred. They needed something to inspire them to stand firm; to remind them that God is in control, no matter how things may look and these revelations are trying to encourage the reader, both then and now, to look at the ‘big picture’ of human history.

It is as though a veil is being drawn aside and future events and scenes of heaven are ‘revealed’. Through Christ, God is bringing history to its climax and close, and the need to focus on the end of the world when God will reign supreme in justice and peace.  Christ speaks to his Church through John, to encourage and guide his people. He urges them to persevere through times of darkness and great stress, for after this life they will live with God in a glorious new world.

John describes his visions in the extraordinary picture language first used in the Book of Daniel. He has a vision of Jesus ‘like a Son of Man’. This had been Daniel’s vision – a human being who fully represents the human race, appearing in clouds and great glory, to be given God’s power and authority to reign over all things.  However, John’s vision has far more detail than that of Daniel’s. I tried to find an image that I could give you to look at whilst we though about this passage, but I couldn’t find an artistic interpretation that did justice to this extraordinary vision, you are going to have formulate your own picture in your head.

We can imagine his long robe is dazzling white and the golden sash reflects and bounces that light back to us. This Son of Man has the same pure white hair as Daniel’s God, the Ancient of Days, the bright white of pristine snow that glints in sunlight, almost too painful to look at.

We cannot tell what colour his eyes are because they are eyes that blaze with the fire of holiness, and his feet  glow with the strength of burnished bronze. His voice has the fluid melodious sound of rushing water and his mouth speaks truth with power and precision. His face is brilliant like the sun in a cloudless summer sky,

This glorious Christ stands among seven golden lampstands. These are his churches, which give his light to the world. He also holds in his hand seven stars – the angels that care for each local church. I wonder if we ever imagine our own church with its own guardian angel?

In the world, the churches are like lampstands, and Jesus gave the same picture to his disciples. They are not to hide the truth, like putting a light under a bowl. The are to lift it high, where it can give light to everyone. This then is our calling as a church and as individuals, to life the name of Jesus up so all may enter in the warmth and brightness of his presence. A presence that is fearsome but not frightening, as John found out when he fell at his feet as though dead. For Jesus is the first and the last, the alpha and omega. This morning and every morning our exclamation should be ‘Alleluiah, Christ is risen! Because as Jesus reveals to John ‘I am the living one, I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades’.

John is in exile, perhaps sentenced to hard labour; his body may be in prison but his spirit is free. Christ’s revelation of himself to his disciples, to the world and to us, means that we too are free and that our future is secure.

Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Amen.

Come and See…

 

come-and-see

Come and see – John 1:29-42

 

How do we share good news? Do we rejoice that we have heard something wonderful but forget that others too might like to hear it? Do we ever think to invite them to come and hear it for themselves?

Questions that we all need to ask ourselves from time to time, and the Gospel on the second Sunday of Epiphany helps us to consider the importance of issuing that invitation.

Based on the readings: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42

Last week I was asked give a talk to a Mothers’ Union group under the title ‘My Journey… So Far. it was actually a very useful exercise which enabled me to reflect on what had been turning points in my life; who had been part of those and what it was that brought me to where I am today.

I also liked the idea of ‘so far’, because it helped me to see that in spite of my advancing years there are times when I seem no closer to becoming a mature Christian than I was at the beginning. Also where was that beginning? At my birth? At my baptism? At my Confirmation, Ordination or Priesting? What I do know is that somewhere along that timeline I was invited to ‘come and see’. I wonder if you know the circumstance or people who said the same to you and what was it that we were being invited to see?

For me, despite a non-church background, it was the fact that when I wanted to arrange the baptism of my youngest daughter Ruth, the vicar who was preparing us – without a hint of contempt or disapproval – simply pointed out that neither parents nor godparents had been confirmed. It was a subtle nudge as if to say, you want to join this club, but you have no idea about its constitution, its purpose or its demands. Without using the exact words it was like he was saying why not ‘come and see’, perhaps then you’ll know what the attraction is.

So I did just that, I took myself off to church one Sunday, which was pretty scary when you’re on your own. I got to know the people there, both as fellow worshipper and through social events. They were friendly, helpful and I found their attitude to life, which reflected their faith, very attractive. I joined Lent groups; study groups; I read and discussed important life questions; I listened and learned. Not just from those up front, but talking to all different sorts of people, and not just those in the church but with friends who were not Christians. But then it wasn’t just about me.

He said to them, ‘Come and see.’
They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day
John 1:39

One of the hardest points in my life was making a decision to talk openly about my faith with my work colleagues at the school I was working in. I can remember having to make a real conscious decision to do this. Not by telling them, ‘Jesus loves you and you need to believe in him to be saved’ – although technically that is true. Instead, I’d chat about what I’d been doing in church over the weekend, the church social events I’d attended and saying to them they’d have to come along next time as I’m sure they’d enjoy it. Amazingly, it was as if the floodgates had been opened and other Christians began to appear out of the woodwork so to speak, to join in the conversations. It became natural and easy-going, again an unspoken ‘come and see’; and John’s gospel reflects this process very clearly.

John’s gospel doesn’t give us Jesus’ baptism in real time, but a retrospective recount of this epiphany moment and an affirmation by John the Baptist that Jesus lives and moves in the power of God. No shrinking violet, John, he further witnesses to this fact by his exclamation to two of his disciples that this is the one they have been waiting for – the Messiah. He has whet their appetites and they are interested in finding out more. So they follow Jesus, who asks them what are they looking for. He doesn’t assume anything, he wants them to discover for themselves, so he invites them to come and spend some time with him, and we can only imagine the conversations and questions they must have had. What we also see is that Jesus is beginning to call a group of people together, to build a community that will be able to hold that knowledge for the world and share it. All through that simple response ‘come and see’.

Now, those two men could have just gone home and talked about an amazing afternoon they’d just spend, but at least one of them, Andrew, realised that what he had heard was ‘good news’, something to be shared and so he brought his brother, Simon, so that he could see for himself. I wonder when was the last time we invited one of our friends or neighbours to come and join us at church; when we invited them to come and see? We have to remember though, that come and see isn’t about saying come to church, sit through a service where everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing – standing up, sitting down, singing responses (and believe me that was exactly what it was like for me on my first visit to church). Where we’ll sign you up for a rota, get you on to a committee. It should be more about simply come… and see if the people are welcoming, see if what’s being talked about is being lived out, spend some time with us.

 

welcome_to_church

Extending a welcome to church

 

The trouble is, like me previously, we know that we have seen and heard something good, but for some reason we feel reluctant to share it. It’s great talking with your friends from church about your faith, but it takes a lot of courage to speak to other people. Maybe nowadays, when we are surrounded by so much that is secular and politically correct, we think people will somehow see us as strange, misguided fanatics; and we want to fit into our neighbourhoods.

Or maybe we pre-judge who we think might be interested; ‘they won’t want to come’, ‘I’ve never heard them talk about anything religious’. We need to realise that we are not looking for ‘perfect fit’ people, we are not the ones who decide whether or not a person is willing to hear or understand the message. After all when Andrew invites his brother Simon to come and see Jesus we could be forgiven, bearing in mind all we will come to discover about the latter’s character, that he might not be the sort of person that Jesus wants to be part of his community. Yet when Jesus looks at the volatile, unstable Simon he immediately renames him Cephas – which means Peter or ‘rock’, the very foundation of Christ’s followers – because Jesus sees the potential of the most unlikely people.

Christians are called to witness together, to learn from each other as well as from God. As Paul says in his letter to Corinthians, we are called to be saints – not some mystic holy supermen or women, not necessarily sophisticated or intellectual, but ordinary, just like everyone who calls on Jesus is equal. We just cant afford not to share our faith, not in these times of secular, self-determination. We can’t afford to keep quiet and hope that somehow our faith will be shared by some sort of telepathic osmosis. After all what Paul tell us in his letter to the Romans? ‘How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?’

How can they hear, unless someone tells them?
Romans 10:14

I don’t believe that I, personally, have ever brought anyone to Christ. That’s a job for God through the Holy Spirit to accomplish, but I have talked to people and invited people and encouraged people to come and discover for themselves why they might want to say yes to Jesus’ call, as I am sure we all have in different ways. As I said at the beginning, it’s worth reflecting on how Jesus reached out to us. It is isn’t always through a direct communication. Sometimes Jesus reaches out through other people, especially his followers. Sometimes it will be through us, his disciples in the world today, that others are able to learn about Jesus. Maybe it will be you who tells someone, ‘I have found the Messiah! Come with me and see for yourself!’

That then surely is our challenge, in the weeks, months, years ahead, that in order to offer the invitation to come and see we have to go and tell. To share our faith with others – what we’ve learned, what we know to be true, what we’ve experienced in our own life. To witness to him, not only with words, but in deeds of loving service; and as Paul reminded the Corinthians, we are enriched and strengthened  by God to be able to do this.

We have heard the good news, we have received the good news and if it’s good news for us then it’s good news for everyone – so let’s all extend that invitation to ‘Come and See!’

 

 

Annus Horribilis… Annus Mirabilis

life-and-death

I wonder, if like me, you found the reaction to what appeared to be a lot of ‘celebrity’ deaths in 2016 becoming a little bit wearisome. Don’t get me wrong – each person’s death was a cause for sorrow and the contributions that they made to our society as a whole was in many cases huge. No it wasn’t the deaths themselves, but the idea that somehow the year had become an annus horribilis because of them.

Our reaction to death is often based on the longevity of a person’s life. Maybe I noticed it more because as I become older there comes a time when many of the contemporaries that were so much a feature of my youth are reaching what could be considered ‘old-age’; although the biblical standard of three score years and ten has undoubtedly been superseded with the medical advances made over the last two or three millennia. In many cases, therefore, it was a case of mortality catching up.

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
Psalm 90:10

Our frail and feeble frame of a human body, despite being a sophisticated machine that is full of intricate engineering, like any machine will eventually wear out. However, I am also aware that death occurs for many reasons not just age related. For some it is a case of genetic disposition or lifestyle choices. For others it is under tragic circumstance at the hands of another; a life snatched away.

Still, should we call any particularly year more dreadful than another? It’s true that many talented well-known people who contributed a lot very publicly to society did die in 2016, but there were an awful lot more people who died,  who in their own ways did exactly the same, however less publicly, and on smaller scales. In fact according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012 an estimated 56 million people died worldwide and that figure is similar to all other recent years.

Each of them were beloved mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends…… you fill in the blank… all of whom were equally important. They were people that we loved dearly; had built up strong relationship with, and who will be missed deeply as we realise that they are no longer part of our future.

Of course there are those that die, whose deaths we can find no apparent justification for and our faith is tested. Some people take the view that when God ‘calls’ it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. However, death comes when it comes, and I am loath to believe in a God who would wish to do this ‘calling’ when it causes such pain and grief; instead thinking of it not as a ‘calling’ but as a ‘welcoming’ when death occurs.

As a Christian, I also believe that when we finally ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ that the hope that we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that we will be welcomed into life eternal, in a place called heaven, wherever and whatever that might be. Because life is not just an earthly life, but the life that Jesus came to give us in abundance.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

At that stage it will definitely not be an annus horribilis but indeed an annus mirabilis.

where-o-death-blog

 

 

The definition of annus horribilis means a disastrous or unfortunate year, and is complementary to annus mirabilis, which means a wonderful year

Brea(d)th of Forgiveness

Breath Window

Breath – Nave window at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lebanon, New Jersey*

The gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, as often happens, included in part the reading that was given for Easter Sunday’s evening prayer service. This morning we heard the additional story of Doubting Thomas and thought about how we too can doubt, but that how we are more blessed when we have come to believe rather than have the concrete proof that Jesus offered to Thomas.

Last Sunday, when I preached at evensong, my thoughts were more on the breadth of forgiveness that Jesus offered in coming to and appearing to his disciples, who had hidden themselves away from the world. In return this reflects the breadth of forgiveness offered and how we should receive it.

Reading: John 20:19-23

“To err is human, to forgive divine” Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744)

In our build up to Easter we have taken a great deal of time to reflect on the pain and the suffering that Jesus was to endure through the cross. An instrument of torture, it has, as of this morning, become a symbol of God’s transformative and life-giving power through its emptiness, echoed with the discovery of the empty tomb by two of Jesus’ disciples. This new life is offered to us as a result of Jesus taking on himself our sins in order that we could be completely forgiven, not just for our sending him to die in the first place, echoed in his words from the cross, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ but as part of our response to do the same from thereon in.

Yet, one of the most difficult things we ever do is forgive another. We know we should forgive, because it’s the right thing to do; it’s the Christian thing to do and we know it’s what Jesus would do. But it’s always easier to see another through the lens of their behaviour and its effect on us than it is to see them as God sees them.

How often have we recited the Lord’s prayer in which we ask for forgiveness for our sins as we forgive others? But if our forgiveness to others is given begrudgingly then perhaps we might suspect that our own forgiveness might be begrudged. Even more difficult than forgiving another is to forgive ourselves, to set ourselves free to return to the likeness of God.

What the disciples were to receive on that first day of the week as they came to terms with the amazing turn of events was the life-giving gift of the Spirit as Jesus breathed it onto them, with its resonance to God’s creation of Adam at the beginning of Genesis.

The Spirit is given and the disciples are now called to take up Jesus’ mission, and its immediate effect will be to send them out, to take responsibility for the world. The Christian mission starts in the knowledge of our own need. It’s what the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is for. It is not designed to fill us with pious emotions, or give us unwavering certainty, or overawe others with our power, or even to build us into the church, though it may do all of these things. The gift is given principally to the disciples and to us to do what Jesus told us to, which is to be his witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 Throughout John’s gospel, the way in which people react to Jesus signals whether they will accept or reject God’s forgiveness offered through him. Now the same thing is happening to the disciples. Their mission, too, is to do with forgiveness and judgement  and while it might sound as if Jesus is giving the disciples a blank cheque when he says they now have the power to forgive sins or retain sins, the important thing to remember  is to whom this charge is given, and in what circumstances.

This is a group of people who, only a few days previously, had betrayed and deserted their leader and now they have locked themselves in an upstairs room, fearing for their own lives. When Jesus comes to them and shows them the marks of the nails, it is not just so that they can be truly certain who he really is, but in order that the tremendous mission he  is about to entrust to them can be grounded in the reality of who they are too. These disciples know how much they have been forgiven. They are not going to take the power they are being given over sin lightly.

The temptation is to treat the gift of the Spirit as something for insiders, something to be enjoyed and guarded jealously. Instead we need to long for the Spirit to fall down on all of God’s people; a longing that all should share in the forgiveness and new life that God has given to us. We receive in awed gratitude, and share because we know that God has given us what we do not deserve. Shouldn’t we then in our own levels of forgiveness ensure we are as ungrudging as God?

 Amen

Forgive

*This beautiful interpretation in glass of John 20:21 is one of a series of windows in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Lebanon, New Jersey. To see some of the others please follow this link