Tag Archives: Trinity

Spiritual Tagline

The Promise of the Spirit

There are plenty of taglines going about at the moment, so maybe it might be appropriate to have one for the Church. This and other thoughts are explored in this sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020

Reading: John 14:15-21

A recording can be accessed here or the transcript follows below

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

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

I suspect all of us have at one point or another walked past a sign on a building or an object that said ‘Wet Paint. Do not touch’? I wonder, were you able to walk straight past it, or were you tempted to touch it a little bit – just to see if…? ‘No harm to try’, we might think, but if your fingertips or your hands came away covered in sticky paint, you would have to live with the consequences for some time and possibly be embarrassed and annoyed with yourself.

For logical reasons, most of us are happy to follow the instruction. We know that paint is a liquid that takes varying degrees of time to dry, we know that paint is very viscous and sticks to anything it comes into contact with, we know how hard it is to remove paint from our hands, our hair, our clothes, so we weigh up the risks and decide it’s better to obey the rules.

So what’s the difference between a rule and a commandment? Everyday life is filled with rules and commandments, none more so than at the moment as we look to find ways to control and eradicate the Coronavirus. The phrase, ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ sounded very much like a commandment (only couched in ‘government guidance only’ speak) and it was fairly easy to understand and obey, with the majority of people complying with the request). Now, as we attempt to restart our economy and everyday lives, we are given a different kind of edict. ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’.

Yes, there are still rules, but how those rules are applied it very much up to our own interpretation and common sense. Now that this is no longer sounding like a commandment, we are given the choice as to how we obey, and some people are finding this hard. Ways are being sought to ‘bend’ or interpret the rules in a way that gives personal advantage. People are asking, ‘Why can’t we just go back to doing exactly what we want to do’? ‘Why are other countries allowed to do certain things that we can’t’? Starting a shift away from the ‘we’ to the ‘me’.

Of course, not all rules make logical sense. We’re still not allowed to meet up with our families from other households, yet we could now be employed by them as cleaners – as long as the vacuum is switched on at all times and the tins of Pledge are weighed before and after visits to check sufficient sprayage has been achieved!

But all of this misses the point. If we are to continue to love and care for our families and friends, for the vulnerable and disadvantaged within the wider community then we need to follow the rules, to obey the commandments.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

There are 281 instances of the word ‘commandment’ in the bible. From the blessing of Abraham in Genesis, ‘Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’ through the ‘big ten’ commandments given to Moses (twice) in Exodus, the many commandments of what was required of the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness to the promised land given in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, to the rebellious disregard of God’s commandments in Chronicles and Kings.

Finally to Jesus’ reiteration of the value of God’s commandments, before his declaration that there were really just two commandments that mattered and which encompassed all of the others, ‘Love God with everything you’ve got and likewise, love your neighbour as yourself.’ In doing just this we shouldn’t find it that hard to follow the ‘rules’. If Jesus did it, then we should do it; if Jesus said it, then we should say it; if Jesus showed love, then we should show it.

Yet Jesus knew that following these commandments and the rules of everyday living was not going to be easy; but if the disciples and in turn, ourselves were prepared to show that our love for him meant that we were willing to do so, then we would not have to face the inevitable struggles alone. As he prepared to return to be with his Father in heaven, he would send someone in his place. Someone who would be a helper, a comforter, an advocate. This person would be with them forever after and he would reveal the truth about Jesus, and about God to everyone who loves them and wants to know them.

The Spirit of truth, a sounding board when we are trying to work out what we should do or say, a conscience tester when we are indecisive about what the right thing to do is and who acts as a mediator when we find that we have made the wrong decisions and want to ask for forgiveness.; and a confidante when we were are struggling with our faith.

God know what each of us is dealing with in our lives. Whenever we feel confused or alone, we simply have to remember that we have been left the wise and comforting Holy Spirit, the third person of the indivisible Trinity… so clearly illustrated by this passage when Jesus declares, ‘I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you’.

The Spirit that abides with us and in us just as the Father and the Son do, ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. The Spirit that empowers us to respond rightly. As Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Holocaust survivor puts it, ‘Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

Whether they are rules or commandments, I believe that those rules are there to help us to be the best people we can be and that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom so that we can stay on the path that God has for us. Maybe by following those rules we will find peace and contentment. But even greater than this, it will be love that will bring us closer to God. It should be our love for him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that reveals to both us and the world around us the love that he has for all people who are willing to see him and know him. So, let’s all be patient for a little while longer.

Stay true

Reveal God’s Love

Save Lives

Amen

The Beehive Church

Collaborative Honey Bees

Collaborative Honey Bees

Having just finished and handed in one of my final portfolios, it has given me an opportunity to reflect on the sort of ministry I would hope to engage with in the future – and it’s all to do with bees! Now before you succumb to an image of a wild apiarist reverend roaming the parish bedecked in a wide-brimmed veil touting honey as a cure-all, think instead about collaboration.

We have much to learn about working together collaboratively, and by that I don’t mean working well as a team under the authority and  expertise of a ‘good’ leader. No indeed, because for so long we have had a hierarchical model of leadership in the Church, where decisions are filtered downwards and authority is shared amongst those deemed to be ‘worthy’ or competent; but it doesn’t have to be like that.

The fact is we already have the ultimate authority in God, and collaborative ministry is nowhere better demonstrated than through the Holy Trinity, which acts as an example of synergy, the whole being greater than the parts and yet each part is distinctive and committed to working together both internally as well as externally

One true leader

One true leader

True collaboration can only take place when we place God at the pinnacle of the leadership tree, and when every ministry that is revealed through the gifts or charisms imparted by the Holy Spirit to each person are equally esteemed and valued. These gifts are all undoubtedly diverse, but the leader that facilitates opportunities for all to be heard, establishes lines of communications between different groups and safeguards accountability, while at the same time recognising that others may be better equipped to undertake various tasks is surely one that will succeed in fulfilling their primary role of reminding the community whose initiative they need to follow and who the source of their mission and unity is.

Not an easy task for someone whose personality tends towards natural introversion, who will often carry out a task independently to simply get it done quickly. However, over the last few years I have been introduced to more and more examples of collaborative ministry and have come to realise just how important it is; and above all I truly believe that in order to progress the work that God asks us to undertake, we need to use Christ as our example and the Holy Spirit as our guide,

What then has this to do with bees? Well the writer Tolstoy spent a lot of time musing philosophically about the collaborative nature of bees within a beehive, often comparing it to the Christian church, not always in a kind way. However, what we can learn from honeybees is that they collaborate together almost unconsciously to ensure that the colony not only survives but thrives.

The fruits of the hive

The fruits of the hive

Foraging bees will continuously collect nectar, often being led to new sources by any one of its apparent insignificant members, whose dance can influence the rest of the hive to venture to new and plentiful supplies, whilst the worker bees use this raw material to construct complex precise honeycombs all without the need for supervisors, each contributing a small piece of beeswax before moving aside to allow a co-worker to add their contribution. At the same time the bees respect nature by giving back to their habitat the gift of pollination.

Admittedly the drone bees could be considered the lotharios of the bee world, but hey-ho it takes all sorts; and at the very centre of the hive is the queen bee, without whom the colony would not survive and yet who selflessly gives herself to ensure the next generation of bees is produced and nurtured*.

What then of the product of this collaboration – surely there is nothing sweeter than being prepared to share with others the glorious fruits of all this shared ministry.  It’s just a thought, but maybe the ‘beehive church’ is one that we could all be striving toward. Why not let me know what you think?

The collaborative church

The collaborative church

*Within this analogy, God the creator is wholly represented through all of his creation, whilst the Holy Spirit provides the wisdom, energy and drive. At the centre is Christ, the selfless example of whom the minister is called to represent and emulate.

On A Midnight Train From Georgia

Baptism of Christ Icon - written by Tamara Rigishvili

Baptism of Christ Icon – written by Tamara Rigishvili

To be honest I don’t know if it really was put on the midnight train, or any train for that matter. Maybe it came by plane or postal van, but however it travelled, it arrived safely at my door last week.

The truth though is that it did come from Georgia – Tbilisi, Georgia to be exact – some 2,653 miles to the east of my home, where the very talented artist Tamara Rigishvili lives and works. However, the creation of this beautiful icon came about in what was for me an unusual series of events, which culminated in owning what has become to me a very important representation of the story of Jesus’ baptism.

In April of 2014, I wrote about using this icon to explain the actions performed while making the sign of the cross in Coming Into The Presence of God. Wanting to upload an image of the icon that has been used on that day, I googled several images and came up with one that was taken from Tamara’s website. However, I felt that I needed to get authority to do that, and so I e-mailed her and sought permission, asking her to check out the contents of my blog and with the promise of a link to her site.

Christ submerged in the water of the Jordan

Christ submerged in the water of the Jordan

Thus a correspondence was begun between two people, thousands of miles apart, who did not know each other, did not necessarily speak the same language (although Tamara’s English is excellent, whilst my schoolgirl Russian is yet to be tested); connected by their common faith, and which resulted in my asking if she would ‘write’ a copy of the icon for me. True to her word, she completed the icon over a three month period and it was then carefully packaged and despatched…

… In the meanwhile, as part of my spiritual direction at college, it was suggested that I meditate on Matthew 3:13-17. This description of Jesus’ baptism is just one of the bible’s explicit passages where the Trinity appear together.

And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Matthew 3:16-17

As a Trinitarian at heart, I have always found that the three-fold nature of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit has both fascinated and frustrated me. On the one hand each has its own separate identity and characteristics, on the other they are all one and the same. I do not argue against this nor do I find it easy to explain – although traditionally in the Church of England, as a curate it usually falls to their lot to preach on Trinity Sunday each year – so I better get my thoughts in some order by then!

The passage itself presents a beautiful image of being submerged beneath water, and then a figure rising in a sparkling cascade to see the sky above suffused with a pure light that is concentrated in a shaft centred on their head and a clear voice filling the air with a confirmation of their worthiness. What, it was suggested, if that figure were you?

So often we can feel unworthy, and could not imagine such a thing, but we are invited to do so by God as he offers us his love and grace. ‘This is my daughter… this is Linda… this is [insert your name here]’.

I don’t believe that God arranges for these things to come together without a purpose, so as I spend time contemplating that passage alongside my beautiful icon, I hope and pray that you too will accept that grace, knowing that you ARE worthy to receive it.

Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 3:13-17

For more details of Tamara Rigishvili artwork, please do visit her website