Sunday, 18 May 2014

Easter 5 Aston Abbotts 18 May 2014

Sunday 18 May 2014 – the Guide to Faith

Gospel John 14.1-14

Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”


If you seem a bit stressed, people tend not to say something like “you look under the weather” but “you need a holiday.” Even if you’ve just had one. If you point that out, they advise another one.

I always find this a bit unwelcome, mainly because holidays can be pretty stressful in themselves. Trying to fit everything into the suitcase. Lugging it to the airport. Hassle and flight delays. Wondering whether there will be someone to meet you on arrival at your destination. Hoping the online hotel booking got through. Working a foreign language cash machine. Arguing about what to do and where to go. Worrying about what’s going on at home. And so on.

Some of you may well have last heard the first part of today’s gospel reading at a funeral or memorial service. After all the arrangements have been made, as we sit in church grieving for the person who has died, we reflect on our own mortality. What has happened to our loved one now they have passed from our sight? Will we ever meet them again? Where and when will that be?

In John’s gospel, during the farewell discourses, we are told not to worry. What seems to be on offer is like an eternal holiday with none of the stresses and strains. The picture Jesus paints is of a great mansion with many rooms. Plenty of space for all. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” he says. Trust me. I am going there in advance, to prepare a place for you. And when you get there, I will be waiting.

The timing of this reading in the lectionary is not good. It comes from the Farewell Discourses. There are 4 chapters to go before Jesus is arrested. Jesus is comforting his disciples—anticipating what they are about to go through—but with our knowledge of the Easter story we can put ourselves in his shoes, and anticipate the humiliation, rejection, abuse and agony he is about to experience. Jesus’ mind must be in turmoil, yet is he first thinking of himself, of what is to come, of his separation albeit briefly from the Father? No — at the outset he is offering solace to his followers, and to us.

After the torture comes Easter Day. After the crucifixion comes the resurrection. After the resurrection comes the ascension. These are the key events that mark the incarnation, and bring it to an end. The disciples are going to have to learn to live without Jesus in their midst. Like a relay race, the baton now passes to them. Without them, his mission comes to an abrupt end. Then it passes to us — we are God’s hands, feet and mind here on earth, and without us and our descendants the mission of Christ’s church slowly fades and dies.

Everything that is human will die. But the resurrection did not bring the end of everything. It was itself a beginning, and will be a new start for all believers. Jesus’ resurrection was not the be all and end all. The resurrection presumes there is something beyond itself—the ascension. His—and ours.

It’s in the light of the ascension, and not only the resurrection, that we have to interpret the Farewell Discourses. Including today’s passage from John 14.

Returning to the funeral service, where many of us encounter this reading, the image of a great mansion in the sky for the recently departed is evidently Jesus’ main purpose, to prepare to receive the loved one who has passed away. This gives great comfort at a time of mourning and loss, but as believers we have to remember Jesus is not referring to a place as such at all. It’s better than that. Jesus is talking about our ascended life, in the intimate presence of God. The promise is that we will share in the close bond between Jesus and the Father.

All the I AM statements in John’s gospel signal the very nature of God. Jesus is not separate in any way, but One with the Father. When Thomas asks for a road map, Jesus answers “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I AM signals his divinity as well as describing the way to the disciples. So it is through Jesus we know the way to the Father, and need no specific instructions.

There’s a hint of judgement in all this. No one comes to the Father except through me does not necessarily indicate an exclusive religion but the presence of the Father in Jesus as he says those words.

If you don’t believe me, read on. “Show us the Father” says Philip.

“How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” Jesus answers. “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me...”

You may remember, very many years ago, sending off to the AA for directions to your holiday destination. They came in a yellow cover. The pages were compiled from selected instructions for driving from one big town to another. Before the days of motorways, that was the way we navigated.

My job was to read out the directions as my mother drove our A40. And to get blamed by my sisters and brother if we missed a turning.

The incarnation is not like those early sets of instructions. We don’t need a map, nor do we slavishly follow guidelines. No — Jesus is the way in himself. To follow him is the way of salvation, because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. They are one and the same.

Too many Christians seem to think they still have to follow each instruction. Faith by works, that is.

I am going to the Father says Jesus. There’s no need to ask the way, or send off for that yellow guide. Follow me! As he said to Philip:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Amen

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Easter 4 Sunday 11th May 2014

St Peter and St Paul, Wingrave

Invitation to Confession

The Spirit of truth will convict the world
of guilt about sin, righteousness and judgement.
We have grieved the Holy Spirit.
In sorrow we confess our sins.

The Collect

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.

First Reading Acts 2: 42—end

The fellowship of the believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Gospel John 10: 1—10

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according…
All Glory to you, O Lord.

The good shepherd and his sheep

10 ‘Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.’ 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Easter 4. The lectionary follows a 3-year cycle, providing lots of variety for the preacher and for the congregation alike. But Good Shepherd Sunday comes around every year, and you can almost hear the minister’s sigh, as he tries to think up some new angle on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Don’t get me wrong. We all love the symbolism of the good shepherd. It’s a wonderful picture, but you do run out of new insights into the pastoral scene in 1st century Palestine after a few years. And some preachers have a knack of leaving their congregations thinking of themselves as dim-witted sheep, with little idea in their heads except to follow blindly, get lost, or risk the shepherd’s life by being just plain stupid. Like sheep, in fact.

So I tried hard to find a completely different insight into John chapter 10. This year is year A in the lectionary. We read verses 1—10. Next year—year B we read verses 11—18. Finally, in year C it’s verses 22—30. Even though the chapter is split in this way, it’s important to remember it’s one chapter, and one story—not three.

But—and here’s my plan—Jesus does not say “I AM the good shepherd” until verse 11. So you’re thinking, what did he say this year? Well, he didn’t say he was the good shepherd. He said he was the gate of the sheepfold. “Very truly I tell you—I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved...”

It’s confusing, isn’t it? A very mixed metaphor. Is he the gate, or is he the shepherd? Or both? If in doubt, look at the context. Sometimes it helps.

In the previous chapter, Jesus heals the man born blind. That’s in chapter 9:1—41. And even though the chapter division separates this event from Jesus the Good Shepherd it’s all one discourse. Jesus does not stop and take a break. He doesn’t move somewhere else. There is no passage of time. Chapter 10 follows without delay.

You’ve probably heard it said many times before that John the evangelist doesn’t do miracles. He does signs. And he follows certain patterns. Sign—dialogue—discourse. In these two chapters, the sign is the healing miracle of the man born blind. This is followed by the dialogue, as the hearers try to work out what the sign means. The dialogue includes an argument between the man who had been healed and the Pharisees. You’ll remember the wonderful exchange, where the clever people try and trap the man: but he just sticks to what he knows: “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

So what I am saying is this. The first 18 verses of chapter 10 are the discourse where Jesus explains what he has done. This means our reading is about healing, and not about sheep.

What follows is like a little drama. The cast of characters includes a shepherd, sheep, thieves, bandits, the gatekeeper, strangers, and yes, even the gate. A bit like Pyramus and Thisbe in Midsummer Night’s Dream where there is a wall.

The point is that the man born blind was healed, and moved from everlasting darkness and rejection from the community to wholeness and belonging.

The door or gate of the sheepfold implies an inside and an outside. Acceptance and rejection. Salvation, no less. Those who pass through the door will be saved—but more than that, they are not confined, but can go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus describing himself as a gate or door does not sound as catchy as when he likens himself to the Light, or as the Good Shepherd—but I think the image of the door is equally powerful, if you take the time to reflect on what he means, and what that means for you and me.

This door is no less that the means of salvation for the whole world. This door leads to the tangible grace in the bosom of the Father, and the means of life is faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t have as many hymns about Jesus as the gate or the door, as we do about images of light or shepherds and sheep of course. Perhaps we should, but we don’t.

But before we leave this picture, we must still remember that all is not rosy outside the sheepfold. In verse 10 the thief returns, alone. In contrast to Jesus, who brings life in abundance, the thief comes only to kill and destroy. Singling out the thief in this way foreshadows the death of Jesus. The only other time in John’s gospel where the word thief is used, it is used to describe Judas.

We still pass in and out of the protection of the sheepfold, and are still exposed to many dangers. But the ultimate victory is assured. Jesus the door to eternal life. The gateway to the abundant grace of the Father. So as we approach the communion table, let us pass afresh through the door, Jesus Christ himself, to the glory of God the Father. Amen


May the God of peace make you perfect and holy,
that you may be kept safe and blameless
in spirit, soul and body,
for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
All and also with you.


But chiefly are we bound to praise you
because you raised him gloriously from the dead.
For he is the true paschal lamb who was offered for us,
and has taken away the sin of the world.
By his death he has destroyed death,
and by his rising to life again he has restored to us everlasting life.

Extended Preface

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
almighty and eternal Father,
and in these days of Easter
to celebrate with joyful hearts
the memory of your wonderful works.
For by the mystery of his passion
Jesus Christ, your risen Son,
has conquered the powers of death and hell
and restored in men and women the image of your glory.
He has placed them once more in paradise
and opened to them the gate of life eternal.
And so, in the joy of this Passover,
earth and heaven resound with gladness,
while angels and archangels and the powers of all creation
sing for ever the hymn of your glory:

Post communion

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


God, who from the death of sin raised you to new life in Christ,
keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
All Amen.