Sunday, 13 May 2018

Easter 7 at the Methodist Church in Wingrave

13 May 2018

Reading—Acts 1:15—17;21—end

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

New Testament 1 John 5

9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.


Gospel John 17

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Sermon

How many believers—early church at start of Acts? Hard to believe only 120 people recorded by Luke who were listening to Peter’s address to them. Not just men—Peter refers to them as “Brothers and Sisters.”

How many Methodist chapels in Bucks does this represent in numbers? 6? Yet even after the momentous events of Easter—resurrection of Christ and his appearing to his disciples—gift of the Holy Spirit—Peter can only count 120 people to take forward the great commission given to the believers by Jesus himself. No wonder Jesus in today’s gospel passage prays earnestly to the Father for the followers he will leave behind after his ascension. It’s like we can listen in to what he prays:

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

The gap left in the number of apostles by Judas Iscariot was also a first priority for the early church. The number 12 was important to the Jews in very many ways, but how were they to make up the number—who to choose—what qualities they must have—how to go about appointing them?

The background was one of crisis—which explains the priority given to strengthening the leadership.

1. They were frustrated that the resurrection of the dead did not immediately lead to the restoration of Israel—their hopes dashed with the death of Jesus on the cross [Emmaus]—they rose to the pinnacle of expectation on his resurrection. Jesus had told them it was not their business to know the place or the time—nor was it his but God’s own time.

2. The believers were forced to wait—no one likes waiting do they?—in the meantime God would deliver on his promise through Jesus to give them the Holy Spirit—but the longing for restoration never really went away—there was short term thinking—that led to a delay for many years writing down the gospels.

3. There was a leadership crisis—which explains the priority given over other matters to the replacement of Judas. For 3 years Jesus had led them—interpreted the scriptures—taught his disciples—resolved disputes—prepared them for the time when he would no longer be with them. Now they had to work out a transition—how would the group be directed?—who would lead them?

4. They had a short list of two men—Joseph Barsabbas known as Justus—and Matthias. They prayed to God for guidance on how to choose between the candidates—drew lots and Matthias was chosen.

To us today, this sort of recruitment looks like an act of desperation—Matthias does not appear anywhere else in scripture—but there is a tradition that he took the gospel to Cappadocia and the Caspian Sea region.

We know that the extra apostle in effect was not Matthias but Paul—so the choice may not have been for the best and the method of selection crude—but Paul’s vocation revealed by God on the road to Damascus was probably the single most critical factor in the spread of the gospel around the Mediterranean and Roman world.

What are we to make of the fact Jesus hand picked Judas as his disciple—yet after his treachery and betrayal the remaining believers cast lots for his replacement? Sin can appear to triumph and derail our hopes—but in the end we know that God’s will will be done—that is exactly what happened here. Despite the shared prayers of the believers—it was the Holy Spirit that overruled and chose Paul as the twelfth disciple—and the rest, as they say, is history—but the early church moved from only 120 followers to millions in the next 2 or 3 centuries, thanks to Paul the twelfth apostle and his boldness and leadership.

No wonder Jesus prayed for his disciples at some length—and continues to do so, as we offer our prayers to the Father through him.

Today’s gospel reading is actually only a part of the extended discourse by Jesus with his disciples that stretches from chapter 13 to 17. The most significant theme is that of ‘giving’ — mentioned 9 times in this chapter alone. Here are 6 in three verses alone:

6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

Knowing we belong
Both God the Father and the Son are extravagant givers through grace—we are inheritors of the grace given to us through Jesus—and in this state of grace we are enabled to live. We have only to accept the word that comes from God, and believe in him. We are identified as belonging—we belong to Jesus

Knowing the Father’s name
Knowing his name stands for knowing all that God is and has done—if we wonder why we are enabled to know Jesus as Lord, it is because we have been given to him from the very beginning

Knowing the Word
8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

We are sanctified—made holy—we are sent into the world—belonging to God, knowing his name, and accepting the Word. Guarded and sustained in that Word we can know ourselves as disciple community—constituted in the power of Christ's death and resurrection and in the promise of his presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Comforter—about which we may hear more next week—Pentecost.

Amen

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Easter 2 at Wingrave Methodist Church

8 April 2018

First Reading—Acts 4

The believers share their possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

New Testament 1 John 1

The incarnation of the Word of life


That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Light and darkness, sin and forgiveness

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.


My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Hymn 2

· Walk in the light 397

Gospel John 20

Jesus appears to his disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Jesus appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

The purpose of John’s gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon

Barely a month has passed since the snow, and my last visit. We spoke about Zeal—for Law, Wisdom, Temple as Body of Christ. This time—clear choice of Jesus appearing to disciples—giving gift of Holy Spirit—Thomas not present—told to believe, not doubt—which he does “My Lord and my God!”

You’ve heard this many times before—sermons on Believing Thomas—but as we are in the Methodist church let’s heed the words of John Wesley:

“If the preacher would imitate any part of the oracles of God above all the rest, let it be the first epistle of St John” (Sermons on Several Occasions).

Why did John Wesley elevate 1 John in this way? The clue is in the content. The first century was something of a honeymoon period for the early Christian gatherings—followed the ideal of holiness and unity—led by the Holy Spirit—a period of fresh revelations, miracles, and rapid growth in numbers. But it was also a time of differing beliefs, strife, and splits in the church over passionate differences in doctrine.

One of most controversial splits was between those who differed fundamentally over the person of Christ and the nature of the Christian life. These dissenters denied that Christ was ever really human—they followed the model of the ‘spiritual’ Jesus—Christ they believed was heavenly, sinless and wise—they thought that made them the same. This same split in doctrine has never gone away—the church tried to reconcile differing views by asserting Christ was fully human and fully divine—but over the centuries this ideal of the early church gave way to violence, torture and death—but that’s another terrible story in the history of religion.

The writer of 1 John—we’ll call him The Elder—fearing the effects of dissent and fracture—wrote his letter to set the record straight, as it were. He wasn’t criticising anyone, but making a passionate appeal for the believers to join in their relationship with both Father and Son. Surprisingly, over the generations, this letter has never held centre stage—nor did people tend to agree with Wesley about it’s importance—but here we are in the shadow of John Wesley, so I’ll continue with 1 John.

According to Luke, when Paul was in Athens, he was engaged in discussion with Greek philosophers who enjoyed new teachings. Some early Christians were more interested in special wisdom—revealed especially to them—in Greek they were known as Gnostics—after the Greek word for knowledge—a special kind of revelation that only they had.

John the Elder therefore opened his letter by a restatement of the incarnation. What he has heard, what he has seen with his own eyes, what was from the beginning, what he has held with his hands, in short what concerns the Word of life—these are the things he declares to those who hear of read his letter.

John the Elder avoids personalising the Logos—although the opening of his letter sounds like the opening to John’s gospel—so he restates what he has seen and heard without immediately declaring the personality of the Word (Logos). This news sounds new and fresh—and so the dissenters would be all ears—but the news is old news—no secret wisdom or special knowledge—unchanged from the beginning.

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

It sounds strange to our ears that John says the word he declares has been touched by human hands. The Greek word here means something closer to grapple, wrestle, or physically examine. It’s interesting that Luke uses the same word in reference to his resurrected body:

“Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)

Instead of a new revelation of special wisdom, John the Elder’s hearers get the old, old story of Jesus and his love. This Jesus was a person, a human being. We cannot know Jesus—we cannot reckon with Jesus as risen and reigning Lord—we cannot do all this without engaging with the incarnation—the flesh and blood Jesus. We cannot do all this without Jesus’ early life on earth, the words he spoke and the things he did—and of course his death on the cross. All these are necessary before we can comprehend his divine nature, his resurrection, his ascension, and his salvation. Only then can there be fellowship for us with Christ as well as God the Father.

God is Light—we cannot have fellowship with Him without dealing with our sinful nature first. Justification by faith leads on to works—inspired and impelled by faith. God is Light. In Him is no darkness at all. So we must attend to sin. Not that we can make things right with God through our own power, but by grace. There cannot be light without darkness—but one banishes the other, however feeble is our reflected light from our personal fellowship with God the Father and the Son.

Salvation is not obtained by special knowledge, but by grace. This is the message of John the Elder:

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Amen

Easter 3 at All Saints Marsworth

15 April 2018

Reading Acts 3:12—19

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Reading 1 John 3:1—7

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel Luke 24:36—48

Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Sermon

Today’s gospel passage from the last chapter of Luke follows on from everyone’s favourite travel story—The Road to Emmaus. In Luke’s account, it is Sunday morning—as the day starts two women make their way to the tomb where Jesus has been interred. There they find the stone covering the entrance has been unsealed and rolled aside. Two men in dazzling garments announce to them that Jesus is risen.

Armed with these momentous tidings, the women go straight to the disciples and announce the resurrection. They are not believed—their tidings are judged to be no more than an idle tale.

Peter, however, runs to the tomb and finds it as the women had reported. Apart from confirming that the tomb is empty, Luke does not tell us anything about any conclusions Peter reached. At this point Luke’s narrative cuts abruptly to the account of the Road to and from Emmaus.

Two of the disillusioned disciples have decided to escape from the febrile atmosphere in Jerusalem and start walking the 13 miles home to Emmaus. They encounter, but do not recognise Jesus. They express their disappointment. They hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture.

The two invited Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognised him, but he vanished from their sight. They rushed back to Jerusalem and reported to the gathered believers what had happened.

Jesus’s greeting was the first word the disciples had heard from him since the dark and terrible events of the weekend. The word was Shalom. Peace was what the disciples needed to hear. They were in hiding, fearing for their very lives after the leader of their fledgling movement had met his fate. Jesus’s appearing in their very midst, unaccountably, was accompanied by the reassurance that all would be well, despite every indication to the contrary.

Peace is a repeated theme in Luke—think of the angels in the fields, and the hymns of Zechariah and Simeon. But before their minds could be put at rest, the disciples needed assurance they were not seeing an apparition. Jesus showed them the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, but also demonstrated his ability to eat and drink—something phantoms could not do.

In our modern translation, it’s easy to miss Jesus claim to be divine:

Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

“It is I myself”—ἐγώ εἰμί in Greek—I AM is the name for God. After sharing the peace with his friends, Jesus gives his authority for the peace he shares with them. His credentials are nothing less than the assurance of God the Father. The news must have been startling to the band of disappointed, fearful, disciples who remained in Jerusalem, despite the likelihood they would be betrayed, arrested and killed themselves.

All this can be understood in fulfilment of Scripture. That was why Jesus expounded the law of Moses—effectively what had been written about him—to the disciples in the upper room as he had on the road to Emmaus.

All this is not for interest alone. The elaborate explanation is for a good reason. The disciples, as witnesses of Jesus, are now called to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, a theme that will be traced further in Acts.

Both for the early disciples—and also for us—the message of Easter is the fulfilment of what God has been accomplishing throughout human history. The reality of Jesus is the reality of God’s plan revealed. This understanding moves the disciples forward to the future—no longer fearful and alone—but sure in the knowledge of the resurrection through their own witness of a physical Jesus who is very much alive.

Luke in his gospel account immediately follows this episode with a commission to the disciples—and of course the same exhortation to us:

48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Belief in the empty tomb is a prerequisite of every Easter day of our lives. What follows from this confession is our own commission—the same promise and the same assurance as was given to the disciples by the physical Jesus himself.

Luke did not himself witness these things—he is in the same position as we are in that sense. Like the apostles we have to account for what we have done with the witness account we have just read. That is the big question asked of all of us.

You are witnesses of these things, says the Lord. I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. Amen

Easter 4 at Wing

22 April 2018


Reading Acts 4:5—12

5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is ‘“the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.” 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’

Gospel John 10:11—18

Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’

Sermon

Magic Persian carpet—2,000 years—Jesus tells Parable of Good Shepard. Not cosy pastoral fable with a message—not sitting on the grass with disciples as Jesus taught—background threatening investigation of lawbreaking by Pharisees.

Lawbreaking—John 8—Pharisees present to Jesus Woman taken in Adultery—long dispute follows—Jesus claims about himself—chapter ends with Jesus claiming in effect he is God:

58 ‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Chapter 9 continues theme of lawbreaking—this time Jesus himself—healing of Man Born Blind—on Sabbath Day. Pharisees investigate—interview man who was healed—under whose authority did Jesus do this?—chapter ends with accusation against Pharisees of spiritual blindness.

Chapter 10—opens with Good Shepherd—parable told at first against Pharisees—they are accused of being thieves and robbers—who do not enter gate of sheepfold but try to break in by climbing the wall. The Good Shepherd enters through gate—sheep recognise him—know his voice and feel safe. They run away from a stranger—they do not know his voice.

Pharisees do not understand—miss the point—parable is aimed at them. Thieves come only to kill and destroy—Jesus not only the gate keeper—also the gate itself. Not only does Jesus control the gate—he is the gate and the gatekeeper.

Sheep are dumb creatures—follow the leader—if rescued from snow drifts weighing down their fleece—tend to climb back again because the blanket of snow is warmer—easily stray into danger. How funny we so readily associate with the sheep when told this parable!

Christological reflection—Pharisees misunderstood—represented as wolves preying on sheep—or thieves and robbers. We need to understand what part we play—more important we use parable and other I AM sayings to learn more about Jesus—who and what he is.

Logos—John starts by a grand vision of The Word—creative force since before time itself—through who all things came into being.

Jesus uses I AM also in several parables to help our understanding:

· Vine and Branches

· Bread of Life

· Living Water

· Shepherd and flock

· Door of sheepfold

Easter—good time to get to know Jesus better through these images.

There is a difficulty for us in today’s parable—we understand little of sheep husbandry compared to Jesus’ hearers. Shepherds were universally mistrusted—badly paid with no incentive to confront danger—prone to theft of the sheep. So it’s interesting Jesus represents himself as the Good Shepherd. Scripture is full of images of God as shepherd of his flock:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. (PS 23)

The twist now is that Jesus is representing himself as Shepherd—but also as God in OT. If we reflect on the nature of Christ post Easter—what theologians call theological reflection—there are a number of questions that you may think come to your mind:

· What kind of flock are we? What kind are we meant to be?

· Jesus mentions another flock—they are not of this sheepfold—what flock is this and what has happened to them?

· What does it mean to be part of Jesus’s flock—protection from harm—access to the gate—being trusted and loved by the Good Shepherd—being fed and nurtured—knowing his voice and choosing to follow him—being rescued and valued if we repent after wandering off?

The Pharisees and others thought they were chosen by God—but Jesus tells them about only one flock and one Shepherd. We—through Christ—by God’s Holy Spirit—have the invitation to belong to this one flock. This is not the way we tend to remember the parable of the Good Shepherd. Too often the parable is recalled out of context—with a warm glow of satisfaction—whereas the truth is much grittier—born out of a dispute between our Lord and the religious authorities.

So this Eastertide—let us read anew one of the most familiar passages of Scripture—this time in a much more direct and grown up version—knowing our salvation depends on it—and not falling into the trap of the Pharisees, believing they are God’s elect—or that justification is necessarily by faith alone. Amen

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter Day

Stoke Hammond 1 April 2018


Readings Isaiah 25:6—9

6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine –
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8     he will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

9 In that day they will say,

‘Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’

Reading Acts 10:34—43

34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Gospel Acclamation

Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’

Gospel John 20:1—18 OR

The empty tomb

20

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.


Sermon

“Who is it you looking for?” That’s the question Jesus put to Mary Magdalene on her second visit to the empty tomb on Easter Day. Mary was asked several times why she was crying—Jesus was the only one who linked both questions together: “‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’”

Unusually our lectionary offers us a choice of two gospel readings for today. Mark 16 differs slightly from the John passage we heard just now. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb with two other women, bearing spices to anoint the body of Jesus. They find the heavy stone sealing the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away. A young man, dressed in white, tells them Jesus had risen again, and would meet his disciples in Galilee. Notoriously Mark’s gospel seems to end with the trembling women, who told no one of their encounter because they were afraid. The earliest manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20 as they appear in our Bible nowadays.

Let’s go through the events of Easter Day as they are reported in John 20. It’s early in the morning, the first day of the week. Mary surprisingly visits the tomb alone, presumably from outside only, having made no arrangements for the stone to be removed. She does not look in the tomb, but jumps to a wrong conclusion and runs to tell Peter that “they” have taken the body of Jesus, and “we” don’t know where they have put him. This begs the question: who are “they” and who are “we?”

Peter and James then run to the tomb and find it empty. Peter’s account of the discarded linen strips reads like an eye witness. James sees the same thing, but having seen, he believes. What he actually believes is not clear. Indeed, in the very next verse, we are told the disciples did not understand.

Whilst all this was going on, Mary Magdalene, after informing Peter, must have followed the two disciples at a walking pace. She is crying. This time, alone, she dares to look in the tomb and sees what she describes as two angels. Her assumptions are quite reasonable:

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’

Mary turns to see a man standing there. He does not answer her query, but responds with one word only: “Mary.” The way he spoke her name left Mary in no doubt. This was not a garden worker, but Jesus himself. It didn’t look like him, but still she was in no doubt.

For Mary, the day had started in darkness, and now there was light. For us, the darkness of Lent is banished by the light of Christ, coming into the world, as we celebrate at Easter in the ancient words of the hymn Hail Gladsome Light.

Mary had no proof. The sound of word and gesture was enough. This morning, like every year, we ask ourselves the same question that was put to Mary Magdalene: Who is it you are looking for?’ Can we also encounter the risen Christ with one word of recognition and acceptance this Eastertide?

One word of recognition—Jesus called Mary by her name. One word—“Mary.” She responded in Aramaic with the word for “Teacher.” Those two short words sufficed to illuminate the encounter. There was, for Mary, no room for further doubt. Jesus explains his destiny “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

But why are we told that Jesus chides her for holding on to him? What is she holding on to? The presence of Jesus physically walking and taking with her? Her desire not to let go, not to ‘move on,’ her need for everything to stay the way it is, or her doubts about the resurrection and ascension? We don’t know, but Mary’s reaction begs a question for us—is there anything in our relationship with Christ that we are reluctant to let go of? Is there anything holding us back?

We ourselves should reflect on what John the Baptist says about the Messiah in John 1:18:

18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Mary does not hold back. She immediately brings the good news to the disciples, with the words “I have seen the Lord!” and relates to them everything that had happened, and the words he had spoken. This time she does not hide behind the first person plural—her confession is in her own words. Nor does she merely refer to the empty tomb and describe her encounter. Her confession is important to John’s gospel as a whole, and the fact Jesus appeared first to a woman—one in his outer circle but not one of the apostles—is important too.

This is an example to us of the direct testimony we are called to make. An account of our own experience of the Lord. Today is the most important day in the church’s year. What better time is there for renewing our statement of belief, and our future relationship with God in Jesus? Amen

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Body of Christ

Wingrave Methodists – Sunday 4 March 2018


Gospel John 2:13—22

Jesus clears the temple courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’

18 The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’

19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Sermon

Church Times Sermons
Weekly cartoons about church—SERMONS—Nothing but anecdotes

Anecdote—secular event—complete misuse of church—rock music, drug dealing, alcohol—Jesus returns, sees electric cable snaking everywhere—cuts power with shears—stops event and protests to organisers

Zeal—all three readings about Zeal:

· For the Law—10 commandments

· For Wisdom—1 Corinthians

· For holiness of God—Temple

Jesus action in Temple stopped event in its tracks—organisers protested—Jesus jumped to anecdote—he could rebuild 46-year old Temple in 3 days—John helpfully explains he was talking about his own body—his own body had become God’s holy Temple.

Temple—meeting place between God and people of Israel—sacrifices offered at certain times and as thanksgiving for important life events—Temple was a holy place where human life and divine blessing met.

John’s Gospel—the body of Jesus is new holy place:

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1]

New meaning—in John, cleansing of Temple takes on new meaning—traders may be guilty of exploitation and corruption—unlike other gospels John makes no mention that they are “den of robbers”—so Jesus acting against lawful sale of birds and changing currency in order to fulfil sacrifice as prescribed—so new meaning here is that the new Temple is the body of Jesus and no sacrifice on our part is required as our sins are forgiven through his own sacrifice on the cross.

Beyond our comprehension—for us the detailed practice of Temple worship and it’s requirements—beyond our need to understand. All we need—Jesus in his body is the new Temple worship—sufficient in and to itself—Jesus does not wear his body like a suit of clothes—his body is entirely human yet becomes the new holy place of God—we are inseparable from our own physical bodies—so Jesus in his human body is inseparable from God.

Where do we encounter God?—surely we encounter God in the person and humanity of Jesus?—where else?—in zeal for God’s Word—in church filled with light—in the beauty of the liturgy—in charismatic worship when we encounter Holy Spirit—in a lit candle—in prayer—in a piece of music—in mindful meditation and silence—in the bread and wine—in a special holy place that is meaningful to us alone—in the witness of others—in the beauty of nature and beauty of countryside—in mathematics and astronomy—in the body and blood of the risen Lord.

Lent—we follow the human body of Jesus during Lent—he makes a whip out of cords—his body bends to wash the disciples’ feet—he eats and drinks with other people—he experiences the anguish of Gethsemane and the betrayal of his friends—he is tortured, abused, tried, condemned, crucified, buried, and risen again—as John explains:

22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

This is link between Christ’s human body, the presence of God in Temple, and his resurrected body. The new presence of God, that previously was in the Holy of holies, is visible to us in the body of Christ.

One theologian puts it like this:

Christians are not naive about the trials of being a body, and we have no satisfying description of the miracle it will certainly be for God, after we are dead, to raise us up, incorruptible. Nevertheless, we will not let go of that hope, precisely because God was committed enough to human flesh and blood to become it in Jesus Christ, and committed enough to human flesh and blood to raise Jesus up after his death, as a body able to eat fish, and point out scars to Thomas, and ask Peter to feed his sheep.

But we are not just relating to the resurrected body of Jesus, but in the worldwide church we ARE his body. As it says in one introduction to the Peace:

“We are the body of Christ, in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and build up our common life.”

Let us embrace the opportunities this Lenten season to pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life. Amen

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Transfiguration Sunday

11 February – Sunday next before Lent – Holy Communion at Great Brickhill


Reading 2 Corinthians 4:3—6


[Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.] 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Gospel Mark 9:2—9

The transfiguration

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Sermon

Today can be called Transfiguration Sunday. The gospel reading describes the transfiguration of Jesus, witnessed by Peter, James and John—when Jesus’ clothes shone with the light of the divine—and when he was associated as Messiah with the law and the prophets in the form of Moses and Elijah. It was a theophany when the glory of God broke through into our dimension—and God revealed his glory to the disciples in the form of his son.

It’s not hard to see why those who chose our readings selected the episode when Elijah was taken up into heaven—witnessed by his protégé Elisha who succeeded him. But both of these readings are reflected in the passage from II Corinthians—and that’s what I want to spend a few minutes talking about this morning.

Paul, in this extract from his second letter, gives us a profound illustration of how we ourselves are transfigured by a double manifestation:

· Firstly—we see Jesus revealed in his glory as the image of God.

· Secondly—we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah.

You only have to look back at the previous chapter for reassurance that this is what is meant.

In II Corinthians 3:18, Paul speaks about how—through the Spirit of the Lord—all of us, with “unveiled faces,” can “behold” and “reflect” the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. The Greek word kataprizomai can mean both “to behold” and “to reflect.” We behold the glory of God, and reflect that glory to the world.

As this happens, we are “transformed” into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.

To stand in the light is a revealing place to be. The light shows up the darkness in stark relief. The light overcomes the darkness and banishes it altogether. Even a tiny candle cuts through the darkest of night. But this means we have nowhere to hide. We must renounce the shame of the sin we would rather hide. And we must boldly manifest the truth of who we are—through the gospel that shines through us—to everyone we encounter, wherever we might be.

How does this happen, especially amid the suffering in our lives? We feel unworthy, and shamed by our vulnerability and sin. Does our sheer unpredictability not veil the truth of the gospel in our lives?

The answer must be that the mirror we have been given is perfect and spotless. It is lossless and shines with the glory of God—sending back a true reflection unaffected by the failures and shame of the bearer.

The crucified Messiah whom we reflect shares the vulnerability and suffering in our lives, through his incarnation. The light is not veiled nor are we blinded by it. Nothing will prevent our seeing, shining and reflecting the light of the gospel that is disclosed.

We do not just stand mute, but our hearts are transformed by the light. We see God’s glory in the face of the Messiah. This transfiguration leads us to confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, and to disclose this revelation to others through the glory in the face of Jesus that we reflect.

All this is exceptionally hard to understand. In trying to explain it, I’m not sure I grasp it myself. I certainly found myself reading and re-reading the texts—and I suggest you might do the same.

There are implications for Transfiguration Sunday. Ostensibly we are told and will understand more about who Jesus is—reflecting as he does the glory of God the Father. The light of Jesus the Messiah’s glory discloses the Wisdom of God. Mercifully it’s not necessary for us to fully understand the nature of the light we are called to reflect.

What the passage from II Corinthians says about Jesus also says something about what we become in him. The light of the gospel entails both seeing and shining. We not only behold the image of God in Jesus’s face but reflect its glory. We are not untouched by this process, but are transfigured by it. We are transformed by the light of God shining in our hearts.

All this does not happen in some holy and separate transcendent space, but in the midst of our messy and all too human lives. Just as Jesus carried around with him the Messiah’s sufferings for us, we bear his death in our bodies.

The lectionary does not include the first 3 verses of the chapter, but it starts like this:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Amen

Friday, 19 January 2018

Called

14 January 2018 – Epiphany 2 – Wingrave Methodist Church


Old Testament I SAMUEL 3

The Lord calls Samuel

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ 5 And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.

6 Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

8 A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

Then Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’

Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family for ever because of the sin he knew about; his sons uttered blasphemies against God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, “The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.”’

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’

Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’

17 ‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’ 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.

Hymn 2

663 I the Lord of sea and sky

Gospel John 1

Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

46 ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’

48 ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.’

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ 51 He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’

Sermon p132—12

‘I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.”

Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.’ Stride towards Freedom—Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was changed by this epiphany—often referred to as his ‘vision in the kitchen.’ Nathaniel’s epiphany, in which he suddenly could see clearly who Jesus was, changed Nathaniel—just as Samuel’s vision in the Temple changed him.

Today—Epiphany 2. Readings describe two manifestations:

1. Eli could not perceive God—like others in his day—like our day? But the boy Samuel could.

2. Jesus first called Philip—Philip immediately called Nathaniel—‘we have found the Messiah.’ In response to his objections—‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’—Philip does not engage in debate, does not persuade, does not argue—“Come and See.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’

Characteristics of Vocation

1. God’s call may not be audible or obvious to us—very often may not be what we want or choose to hear—like Eli who was condemned, and all his family with him, by what God imparted to Samuel

2. We may have to rely on intermediaries—those people might not be obvious either—like Samuel

3. For many people in ordination training—call not clear—relied on doors opening and doors closing

4. God sometimes seems to be laughing at our detailed and personal planning of our lives

5. Call may be nothing like what we had in mind—God does not seem to micromanage our lives—we must remain openminded like Nathaniel and Eli. God may not answer in the way we expect—unlike Martin Luther King’s testimony.

6. God’s response might have no logical basis we can understand—how did Nathaniel jump from doubt to total affirmation of Jesus as Messiah?—there was no logic to his thought process or the reason why he came to his startling conclusion.

7. Our response to God is

a. Personal (‘Come and See!’)

b. Faith-based (gradual or immediate)

c. Having the potential to bring transformative change

How can we prepare?

Samuel and Eli were unprepared. It took 2 calls by God to Samuel before we read:

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

Eli clearly had not prepared Samuel—this same Eli mistook Hannah’s prayers for her being drunk—and it took Eli 3 attempts to recognise the voice of God in what he says he heard—yet God persisted, and so did Samuel.

This same Eli had sons Hophni and Phineas who were scoundrels and had scant regard for their priestly duties—Eli’s eyes were growing dim—not perhaps only physically, but spiritually too.

Eli had several opportunities and attempts to put matters to rights—but failed each time. Eventually he was left with no alternative but to accept God’s judgement on him and on his entire family.

17 ‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’ 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’

In the end—God’s will will be done—regardless of whether or not we respond to his call. That is a comfort in dark times like this. But we are the hands, feet and fingers of God—how can respond except by hearing and discerning how we can obey his call with all the gifts of grace he has given us?

Nathaniel was a naysayer—who can blame him for doubting Philip’s belief he had found the Messiah? Yet he was prepared for his preconceptions and prejudices to be challenged. What else but an epiphany could have turned Nathaniel round so completely?

Scripture is full of such moments—many of us are able to look back on such manifestations of God’s work in our lives. All we need do is keep an open mind—just as Nathaniel did—and follow where he leads us. Amen

Sunday, 7 January 2018

God’s marvellous plan–for the Gentiles and for us…

Wingrave – Epiphany – 7 January 2018

Ephesians 3:1—12

God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles


For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations

and believed in throughout the world.

All   Alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 2:1—12

The Magi visit the Messiah


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sermon

Epiphany is a ‘manifestation.’ The Greek word literally means an ‘appearance.’ The feast day falls on 6th January, but is normally transferred to the first Sunday after New Year’s Day.

What is being manifested at Epiphany? It depends who you are. For Christians, God’s glory is revealed to all people in the birth of Jesus Christ, incarnate in the world.

Children focus on the story of the Kings and the significance of the gifts they bring. They seem to love the mystical exotic flavour. Pub quizzers polish up their answers to the questions: “How many magi were there?” and “What were their names?” For the church, Epiphany joins the other major festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost which together signify God’s revelation of salvation for all people through his Son.

Technically God’s self-revelation is known as a theophany—like the Transfiguration, the Annunciation to Mary, Moses and the burning bush, Mount Sinai, and of course Jesus himself. God’s presence extends from lowest to highest: from the uneducated shepherds in the fields, to the priestly caste of Zoroastrians, who paid close attention to the conjunction of the stars, had an international reputation for astrology, and were honoured by Herod.

God’s glory reaches all people regardless of faith. The Wise men from East—are different in faith and background—yet God reaches out to them, and through them to the world. Birth of Jesus—was inauspicious—in a manger in Bethlehem—yet this birth was revealed through the stars to men of great learning. Only those in the know could interpret the announcement. It was persuasive enough to overrule the degradation of the event, as far as the Magi were concerned.

Through unlikely and mysterious, almost magical means, God’s revelation grows and reaches out. Jesus touches untouchables—eats with sinners—heals the sick—mixes with those who suffered disabilities—brought dead back to life—and was lifted up on the cross. All this demonstrates that no one is beyond God’s embrace.

The Magi spent months studying the star charts, and followed their leading over a long and dangerous journey. Herod had access to the same knowledge through his own advisors—yet failed to see God’s presence and glory and was not brought within God’s embrace. He was threatened by it. He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.

The lesson of the Magi might well be to reinforce the fact God moves in a mysterious way. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians did not boast of his decision to be baptized, or to become the foremost evangelist of all time, personally choosing to face danger in order to found and nurture fledgling churches around the Mediterranean. No, Paul boasted that it was God’s plan for his life, and he merely responded to the call through God’s grace. Paul rejoiced at the call, and ascribed to got whatever success he had as an evangelist and minister.

As he said in our reading from Ephesians:

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

What is our response to Epiphany? Are we like Herod—blind to the signs—blinkered to our part in furthering the gospel—not heeding the likes of the Magi as unconventional, and the shepherds as unfit for our society?

Or can we do our part in fostering a new openness? Can we allow God’s embrace to expand once more in our day and time, despite falling attendance at church and an ageing congregation? Will we leave the work to others, and look for God’s glory only in comfortable areas we understand—like Herod, frightened and threatened by what we find?

A new revelation—a new year—a new resolution. Paul uses the language of service and submission to God’s call. May we this Epiphany heed and hear God’s call for us—and submit to his plan for our lives through grace. Amen