Friday, September 2, 2016

SEASON OF CREATION 1C - God is over All and in All

Our Season of Creation Lectionary begins with a wonderful story from the book of Job.  For some of us the Book of Job is a bit strange – it seems hard to make sense of this encounter between God and Satan where Satan persuades – or dares is probably a better word - God to inflict as much suffering as possible on Job in order to see if Job will curse God.  It certainly is a strange parable for us to make sense of.

But along the way there are some really important insights for us into the nature of God and God’s plan for all people.

Along the way in this story, while Job does not resort to cursing or forsaking God, he demands that God appear in court to answer Jobs charges that he has experienced injustice at the hands of God.

He has been complaining to his friends who in the end warn him not to take this matter directly to God because they all thought to do that would mean they would die. 

But God does come – speaking out of the midst of a great storm – and through his words he takes Job on a tour of the whole physical universe.  God’s agency in creating and governing the functioning of our world is made clear.

But why does God do this when Job’s complaint was about injustice – that God was giving him a hard time?

A couple of things come to my mind that might explain this.

I think maybe this story is a way of helping us see what God’s real purposes are, and what kinds of things are not in the purposes of God. 

Back in chapter 12, Job declares that God is all powerful and then asks if God chooses to wreck something, who has the power to fix it up again?

This is a not uncommon view among people when disasters happen.  People asked after that Tsunami a few Boxing Days ago “Why did God let this destruction happen?”

Here in our reading from Job today we seem to be getting the message that God does not use his wisdom to destroy things on earth – indeed that message is at the heart of the aftermath of the Noah’s Ark story – God promised never to do that again. 

These words seem to be making us see that God’s work is never to destroy or crush creation, but rather to govern it – to give it the rules by which it operates, show it the limits within which it must exist.  God’s job is to hold all these things together.

But I think there might have been a more important idea for Job to get from this story – and we can benefit from it too.  That is, that in life – and indeed in the creation – senseless suffering does happen.

You and I are confronted with this on an almost daily basis because our TVs and the internet can bring us such news from the most obscure places in the world.  The most obvious senseless suffering we see is in the aftermath of a natural disaster – an earthquake, a super storm or a tsunami.  Nothing can be done by anyone to avoid these things – and so many innocent people are killed, injured or made homeless by them.

Because this story of Job is framed in terms of a conversation between Satan and God, we easily get the idea that there is some sort of divine agency in the terrible things that happened to Job.  But I don’t think that is the intention of the story. 

This story is meant to encourage us by helping us to understand these things.
  • Senseless bad things happen.
  • Sometimes bad things happen as a consequence of bad things people do.
  • Regardless of the cause, God has never and never will abandon us.  We will never be able to say God has left us to die.

 In the end, Job is able to say:

I know, Lord, that you are all-powerful;
               that you can do everything you want. 
You ask how I dare question your wisdom 
               when I am so very ignorant.
I talked about things I did not understand,
               about marvels too great for me to know.
Job 42:2-3

And with this confession God responds to Job by showing him that life can still be good as his herds of livestock regrew and as he had more children.

May we never forget that no matter what happens to us in life God is always with us and will always show us the places in which to find faith and hope and love.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Wednesday is actually St Bartholomew’s Day and it also marks the 18th Anniversary of Eira and me being ordained as Anglican Ministers – and that after being ministers in Churches of Christ for 17 years.  So St Bartholomew is a somewhat significant person for us among that great cloud of witnesses we call the Saints of God.

As Anglican’s we already have the name of St Bartholomew in our mind because of the wonderful Anglican Agency in our city, St Bartholomew’s House that began as a doss house for derelict and homeless men and has become one of our leading agencies addressing the enormous issue of homelessness.

But, who you may ask is Bartholomew, and why did we read a Gospel story about Nathanael on St Bartholomew’s Day.

Well, any Hebrew reader would have immediately recognised that Bartholomew is not the personal or given name of anyone.  That is a patronymic name or family name – it means Son of Tolomai.  There is another name like that in the Gospels that you will remember – Bartimaeus meaning Son of Timaeus.

Because of this, and the fact that Bartholomew’s name in the lists of Apostles in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts is always placed after Philip’s name, when scholars look at this story in John’s Gospel about Philip and Nathanael they have drawn the conclusion that Nathanael is the son of Tolomai.  Thus his full name is Nathanael Bartholomew.

So Nathanael Bartholomew was one of the 12 Apostles – those Super Disciples who became the leaders of the early church as it spread out across the Mediterranean and other parts of the known world.  This story of him in John and his presence in the four lists of Disciples mention is all we know of him from the Bible, but that does not mean we know nothing else about him. 

There are stories of him in other sources and from these and the accumulated tradition of the church about this saint we could paint a very detailed picture of his exploits as an Apostle and missionary.  Some of them are reasonably historical but much of it is what we might call these days legendary.  But that’s not a problem – we generally think very highly of someone we describe as a legend.

There are stories that connect Nathanael Bartholomew with missionary work in various towns around the Eastern Mediterranean – Egypt, Turkey and more. 

In the fourth century, Eusebius found a story about a Missionary named Pantaenus who was evangelising in India in the area around Mumbai.  He was there near the end of the 2nd century and the people there told him that Nathanael Bartholomew had already been there years before to share the Gospel.

The later stories of his life, centre on the area we call Armenia – around the Caspian Sea.  This is where he did his greatest missionary work and even persuaded the King of Armenia to become a follower of Jesus.  This infuriated one of the Kings relatives and eventually Nathanael Bartholomew lost his head.

It certainly seems to be the case that most of the Apostles embarked on missionary journeys, not just Paul and his companions.  It was through this work that Christianity spread quite rapidly through what we call the Ancient Near East, and these early Christian missionaries did a wonderful and very important work.  But what about you and me?

Maybe some of you wanted to be missionaries but circumstances intervened.  Maybe some of you want to become missionaries yourselves and go to faraway places and evangelise the people there.

The reality for most of us is that if we are ever to be missionaries it will be here within our own communities in the suburbs of Perth.  And one good thing about that is that you are not likely to get your head chopped off for doing it.

In Acts 8.4, Luke tells us that the early Christians who were scattered by persecutions, proclaimed the Gospel wherever they went.  Michael Green suggests that this was not so much a preaching proclamation as it was what he called “Gossiping the Gospel.”

I like this idea and I offer it you for your consideration – and perhaps your inspiration.

Gossiping is something that most people engage in at some time or another.  Sometimes we lay fairly negative connotations on it.  Other times it is just part of the fun of our social interaction within our community.

There are usually two elements to gossip that makes it work.  Firstly, what we are telling someone is either secret or something we think they don’t know.  Secondly, we think that they will really want to know what we are telling them.

You and I love what we get from our relationship with God and this community.  That is what keeps us going in our faith.  One of the greatest single problems in our society is social isolation – our Nuba people can’t understand that.  Our community, the place where we nurture our faith, offers a place to belong, the companionship of like-minded people (and others) who share one very important thing – we are all discovering each day something new about the Way of Jesus which we have decided to make the purpose of our lives.

Talking about this doesn’t involve theological education and understanding doctrine or dogma.  If you are passionate about your walk with Jesus, talking about it should be the easiest thing to do, and it should be the easiest thing for someone else to listen to.

The only thing else for you to think about is “Who am I going to gossip to?”  Do you belong to a group that meets each week somewhere – not this church?  Sometimes you could gossip to them.  Sometimes do you meet with your friends from work or your former work life for a coffee or to play golf?  You could gossip to them.  I think the possibilities are endless.  I hope you do, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

PROPER 19C - Are You Ready?

When I asked that question I wonder if deep down in you, you had a thought of doubt. 

“Maybe I am not ready.” 

“Maybe I am not really good enough.”

The readings we had from Isaiah and Luke today are full of good news for you all, but I know that it is hard for us to get it.

It is really easy for us to live by a set of rules.  We like rules.  If we keep the rules, we will get our reward.  If we break the rules we will miss out .  Maybe even we will get punished.

That is how the people of Israel had come to live.

Sadly, that is how Christians came to live – and very early on.  But Jesus did not give us a set of requirements – of things we had to do – in order to receive God’s blessing.  He turned that system upside down.

Jesus had a lot to say about the rule book of The Law and most of it boiled down to living by the two great commandments – not the 10 Commandments.

Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

These are the only rule.

In the Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew 5 – there are six examples of Jesus quoting an aspect of the Law – and he turns those rules upside down by saying “But I say to you …”

So, keeping the rules will not make you ready.  That is the whole thrust of the reading from the beginning of Isaiah.  What he said God wanted most of us was that we would “see that Justice is done.”  How much of your religious practice is focussed on that?

Let’s have a look at these two Gospel stories we had from Luke 12 today.

The first story is called “Riches in Heaven” in our Good News Bibles.  This story is trying to tell us what is really important.  It is trying to tell us what God really cares about.

“Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor,” Jesus said.  “Save your riches in Heaven. “

This is a really hard saying.  Most of us have lived our lives doing the opposite of giving our money away – we have tried to earn as much of it as we can.

You will have heard of John Wesley, I am sure.  He was an Anglican Priest, but he became the founder of The Methodist Church.

His dad was a Priest and they were very poor.  One day, when John was a young child, he saw his dad being taken away to a debtors’ prison.  So you can imagine Wesley might had made a decision that he was never going to be poor like that.  And he nearly did.

He was lucky enough to go to Oxford University.  He was going to become a priest like his dad but changed his mind to become a teacher at Oxford – that way he wouldn’t be as poor as his dad.

One day he had been out to buy some nice pictures to put on the wall of his room at Oxford.  While he was putting them up the maid came in to clean his room and he noticed that she was freezing because she didn’t have warm clothes.  He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a warm jacket when he realised that he didn’t have enough money left after buying those pictures.

He felt very embarrassed because he could almost hear God saying to him You have adorned your walls with the money which might have sheltered this poor woman from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”
This changed his life because from that day on he lived a very frugal life, even though he earned a lot of money at times.  He had learned to live in those days on about £28 a year – labourers earned between £25 and £30 a year.  But some years he had an income in excess of £1,000.  He still lived on £28.  The rest he gave away.

He said one time: “Money never stays with me.  It would burn me if it did.  I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible lest it find some way into my heart.”

I think he understood this teaching of Jesus.

The second story is another one by Jesus that turns the world upside down.  This story is called “The Watchful Servants” in our Good News Bibles.  In this story, the servants who are awake and ready when their master returns in the middle of the night get a big surprise – the master tells them to sit down, he takes of his outside clothes and then makes a meal for them.  This is not the way it is supposed to be.

But this story is clearly telling us that this is the way it will be for us when Jesus returns – if we are ready.

I can almost hear some of you thinking “Oh well, the Second Coming of Jesus is a long way off.  I’m okay.”  And that might be true, but I wonder if there is another way that Jesus comes again.  This might be something that we need to take notice of every day.

Do you remember that story Jesus told in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats?  I don’t think the Nuba people think of sheep as good and goats as bad – but that idea serves Jesus purpose in this story.  In this story Jesus is talking about the final judgement.  I guess most of us would think of this as the time of what we call “The Second Coming”.

He tells the sheep that they will get their reward because they had been kind to him.  They tell him that they never saw him anywhere to be kind to him.  He tells them that every other person they were kind to that was as if they were being kind to him.  What he is telling them is that He comes to us again and again – every day – in the people that we meat during our daily routines.

Those goats didn’t see him either – so they didn’t bother being kind to anyone.

Can you see what this is leading to?

Seeing that Justice is done is about being ready.

Seeing that you share and give away as much as you can is about being ready.

And when you are ready – really ready – the Master who is coming will come in to you and serve you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

ST MARY MAGDALENE - Apostle to the Apostles - Sunday 17 July

If it’s on the internet it must be true!

We all know, don’t we, that we have to be really discerning when it comes to choosing what to believe on the internet and what to take with a grain of salt.

The same rule can be true if you try to find out about the saints of old.

If you use your computer search engine to look up Mary Magdalene you will get some amazing information.  I looked up the first 10 pages Google identified for me.

I discovered that she is often assumed to be the woman who wept on Jesus feet or anointed his feet with perfume – but this was Mary the sister of Martha, or else an unnamed woman of ill-repute; which probably led to the next thing I discovered.

I discovered that Mary was probably a prostitute, and that she became the patron saint of fallen women – so in the Middle Ages many “Magdalen Houses” were built and run by nuns to gather such women in.

I discovered that there are five Gospels that are not in the Bible that tell stories about Mary.

I discovered that Mary was cast out of Palestine on a boat without sail or oars and she ended up in Southern France.  Relics of this are still present to this day.

I discovered that Mary was actually the married to Jesus and some say there was even a child.

I discovered that she had starring roles in 40 movies since the first in 1912.

But none of this is based in fact so what can we say about Mary Magdalene with any certainty?

Firstly, she is named more often in the Gospels than many of the Apostles – a dozen text references.  Apart from the birth narratives, Mary the Mother of Jesus rates just eight Gospel references.  So it is reasonable to regard Mary Magdalene as very significant in the Early Christian community.

Mary Magdalene was one of a group of women who gathered as followers of Jesus in addition to the men, and Luke makes it clear that these women were of sufficient well-being that “they used their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples.”  Luke 8:3   

Luke also mentions that Jesus healed her – the text says 7 demons, but since 7 is a symbolic number it is a bit difficult to know for sure what she was healed of.

This is the only reference to her prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection stories.

  • Matthew, Mark and John name Mary among the witnesses of the Crucifixion. 
  • Matthew and Mark note Mary as one of two women who witnessed the interment of Jesus’ body in the tomb.  
  • Finally, all four Gospel writers name Mary among the women who gathered at the tomb early on the Sunday morning and discover that it is empty and who then passed on the news or the instructions of Jesus, depending on how the story is told, to the Apostles.

Anything else that you think you might know about Mary is either the product of the accumulated tradition of the Church, or our tendency to merge the stories of the various Mary’s into one and say this is Mary Magdalene.

So, what do we make of this Mary?  Why is it that she occupies a very hallowed or noble place among the community of early saints?

In the language of the Church she is called the Apostle of the Apostles.  The word Apostle means a messenger or an emissary – one who represents the words of another.  Just as the 12 Apostles were sent by Jesus in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, so Mary Magdalene was sent by Jesus with a specific message for his disciples.

In the scheme of things this seems to be a very strange state of affairs.  As Dee reminded me during the week, in those days the testimony of a woman held no weight in the courts.  They were never taken seriously – I guess because women are so often hysterical!  And we get a little bit of resistance to the witness from the men, don’t we – but maybe that was because the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was unbelievable rather than because it was some hysterical women who told them.

I don’t suppose we will ever know, but it is clear from these references to Mary Magdalene, and her very significant place in the early Christian community, that she was acknowledged as someone special among the saints.

I really hold an egalitarian view of life in the Kingdom of God, but many in the church have held out an hierarchical view of things, even down to having a hierarchy of saints.  We have marked this difference by having different names for the kind of commemoration we have of a saint.  In the Anglican Church we have Principal Feasts, Principal Holy Days, Festivals, Lesser Festivals and Commemorations.  Just this year, Pope Francis has elevated the commemoration of Mary from a Memorial to a Feast – right up there with the Apostles, Peter, James, John and Paul.  Again, what this says is that Mary is really, really important.  We must not disregard her as an insignificant or bit player in the story.

Given the place of this woman as the first witness to the resurrection, as the one to whom Jesus entrusted the task of telling his Disciples that he had been raised to life, I think it really is sad that women have had to struggle over the years to feel validly part of the Christian community.

In the story of Mary Magdalene, in the story of Priscilla and Acquilla, in the stories of so many of the women in the early church we see women accepted as equals in the community of believers.

I want to see a church in which this is more and more the case.  We have come a long way in our lifetime in redressing the imbalance that saw all leadership in the hands of men – and the church is much healthier for it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

St Peter & St Paul

I don’t think I need to persuade you to the view that Peter and Paul were each very significant among the founding fathers of the Church.

Peter, of course, is portrayed among the Apostles as the leader, and there are some wonderful personal and one-on-one encounters between Jesus and Peter such as we read from John 21 today.  As you read through the Book of Acts you see that Peter and James became the significant leaders of the Christians that were in Jerusalem.

Converts dispersed from Jerusalem in those early years to the towns and cities around the Mediterranean rim, and we see a number of journeys by those early apostles and church leaders to the outlying communities to help establish the churches there or to support and encourage them.  But Peter and James remained in Jerusalem for at least the first twenty years following the death of Jesus.  In the mid-50s Peter went to Rome and led the church there.  Tradition has it that he was killed there by the Roman authorities in about 65ad.

Paul was not one of the Disciple Apostles.  Compared to the Apostles, Paul was a citizen of the world.  While he was clearly Hebrew and had been seriously trained as a Pharisee by Gamliel, he lived in Tarsus – a Roman town in Turkey – and he was in fact a Roman citizen.

Our Christian stories of him begin with him as a severe persecutor of Christians, but his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus in Syria was transformative and he became a great champion of Jesus.

His stories are recorded in the Book of Acts as well as in his own words in some of the letters in the New Testament.  He works very hard to establish his credential as an Apostle equal among the Disciple-Apostles because he says that he encountered and was taught by Jesus during a three year period he spend along before he started his ministry.

Paul, also ended up in Rome, about the time Peter was there and they were both executed in the mid-60s.

Much of the work of the early Disciple-Apostles was seeking to persuade Jews that Jesus was in fact their awaited Messiah.  They generally did not detach themselves from the synagogues, but rather grasped every opportunity they could to make it clear that Jesus was the One.

But an interesting aspect of Synagogue life, especially in the towns around the Mediterranean to which the Hebrews had migrated, was that there was very often a group among them who were Gentiles who were very interested in Judaism.  Paul, with his Cypriot friend Barnabus, had a canny knack of telling these people the stories of Jesus so convincingly that they became Christians rather than Jews.  This might explain some of the trouble he seemed to have frequently with the Jewish Authorities.

This growing body of Christians from a gentile background caused problems for the Christians from a Jewish background, because the Jewish Christians still thought of themselves as Jews, so circumcision and the Law of Moses was kind of obligatory.  Yet these gentile Christians weren’t lining up for those bits.  This is what the meeting in Jerusalem which we read from Acts 15 today is all about.

So we have these two characters before us today, whose lives we celebrate and whose memory we honour.  And it seems to me that there are three things we might carry away with us as encouragement for our life together here at Holy Cross.

The first is that the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles shouts out to us all that the Christian Community was to be an INCLUSIVE community.  The Hebrew people had been used to separating themselves from Gentiles and sinners – basically believing that contact with gentiles contaminated them and made them ritually unclean.  But this Christian community chose to welcome sinners into it.  Following the example of Jesus who “ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners” the church seemed to make it clear that anyone was welcome here.

Now I think that is really important for us in the church today.  It is very easy for us to create barriers to make sure various groups of people don’t make it too close to us in the church.  But this is not the way it should be.  This should be a place of welcome or warm reception for anyone who feels marginalised or an outcast in our society.

Secondly, I think these two men teach us that sometimes things change.  We generally like to think that our world will stay pretty much the same.  It makes us feel safe.  And this is perhaps especially so in the area of our faith life in the church.  But just as Peter and Paul had to make big adjustments to changes in their ideas about how things should be in the church, so we, in our day have had to adjust and move on all sorts of ideas about the life of our church.  We, all of us, tend to resist change.  We like things to be as we have known them to be, but as life and our community changes around us we find that we also have to change.

The third little bit of inspiration I get from the stories of these two men is that when we choose to follow Jesus we never know what’s around the corner.  And just as Jesus kept on in the way of his Father, even though he could see looming upon him the distinct possibility that the authorities would kill him, so Peter and Paul kept on with their sense of the mission Jesus had given them, even as they could both tell that circumstances were making it more and more likely that they would lose their lives.

I think this involved cultivating a confidence in our own sense of God’s call in our lives.  God has called each one of us here to be his people, to live out our lives in relationship with God and in service of one another.  Sometimes, the doing of that is really easy.  Things go well, we can see the results of our efforts, and we feel greatly encouraged.  But other times, we seeking to follow in his way it seems as though everything around us is railed against us doing it.  But following the example of Jesus, and Peter and Paul, we can be encouraged to just keep on being God’s person here anyway.

The rule of life is simple – just do it! – even if things seem to be stacked up against us.  God knows and will honour our faithfulness.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

PROPER 10C - In God We Trust

Down and out.

That is how life was for the two widows in our stories today.

The woman in Zarephath was preparing what she thought would be her last meal.

The woman in Nain was burying her son and, being a widow and unable to inherit from her son, she was facing immediate homelessness.

This was as down and out as anyone could be.

When such circumstances crash in on people today they might have family supports to carry them through, they might have access to some Social Security safety net income, but they might not – and for them life is very tough.

But the story emerging from these two tales is one of hope.

Firstly they encourage is to trust that God will provide.

I have seen communities in which this encouragement has expanded into what we might call a “Prosperity Gospel” – if we pray the right way God will give us what we ask for.  I don’t think either of these women became rich beyond their wildest dreams.  But in their desperate need, God became present in Elijah and Jesus to meet their need give them a new way forward.

The second thing emerging from these stories is the encouragement to be content with what God has given us.  This is very hard in our modern consumer society – we grow up being taught that we can do anything we aspire to and that if we work hard enough we can get anything that we want.

It becomes really hard for us to even imagine what enough is let alone be content with enough.  I would dare to suggest that “enough” is probably far less than you currently think you need in life.

But these stories encourage us all to trust that God will make sure we have enough.

I know that some of you think of our church here at Holy Cross as a “little church”.  Sometimes we feel desolate about the future of the church because we have become so small.  But I want to encourage you to trust that God will ensure that we have ENOUGH.

You may remember that parable of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bag of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”

If we are to trust that God will make sure we have enough, we also have to trust that in God what we do have is enough to be the Kingdom of Heaven in this place.

Friday, May 20, 2016

TRINITY C - Can We Make Sense of the Trinity?

There is a standing joke around among ministers that if they ever had theological students working with them when Trinity Sunday came around they would get the student to preach the sermon.  I obviously have not lived by that rule, and I think our student might be rather glad about that.

But why is it so?
Celtic image of Trinity

We all know that the Trinity is the one central doctrine by which we judge the orthodoxy of other churches by.  Yet it is still a doctrine that most preachers find difficult to tackle.

It seems to me that the idea of the unity of Father Son and Holy Spirit as One God is something that we know to be profoundly true and yet we find it almost impossible to explain its meaning in language that is governed by sense and logic.

Last year I used a metaphor of the ancient theatre world to try and express it, but that didn’t work for some of you – and you told me so.

I had a thought recently that was affirmed in our Thursday Prayer group last week.  It involved the simplest and most accessible image for us.  We westerners use a particular idea when we speak of our human being.  We speak of having a body, soul and spirit.  We have a sense of these three as separate aspects of our selves, yet we know that each is indivisible from the others.

On Sunday last my wife and I attended the service at St John’s Anglican Church in Albany, and what a wonderful surprise the Holy Spirit had for us on that Day of Pentecost.  After some time without a minister there are now two women priests serving the congregation and the whole place felt alive in new ways.

In her sermon for Pentecost, the minister made a comment about the function of the Holy Spirit and I think this is at the heart of understanding the significance of the Trinity.  She said that the work of the Spirit was to bind the Father and the Son together in love, and that bound in this way they formed a community.

Now this is as far as I need to go in comprehending the idea of the Trinity.  It is enough for me.  I don’t think we can ever find a satisfactory logical and reasonable explanation of it.  Every attempt will have flaws in the argument or gaps in the logic and through these our arguments could be destroyed.

But we all affirm the truth behind the idea of Trinity.  As I said in the Newsletter it is easy for us to get the one-ness of the Father and the Son, and the place of the Holy Spirit can be understood in its relationship to the Father and the Son.  Paul speaks interchangeably about the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.  We get that, and I think that is really what the creed is trying to say when it says the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Image inspired by the Icon in Rublev of the Trinity

But what does it all mean?

This question is not about making sure you believe the right doctrine.  It’s more of a “So what?” question, and maybe there will be a different answer from each of you or for each of you.

Something I want to pick up and link to some of the other readings we have had from John in this Easter Season is this idea of Community. 

Last week Jesus spoke in the John reading about his being in the Father and the Father being in him.  A couple of weeks before that Jesus is reported saying that those who love Jesus will do as he says and that the Father will love such a person and that Jesus and the Father would come and live with them.   And the week before that Jesus spoke of a new commandment that would make it so clear to the world that we belong together as Gods children.

In various ways these are calling us to live in the same kind of unity with each other and with God that we see in the idea of the Trinity.  Abiding is the other word we might use.  “Abide in me and I will abide in you.”

So we are called to live in close intimacy with Jesus and the Father.  And we are called to live as close companions with each other on the Way in the Community of faith.  It is in this Community that we should be abiding in the Father and the Son. 

This is why an important part of our life in God is that we are growing in our life of prayer and contemplation.  This feeds our relationship with the Father – our part of the abiding commandments – and empowers us as we then work out of our life in God to serve one another and those in need. 

If we do these things we will truly abide in Him and he in us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pentecost C - If These Walls Could Talk

This sermon was originally preached at St Matthews in Guildford on Pentecost Sunday 2013.  It is used here today because our Pastor is on leave for a few days.

I don’t suppose you have had many sermons on the Holy Spirit since Pentecost Sunday last year.  When we start talking about the Spirit, it’s not long before our words get terribly vague.  It’s hard.  But then most of the really important, undeniably real things in life are hard to talk about.

Talk about fire:

We can sit around a campfire at the end of a great day in the outdoors, or we can light the heater/fire at home on a cold evening.  It is good to be warmed by the fire.  I love the way the embers glow in a pulsating kind of way that seeps into your eyes and relaxes you.

But wait, I am talking about warmth and glowing embers, not fire.

Describe the wind:

Today, my wife and I will be in Albany and we will stand in awe at the Wind Farm as those huge vanes zoomed around making a whooshing sound like nothing I have heard before –the vane tip was travelling at 260kmh.

We will see the wind send spray cascading back from the waves on Middleton Beach or maybe even at the new Lookout at The Gap.  And love watching the bands of rain-bearing clouds travelled across the sky effortlessly and frequently.

But wait, I am talking about wind turbines turning, waves spraying and clouds travelling, not wind.

Now describe the Holy Spirit:
Well, it – wait, there’s the first problem.  “It” – the Holy Spirit is not an “it”.  The Holy Spirit is a person, but in English, Spirit has no gender so we run into a linguistic problem straight off.  In Greek and Hebrew Spirit is feminine and early Byzantine representations of the Holy Spirit did so using feminine figures.

So let’s just recall what happened on this day we call “the Birthday of the Church”.

The Disciples were all gathered together there in a house waiting for the Spirit to come, as Jesus had promised.

Sure enough, she/he – the Holy Spirit – came upon them that day, like wind, like fire.

American song-writer, Ken Medema has a song called “A crack in the wall” and two lines of it go like this:

I think I can see sunlightComin’ through a crack in the wall …And I’m gunna sing this song‘til the walls start a-tumblin’ down.

I think this give us a lead into a great metaphor for what Pentecost is all about – a whole lot a walls came tumbling down that day:

The walls that separate who could preach and who could not.

The prophet Joel’s vision was fulfilled:
All flesh was blessed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel – not just the male and the educated, but male and female, old and young, slave and free – they all became ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that day.

Walls that separate who can hear the Gospel and who could not;

Walls separating people from this country and that country;

Walls separating my language from your language;

Walls separating the generations of young and old;

Walls separating the haves and the have nots;

They all came tumblin’ down that day.  The Gospel was proclaimed for the first time across barriers of nationality and language.  And the people understood and were saved.

But I wonder if you noticed – one more set of walls went down when the Spirit came upon them that day.

The story starts out with the Disciples safely in a house.  Somehow, and the details is not there in the story, the Spirit brought down even the physical walls of that house that were separating the Disciples from the world around them.  Suddenly they are outside proclaiming the Gospel to thousands of people, and later on that day they are gathered by a great body of water baptising people left and right.

That’s the Holy Spirit.  We only know some things by their effects.  Breaking down walls is an unmistakeable sign of the Spirit at work:  just as the sounds of leaves rustling lets you know the wind is there, or the smell of smoke lets you know there’s fire, so an ever-expanding circle of believers lets you know the Spirit is here.

So, the big question is:

Is the Spirit here in this church, Holy Cross, Hamersley, today?  Can we see any of the effects of the Spirit here?  What would these walls say, if they could talk?

Do we have eyes that can see the working of the Spirit among us? 

A welcome is also offered to those who bring their children for Baptism because this can be a wonderful time for people to hear the Gospel – the Good News that we are all loved and accepted by God.

I see people in this congregation from diverse traditions of faith before they came here, people with disabilities that might in other places become barriers, people across several generations.

I think that over the years some of the walls have come tumbling down.  There are signs here of people crashing through the barriers that society or tradition have built up so that others can hear the Gospel stories that can transform their lives – and in doing that their own lives have been transformed.

There is no doubt in my mind, no hesitation in saying the Holy Spirit is upon us!  We who are gathered together in this place have been touched by the flames of fire and swept up in the winds of change.  Old and young, male and female, whatever, we have all heard the Gospel and we are all empowered by the Spirit to go and share it.

But look out!  We think it is just us gathered here in this place.  But look again – we find ourselves surrounded by thousands of neighbours – people in our neighbourhood – who want to hear about Jesus.  They have heard the Spirit speaking their language.  Will the Spirit move us beyond these walls to gossip the Gospel, to share stories about the great love we have known to the people we meet in the park or the Square or the Shopping Centre – not strangers, people we know, our neighbours.

Sure as the sound of rustling leaves lets you know the wind is there, sure as the smell of smoke lets you know there’s fire, an ever-expanding circle of believers lets us know the Spirit is here.

And the Spirit is about to take us out there!  These walls are a tumblin’ down.

Let us pray:
God most wonderful, Friend most holy, our Easter season is climaxed by this reminder of you sending us your Holy Spirit in abundant power.
You have cast down the walls that divide people and prevent them from hearing the Gospel, creating the opportunity for every race and nation on earth to hear the Good news.
Embolden us with your Spirit to take that Good News beyond these walls so that every tongue may tell and every life display the wonders of your love.
Through Christ Jesus, who lives and loves with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God to be praised forever!