Showing posts with label Christian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian. Show all posts

Monday, 5 August 2019

Sermon on Matthew 7:12 - The Golden Rule

“So everything you wish that others would do for you, do also for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
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Approaching this sermon, I felt very challenged in two completely different ways. Firstly, it's such a short reading, only 20 words long. How to find enough to speak about from so few words of Scripture? But then straightaway I had the opposite problem. This verse is famously known as the Golden Rule, because it beautifully sums up the attitude that should define our morality and our spirituality. But it can be applied in so many different situations, how do you explain it in any way in only ten minutes.So right at the start my hands are both too empty and too full. I'm struck with a degree of humility, and fear and trembling as I approach this task.

I take comfort though from the fact this reflects life itself. The sheer bewildering vastness of life and its choices is, I imagine, enough to make us all feel a touch of fear and trembling sometimes. Especially in this modern world there seem to be so many opportunities and choices, and maybe it's just me, but I sometimes feel with so many choices, I'm just that more terrified I'm going to make the wrong one.

I work for a major, well-known corporation that shall remain anonymous. It's a great company, there's lots of opportunities, and they have this real focus on personal development. This is good, we all want to develop, but at times it is exhausting. If you're not careful you can feel like you're never good enough, you're up on the side of a mountain and you have to step up, and up, and just as soon as you become vaguely comfortable with where you are, you've got to climb a bit higher again, and so you've always got this slight sense of vertigo, like you might just fall off if you put a foot in the wrong place.

And it's not just work, it's social occasions, it's dealing with family, and friends; it's politics, it's the constant never-ending messy confusion of being alive. And the choices are endless, and some of them don't matter at all, but a lot of them do, even if just in a small way, and you can feel like at any moment you could make the wrong choice and screw up, maybe embarrass yourself, maybe miss some opportunity, maybe hurt someone you don't mean to hurt. 

So, what do you do?

I think, fundamentally, there are two types of approach. You can have a list of rules. You can have a list of rules about what you do in each type of situation. So, maybe the rule is "Always say yes to an opportunity", or it's "Don't steal" or it's "Always be polite". But in the complexity of life there will be times when these rules should not apply because they don't take account of the context of the situation we're in. And this will be true however many rules you have, because there will always be some situation that doesn't fit into the rules we already know.

The Law of the Old Testament was a system of rules, designed to cover almost every situation. The Rabbis added up all the 'do's and 'do not's in the Law of Moses and found there were 613 in total. 613! And the Rabbis added many more rules to the list, to create what they called 'a fence around the Law' to prevent anyone breaking the core commandments. They didn't do this to be a pain in the backside, they did it to try to create a comprehensive guide to life, that would allow people to walk in the right path without tripping and falling down. Orthodox Jews today still guide their lives by this code, and Islamic 'Sharia' Law is meant to be a similar theological guide for Muslims and Islamic society.

Our modern secular world seems to be trying to go down the same path too. Anyone who runs a business or a charity, or a school, or who just deals with the Government or the Local council, will know that the rules and bureaucracy seem to be multiplying year after year, sometimes it feels like, before your very eyes. Online as well, in any social media, people are creating an increasing and bewildering number of rules about what you’re allowed to say, and what opinions you’re allowed to hold, to avoid being sternly condemned by well-meaning busybodies. Once again the idea seems to be that if we shape the rules precisely enough, just right, it will be possible to exactly and clearly define what righteousness is.  

But what Jesus taught us is what we inevitably see in life, that this approach never fully works. There are too many choices in life, and people are too unique, and different, for any list of rules to always tell us what is the answer. And that's before you get the issue of people deliberately trying to subvert and get around the rules. However well designed any system of governance is, if people are out to make mischief, they will find a way to get around it and subvert it. You just have to look at the actions going on in parliament at the moment to see people on both sides trying to game the rules to get their way. People really struggle to believe this though. They always seem to think that if they phrase the rules just right, then they will be fool-proof, and then everything is simple. Well, I can only say the history of mankind is the history of the fools winning that one.

What is the alternative though?

The alternative is Jesus's teaching here in the Gospels, the alternative to the Letter of the Laws, is the Spirit and Grace of God; the alternative to and never-ending list of rules is just one - The Golden Rule. “So everything you wish that others would do for you, do also for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

But why is this so different? Isn't that just another rule?

No, because it does not dictate the answer to a specific situation, it gives us the key so we can understand and decide any situation for ourselves. It helps guide our thinking, but it requires us to think. That was what Jesus did again and again. That's why he taught in parables: because he wanted us to consider and learn. Think of the story of the Good Samaritan - Jesus tells this parable after a rich, young man comes and asks him first, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life", and then "Who is my neighbour?". Clearly this man just wants Jesus to give him the answer, maybe in some form of list.

Instead Jesus gives him a parable that he has to take and consider and apply anew in every situation. Jesus knows that no set of rules can be a replacement for a kind and loving heart. Yes, it matters to have the right rules in a society, or a workplace, or in ethics. Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it. And that can only be done by those who judge and think for themselves, but not people who judge and think in any random way, but people whose hearts are guided by loving the Lord God with all their mind and strength, and guided by loving their neighbour as themselves. Only when we take decisions guided by the Spirit of God, who is love, mercy, generosity and peace, rather than by the letter of the law, only then will we judge rightly. 

For this sermon I kind of wish it wasn't popularly known as the Golden Rule, because it's not a rule in the manner I've talked about. It's so different, it's not a law to follow, but a principle that can guide our thinking and our hearts. “So everything you wish that others would do for you, do also for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

What kind of principle is it?

The first thing to say, is to make sense of it we can't apply the Golden Rule in a manner that is too immediate and literal. Just because you like bananas doesn't mean the Golden Rule is telling you to give everyone a banana. And it's easy to think of ever sillier examples. We have to take a step back from that kind of narrowness, and think about it more at an emotional level, what is the way we would like other to approach us, and then let that guide us back into specific actions.  

And if we do that this Golden Principle opens up for us. It becomes one that leads us to think about ourselves and the weaknesses we feel and the challenges we face.  To think about ourselves and all the times and ways we wish we had a helping hand, wish we had someone to turn to. And then it guides us, not to dwell in that forever, but to take all our vulnerability and look to the person sitting next to us, or the person walking by us in the street, or the person opposite us on the bus, and to think about how they might be vulnerable and in need in the same way, and to devote ourselves to them.

Because it assumes that other people are like us. It tells me that I can know something about others, that I can know that they have complex, multiple needs, and motivations, and cares like me. And it tells me even more than this, it tells me I must act to do something about it. When Jesus was asked "Lord, who is my neighbour?" he told the story of the Good Samaritan, with the message that our neighbour is anyone in need, and we act like a neighbour when we step in and help them. And we know that we are in need, so we better believe our neighbour is also in need. And we better do something about it. This is the statement of our common humanity, not as a legal or theoretical assumption, but in the messy, practical reality of all the things and cares that make up our lives.

There is a related saying to the Golden Rule, it is sometimes called the Silver Rule - "Do not do anything to others, that you wouldn't want them to do to you". Did you catch the difference? - "Do not do anything to others, that you wouldn't want them to do to you". Now that is an important principle as well. I'd suggest we all keep it. But it is not as important as the Golden Rule. It is also more common. Many religious traditions have the Silver Rule, but Jesus takes the rare step of turning it into Gold. Silver means second place, and there’s nothing shameful about that, but Gold means first. Why? Gold has always been considered more precious, more beautiful. Gold is always valuable, Silver tarnishes, but Gold keeps its shine. 

"Do not do anything to others, that you wouldn't want them to do to you". The difference is this - You can keep that principle by doing nothing. And that is why it would never be enough. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that the work has begun and is ongoing of creating a New Heaven and a New Earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, and that means standing up and acting. Maybe in small ways, maybe in large ways, and with the Grace and Spirit of God.

Just before this verse in Matthew 7:7 we have another famous reading, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you". Ask! Seek! Knock! And today, Do!

If we think about it, we all know how we'd like to be treated. We all want to people to be considerate, to pay attention to us, and not leave us abandoned, to approach us as unique individuals, to extend a helping hand, to appreciate us for who we are, to stick by us despite our flaws and errors, we want people to never condemn us on the basis of some stereotype or assumption. In other words, we want to be approached as an individual person who needs understanding, rather than as an object to be fit into some rigid structure of laws or assumptions. By no coincidence these are all the ways God's Love see us, and the ways his forgiveness approaches us. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes it clear that, however many rules and laws we have, we will never have the good world we want to see until we approach everyone around us with that same Grace, that we would want for ourselves.     

Amen.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

A Tribute to My Great Uncle George. 1920-2005.

This is a brief tribute to my Great-Uncle, George Knight, who died when I was 16. He was one of the male role-models of my childhood, and this is based on the address at his funeral, written up from memory shortly afterwards. I discovered it again recently and with help from my Dad tidied it up.  This is a testament to an extra-ordinary life, from the aftermath of the First World War to the dawn of smartphones, one of the remarkable generation who lived right through the heart of the 20th Century, and saw their world change more than we can imagine.

My Fathers Uncle, my Grandma Florence's brother, a good and cheerful man to everyone he met: George Knight was born on the 9th January 1920 in South London.  His father died when he was young, he had been scarred by injuries from the Great War and couldn’t work, couldn’t operate, and then, in the late 1920s, sadly passed away.  George was part of a large family who would struggle to look after him at home, and so through a scholarship he was sent away to a boarding school. The experience was hard like the discipline. He used to say, 'when a cane wore out I was sent to buy another one'. But it taught him respect for elders, hard work, obedience and discipline. It also gave him a deep trust in God, that would last him his whole life.

As a child, a small lost boy from a poor family, he developed three dreams. To get into Oxford University, to become an officer in the Royal Navy and to become a Vicar in the Church of England. At the age of 17, he gained entry into London University and then at 19, with the help of a scholarship, he was granted entry to Oxford. His first impossible dream fulfilled. He was there from 1939-1942 and while there became Chairman of the Oxford Conservative Association and Captain of his college's Boat team. This taught him the skills of operating as part of a team and swiftly giving orders to react to the situations that faced him. He did not ignore his studies either, gaining the best theology degree of his entire year.

After graduating from Oxford he joined the Royal Navy in 1942 as an Ordinary Seaman, the lowest rung on the ladder, and on his first day was put in charge of a work party of 40 men.  He was soon promoted to Able Seaman and then after completing training at the Britannia Royal Naval College commissioned as a sub-Lieutenant.  His second ambition achieved.  He was later promoted to full Lieutenant, and commanded one of the second wave of ships that landed troops on Sword Beach on D-Day. One of his favourite stories from the War was when he was sailing in the Adriatic in 1945 shortly before VE Day. He was in charge of the bridge on his ship and from nowhere several vessels came speeding into view towards him. They were German boats and they had white sheets hung on their towers. They were trying to surrender, and George suddenly had this vision of all these enemy ships personally surrendering to little old him and escorting them triumphantly back into harbour. Think of the glory! So, he called his Captain to the bridge as quick as possible and asked him whether he should escort the ships back to harbour. The Captain said no, let them go on their way, so they did, and George continued on to Yugoslavia, glory sadly missed.

After the war George resigned his commission and entered the seminary, from which he was ordained as an Anglican priest. His last great ambition, fulfilled. He returned to the Navy as the Chaplain for the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, at that time the 2nd most senior religious post in the Royal Navy. There one day in 1951 he met a pretty blonde Swedish tourist on holiday. 18 months later they were married, and it was the start of 54 years of happy marriage that only ended with his sad death on the 7th December 2005. He was happy in his job too and was very lucky one day after a service at the College, which as chaplain he was leading, to end up dancing with a certain Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen. He said, 'Who was I, to be cavorting with princesses?'

He later also met the late Queen Mother at a reception where as chaplain he was required to say Grace before the meal and, as was Naval custom, afterwards thank God for the good things he had provided. Later he was honoured to have a long private conversation with the Queen Mother, then still Queen Elizabeth. He was also honoured to be appointed chaplain on the Vanguard, Britain’s last ever battleship, when it carried King George VI and Princess Elizabeth on a state visit to South Africa in 1947.

George served in the Royal Navy for 30 years, and he was thoroughly involved with all sorts of Naval developments. On one occasion he was asked to join a Naval commission to improve the prestige of the Fleet Air Arm. After many hours of discussion and various proposals, George suggested that Fleet Air Arm officers be granted the right to wear bicorne, Nelsonian hats when coming aboard ships, as that would do the job of marking them out distinctly as well as anything else mentioned and for considerably less money.

He retired from the Navy in 1975 and became a parish priest, at which time he was also awarded an OBE for his services in the College. His life was unfortunately mired by a tragedy as well during this time, as his only son, Christopher, died of Cancer at a young age. In 1990 after over 40 years as a Church of England priest he resigned in protest over the decision that year to ordain women as priests, and after that in his old age joined the Philadelphia Church of God, a small, distinct Protestant church to which his wife already belonged. He continued his life happily though, always cheery, always active, and luckily healthy right up until he was struck down by a stroke three weeks before his death.  Indeed on the very morning on which his stroke occurred he was out in the garden planting tubers. He was a good man.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Coming of the Wise Men - An Epiphany Sermon

"A Cold Coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of Winter"


That’s how T.S.Eliot imagined the Wise Men beginning to look back and describing their journey. I feel those words describe a few journeys I've all been on as well. Perhaps some Christmas journeys, or winter  commutes, when the car is iced over and then the engine won’t start.

The Wise Men, or Magi, who we sometimes call Kings, came from the East. There's not much to the east of Jerusalem once you leave the Holy Land itself. Not until you cross the Arabian desert and come to what we now call Iraq. That's almost certainly where the Magi came from. In those days Babylon, and its other cities, were still great centres of civilisation, with many astronomers who paid close attention to the stars. They were probably Zoroastrian scholars, that was the religion of Iraq, Iran and Armenia in those days, a religion worshipping one God whose rituals were centred around fire burning, and studying the stars.

It's 700 miles from the rivers of Iraq to Jerusalem, on foot and on camel. In this modern day I know that because I looked it up on Google Maps. Google gives an option for journeys on foot, but sadly not yet camel. But I assume it was the same length. That's a long journey though, on foot or camel, and mostly through desert, in a land with no good roads, no police force, across a hostile border. But still they came. We don't know how many magi, wise men, there were, though they are recorded bringing three gifts - Gold, Frankincence, and Myrrh. Pretty strange gifts, I imagine they didn't know exactly what they would find when they came. But rich gifts to be sure. Gifts worthy of a King: Gold and rare perfumes and incenses. Generous gifts, to haul 700 miles, for someone they'd never met. But still they came.

And the first thing the Wise Men did was make their way to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, to the Palace of the King, and ask to see the New King of the Jews. We can only presume they thought it would be Herod's son, in some nursery in the Palace, whose star they had seen rising. They asked for "the King of the Jews" but they were clearly expecting more than a King, for they said they had come to worship him. In other words, they knew they were looking for the Messiah, God's anointed, who is both King and God. They must have made quite an entrance when they reached the Gates of Herod's Palace - exotic foreigners, who many Jews would have considered Pagan wizards, fresh with dust from the road, arrive in a caravan demanding to see God's messiah. And nobody at Herod's court or in the Priests of the Temple could tell them anything! 

When I think about this I almost laugh. You have to imagine the chaos and confusion this would have caused Herod and his court. The advisers running around like headless chickens and Herod screaming for answers. You have to the shock passing over their faces. These wise men from the East turned up at the centre of political power in the Holy Land to say not only that there is another King, which would make him a threat to Herod's authority, but that he is God's Messiah, meaning he would totally outranks Herod's authority, and if is widely recognised Jews will flock to him. Well that's one thing, and it's not a reassuring message in the middle of winter if you're Herod. But worse than that, some foreigners had come 700 miles and they knew all about it, but not one person in Jerusalem, the Capital, knew anything. Not in the Temple, not in the Palace. This is a failure of government intelligence on a massive scale. Herod's government would've had contacts with soldiers, bureaucrats, local leaders, with other governments, and with their own spies and informers, and not one of them knew a thing.

The old King James Version of the Bible says Herod was "troubled", and the NIV says he was "disturbed". I bet he was! In fact, I imagine both of those are quite polite ways of putting it. No wonder they scrambled around dragging in Chief Priests and scribes, trying to work out if anyone knew anything about this. Well no, they didn't specifically know anything, but they did know that Centuries before one of God's prophets had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So they sent the Magi to Bethlehem with instructions to find this new-born King, and come back to report.

Now this was Herod trying to be subtle. Once he’d got over the shock, he must've realised that if nobody knew about this new King, this Messiah, then either not many supported him yet, or the Magi had got it wrong and he wasn’t there. I mean, people don't usually travel several hundred miles on foot, unless they're pretty certain, but still, it was possible. Bethlehem was a small place, a village, and Herod was obviously prepared to send soldiers to kill everyone who looked suspicious, because we know that's what he did in the end. But it would be a lot neater and quieter for Herod, if he could find exactly where this King was, if the Magi found anything, and kill him quietly.

The Wise Men knew none of this though. I'm sure Herod kept his scheming from them completely. They must have just been baffled by the whole thing. The Wise men had travelled all that way to see the King of the Jews, predicted by the prophets Centuries before, and these people had failed to notice the birth of their own Messiah. Pretty careless. But still, having been redirected on they went, and they came those last few miles, onward to Bethlehem. It can't have been what they were expecting, they had clearly imagined something like Herod's Palace. They were expecting a King. And what they got was a small, ordinary child, living with his Mother, and his apparent Father, in an ordinary house in a small village. But still when they saw the place "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy", and when they saw Jesus with Mary "they fell down and worshipped him", and gave their gifts of "gold, frankincence and myrhh".

But why did they come all that way? Seven hundred miles from Babylon to Bethlehem. A long, hard journey, in "the very dead of winter". They weren't Jews. It wasn't the King of their people, it wasn't the Messiah promised to their people, they weren't suffering under Roman occupation. It wasn't even the God of their people, the God their fathers worshipped. But still they came, and they were filled with joy, and worship, and gave generous, royal gifts. Why? Because God had touched their hearts. They lived in a distant land, among a different people, but still when the time came for Jesus Christ to be born their hearts were moved. Moved enough to travel a long way in the middle of winter to find another people's King. It's not certain how they even knew about the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews had spent 80 years in exile in Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed in around 600BC. And there were still many Jews who lived in what is now Iraq. Maybe these Magi had got to know some of the Jewish community there, maybe they had read their Prophets there and had heard about the Messiah that way. Second or Third hand, so to speak. Well for these few people that was enough. It was enough to move them to make a great journey, in the faith that it would lead to God's Messiah, to Saving grace.

And not just Saving grace, but grace that included them. God's saving grace that extends to anyone who is willing to turn to God. Nobody was expecting the Magi when they turned up. Not Herod, not Mary, nobody, only God. They came from God only knows for certain where, because something had happened, that meant when God reached out with a sign, the Star, they were able to see it for what it truly was, what it truly meant, and to respond. With hearts that still rejoiced even when God took them to an unexpected place and a simple, common home.

May our hearts be the same. The Wise Men remind us of the eternal lesson that it doesn’t matter who you are, what matters is how you respond. God sends joy and wonders in the most unexpected people and the most unexpected places, if only we are open to go and to appreciate them. But the Magi would never have come, if they hadn’t already had some contact with God's people before they saw the Star. They can't have been the only ones who saw it, but they were the only ones who knew it was a sign of God's grace. They must have already been waiting for this King of the Jews, for them to risk the journey. And have known with more than just book knowledge, something must have moved their hearts.

Maybe it was somebody they had known, perhaps a wise Jew living in Babylon, who had opened the scriptures for them. It is often a specific relationship with someone, sometimes for long time, sometimes just a chance encounter, that can put people on the road to God and a better life. Or maybe someone had just given them a copy of the scriptures to read and discover for themselves, and they had found God written plain on the pages of the Prophets and the heroes of Old. Sometimes left alone with God's words, people can find inspiration all by themselves, but still someone must've taken the step to have given them a copy of the Scriptures, and that was a lot more difficult in those days when they had to be copied out by hand. We never know how our kinds deeds and words may affect other people. We never know how taking an opportunity to speak to people about God, and the faith we have, might nudge them on the right path, to one day reach his loving arms. We also never know who God might call, or who might have their heart open to his presence.

That can be a challenge to us, because we must have no preconceptions about what God's people might look like. They can be familiar, or they can be strange. We can have no prejudices about who is worth speaking to about God, because it could be anyone whose heart is already open, just needing kind, truthful words to fall on their fertile ground.

The Wise Men were the first gentiles, Non-Jews to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, but they were not the last. One of the remarkable things about the New Testament is just how open it is to anyone. Jesus in his ministry made a point of including all the peoples in the immediate vicinity around Israel, as well as Jews of every sex, and rank and wealth. We are speaking today about the Magi, who probably came from Babylon. The Gospels also talk about Jesus being recognised by and blessing a Samaritan man, a Phoenician woman, a Samaritan woman, a Gedarene man (the one whose demons went into a herd of pigs), and a Roman Centurion. Do let me know if you can think of any I have missed.

In each of these cases Jesus preached to these Gentiles, healed these gentiles, praised the faith and commitment of these gentiles. And the early Apostles followed and built on this multi-national nature of Jesus' own ministry. From the first day of Pentecost when God made the disciples speak in many tongues, God began to gather many peoples into his Kingdom. The Ethiopian Philip met on the road, the Roman Centurion who, with his family, was the first Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit! At that point God was going ahead, even of the Apostles, shocking them with the reality that the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, had come on Gentiles. The Apostles could only try to keep up! Within 20 years there were Christian communities all the way from Rome to Jerusalem. In 300 years there were Christians from India in the East to Britain in the West, and in 600 years there were Christians in every country from China to Ireland.

In all these countries there were people whose hearts were open in Faith, Hope and Love, to the Good News of Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit, despite all the incredible differences in language, culture, and nationality. Today there are Christians in every country in the world, even ones like North Korea and Saudi Arabia, where Christian faith is completely illegal and so Christians are in terrible danger. And what an amazing thing that is. Still these days despite the many advances we have made in science and technology, our world seems as divided and fearful as ever. But our God has no tribe or nation, and the Good News of Jesus Christ, has no culture or race or language or colour. It touches the hearts of people in every time and place, because all people are God's children, who he seeks to gather into his Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is a community open to all who wish to belong. And for all of us who are not Jews, but are part of God's Kingdom, we should look back on those Wise Men with great respect and admiration. For they were the first.

Amen.

Monday, 24 December 2018

An Advent and Christmas Reflection

I have a strong dislike of planning for Christmas and hearing Christmas songs before December. I have even been compared to Ebenezer Scrooge. But this isn’t because I hate Christmas, in fact I love Christmas and I also love Advent. The four weeks leading up to Christmas is my favourite period of the Christian Year: the New Year of the church, four Sundays before Christmas, begins a period of reflection, of watching, of waiting, of re-reading the prophecies of God’s promises, of quietly searching for the light in the darkness that can seem to be all around us.

But the preparation for Christmas I see in the society around me troubles me more each year. I see people place a lot of hope in things that don’t get them what they want. Christmas seems to start at the beginning of November and finish before Christmas Day is over. I’ve seen people open piles of presents on Christmas day only to discard them to rush to the Boxing Day sales. As many as eight million people in this country will start January in debt because of Christmas. People eat and drink far more than is good for them, and put up more and more decorations each year, searching for the perfect picture for Instagram. Others place their hope in their jobs and careers, working for longer than they need to. There seems to be little space for Advent and even for the following eleven days of Christmas. Long before the joy of Epiphany much of the world has moved on. Parliament spent Advent in uproar over Brexit, and there has been weekend after weekend of rioting in Paris, it seems many people have put their hope in power and politicians and been disappointed.

As Christians, we are hopefully less vulnerable to the worst excesses of ‘secular Christmas’ and putting our hope in the wrong places. But we still rush around, cooking, cleaning, decorating, wrapping, baking, and staying up half the night trying to create a perfect day. I’ve seen people rush around organising so many church services and singing so many Carols that they feel a disappointment when it is over, saying they did not really experience Christmas at all. The comfort that we need in the midst of pain and grief and suffering does not lie in the things around us in this world. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” prophesied Isaiah (9:2) seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

Christmas comes not only to the rich and well organised; it is not just for young children, or for people who already know Jesus. It comes, to the lowly and the poor. To the young Mary and Joseph, and the outcast shepherds, as well as the learned wise men, and the elderly Simeon and Anna in the temple. It comes to those like Zechariah and Elizabeth who thought their time may be past, and to a young couple in an occupied country forced to flee the persecution of Herod. It comes to John the Baptist in the wilderness and to an Innkeeper in the crowded town of Bethlehem. The Joy, Awe, Wonder, Peace and Hope of Christmas comes to all those willing to follow the star and listen to the angels - to all those who make space for the Baby who was named Jesus, who is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

The coming of the Messiah is the fulfilment of God’s promises, the proof that he has not forgotten his people and the embodiment of our Salvation. It is not a glittery, shiny, empty promise. Our mighty God with overwhelming power comes to save us as a tiny helpless baby – rejecting the worship of power, riches, control, strength and dominance - born into danger and poverty in a Manger. It is something we all need to experience every year afresh, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Christmas gives us an ultimate hope for the future too - as we wait this Advent; we work for the growth of God's Kingdom of hope, faith and love, and we wait for Jesus to come again in Glory.

So that brings me to the challenge of this devotion: what are you going to NOT do this Christmas? How will you remind yourself of God’s promises, and make room for Jesus, God with us?

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Sermon on Acts 4:1-22 - Peter and John arrested by the High Council

"Then they called them in and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You judge! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”" Acts 4:18-20.

These words are the core of our reading today. In the choice of the Sanhedrin, and the response of Peter and John, we see totally opposite approaches to the same facts, the same events. Two options we have today, two options our whole country, our whole world has today and in the years to come.

Peter and John healed a crippled man in the name of Jesus Christ, and preached the news of his resurrection to the crowds. For this they were thrown into prison by the Sanhedrin, the High Council or High Court, of the Jewish people at that time, the same council that had convicted Jesus, and now faced his disciples confidently preaching the news that he had risen to new life. When this High Council, sent Jesus to die they must have thought their problem was solved. Killing a man tends to stop him causing you any more trouble. And movements built around one charismatic man or woman tend to disappear when that person is dead. But months later, they are faced with Peter and John leading a growing movement, preaching and healing through that same Jesus Christ. And the response of the Council shows they are confused, "What are we going to do with these men?", they ask.

Like many politicians today that have to deal with problems all the time, but still, they have surprisingly few ways to do it.  They can't bribe Peter and John, that clearly won't work, and they don't have an excuse to kill them, so they're fresh out of ideas.  If you're a ruler in an ancient, undemocratic society, paying people off or killing them is usually the solution. So the Council tries their backup plan, they try to order them around, threaten them, intimidate them, and hope they're scared into keeping quiet. But if they hoped Peter and John would be scared into silence, they have no idea what kind of men they are dealing with.

For these are not the same men they were before. In the Gospels Peter was brash, he was enthusiastic, he always ran in first without thinking. But at the most important moment he was brittle too. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter ran away, and when Jesus was held prisoner facing death, in fear Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter talked a good talk, and when the going seemed good he was enthusiastic, but when things turned sour he flunked the real test of commitment and loyalty pretty bad.

Jesus never gave up on Peter though, not after the Resurrection, not on the Cross. "Forgive them Lord, they do not know what they do" - I wonder if that was meant for Peter too, who did not kill Jesus, but had gone back on the commitment he had promised to his friend. Indeed, often our friends abandoning us hurts more than our enemies actively trying to harm us. And after the Resurrection Jesus welcomed Peter back: Jesus practiced exactly what he preached, he forgave Peter and restored him to a position of trust, by challenging him to raise himself up through taking responsibility for Jesus' followers the way he had - Peter "take care of my sheep", he said.

Jesus knew Peter's potential despite the weakness and frailty in his personality, but in total difference to the High Council, Jesus does not seek to lead by ordering or threatening people but as a true leader, one who shows his example of integrity, compassion, and sacrifice, and so inspires and invites people to choose to follow after him. And of course, this doesn't just apply to Peter, the same Love Jesus had for Peter is the love he has for every one of us, every day. He has no wish to hold our sins against us, or our shame, our guilt, or our fear, but holds out a hand every day saying 'follow me', rise to the challenge, be a little more the person your best moments show you can be. Follow me, not on your own, never on your own, but with God's help and grace, filled with power by his trust and love.

And so Peter stood up, a bit taller, and allowed himself to be inspired to rise to the challenge and take responsibility for that community he had around him. But even all that, Good Friday and those Resurrection meetings, that's not all that transformed the old Peter, enthusiastic but uncertain, into the new Peter we see in Acts. Even in the book of Acts we see the disciples still uncertain about what is going on. Just before Jesus ascends into heaven they're asking him, "‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’" and for the last time on this earth he has to lovingly correct them.

But then, on Pentecost, Fire comes. Fire comes down, the Holy Spirit of God comes to live in the disciples and everyone who puts their trust in Jesus. And these people, they are not the same.

So now they are standing before the Council that condemned Jesus, being threatened and commanded, with genuine reason to fear for their lives, What are they like? Certain! Clear! In fact, totally unfazed! I'm sure they felt fear inside, they're still human after all, but their conviction was so great that it overwhelmed their fear. And so they stood utterly solid, their heads held high and their backs straight, and spoke the simple and utter truth. I-mean, what a revolutionary thing to do, no embellishment, no beating around the bush, just the plain truth - "As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard". And the Council couldn't believe it. "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were uneducated, ordinary men, they were astonished." Astonished! But why were they astonished?

It might need fancy degrees, and training in rhetoric and debating, to come up with complex justifications for things that probably shouldn't be justified. But it does not require any training at all to speak the plain truth about what you have seen and heard, and nothing more. Jesus talked about the "wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the water rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; but it did not fall down", because its foundations were deep in that solid rock. Peter and John were those wise men that day, because they had seen and heard the truth, that Jesus is risen, and they set their foundations, their words, in the deep and solid rock.

I'm sure they still felt fear, that's a totally understandable physical response to knowing you're under threat, but they were not afraid. After all, why should they be afraid, knowing what they knew. All the High Council could do was threaten their bodies with physical violence, to beat them or even kill them. But what do those threats mean to men who have seen their Lord pass from death to life again, and know he has gone "to prepare a place" for them? And this is true in their speech - clear, direct, honest. No need to lie, or embellish, or circle round the point. What more needs adding to Jesus' words, or taking away from the truth of what God did in those 50 days from Good Friday to Pentecost, was doing through Peter and John then, and is still doing now?

And there is freedom in that. Many times in our wider Church, our Society, our Politics, we get bogged down in too many words, tying ourselves up in complex arguments about things that actually are distracting us from what really matters. For the apostle John, who stood beside Peter, what really mattered was summed up like this- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life", and elsewhere he said it even more briefly, "God is Love". Not because that's the only thing that matters, but because everything that does matter connects to that. Now, at times we need more words, this sermon is not 3 words long. But the more words we pile up, inevitably the further away we get from words that really matter, and we run the risk that each additional word means less and less. Our words and thoughts are freed this when we know what really matters and we keep it at the front of our mind.

Of course this freedom doesn't just free us from needing too many words. More importantly it defines how our words can be spoken. I-mean, what emotional place our words come from. Peter and John were now living in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection, and with that we can be powerfully changed. They knew that if they fell in this world then God would catch them. Even if they died in the flesh they would rise in the Spirit to their Lord who waited for them. So they were  not afraid, and more, they had no trace of all the terrible feelings that come out of fear, and damage us as individuals, and our wider society.

There was no bitterness in Peter and John, and the other disciples, no hatred, no deceit, no cunning, no worry, not even really any anger. Because like fear, what need do they have for those things? A few chapters later in Acts, St Stephen, my namesake, was stoned to death by an angry crowd, the first Christian to die for speaking about Jesus. But even as the stones fell his last words were "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." He had no need for bitterness too, he had seen Jesus sat at God's right hand only moments before. I'm not saying it's easy, or we can all do it instantly, most sadly not, but we can all have that knowledge before us, and over time let it slowly soften our soul.

In the end all our negative emotions are attempts to defend ourselves by forcing the world into the shape we want through sheer force of will. When people watch a football match, they often feel all sorts of fears and doubts, they get angry about a decision or an event while the match is going on, because they want to make the result go how they want it by their own sheer emotional effort. That's why we yell at the TV. But if we already know the final score, because it's a recording or whatever, if we already know the final score then none of that anger, rage and doubt are there.

Peter and John, and all of us, we know the final score of this world, proved through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We know, we should know, that God will catch us if we fall, and with that knowledge we can let go of the fear and tension and doubt in ourselves we hold inside. We still have to act, of course we do. But in everything we do we can let go, and let God. No need to cling to our schemes and strategies, that consciously or unconsciously we use to try to fully control the world around us. Because it won't work anyway, and we don't need it.

This can lift a heavy weight off our shoulders. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are tired and burdened, and I will give you rest",  come to me, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” How could he say that? Jesus was murdered, his disciples were almost all murdered, he calls us to be willing to give everything, to devote our hearts to God and to our neighbour before ourselves. How is this a light burden?

Well, we see the answer clearly in Peter and John, because they have lost the weight of bitterness, of hate, of needing to fight to defend ourselves, of being afraid; because beyond the veil of this physical world around us they know their Lord, Our Lord, waits for them with all the power of Heaven. The Council can threaten their bodies, but that is all they can do, and with God's power filling their souls, that is not very much indeed; and with that all stripped away there is no reason left to be afraid, they are left with what is truly real - the presence of God and his Love. And that is an easy burden indeed.

So that is Peter and John, but what about the Sanhedrin, the High Council they're facing?  We see in them a mirror-image, the opposite of what we see in Peter and John, and sadly one that is all too common in our world. They threatened Peter and John, and what a waste of time that was. But what was the reason that they had dragged the Disciples before them to be imprisoned, threatened and intimidated? Peter had healed a man who had been sadly unable to walk for many years and when people demanded to know how he did this, Peter replied that it was not through their own power or holiness, but God who had done it through the name of Jesus Christ. And for this they were arrested.

The High Council knew as well that this was at least partially true. They could see the healed man standing there, an act of great kindness to that man, physically changing his life. That was a fact. They knew something incredible had happened, even if they didn't believe it was Jesus who was the true cause of it. And when we're faced with any new fact, we always have the choice, the option of learning something from it. Even if they didn't accept Jesus right then and there, they knew something very special, of goodness and power, had happened in front of them. So what did they learn from it? Nothing!

Jesus came preaching love, and 'turning the other cheek', and doing miracles of healing, and they had him killed for it, and assumed that was the end of it. Then Peter and John came healing a man crippled for many years, speaking love and truth, and the hope of salvation in Jesus' name, and they threatened them too. Jesus said "by their fruit you shall know them", but these politicians refused to learn anything from the good fruit Peter and John were producing. The High Council knew it was a miracle, but they learnt nothing from it. But why did they learn nothing from it? Because they were already sure they knew everything they needed to know. They thought they knew how God would act and who he would choose to act through, so sure that when some piece of miraculous goodness happened in front of them they could not see it.  They were so sure, they thought anyone who argued or acted differently was obviously a troublemaker up to no good. And that certainty meant they did not care if they had to use low, evil methods to get rid of them, for they believed it was ultimately in a good cause.

Does that sound to you like any problem we have in society today? My friends this is what partisanship, and tribalism, and ideological bubbles do to people throughout history. All of us can fall victim to it if we close our minds to the possibility that we could learn from someone different to ourselves. And that doesn't matter if they're different politically, or religiously, or ethnically, or different in age, or whatever.

Now in our society we don't generally go around threatening people with violence, though it does happen, but too often people go immediately into a defensive position when their side, their group, their team is challenged. We are too willing to assume bad faith in our opponents, to attack the man rather than the issue that has been raised, to automatically defend things if it means defending our side, and to attack any statement, idea or person that we see as on the wrong side, the other side. If we close our eyes and block up our ears, like the High Council did before Peter and John, then inevitably we miss part of the good that appears in front of us, and find ourselves defending or ignoring part of the evil, or responding with low and devious methods, because we believe the ends justify the means.

The answer is simple my friends - Like Peter and John we know the truth that God's infinite, eternal, over-powering Love for each and every one of us cannot be harmed or damaged by anything this world can throw at us. We know the truth that they killed Christ but he rose again and brings Resurrection to every one of us, and that turns all the threats of violence and deceit of this world into a pathetic nothing.

We know God's eye sees all good and all evil, that his word is the last and ultimate word, and that God never seeks to condemn a person because that person has a flaw within them. So we are free from any need to lash out defensively, to cling on and protect what we see as good with evasion, with bitterness, with slander, with abuse. We have no need for any of that, but can admit every fault with ourselves, or with our group, or with the world, without any trace of fear it will be used against us, and be open to see every piece of goodness wherever it may be found, in the knowledge Peter and John had, that God will catch us if we fall.

I believe that's our best hope, and the best hope for our world as well.

Amen.           


Image borrowed with thanks from http://millersportcc.com/sermons/bold-and-courageous/

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sermon on Luke 5:17-26 - The Paralyzed Man comes in by the Roof


One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

 Good morning everyone. Let me say what a privilege it is to be here a week after Easter Sunday. I pray that the joy of the Resurrection will be in what I say today.

I want to start by talking about the context of the wonderful story in our reading. Today's reading occurs shortly after Jesus begins his ministry of teaching and healing. To understand our reading we need to turn our minds back a few pages to the previous chapter of Luke's gospel where he records how Jesus began in the most dramatic manner. It was in Nazareth, his home town, he goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, like us coming to Church on a Sunday.

He goes to the synagogue, marches up to the front, stands up in front of basically his entire community, and reads the words of the Prophet Isaiah, written 500 years before:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
and to proclaim the Lord's Jubilee”
.

And the Bible says "the eyes of all the people were fixed on him".  From the response I don't think that was the planned reading. And they're all looking at Jesus, thinking  'What is he doing, what did that mean?' And Jesus doesn't make them wait “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I imagine there was stunned silence, followed by everyone talking at once. "And the crowd went wild" as they say in sports.

After this dramatic episode in Luke Chapter 4, Jesus immediately begins to make good on his words. He heals the sick: people with fevers, with leprosy, and other diseases, he frees people from demons and now, in our reading today, forgives and heals a paralysed man.

This is one of the most memorable stories of Jesus' healing miracles. Jesus is preaching in a house, and a great crowd has gathered to hear him. Four men come late, carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat, one at each corner. But because of the crowd, and the close space of the house, they cannot get near enough to see Jesus. But the man's friends refuse to be deterred. They climb up on the roof, and physically dig through the roof: they pull up the tiles, they dig out the mud and reeds that would have been below and they break through. And they don't just make a small hole, they pull up an area large enough to lower a man lying on a mat, down through the roof seven, eight, nine feet right at the feet of Jesus. But Jesus is not fazed for a minute. "when Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven". And the Pharisees and scribes accuse him of blasphemy, because they know only God can forgive sins, and by doing so in front of a large crowd Jesus is claiming to speak with God's power and authority, even to be God himself.

So what was the purpose behind this burst of healing and miracles that we hear described by Luke. Well, with the start of Jesus' ministry we see an incredible outburst of the Kingdom of Heaven onto earth. As Jesus said "today this scripture has been fulfilled", and it is God's very nature that creation and healing and life in all its fullness will break out wherever God is powerfully present.

First and foremost he is creator and sustainer, who made everything we have and are. He is also Justice for the poor and oppressed, and, in Christ the Son particularly, is redeemer, healer, forgiver, rebuilding creation and life wherever it is damaged and distressed. And this is as true today as it ever was. With God the manifesto never changes. When we look back through history, and the world today, we can know and see where Christ is truly present, where the Father is truly present, where the Spirit is powerfully moving.

Where are people proclaiming good news to the poor, relief from fear, debt, and worry?
Where are people struggling to release those imprisoned by evil govts, by tyrannical families, oppressive social customs, by criminal gangs, by loneliness, and poverty?
Where are people working for new ways to free people from physical blindness, and disease, malnutrition, pain, and mental ill-health?
Where are people being freed from spiritual blindness, from emotional blindness, being freed to see themselves with dignity, and self-respect?
Where are the oppressed of every kind having their heavy burdens lifted from their shoulders, by generous and imaginative action, and brought to realise they are loved, valued, forgiven children of God, with the rich potential that God sees in all of us, and delights in?

These are where God is breaking through and building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And if Jesus is truly present in a place we will see these things happening today. Maybe in small and quiet ways, maybe in large, unmissable ways, but always it will be there. And this is what we see in our reading today with the paralysed man. Jesus gives him new life twice over. But we should not just jump to the healing. Again and again Jesus heals those who come to him. But this man could not come to Jesus by his own power, he was paralysed. Instead we have the wonderful news of his four friends, who brought this man to Jesus.

I assume when they left the house that morning, those four men carrying the fifth, their friend, they had no idea what they would be getting up to. They knew what they had to do, they had to set their friend before Jesus, but presumably they had no idea how. You can imagine their mixture of hope for their friend, determination to carry him, maybe some of their doubts. Their friend lay paralyzed, unable to stand. Would this Jesus really be able to help them? But they were determined to try. They probably thought it would be a simple operation. Carry their friend to the house and set him before Jesus. But when they get there they are dismayed, the crowd is so large and dense, and Jesus is surrounded by the building, that there is no hope of Jesus seeing their friend. At that point some people might have given up and thought "well, we tried".

But not these friends, they refuse to be defeated. They immediately set their imagination to work and conceived a way they could bring their friend to Jesus, by hook or crook, where there's a will, there's a way. It wasn't the usual way, it wasn't the standard way, but they thought of a way to bring their friend to God. I pray that we might never be caught clueless if the usual way won't work. I hope we won't give up on bringing people to Life in all its fullness, to that easy burden, and light yoke, the cool, refreshing water that is truly knowing Jesus Christ. The world is changing every day. One day there is a clear passage into the house, and the next day the way is blocked by a crowd. One day people are living in close communities their whole life where everyone knows their neighbour, the next day people are travelling and working in six different places by the time they're thirty and spending half their life on social media.

But with God's Grace there will always be a roof available, another way to bring people to Jesus, to healing, to knowing they are profoundly loved and wanted by God; if we have the imagination to come up with new ideas, if we're prepared to take the risks to try them out. This story reminds me that we must always be willing to try something different, to understand our situation and then to adapt to it, if we are to do what we need to do, to bring people to Jesus.

I wonder which man came up with the idea of breaking through the roof? He may have thought it, then thought, no that's crazy! But still he had the courage to speak up. Please, if anyone here has a new idea about how we can serve our community better, to help love and support people. Don't keep it to yourself! Speak up! You never know when you might have the idea we all need. Don't let a good idea God has given you die in your mind, because you never share it with anyone.

And then we have the other three men. Once that first friend had spoken saying, "if we can't go through the door, let's go in by the roof", they could easily have dismissed it straight away as a stupid idea.  But they clearly didn't, they clearly listened and were willing to try.  I pray that we will listen, really listen to each other, when someone speaks up with a new idea, or just when they really need someone to talk to. I hope we won't reject an idea out of hand just because we've never done it before, or it seems different or difficult, even if there's a solid wall or roof in the way. I hope we will encourage and support our friend, be willing to say, yes I'm with you. I'll share the work, I'll take the risk alongside you, and with God's grace, whether big or small, we'll make your vision a reality.

It must have been a risk as well. I've never tried to carry a man lying on a stretcher onto the roof of a house, with or without help, but it doesn't sound easy.  I'd guess it needed all four men to get him up there safely and then to open up the roof. The paralyzed man on his own could never have got himself to Jesus for healing. I think it's highly likely that even with one or two friends he couldn't have got there, but with four working together, despite crowds and walls, they achieved their goal.

It's a pretty obvious cliché to say that when we work together we can do more than we can alone.  But it's still worth saying. It's not just working along-side one another either. I work alongside people in my office, but I do my work at my desk, and they do their work at theirs, largely separate. The four men in our Gospel were lifting together, at the same time, for the same aim, united by a shared love and determination. And they must have been communicating constantly, paying close attention to each other, or they would certainly have tipped their paralyzed friend out of his bed entirely. Anyone whose ever lifted a sofa with other people, or a wardrobe or a bath will know the truth of that. It is when we are joined in heart and mind with the same goal, and the same aim, when we are paying attention to each other and lifting together that community really becomes powerful, that we can do great things.

Four men in the Gospel were enough to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, and through their faith and hard work see him healed. There are a hundred people in our church community, and to be honest, I think we do a great deal already, and we should be proud of that But I'm sure that through the power of the Holy Spirit we could do even better, in love and faith.  The lesson here is not necessarily about just doing more. It's about working together, in smoother harmony, it's lifting together, and so managing to do what we do better. Though I believe the more we become an even deeper community, a loving, trusting co-ordinated community, we will find ourselves becoming a bigger community too. Four friends were enough to carry one man to Jesus and do it right, despite obstacles in their way. If they'd tried to carry two men to Jesus, why, they might not have had enough strength to get there at all.

We shouldn't just be thinking about our church community here either. There are perhaps fifty thousand Christians of all kinds across Coventry and Warwickshire. Around 3 million in our country, and 2 billion across the whole world! If we waste our energy bickering and arguing then we get nowhere. If we join together in love with a common goal, and trust and listen to each other; if we lift together, then through the Grace of our Lord there is no limit to the miracles we can see achieved.

We can't just stop disagreeing, and we shouldn't. Different ideas and viewpoints are good, but we can be even more determined to try to understand where each other are coming from, to have sympathy with their motives and aims, to really listen with the hope of learning, in a word, to love one another as parts of the same body of Christ.

Now with holy ingenuity, hard work, and quite a bit of digging the four men overcame their obstacles and brought their friend down right at the feet of Jesus. For the people listening to Jesus it must have been quite a sight as the roof suddenly began to vanish above them, and quite a shock as this man appeared down, as if from a very dusty heaven. But Jesus wasn't fazed, with God's sight he alone must've known the man was coming, he must have seen them up on the roof and smiled, even while he continued to teach. Can you imagine the look on people's faces when the roof literally came crumbling in, Jesus must have struggled not to laugh out loud.

So the men are peering through the hole, their paralyzed friend is lying there on the ground and Jesus takes charge of the situation. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”" Nothing more was needed. He knew why they were there, and he acted immediately. They had shown their faith by their action, by their willingness to take a risk, not just from climbing up onto the roof, but also presumably there being an angry owner of the roof. May we all be at least as willing to take a risk on our faith in Jesus.

It is very interesting as well, isn't it. When he saw THEIR faith, he said "friend, your sins are forgiven". We tend to take a rather individualistic view of faith, if I can put it that way. Of course it is true that your faith is all you need to be saved, all you need for a deep and loving relationship with God.  As was very wisely said in a previous sermon in this church only recently, even a mustard seed of faith is enough. God delights in taking our mustard seed, our crumb of faith, and, if we let him, using it to move mountains.  But this does not mean our faith has to live and die entirely on its own. No, rather we gain from the faith of other people around us. We can lean on our brother or our sisters' faith and be strengthened. We all need some faith, but as St Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, some people have a special gift of faith from the Holy Spirit. I'm sure you must know someone like that, someone who seems to find faith easy, someone who seems to have a special, remarkable overflow of faith, especially in trouble and difficult times.

Well it is good for the rest of us to take inspiration from that person, to feel, 'well, I'm struggling a bit right now but I'm going to be encouraged by that person's faith, I'm going to be inspired by that gift right in front of me', and by hanging on to their faith, hopefully in time I'll be able to see what they see, and my faith will feel more solid too. That is a good and natural thing in a Christian life, it's part of being not just an earthly, but a heavenly and a spiritual community; to share, not just food and drink and heat and a building, but our spiritual, holy gifts as well. And I'll be sure that while I may not have that gift of remarkable faith right now, I'll certainly have another gift of the Spirit, and so does everyone here, that we can share and that other person can lean on and benefit from. And so we all benefit from the spiritual diversity among us, and I thank God for that, because it's a wonderful thing. We're not alone , and we don't have to do it alone, not in physical things, not in spiritual things. "When he saw THEIR faith, he said "friend your sins are forgiven".

In another sense that's a curious thing for Jesus to say first: "Friend, your sins are forgiven". The man didn't come to have his sins forgiven, at least not mainly, he came to be physically healed. And Jesus does heal his body too, but he heals his soul as well. Because Jesus knows that we are not just our physical nature, and we're not just a spiritual nature. We are both and more, we are body, mind, heart and soul all together. God isn't just interested in a bit of you, he's interested in all of you. When he talks about life in all its fullness, he means that healing and forgiveness, use and growth, of body, and mind, and heart and soul, are all in God's plans.  And the Christian Church must never forget it either.  We can't heal people's souls but leave them freezing and starving. That's not the Gospel!  And we can't just feed and clothe them, but leave them without God's forgiveness and love for their heart and soul.  That's not the Gospel either!

So Jesus forgives the man's sins, and heals his body. He does this because it is God's very own nature and being to create, to give, to forgive, to bring joy and to heal. That is the Kingdom of God on earth. He also does it because there's a large crowd there, of both ordinary people and the learned scribes and Pharisees, who had come to to see what this preacher and teacher was about, and it is important that they see that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins".

And of course anyone can claim to forgive sins, though it was blasphemy under Jewish law, but by the power of his healing Jesus proved that he was indeed master of both body and soul with the power and authority of God. And he proved that the faith those four friends had in him was justified.  And, though he did not openly claim it yet, he pointed to the fact that he is indeed God himself, full of grace and truth. He probably thought the people had enough astonishing things happen that day without making the full claim of who he was. And indeed "Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”" I wonder which was more unexpected, the paralyzed man coming in by the roof, or the same man walking out by the door on his own two feet, praising God as he went.

Thank you, and Amen.


Thanks to http://www.intothedeepblog.net/2018/01/the-last-ditch-effort.html for the wonderful image showing the dramatic moment from this reading.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Understanding Adam - A Sermon

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-25.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [...]

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Did you know that there are more than 1,000 named persons in the complete Bible? And more than 2,000 individuals, including those without names, specifically referred to at one time or another?

That's an awful lot of people. Of all those people obviously some are mentioned more often and some less often; Some stand out as memorable character, and others are just a name. And some we find easier to identify with and relate to, and some we find harder.  I hope you all have a person from the Bible who you find really easy to relate to, to understand, of whom you feel, yeah, I get where they're coming from.

There's Thomas, doubting Thomas; we've surely all been able to relate to him at one time or another: needing more proof before we can believe. Surely we've all wanted to place our hand in Jesus' side, to have that ultimate and clear proof of God's glory. Or Peter: passionate, devoted Peter, always rushing in before he's really thought, the first to declare Jesus the Messiah, but then to declare that surely he cannot die, so Jesus has to rebuke him. Then the first to declare he will never leave Christ, but he denies him three times. Then the first to run to the tomb that Easter morning because he had to see, he had to know. We're all Peter sometimes I hope. Or maybe it's Martha, of Mary and Martha, good old Martha, who hasn't sympathised with her? It's all very well sitting around listening to teaching but the work still has to get done. Or maybe it's David, or Saul, Jonah, Job, or Paul, or whoever else.

One thing I think I can reasonably bet, is that for most people it won't be Adam. We hear too little from him to really understand him, his world is too different to our own, too ancient, too simple, too symbolic. His experience and relationship with God walking in the garden of Eden is seemingly too unlike our own for him to really be like us. Well, my aim today is to make Adam a bit more relatable. He may still not be your favourite Bible character, but hopefully we will all understand him a little bit better, and understand his role for us in God's story of salvation a little more.

When I read again those very first few chapters in Genesis I am struck by their beauty and clarity, by the phrases that ring down through history: 'In the Beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth', 'Let there be Light', 'therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh', and finally 'from dust you came, to dust you shall return'. In these chapters we see the meaning and value of all the created, natural world in God and through God, and the value and meaning of Mankind, in God and through God.

Who are Adam and Eve? Well, God 'created mankind in his own image, male and female he created them', and that is Adam and Eve, and it is each and every one of us, who also bear God's own image. God gave them all the beauty of the world he created: the sun and stars, the trees and grass, the air and water, and he gave all that beauty and opportunity to us too. He gave them responsibility for ordering and stewarding the world he created, and he gives us that responsibility too.

God asked Adam and Eve to walk with him, who created them from nothing, to trust that his wisdom would bring them greater joy and peace than they could achieve on their own, and he asks us to do that too. And when they sinned he warned them of the grief and suffering that would inevitably follow, as he warns us too; but still he cared for them, making them clothing to protect them, and reaching out to them still, to teach and guide them, just as he still cares for us and each person in the world, whether they know Christ or not.

Who are Adam and Eve like then? Well they're just like you and me. Adam is the ultimate everyman, and Eve the everywoman. They represent each and every one of us, and every man and woman in the world! Their relationship, their experience, their position relative to God and the world he created is the same one we naturally have, but for one crucial fact.  Like Adam and Eve we are all sinners, and like Adam and Eve God keeps caring for all of us in our sin. And like Adam and Eve we have terrible burdens to bear, problems and grief.

Every day we are faced with the temptation of sin, and eventually like Adam and Eve we give in to the temptation we know we should resist. And often like them, we'll also try to blame someone else, for our weakness. Adam and Eve are Humanity, boiled down to the core features of our relationship to God and the world. We should all relate to them, because they are all of us.

But as Christians we have one beautiful, powerful advantage over Adam and Eve, with their purely natural relation to God and the world. We have a source of hope greater and more eternal than the limited, provisional hope that comes from the battered, damaged beauty of the world around us. We have Christ! Sin separates us from God, as Adam and Eve found, building a spiritual barrier, creating a spiritual distance between us, and causing pain and grief to ourselves and to others.

But God crossed the distance, God tore down the barrier and God rolled the stone away! God was born as one of us, Mary's Son, so by taking on our humanity that humanity would be blessed and filled with his infinite grace, holiness and power. Genesis tells us he crafted skins from animals to cover Adam and Eve, but he covers us with his own body and Holy Spirit, so when the grenade of sin goes off it is God himself who absorbs the damage and grief.

Christ's great incarnation and terrible sacrifice is sometimes described as though its purpose is to return us to the state Adam is described as enjoying before he brought sin and evil into the world. And that's right as far as it is, but the truth goes far beyond that. We know God in Christ, we have heard his words and felt his love and presence, we are united with him in Christ's human birth, more than Adam ever could be. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, God himself making his home in our hearts, something Adam never had.

My friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is not the Father's will just that Christ should repair Adam (meaning all of us and all Mankind), but that Adam should grow towards Christ and into Christ! Adam and Eve were innocent in the beginning but they were still like Children, child-like, yes, but also to a degree, Childish and simple. Our lives are made more difficult by the complexity of our world, and the society we live in, but they are also enriched by all the beauty, the art, the music, that human souls have created over the millennia, the bravery men and women have shown, the courage through struggles we have seen.

This is our heritage too, and through this And the teaching of the Gospel, And the example of Christ, And the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become true spiritual adults, mature and rich beyond anything anything Adam & Eve, beyond anything merely natural man could hope to achieve. After all, it is Christ who is whole, perfect, complete; and Adam who is partial, limited and still growing and developing.

This hope, this power, this fire, 'this treasure in jars of clay' is not just for us who are lucky enough to be born after Christ came and have heard his message. It has always been the firm belief of the Church that on Easter Saturday, after Christ's death, while his disciples mourned here on earth, Christ 'descended into Hell', as stated in the full Nicene Creed, and he destroyed the Gates of Hell and lead all those good women and men who died before Christ back up into the joy of Heaven: Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and all the rest, right back to the least and first.

So Adam and Eve were saved too, for it is the plan of God not just that some might be saved, but that in the end All who are willing should be saved.

That in the end, as Isaiah said "all the nations shall flow to [Zion]", and say: "Let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”  and the nations 'shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks', 'and they shall not learn war any more'. The Kingdom of God will spread until we see the beautiful vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth described in Revelations, at the very end of the Bible, once God has wiped 'away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more', and truly Christ's reign is acknowledged by all.

So what should we learn from Adam? That God does not abandon even the least and the first of sinners. Adam and Eve are like you and me, they stand for all mankind and our relationship to God. If they can be saved, anyone and everyone can be saved, and if saved then transformed, and if transformed then 'changed from glory into glory'. So always it is with God.

He does not look at what we're not, but always at what we are, and even better, what with his grace, we have the potential to be. With God no gift or strength is too small. With the mustard seed of faith he moves mountains, with a few loaves and fishes he feeds five thousand, the widow's mite he glorifies, and 'a contrite and humble heart [he] will not despise'.

I will leave you with one final thought. I've always been struck by the thought of God 'walking in the garden in the cool of the evening', one last close and perfectly peaceful moment, just before the darkness of sin was revealed for the first time, and paradise was ruined. Maybe it's because I love gardens. Do you know in the Bible when the next time is that God walks in the garden in the cool of the evening beside mankind?

It's in Gethsemane, where God prayed, sweated, and prepared himself to die. It's like time ran in reverse on that fateful day. Just as God walked in the garden at the beginning of things, one last time before he explained how sin brought death and ruin, so Christ walked in Gethsemane in the evening before he gave himself up to death to bring us Life forever. At the end, returning to the beginning, so God may once more walk beside us 'in the garden in the cool of the evening'.

Amen.   

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Ascension Day - My Sermon

Last Thursday (and again last Sunday) Christians around the world celebrated Ascension Day, the anniversary of Jesus Christ ascending bodily into heaven, beyond all our physical universe, until he comes again in Glory.

My church in Wolston was so moved by this event it took leave of its senses/very generously trusted me to preach a sermon for the first time in church. Feel free to steal liberally for your own sermon/talks/inspiration. The reading was Acts 1:6-11.

"Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

For a long time I have found the Ascension one of the most perplexing bits of the Bible. I think I've decided that is because the Ascension can be confusing, and it can feel like a loss. It can be confusing because, what does it mean that Jesus ascended into Heaven? On the most naive, physical interpretation he rose into the sky and then vanished. That makes it sound a bit Star Trek. But, what is important is not how it physically happened, it is one of the great and otherworldly miracles of God - a True Mystery,  that we can never fully understand with our limited, mortal perspective. And like all miracles its true importance is spiritual. We must understand why it happened, and what it means for our deepest spiritual life, our hearts and our souls.

Anyway, Jesus isn't described shooting upward and away like a rocket taking off, he rises above them, before being enveloped by a Cloud, and disappearing entirely from this world. At many times in the Bible God is described as being manifest in the world as in a great cloud, at the same time vast and powerful but hidden - when God descended on Mount Sinai to speak with Moses and the Israelites face-to-face, at the Transfiguration when the Father directly claimed Jesus as his Son, and more. A fine way for God's glory to be revealed, in part, to Man in a way our minds can at least begin to understand.

But Heaven is not physically above us, Heaven, like God, is in every direction and no direction. It is all around us and it is nowhere in this physical world. It lies in a totally different dimension, reached along a totally different axis to any in our material universe. It is a spiritual direction and axis that lies entirely beyond physical description. And straightaway the angels redirect the disciples' view back to earth.

And we know it is true, because there is no place where Jesus's body rests on earth. There is a tomb, but it is empty. You can go and see it in Jerusalem, there's no body there. We know where Muhammed's body lies, it's in Mecca, we know where Buddha's body lies, it's in India, we know where Marx and Lenin's bodies are, in London and Moscow. But though we know where Jesus was born, and we know where he was killed, and we know where he was buried, his body is not there anymore, it is risen, and it is ascended into Heaven.  

And the Ascension can feel like a loss as well, for that very reason, because how clear things would be if Jesus had never left, if he was still here in the flesh to lead us. We wouldn't have to make difficult decisions about priorities and strategies and plans. We could just follow, like sheep after their shepherd, knowing he would lead us the right way.

What a weight off our shoulders that would be!

It would be too easy though. We would never truly grow and take responsibility for ourselves and for the whole world, to fulfill our potential and become the free people Jesus wanted us to be. And with Jesus here in physical person he could never be with as many people as he needed to be, as he could be in the Spirit, as deserved to have Christ as a real presence in their lives. In his ministry on this Earth only a lucky few, such a lucky few, could sit and eat with him, could stand and hear him, could see him face to face.

But Jesus' ascension meant his ministry could become universal, as it must always be. It was not enough that Jesus could be with the disciples in the person. But he must be in heaven, and so able to be with us all, everywhere in the world at the same time through the Holy Spirit, where and when we need him.  With Stephen when he was being stoned evilly, with Paul on the road to Damascus, with us here in this building now, and at the same time with other Christians, and non-Christians, all around the world.

He had to ascend so he could take his throne and rule over all the world, and still be here with unlimited people through the Spirit. The Son was born as a human being, so he could be a brother and speak to us as a brother to his sister, as a friend to a friend. That is a personal and direct experience and relationship to God that no other method could replace. But through the Spirit, God does not only came next to us as a neighbour, but also lives in us and joins with our souls, filling us with grace and forgiveness so we can start afresh, with new opportunities, day after day. We should not mourn the departure of Jesus. We should be glad, because the departure of Jesus, means the coming of the Spirit, and the increase to Infinity of Jesus' capacity to be with not just a privileged few, in the right place, at the right time, but with all women and men and children across the whole world forever.

Christ's ascension was the last and essential part of his earthly ministry where God combined himself, united himself, with out material reality. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who lived five hundred years before Jesus, but still through God's grace saw Jesus' life, and described it in his Servant Songs like a man who was right there.

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of sorrows, who knew pain well.
Like a man people turn away from,
    he was hated, and we held him in contempt." and the prophet goes on. But now I want to focus on these words,

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground."


God Almighty, the Holy Lord, the One who holds the whole Universe with its spiralling galaxies in the palm of his hand; he, himself, grew up from our ground, like the tender shoots we have growing in our gardens. He grew from our world, and he grew into our world, eating our food, drinking our water, breathing our air, beneath a blue sky just like the one outside.

And so he joined our mundane world with God's infinite, holy being. And his whole life that holy power burst out of him touching and transforming the lives of people around him. People couldn't help but be seized by his personality, his integrity, his love, his insight and wisdom, that we benefit from still today. But that was just the beginning. Being united with a sinful world carries a terrible price, Christ came to bear the whole world within him, so just as the world suffers pain and death, Christ suffered pain and death, murdered by fearful, sinful men.

And when they killed him, Christ's enemies thought they were done, they thought they had won, and the problem they had was solved forever. How wrong could any person be? But as we so rightly celebrated this Easter he rose again, proving that sin and death will not have the final victory. Will never have the final victory.

Please excuse that slight divergence from the Ascension itself, but I think it's impossible to properly appreciate this wonderful event, without refreshing the incredible passage of Jesus' life and ministry. Jesus' conception and birth, was the essential, beautiful moment of bringing Almighty God, the Holy One of Israel, into our physical, material world, and thus blessing it, making it holy forever. Jesus' mortal growth, and life and ministry, was the deepening of God's infinite and eternal joining with our small and passing nature, and the spilling out of his love and wisdom to fill our minds and souls with the light of a better and more hopeful way. His death, the sad but inevitable consequence of taking on our sinful, painful, world. His resurrection the inevitable result of God's overflowing, never-ending, inexhaustible power and love.

And finally his Ascension, the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake, the one thing that is left in this glorious story, to carry Christ's mortal body, the body which grew inside the young woman Mary from a single human cell; that fed at her breasts, that grew up and grew strong on bread and olives and cheese and meat, that was beaten and broken on Good Friday, and carried the wounds on his hands and his feet, and his side where the spear pierced him, but then had risen again!

That body that had carried our sin, and carried the pain of a human life with its scars and its suffering Ascended!

Ascended bodily into heaven and carried our  physical, mundane humanity to the glory of God the Father, heavenly and eternal, to sit on God's throne forever. Just as Christmas brought God down to grow up in the  earth in our human nature, so the Ascension carried our Humanity to be forever at the right hand of God the Father, to be glorified and worshipped by the Angels and the Saints for eternity. So a human being should be seated at the centre of everything that is and could possibly be, and so forever we have someone who knows and understands our weakness and our pain, because he has experienced it, and bears the scars still today.

And not just for this. Christ ascended into heaven bodily because he had already died and passed through resurrection, he could not die again, but he returned to our earth for a while to ensure the disciples knew and truly understood this glorious news, and to say goodbye for now to the people he loved, the goodbye he never had to time to say amid the confusion and terror of Good Friday. After this his ascension was the completion of the next stage of the Resurrection, but still, not its total and final completion.

For St Paul calls Christ's rising from the dead, and then his ascension into Heaven, the 'First Fruits' of the Resurrection. But First Fruits are only distinguished as the 'first' because there are second, and third, and fourth, and more and more until there is a complete and rolling harvest.

And we are that harvest!

Jesus said "I go and prepare a place for you", and that is what he is doing. As St Athanasius said, who helped write the Nicene Creed, the creed of the Church that unites Christians all round the world for the last 1700 years. As he said, "God became man, so man may become God". Not literally, in terms of his essence, there is only one God, this is no easy new-age trick, but in a very real sense nonetheless.

Through the Resurrection and then the Ascension Jesus' entirely human body is gone to sit on the very throne of God Almighty, creator and sustainer of all reality, at the very heart of all things; but not so Jesus himself could be there for his own sake, but to puncture a hole in the barrier of sin and darkness that separates us from the full and true presence and knowledge of God. So every one of us, and every person in the world as well, could have the chance to follow where he led, the chance for our humanity to be transformed into Glory, and leave behind fear and hatred and bitterness and envy, and all the evils that drag us down inside.

For Jesus the Resurrection and the Ascension happened close together, forty days apart, so the understanding of what was happening could be transmitted to the Apostles in human terms and from them through many generations to us. But for us it may actually happen as a much longer process, with more stages, but still truly all as part of the one same glorious "upward call of God in Christ".

What do I mean by that?

Well, for us resurrection begins not after our first bodily death, but, through Christ's grace, before it, as we first come to know and love and place our trust in Jesus; whether that happens as a child or an adult, all in one blinding flash of grace, or with a light that slowly grows from a tiny glimmer until it outshines the sun. That growing of God's love within us allows us to overcome fear and pain and guilt and grief, not all at once, but as time goes by and we discover and move deeper into love, not just our Love of God, but more importantly God's love for himself, and God's love for us, and God's love for the world.

That is how 'Man becomes God', as 'God became man', by joining in the stream of his love: never ending, never fading, never running out, through the Grace that is open to us thanks to Christ's descent to earth, and ascension again into Heaven. And you're never too young, and you're never too old, and there's a new chance each and every day to go deeper, and there's no bottom to that Well, it's as infinite as God himself, there is always just the chance for more and more riches of love and peace and joy and confidence.

And maybe you don't feel like any of those things right now. Maybe you feel angry, and hurt and sad, but that's alright. While we're still in this material world our resurrection and ascension can only be partial, there will still be ups and downs and griefs and pains, sometimes terrible. But still each and every new day there is the opportunity to be washed clean and hand our pain and grief and bitterness to God, and he will take them far away, so without that terrible weight we can dive even deeper into His love, that can bring us more and more peace. For we too, like Christ, must pass through mortal death before we can come to that complete and total ascension into God's glory and presence, and then we will be truly ascended, in harmony and at peace. But in this world it continues as well, and it isn't easy, but still it is powerful.    

How Powerful? Well, I remember Kevin, our vicar, saying once: 'I sometimes think, how must the disciples have felt coming down that hill after the Ascension and turning to each other and saying, 'Right, so what do we do now?'" And what a shower of reprobates they were! How many times did Jesus have to correct them and rebuke them, and still after three years they ran away on Good Friday, and still they didn't understand after the resurrection, but eventually when the Spirit came they did.

And after that history knows what they did. In their lifetime they took the Good News that God had come in our humanity, and he'd been killed, and he'd risen again and taken our humanity ascended into heaven, so the power of the Spirit came, so Men may be free of fear and guilt and hatred; and they took it from Rome in the West to India in the east, full of joy and hope, and founded a worldwide community that means we're here today, and they changed the whole world forever like nothing else. And if they can do it we can do it too! Through the power of the same Holy Spirit and with the presence of the same Ascended Lord Jesus Christ among us all.

Amen.