Saturday, 29 March 2008


1 Peter 1: 3 – 9 John 20: 19 – 31

Driving back from Bristol on Easter Monday afternoon we were listening on Radio 4 to the programme “Beyond Belief” where the participants were discussing the resurrection of Jesus.

The main discussion was between two Christian academics (speaking from rather different perspectives) and a Jewish academic. This part of the programme was reasonable, interesting and well done. But in the middle the presenter interspersed an interview with the former Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway. Richard Holloway presented as his own belief such an entirely subjective, psychological, and pathetically feeble view of the resurrection that I had to take care not to drive straight off the M4. As I couldn’t take my reaction out on the car, I decided to relieve my frustration by preaching to you about it this morning!

This former prominent figure in the Anglican Church described his belief as follows (and I have listened to the broadcast again since to check).

Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the tomb, and that was that. Jesus did not experience a resurrection in any objective sense. But it gradually dawned on the disciples that, just because the messenger was dead, it didn’t mean that his message was either dead or invalid. And so – out of an initial despair and disillusionment – they began to see that, out of the ashes of apparent defeat, there could be hope, new beginnings, seeds of change which are capable of producing far-reaching results. The resurrection enables a psychologically positive attitude which is capable of bringing victory out of apparent defeat.

As an example, he quoted Rosa Parks, the black American lady who (in sheer weariness) in December 1955, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, and from that tiny beginning sprang the civil rights movement in the United States.

Now I don’t quarrel with the idea that from very small actions, motivated by a psychological attitude which simply rebels against the norm, and refuses to lie down, can spring great good out of all proportion to its origins. One could think of many examples – although I fear that the reverse can also be true. Out of one evil idea, psychologically motivated, an enormous monster can come into being. Think of Hitler.

But as an explanation of the power of the resurrection, I find this explanation feeble to the point of embarrassment. Something momentous happened on the third day after the crucifixion – the first day of the week - that changed the world then and for ever.

I would like to slip in a book recommendation at this point. My own belief about what happened on that day was formed (and remains) from reading a book which was written many, many years ago, but which (I am delighted to discover from a

quick look at the Amazon website) is still in print and easily obtainable. It is called “Who Moved The Stone?” by Frank Morison.

To understand what happened on that momentous Easter Day, we have to consider briefly four ingredients. The empty tomb. The Nature of the Resurrection. The change in the disciples. The fact of the Christian Church..

1. The Empty Tomb. I believe it is irrefutable that the tomb in which Jesus was buried on Good Friday was discovered to be empty by dawn on Sunday. The empty tomb is a crucial witness that stands at the very heart of all four Gospels. It is simply impossible to believe that the disciples could have been so clearly convinced, or that the resurrection could have been publicly preached in Jerusalem, if anyone (by taking quite a short walk) could have pointed to a decomposing body. Christianity would have been stifled at birth if Caiaphas and his band could have produced the body even as Peter preached. If you watched “The Passion” on TV, imagine the triumphant look on Caiaphas’ face as the body was carried into Jerusalem even as Peter was preaching (as in Acts 2) that “God raised Jesus from the dead...because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”. Moreover we are simply not entitled to ignore or dismiss the crucial eye-witness accounts of Easter Day on any grounds – certainly not just because the Gospels were written some years later, or that (as in all eye-witness accounts) they are not all the same. The tomb was empty; something unprecedented had happened; those who were eye-witnesses that day and in the days that followed, tell us that what they saw convinced them beyond doubt that Jesus had conquered death and was actually more ‘alive’ in every sense that matters, than He had been before Good Friday.

2. The Nature of the resurrection. Some of the Radio discussion turned on the question of Jesus coming back to life in a resuscitated form (as in the raising of Lazarus). But this would not have been sufficient to give birth to the Christian faith. Death would not have been defeated, merely postponed. Something happened in the tomb which transformed his physical body into a spiritual body suitable for life in the heavenly, spiritual realm. It was this transformation which the Jews believed would occur at the Last Day of Judgement, which is why (a few weeks ago) I referred to the future invading the present on the day of resurrection. The resurrection body of Jesus is the proto-type (so to speak) of ours. Manifestly the same person, recognisable, but no longer limited by the constraints of age, mortality, time and space. In 1 Corinthians 15: 35 – 44 Paul writes about the difference between the physical, mortal body and the spiritual body into which it will be transformed for the life to come.

He uses, for example, the transformation from a seed into a fully blossoming flower or fruit. What you plant in the ground is a seed that usually looks pretty dead and shrivelled. But from that seed there comes the most beautiful flower or mature fruit. There is both similarity and difference between seed and fruit. There is vital continuity. They are, in essence, one and the same. So it will be with our essential selves and personality. But there is also vast difference.

The tiny shrivelled seed has been transformed into something glorious. Paul writes: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

At some moment on that first Easter Day, that transformation happened to Jesus. He was without doubt the same Jesus. But his mortal, physical body was transformed into a new spiritual body which is immortal and independent of the constraints of the physical world. And if this is true for Jesus, it has huge implications for those who believe in him. We read in Hebrews 12 that He is the “Pioneer” – the one who has gone through death before us, opened up the way and made it safe, and now offers to lead us personally through to that same glorious spiritual realm. Where He has gone, we can safely follow.

With this in mind, all the resurrection appearances fall into place. Jesus is recognisable – manifestly the same person – but no longer constrained by any of the limitations of a mortal body in a space/time existence. And he appears holding out the most wonderful and astonishing promise for every one who believes in him.

3. The Change in the Disciples. I find Richard Holloway’s idea of a “dawning realisation on the part of the disciples that the message remained valid” feeble in the extreme. It was not a dawning realisation of a psychological truth, it was an explosion of joy at the appearance of the risen Jesus and their understanding that the same Jesus they had known and followed, had indeed conquered death and was triumphant over all the powers of sin and evil.

Try to imagine being one of the disciples in the upper room when Jesus walked in and said: “Peace be with you” as we read in today’s Gospel. Can you begin to feel the mixture of sheer amazement, bewilderment, followed by a flood of joy and overwhelming knowledge that Jesus was, indeed, everything he had promised – everything for which they had hoped? Despair and hopelessness became, over a period of time, culminating in the coming of the Holy Spirit, the powerful, deep-rooted conviction shown in Peter’s speech in Acts 2 (our Epistle) which was the foundation stone of the Christian Church.

Of course we don’t pass from the initial amazement at witnessing an event which had never happened before in the entire history of the world, to the settled conviction of Peter’s speech in a matter of minutes or days. Of course it took time for them to digest and understand the implications of what had happened. It was a continuously dawning realization of the meaning of the resurrection. But that process could never had reached the conclusion which is the Christian faith without the solid, objective foundation stone of the actual resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

4. The Fact of the Christian Church. A dawning realisation that, from small, critical beginnings, great victories can be achieved against the odds, could never have been enough to kick-start the Christian Church. Such a message and example have been taught and put into practice by innumerable prophets and teachers down the ages. It is very far from unique. It needed something far, far greater in every sense to kick-start a religion which turned the world upside down within an amazingly short period of time, and which has had such an enormous influence in shaping the world for 2000 years, and is as powerful today as the day it began. It needed an event in history which effectively changed the world for ever. And that event was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

So what does the resurrection mean for you and me today? Try once more to exercise your imagination. The risen Jesus promised to be with all who trust in him, and in the midst of those who gather for worship. The reality is that He walks into the midst of us now, as we gather for worship, and holds out his hand to everyone of us. Do we trust him enough to put out our own hand and grasp his by faith? Do we join with Thomas in saying now: “My lord and my God”?

If we do, it will change our lives even as it changed the lives of those first disciples with whom we are inseparately linked. We, too, will feel the breath of Jesus, and receive the Spirit. We, too, will know the love and power that changes our lives for ever. We, too, will go out in the power of the Spirit, to live and work to his glory. And the resurrection of Jesus will be as real and powerful in our lives as it was at that first Easter.

“These things are written” says John “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that – by believing – you may have life in his name.” For those who trust personally in the risen Lord we experience the life Christ promised – real life – today and for eternity.

Discussion Starters:

1 Corinthians 15:17 - 19 . Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” Do you agree?

2. What does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead mean in your life?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Sunday 16 March 2008 PALM SUNDAY Philippians 2:5-11 Bruce

We are each on a journey, from the cradle to the grave, and beyond. Some started this journey a long time ago, and are, perhaps, nearer the end than others. This morning, we in this place find our paths connected and intertwined. And we are invited to connect with another Journey.

We have followed Jesus since the Christmas story told us of the beginning of his journey. Today, we remember when his journey brought him to Jerusalem (Matthew 21). To the casual observer, all is going very well as Jesus receives a hero’s welcome. But we have been paying attention, and we have observed that Jesus has persisted in giving warnings that he will be betrayed, tortured and killed, but that he will rise again on the third day (Matthew 20:17 ff.). During Holy Week we will follow Jesus, meeting him for his Last Supper on Thursday, marvelling at his sacrifice for us on Friday, waiting through cruel silence of Saturday, before rejoicing with abandon on Easter Sunday.

Paul gives his commentary in his letter to the Christians living in the Roman province of Philippi. He says we need to have the same attitude that Jesus had. It appears that the journey that Jesus undertook was even longer and greater than we had imagined. From before time began, and from the splendour of the heavenly presence, Jesus had the nature, the morphe, the very essence of Godhead; in his human life he adopted the nature, the morphe, the very essence of servanthood; the paradox is that to be God is to embrace humility and not grasp for position and worship. He is due it, he is worthy of it, but he does not need it.

The journey continues. He is found in the passing appearance or likeness of humankind; he is obedient in the way that Adam and Eve should have been, the way that we should be, but never are. He travels further into obedience, which leads to death, even the most shameful, degrading death that the people of that age could imagine – a slave’s death, a rebel’s death – on a cross.

I wonder if there was a shocked pause when the Philippian Christians first heard that read out. Where had this journey taken our Lord to?

But there is also the beginning of a wave of optimism, hope and rejoicing as we think about the consequence of Jesus’ love, obedience and humility. The journey continues, but now on an upward curve. Therefore – in direct consequence of the path that Jesus has walked so far – God has highly exalted him. His name is high above every other name. Every knee shall bow, whether of those visible on earth, or those invisible in the unseen but so real heavenlies.

And what will we all confess? That he is Jesus – the one who will save us from our sins. That he is Christos – the Messiah, the deliverer promised through the long ages and now arrived to bring salvation to the whole world. That he is kyrios, the LORD, the name used to refer to YHWH God when translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Jesus never fought for the status of God, but he is to be recognised every where and every when as one with his Father God.

And as we enter Holy Week, we are called to have the same attitude as Jesus, in our journey here on earth. We are to be humble, obedient, working to build community and allowing God to work through us. We may find ourselves going down into the depths, for all sorts of reasons to do with health, relationships, employment or anything else; but we are confident that we will be lifted up, perhaps in this world, but certainly in the next. We have many opportunities in the services this week to link with others and draw closer to God.

We are each on a journey, from the cradle to the grave, and beyond. Some started this journey a long time ago, and are, perhaps, nearer the end than others. This morning, we in this place find our paths connected and intertwined. And we are invited to connect with another Journey.


God is so great that he is revealed to us in many ways. Which do we find more helpful: Christ revealed as the humble servant, or Christ exalted in glory? Why might that be?
How do we react to the story of the cross? With shame, revulsion, thankfulness, perhaps a mixture of these or other emotions?
How helpful do we find the circle of the church’s year? In what ways, if any, does this come into contact with the journey that we are individually taking?
What are the lessons that the St Michael’s church community, and each of us individually, can learn and put into practice as we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross and beyond?

Sunday 9 March 2008: Lent 5 Passion Sunday, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45 Bruce

Jesus prayed, and lived, Our Father …, and he demonstrated a life of total reliance on his heavenly Father. During the past three weeks we have been examining different passages from the scriptures that relate to the themes of Faith, Hope and Love, and these come together in our readings today. The story of Lazarus is long, but gives John the opportunity to enthral us with characters and ideas that combine richly.

The first thing to note is that is John concerned to reveal God’s glory: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth.” How do we do this? “… to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” At the end of his Gospel, John records that “these (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

When the terrible news reaches Jesus that Lazarus is sick, and it appears that Jesus knows that the sickness will result in death, he is glad that his disciples are not there to witness it, because of the negative impact it will have on their faith. How does faith grow? By observing God at work in the world, and becoming accustomed to the fact that we can rely on our Father God to help us. The implication is that even if Jesus had travelled earlier and got there in time, he and his disciples would have been subjected to the faith sapping ordeal of seeing Lazarus die.

How are we meant to comprehend this?

We are faced with the paradox of a God who is all powerful, and yet allows bad things to happen. What are we to make of it?

First, there is a powerful, almost inescapable urge to trust. Thomas (the doubting one?) announces that if Jesus is going into danger and probable death in Judea, they must go too, and die with him if necessary. Martha does not rant and rave at Jesus; she expresses a calm, dignified, disappointed certainty that Jesus could have averted her brother’s death, if he had been there. Jesus speaks those eternal words that have been read at countless funerals: “I am the resurrection and the life …”, and Martha believes him. Strictly speaking, she is expressing her hope that Lazarus would be resurrected one day. She is also affirming her faith that Jesus is the one, present with her, who will bring that future hope to pass.

I am frequently humbled by the persistent, humble faith of people who face great tragedies and hardships. Some folk find the most trivial things distract them from following after a life of discipleship, while others struggle though great life events to be closer to God. C.S. Lewis wrote “reflect for five minutes on the fact that all the great religions were first preached, and long practised, in a world without chloroform.”

Second, there is love. The bedrock of our faith is the conviction that God, as he is revealed to us in Jesus, is love, through and through. We see this demonstrated in the way that Jesus shares in the grief of Mary and the others at the grave. He was “deeply moved” – literally he groaned within himself. Was this not a bit extreme, given that he apparently expected a happy ending? The shortest verse in the bible, “Jesus wept”, is not about a dignified tear rolling down the cheek, but about an outburst of sobbing. Jesus appears to have been touched to the very core.

And earlier, it is noted for us clearly that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, and yet he delayed coming to them. The biggest challenge to our faith can be to believe that God is all loving, all knowing, all powerful, and yet allows us to go through terrible times. Our only consolation is that Jesus does not sail through them unaffected, and uncaring. The evidence is that when it is necessary for us to suffer, God in some mysterious way is suffering too. Jesus taught us to pray that we might not come to the time of trial, because he knew from bitter experience what that would mean. When we remember Gethsemane and Calvary in the coming weeks, we will seek to follow him; the truth is that in every experience he walks with us.

It actually appears that Lazarus must be allowed to die, and we are called to accept that God’s purposes are good in the midst of every human longing to see this averted. As we trust in God, we see his glory expressed in our lives, sometimes in healing and resurrection, and sometimes in hidden ways that only he knows.

What is going on here? Lazarus comes forth, and it is a triumph. In the next chapter we see him hosting a feast for Jesus, at which his sister Mary washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and scandalises Judas. So great is the fame of Lazarus, that the temple authorities are alarmed and start to plot his death alongside that of Jesus.

How does faith grow? By observing God at work in the world, and becoming accustomed to the fact that we can rely on our Father God to help us. Even when, especially when, we go through times of hardship and trial, we sink our roots deeper into him. Even if we call for him, and he apparently delays coming, yet we know he loves us and wants and will do the best for us.

We are given no hint about Lazarus’ final end, but imagine he led a normal life and died in the normal way. A major point of telling the story is that it is one of seven great signs of the glory of Jesus that are recounted in the Gospel. It gives a foretaste of the grand climax to come, which we will celebrate on Easter Day and for the six weeks after. I wonder if there was a different quality to the way that Lazarus lived? As Paul writes in our reading from Romans, a work of the Holy Spirit is to build the conviction within us that we will each be resurrected one day, because Jesus himself already has been, and therefore we live better lives now. Lazarus still had a finite time of earth, but perhaps greater faith in the Jesus who said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Sunday 2 March 2008: Kim Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 2:33-35

Our Father, forgive us…as we forgive: Love
Over the Sundays in Lent, we have been looking at various key verses in the Lord’s Prayer and using the set readings are allowing them to suggest to us various key themes of the Christian faith. Last week it was HOPE. This week it is LOVE. Quite appropriate for Mothering Sunday.
Verse 12 in the Colossians passage tells us straight away what love is. ‘Therefore as God’s chosen people holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion (tender heartedness), kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. For we are called to peace and are to be thankful.’ That’s it – clear instructions on what we should do. Easy to follow. Now go out and do it. End of sermon! You wish.
Why did Paul feel the need to say these words? The list is straight forward enough; everything on that list is what we would like people to do to us and visa versa. Paul knew that there were battles going on within the people of Colosse. There was battling the cults – he knew that for everything worthwhile, there exists a counterfeit - mystery religion was beginning to infiltrate the town and Paul argued firmly, asserting that Christ is the complete expression of the mystery of God and nothing else. He told of the Supremacy of Christ, gave them rules for Holy living and showed them they could have freedom from Human regulations through Life with Christ. Paul knew the battles of the inner heart and gave instructions on how to live a Life with Christ which gave freedom. When you think about it, the inner heart of today is not much better than that of two thousand years ago.
We struggle to love, to forgive, to show kindness, to be patient, especially when we have been wronged. Its easier to pick out the bits of the bible we can do and not so easy to do the things we know we should when it goes against the grain; but Paul was adamant. He said ‘remember who you are: God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved’. Remember ‘election’ no longer means just for the Jews, but also includes all who trust in Jesus. You are to ‘clothe yourself’ – take responsibility for how your present yourself. The way we do this is to be so full of these inner qualities that they can be seen on the outside, like well-fitting and attractive clothing.
Paul says towards the needy, we should show compassion; respond to the misery of others. This is in opposition to the normal inclination – we don’t want to be seen with the outcasts, marginalised, the hurting, the drug addicts, the drunks, and the young people being a nuisance. Do we?
Towards our brother and sister, we should show kindness. What about when they let us down, or we feel they should return that kindness?
Towards leaders, whoever they might be, at work, in church, politicians, police, we should show humility (we should show modesty, lack arrogance, have an honest assessment of ourselves, and be willing to submit).
Towards those who have injured us, we should show gentleness (meekness, and refusal to get back at them) and -
Towards those who disappoint us, we should show patience (we should refuse to give up on them). And on top of these we should bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances we may have against each other. We should tolerate others’ shortcoming and forgive as Jesus has forgiven us. This also includes forgiveness for those who did something we may have disagreed with, or who were unfaithful to the church. And we must learn to forgive OURSELVES. So often forbearance and forgiveness is something which is in short supply – someone complains against the manager, the manager complains against the waitress, other workers take sides and complain against each other and against the shop owner who doesn’t solve the problem – forgetting to put on the clothes He has provided, we go around in rags.
And when we have put on all these, we need to cover them with the overcoat of love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Without love, kindness, forgiveness and all the rest are nothing, just empty gestures. Paul said ‘the greatest of these is love’ and Jesus taught us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love one another.
We should submit to the rule of peace. Whether it is in marriage, within the family, at work, in church, we should stop the bickering and back biting and ask the question, ‘is this worth losing peace over’? The road to unity in the workplace, governments or church must include the acceptance of the leader the Lord has provided.
Paul goes on to say in verse 16 that the two most important ingredients of the Christian gatherings – church services – is listening to God’s word, and singing songs with thanksgiving, There needs to be a balance between instruction and admonition. The ‘word of Christ’ can refer to the words about Christ, or the words spoken by Christ. We should never stop learning about Christ, and never stop listening to Christ for the word ‘richly’ means ‘abundantly’. That this word is to ‘dwell in’ us means that it should take up residence, be at home in, be welcome in, be comfortable in, and allow His word to become our primary influence for good. In other words, we must live with the Word every day.
Notice that this is what we do for one another – we speak the word of Christ with each other, and we sing songs for the benefit of one another. Church is not just about getting it from the ‘front’. Each of us has a well, and each of us has a bucket with which to draw out water for others to drink.
Everything should be done with the awareness of His oversight, and to bring credit to His name. ‘In the Name of Jesus’ is a set of words often said to bring His power to bear on a situation, in some cases almost used as a magical formula. But there is more than that. It is to suggest that we do everything to give honour to His name. ‘everything’ includes what we say –in words -. The ten commandments of the tongue from James is ‘Don’t blame God, be slow to speak, don’t use your tongue for venting anger, making empty promises, criticising others, or lying to cover up your faults. Don’t speak evil of one another, boast about personal plans, complain or swear. Rather use your tongue to bless, edify, encourage, praise and affirm. And the ‘everything’ also includes what we do ‘in deeds’. As it applies to the church, this means that we should be faithful, persevere, and do everything with the highest level of excellence and in LOVE.
When we decide to follow Jesus we make a decision to share Him with the people around us through love and how we respond to other people’s actions and reactions. For Jesus will cause a crisis in our and their hearts, as we all make decisions for and against Him. For the sword will divide, discriminate, and judge the thoughts, attitudes, and relationships of all people. Everyone like Mary will go through the same crisis, everyone must decide what to do with Jesus.
Today we celebrate Mothering Sunday – a day when we celebrate and give thanks for our Mothers and the Church – a day when children express their love and gratitude with cards, presents and flowers. Maybe lunch is being made for you today! When Mothers forget for a while, the times of heartache and wanting to ring their little necks and surround them with hugs and kisses of thankfulness that they are who they are. But for some today will be a day of sadness for like Mary their heart has been broken or pierced. There will be Women who will be able to identify with Mary perplex-ness because their own heart has been pierced. Their child is no longer here for whatever reason or they are missing or there has been a falling out, wrong words spoken and forgiveness not given. These are the women who need an abundance of love from us. If you know of a Woman today whom you know will be on their own for whatever reason, please see me after and I will give you something you can take to them.

a. God show us a parent’s love. Ideally each family and each church lives that love out here on earth. How can we ‘do what it says on the tin’?
b. What are the realities in relationships that get beyond chocolates and flowers?
c. If you could do something outside your comfort zone (i.e. work on the night shift at a soup kitchen or an Aids hostel/hospital) what would it be?

SERMON: 24 FEBRUARY 2008 HOPE Romans 5: 1-11 John 4: 5-42 Robert

On these Sundays in Lent we are taking as our base-line the Lord’s Prayer, but using the set readings, and allowing them to suggest to us various key themes of the Christians faith. Last week the theme was FAITH. This week the theme is HOPE. Guess what the theme is next week is? LOVE. Appropriate for Mothering Sunday. So today we are thinking of Christian Hope, and it would be hard to think of a more appropriate reading than Romans 5:1-11. If we had lots of time, I would begin by handing out paper and pen, and asking you to write down your expectations for the future. Like those opinion surveys that pop up from time to time, I would ask you – on a scale of one to ten – how hopeful (how optimistic) you feel under various headings - yourself personally, the local community, the country, the world in general - where ‘one’ means not hopeful at all, and 10 means very hopeful and optimistic indeed.
If we did that exercise, I have a feeling that the answers would not, on the whole, be very positive. We grow older and not surprisingly health can be a concern. The economy is not doing well, and not surprisingly jobs and money can be a concern. The world is not a peaceful place and that, too, doesn’t fill our hearts with joy when we read the newspapers or listen to the news. I wonder what effect this has on our Christian faith? Does the way we feel about ourselves and our world affect our faith? Does our faith affect the way we feel about ourselves and our world?
Let’s think for a moment about the world of the New Testament. Those first Christians lived in a world not altogether unlike ours. Relatively stable government over most of it, but (if we look beyond our own door-step) a world also full of injustice, danger, great cruelty sickness and short life expectancy, and where human life (let alone human rights) were not highly valued at all. Moreover, Christians often faced vicious persecution, misunderstanding, opposition and the real fear of imprisonment, torture and ignominious death, such as none of us (probably) has ever contemplated.
Yet the New Testament brims over with hope. It is a message imbued with hope from beginning to end. Indeed, you can feel their hope bursting through even when they are writing about persecution, danger and death. Think of a passage like2Corinthians4:8-l0, where Paul’s words match every difficulty with an equal optimism: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
You could actually say that the reason these gospels and letters in the New Testament were written in the first place was to express the almost explosive hope the writers felt, and to convey that hope to the readers.
What is the key to this wonderful hope? The key is that they had actually seen the future - and it is great! People say that it’s impossible to see the future, but not for the Christian. The future has already arrived, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ This is a dimension of the New Testament which many miss.
In the Lord’s Prayer we say: “Thy Kingdom come”. Jesus came pronouncing that the “Kingdom of God has come near to you”. The Kingdom of God is actually confronting you in me. Look, repent and believe the good news!” In Jesus was the fulfilment of everything that the prophets had said would happen at the end-time - the end of the world and the coming of the kingdom.
God would come down and visit his people. Everything that is summed up in the Beatitudes would come to pass. Material values would be reversed (as Mary has understood at the annunciation). The poor and marginalized whom no-one valued would become the important. Those who mourn would be comforted. The lowly would be raised high. Those who longed for God to show his face would be rewarded. The repentant would see their sins forgiven. The sick would be healed. Those imprisoned by every kind of sin or disability would see the prison doors open and be set free. The oppressed would see their chains fall off.
As Jesus moved through Galilee and on to Jerusalem, they saw all this come true, as Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, and healed through the forgiveness of sins. The future would be the Day of Judgement, and in Jesus we see what that judgement looks like.

And as Jesus faced the cross, they saw that love would overcome the power of evil - yes, good really would triumph - and (most important of all) they would witness the surest sign of all that - in Jesus - the last days had come - the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.
In Jesus they had seen the future – and so have we. Everything that Jesus was and did and symbolised and represented, was the Kingdom of God which will come one day in all its fullness.

No wonder they could hardly contain their hope! Hope is faith in the future tense. It is faith on tiptoe! And - in the interim and with that vision - they could cope with anything. Paul again in 2 Corinthians 4: 16- 18: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So our eyes are fixed not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen in eternal.”
What was the most important thing that Jesus gave the Samaritan woman? When Jesus saw her approaching, he didn’t need prophetic powers to see that there was something dramatically wrong with her life. Women don’t go out to a well on their own. They go in groups - for company, for safety, because they know each other and talk about everything going on in the village and (no doubt) the latest rumour or gossip. And the sixth hour is midday. Who would go to draw water at the hottest hour of the day? This woman came alone, at a time she knew there would be no-one there (Jesus was a big surprise in every sense of the word –a man, a Jew, on his own). If other women had seen her, she would have been criticised, insulted or ignored, and possibly even attacked. She was the village scandal, and would be perceived as a potential danger to every married woman. She was hated, isolated, lonely and with no possible future other than as an outcast.
But with the spiritual water of cleansing, and renewal and health, what was the most important thing Jesus gave her? He gave her hope. The possibility of a new life, a new start, restoration and acceptance. Jesus always brings us hope, no matter what our situation or state.
I’m going to have to leave you to study Romans 5, and I hope you will, because it is one of the greatest chapters in the New Testament. But note the sequence. When we turn and put our trust for life and death into the hands of Jesus, we are accounted in God’s sight as accepted, justified through the cross, and at peace with God. Through Jesus we have access into the Holy of Holies - the very presence of God Himself. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
The resurrection of Jesus guarantees our resurrection - the Holy Spirit is God’s signature on the guarantee warrant - and so we can now cope with whatever comes our way, even if it’s suffering, because suffering builds the character we shall become in the new life.
So many of our hopes are frankly trivial, and the material ones pale in insignificance if we are building up treasure of heaven. For, as Peter writes in his First Letter (1 Peter 1:1 -4): As those who put our trust in Christ, God has given us “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Even if suffering and persecution came their way, their eyes were alight with expectation. They could see glory ahead - in fact they could glimpse it already. This was not delusional optimism, or an artificial way of keeping their spirits up, they had seen the future - the Kingdom of God in Jesus. Jesus did not simply point to the future - He is the future - the future has invaded the present - and we have seen his glory. Keep your eyes on Him and your hope will never dim.

QUESTIONS 1. How does your Christian faith affect your outlook on life - personally? In the wider context? 2. In Romans 5: 1 - 11, what do you understand by the word ‘Justified’? Also the words ‘Access into the grace in which we now stand’? 3. Sadly suffering does not always produce character. Consider experiences in your own life or the life of those you know. How can Christian Hope shine through all our experiences?4. Quotation: “We are still deeply aware that the mortality rate is 100%.” Does your Christian hope extend beyond this life? In what way?