Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sunday 27 June 2009 Mark 5, Melanie

We pray that God would meet us where we are and move us on to where he would have us be

Our gospel story wrestles with life and death.
There is the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years ;
Then there is the young girl – Jairus’ daughter,
on the edge of death.
Two women, one in a river of blood
at the edge of community ;
the other a girl of 12
on the edge of marriageability
and at the edge of death.

The stories are familiar to us,
and the temptation is to read them
with no pause,
knowing the final ending -
that both women would be healed.
The one healed from bleeding ;
the other raised from the dead.

But if we allow ourselves to pause
at the time when the woman touches Jesus ;
what do we see?
A touch that provokes Jesus.
He turns ;
Realises power has gone from him ;
Draws out the woman from the crowd ;
Tells her that her faith has healed her.
Then comes the news that the child has died.

I wonder how the woman reacted.
If only I hadn’t touched him
he wouldn’t have stopped, and the child might be well.
How could I have been so selfish
to have made him stop –
and now a young girl is dead.
And what was Jairus’ reaction?
Accusing looks at the woman
as he tried to find someone to blame
for the death of his daughter.

As readers we know that the final ending is happy
that both women are healed.
But we sometimes miss the human emotions
buried in the story
in our joy at a happy ending.

Perhaps in our own lives too
there is a tendency to focus on the final outcome
particularly if it is good
rather than to stay
with the human emotion of the moment.

Perhaps this is why so few of us
come to church on Good Friday.
We are sometimes inclined to
forget the human suffering
and to focus instead on the joy of resurrection.

But there is something important about dwelling
in that space of raw human emotion.
Of remaining in that almost unbearable present moment where Jesus is.

It is a little over 5 years now since my diagnosis of cancer ;
Yet in these 5 years
I have learnt how important it is to dwell ;
to engage ;
to live with
the disease.
It would be easy for me to say
on the basis of the gospel story today
that both women were healed through faith,
and that therefore I have faith too that I will be healed.
On one level that is right –
there is always faith in God
faith that healing will come.
But the reality is for many of us
that physical healing is not often seen ;
that healing will appear in a deep sense,
and that this healing will come inevitably
through living with
and engaging with
I remember one person saying
that the most refreshing part of my book for him
was that I didn’t say that I prayed,
and that everything was fine.
There was something for him
in the wrestling
and the struggle
that he found resonated with his own journey.

It is a little like the story of the violinist
Peter Cropper who was invited to Finland
for a special concert.
As a favour, the Royal Academy of Music
lent Peter their priceless 285 year old Stradivarius.
The violin was known the world over
for its incredible sound.
At the concert, a nightmare happened.
Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell.
The violin broke into several pieces.
Peter flew home to England in a state of shock.
A master craftsman spent endless hours
repairing the violin.
Then came the moment of truth.
What would the violin sound like?
Those present couldn’t believe their ears.
The violin’s sound was better than before.

There is something about brokenness in life
that transforms us
makes us who we are,
produces richness
and purity
that we could not have gained anywhere else.

I can honestly say
that I cannot imagine a life without cancer.
Even if I had the option of physical healing
I’m not sure if I would take it.
I know that may sound shocking to some of you.
That I am turning down the idea of physical healing.
But I believe living,
engaging with cancer
has given me something precious
something beyond this world,
something of God,
that I could not have gained in any other way.
A bit like the broken violin,
I have gained a new voice,
a new way of playing,
a new life,
because of my illness.

I am sometimes reminded of the
Jewish saint, Edith Stein
who died at Auschwitz.
She rejected attempts to escape, saying
If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters,
my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.
For her Auschwitz was an integral part of her life.

Where though does this leave our gospel reading.
The two women were healed by faith.
Does this mean that those of us without enough faith
are not healed?

I would argue strongly against this.
Yes the two women were physically healed,
but I think that I too have been emotionally and spiritually healed,
and have found new horizons
through living with cancer.

The important factor for me
has been learning to live in the present moment.
To dwell with the raw human emotions,
rather than to anticipate the future.
Because it is in that moment of humanity,
when we are faced gut wrenching emotion ;
when, like the woman who was healed,
we are faced with questions about

It is in these moments that we learn to dwell
in that unbearable present moment with Christ.
It is in these moments too that we dwell
with the incredible joy and
resurrection life of Christ.
May that joy and resurrection life be with each of us
as we too look to the present moment in our lives.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Sunday 21 June 2009 2 Corinthians 5:10-6:13 Every Member Involved in Evangelism 2: We are servants, Bruce

In two weeks time the diakonia will become presbuteroi . Will they stop being deacons?

This seems to be Paul’s third letter to the church in Corinth. As Robert told us last week, he speaks of us as ambassadors to the wider world; but there is also an inner dimension. God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God; we have received a full and complete forgiveness and new start, simply and only by believing in Jesus. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. But Paul has had to remind them of the standards of Christian behaviour, and of areas where they are falling short. We have been justified, but there is a work of sanctification to be done. They did not like it. So part of the list of hardships that he recites refers to his treatment by those he is serving. The passage quoted ends with an appeal to the Corinthians to be reconciled. There is a sense in which we all need to be constantly evangelised. None of us is perfect.

We often list the five key attributes that we associate with being a Christian:
Christ at the centre
Every member a disciple
Every member in ministry
Every member building community
Every member involved in evangelism

These are not to be thought of as a list, with the most important first. Rather, think of a bridge with five pillars or an arch with five segments. Remove one aspect, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

1. All that we are and every hope that we have is centred on Jesus, on the death that he died for us, and the life that he now lives through us. We can do nothing without him; anything that we attempt without him, even from the highest motives, will turn to dust and ashes and failure.

2. We are entranced, won over, by the love of Christ, and we are therefore his disciples. We take full responsibility for our growth as Christians. We want to learn to read, pray, study, live disciplined lives. No one compels us to do this, we want to do it, and we are only truly happy when we are doing it. When we fail, we keep coming back for cleansing and healing, trusting always in the blood of Jesus, and in the work of the Holy Spirit to keep changing us into the image of Christ.

4. Paul’s concern is to re-establish fellowship and build community. He appeals to the Corinthians to be in right relationship with each other, with him, and ultimately with God. It is by the building of strong local churches where we really love, trust and respect each other, that the gospel is made credible and attractive. The only way that this church or any church will grow is by being filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The way that we grow as disciples is through our inter-action with other believers; none of us is perfect, but God works us all together for good, for our transformation and for the blessing of the world.

5. God gave us, all of us, the ministry of reconciliation. We are all ambassadors. We are all fellow workers with God, announcing the day of salvation. We are all servants. Jesus gave himself as a servant and sacrifice to redeem the world, and we rejoice to share the good news of it. We delight to do this. We rejoice at opportunities such as Lost for Words to equip us.

3. Paul makes it very clear that we are all involved in ministry, or as servants. It is the same diakonia word. Jesus is our great High Priest. We are all united as a kingdom of priests who represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. God is our Father, Jesus is our Brother and Friend; but we are never to forget that we are under obligation to live holy, humble, obedient lives as servants. All that Paul does is shaped to ensure that he can carry out the ministry with which he has been entrusted. He will endure any hardship or slight if it will further the service of the gospel. This is our motivation. To be good servants, we will redouble our efforts to be disciples, we will put the building and keeping of fellowship and community above all else, we will be passionate in sharing the good news of Jesus with our families, neighbours, colleagues and friends. We will do this not in our own efforts and strength, but relying on Jesus who is the Vine and we are branches, drawing our lives and goodness from him.

If we remove one segment of the arch, the whole thing will crumble.

If we are not centred on Jesus, we will be high minded do-gooders, either proud of our success or sinking into a mire of failure. If we are not disciples, we will be spectators and passengers, taking part in religious practices but never enjoying contact with God. If we are not servants, we will be motivated by our own desires, our likes and dislikes, instead of being open to the heart-beat of God and moving in his will. If we are not community builders, we will be ignoring the prayer of Jesus in agony, that we should all be one as he and the Father are one. If we are not involved in evangelism, we will be trying to contain the sacrificial love of Jesus for the whole cosmos, neglecting to share it, pass it on.

This week I call servant-hood to your attention, as a way to think about being involved in evangelism. They are not two different values, but different aspects of the same over-arching aim, which is to encounter God and grow in him.

1. How do we respond to the words “For Christ’s love compels us”?
2. In what ways can we see a connection between the five ‘values’ of encountering God and growing in him?
3. What particular ministries or areas of service do you think that God may be calling you to?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

14 JUNE 2009. EVERY MEMBER INVOLVED IN EVANGELISM – 1. 2 Corinthians 5: 10 – 21, Mark 4: 26 – 34, Robert

This is the first of two sermons on the theme: “Every Member involved in Evangelism”. This title is not to suggest that every Christian is an ‘evangelist’ – that is a particular ministry which requires particular gifts of the Holy Spirit. But it does most definitely mean that we are not spectators on the sidelines who have no part to play except watch and perhaps pray. We do most certainly have an active role to play in every aspect of the Church’s mission under Christ to the world He came to save. And as this Gospel will wither and die if it is not passed on so that the Church grows, evangelism is a vital part of the ministry in which we are all involved. Jesus’ parables in our Gospel today speak of the Kingdom of God growing from a tiny seed until it reaches it final fulfilment. We are privileged to be an important part of that wonderful growth.

The word I have chosen to identify our part in evangelism is Ambassador. Paul writes in our Epistle this morning from 2 Corinthians 5: 20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though Christ were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”

It’s quite a precise word that Paul chooses, and it had very much the same meaning in the 1st century Roman world as it does today – a senior person who represents one country or state in its dealings with another. Paul is saying that we may not all be front-line evangelists to the secular world, but we are all called to be ambassadors.

What does an ambassador do? I have chosen three words beginning with ‘P’ to help us clarify our task. They are Presence, Promotion and Protection – slightly contrived perhaps, but I hope you will find it helpful and challenging.

1. Presence. An ambassador will be no good if he or she sits at home in his own country. The whole point is that he lives in the country to which he has been appointed.

Now we need to clarify an important point before we can carry on with this illustration. Paul’s use of this word implies that there are two worlds – or spheres of existence – and that the Christian is an ambassador who belongs in one of those worlds, but who is temporarily resident in the other. Many Christians are not really conscious of the fact that we live in two worlds and so the two mostly merge into one. The Christian world and the secular world overlap to such an extent that the majority of the differences more or less disappear.

But contrast Paul in this passage. He talks about two ‘creations’ – an old one which is passing away, and a new ‘creation’ which came into being with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And when we become Christians, we pass from the citizenship of the old order and become citizens of the new.

If you are not familiar with this central plank of the Christian faith, it may sound somewhat strange. But it is central to this passage. Paul has been through an enormously difficult series of experiences which cause him to write in chapter 1 verse 8 that “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” And he is writing here to many Christians who are also going through enormously difficult times. Today we might think of Christians in many parts of the Muslim world undergoing arbitrary persecution and murder; in the Middle East; or simply those in countries like Zimbabwe who live in fear of famine, sickness, despair and death.

And what keeps him going is the knowledge that this material world is no longer his true and permanent home. In chapter 4 verse 18 of this letter he writes: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” And he goes on in the first part of chapter 5 to write about our eternal home in heaven for which (he says) we groan with anticipation, and we have already been sealed with the promise of that home by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And the gift of the Holy Spirit means that this heavenly home is not just some distant prospect, but by faith in Christ, we have already crossed over into this new world and become citizens of the new age. “Therefore” – he writes here in verse 17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

In John 17, where Jesus prays for his disciples, and, by extension, for us, he prays that we may be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ – worldly. To use the old phrase, just because we now belong to a new created order, we are not to be ‘so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly use!’ We are to represent the values, spiritual and material, of the new world in our earthly life in the old one. It is still God’s wonderful creation, and we are to be good stewards of it, although it is only our temporary home.

I have spent a little while on this because it is the background to this word ‘ambassador’. We are to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God while living temporarily in the earthly, secular world.

Hence this word ‘presence’. The ambassador lives in a country which is not his real home. But unless he lives in it, he can’t be of any use.

There have been times when Christians have been solemnly warned not to go anywhere near anything that might smack of worldliness or temptation. But that is not the model Jesus gives us. One of the great criticisms levelled against him by the Jewish religious leaders was that he was constantly mixing with people they regarded as beyond the pale. But his answer was always that these were the people who needed his message. Unless a doctor mixes with people who are sick, he can’t heal anybody. The important thing is that he keeps his own health and integrity so that they become healthy, and not that he becomes sick.

Sometimes our social lives are so bound up with our Church that we hardly really know anyone outside the Church. Then, when it comes to ‘Back to Church Sunday’ or the next ‘Alpha Course’, we can’t think of anyone to invite. We must be involved in this world and identified as Christians – wearing, so to speak, our ambassadorial credentials – in our home and family, place of work, recreation and every aspect of life. But we must, as ambassadors, be people who maintain the values and identity of our home country, and not become simply chameleons.

2. PROMOTION. The ambassador is there to promote the interests of his own country. We are out there in the secular world, therefore, partly as role-models and partly to commend the Christian faith to those we encounter.

In its most basic form, this will usually be quite local. Maybe you’ve just read a book which commends the Christian faith and which you can recommend and, indeed, lend. That’s involvement in evangelism, isn’t it? Or perhaps there’s a special Christian meeting to which you can invite someone – think of the Alpha Course, for example. Or perhaps you have a story to share of how God has helped you in some particular experience. Sharing a personal story always evokes interest and questions. Or, hopefully, you can say to people that you belong to St Michael’s which is a welcoming, loving, worshipping Christian family in which you really feel at home, and that you would love to bring them along one day. You will be able to think of many other simple and imaginative ways in which you can share what is (I hope) your enthusiasm for our wonderful Christian faith. And if you find talking about these things difficult, we have an excellent course called ‘Lost for Words’ starting on Wednesday – see leaflet.

3.PROTECTION. Sadly too often we hear the Christian faith or (more commonly) the Christian Church criticised. The ambassador is there to defend, explain and sometimes to apologise. Sometimes the Christian faith is travestied or caricatured, and Jesus himself held up as a figure of ridicule. The ambassador is at least there to register a protest. We know very well how the representatives of other religions do not hesitate for a moment to register their objection when they think their religion is being brought into disrepute, and yet we have a rather British attitude of pretending not to see, and maintaining the stiff upper lip. But we live in an age when no-one will take us seriously unless we are prepared to stand up for what we believe, and give some reason and defence for the faith we hold so dearly.

This is not an easy task. Sometimes what the Church does or says is frankly indefensible. Sometimes it is hard to draw the line between what is humorous or fair game, and what merits a profound protest. We need thought, we need wisdom, we need prayer. There are many very difficult ethical issues up for debate now, in which the Christian viewpoint needs to be clearly represented. Often we need actual knowledge of what is going on, and equally knowledge of our own faith, which many of us find just too much trouble. But we live in an age when the Christian Church will be marginalized and trivialised unless we are prepared to be seen and heard and counted. The buck stops with the ambassador.

Presence. Promotion. Protection. Paul writes: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (and that’s a big responsibility). And our involvement in evangelism is to take very seriously and prayerfully Paul’s next sentence which is that we must “implore those we encounter day by day on Christ’s behalf – one way or another - that they be reconciled to God”.

1. Discuss personal examples of where you have been able to promote the Christian faith at home, work or in your social life. Thinking about it afterwards, what did you not say that you might have said? Or said that would have been better unsaid?
2. Discuss some of the ways in which the Christian viewpoint is ignored or contradicted in secular society. How might we best register our point of view, or protest?
3. What does it mean in practice to travel through life with our eyes fixed – not on what is seen – but what is unseen? (See 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18)

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Sunday 7 June 2009 TRINITY SUNDAY Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, (John 3:1-17), Bruce

On this Trinity Sunday, I want to encourage you to seek God and to follow him, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.

First, to affirm that the doctrine is reasonable, understandable, worth thinking about. God is a trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the same person as the Son; the Son is not the same person as the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the same person as Father. They are not three gods and not three beings. They are three distinct persons; yet, they are all the one God. Each has a will, can speak, can love, etc., and these are demonstrations of personhood. They are in absolute perfect harmony consisting of one substance. They are coeternal, coequal, and copowerful. If any one of the three were removed, there would be no God.

Second, God is a mystery, who chooses to make himself known. We started our service by singing holy, holy, holy … the words sung by the seraphim. It seems that for Isaiah, the temple has become a ‘thin place’ where he observes the familiar things of earth but sees through them to the heavenly realities beyond.

It is sometime in the 740’s or 730’s BC. Isaiah is not a priest, so he cannot be in the temple itself. He must be in the courtyard, looking though the widely opened golden doors into the Holy Place. It is a significant time. King Uzziah had started well, and his reign had brought economic success and political stability; but he had become proud, full of hubris, and he had been struck with leprosy. For the remainder of his reign he had been in seclusion, hidden away in disgrace; his son Jotham had been regent while the king was invisible. Now the hidden king has passed away, and Isaiah has this vision of the LORD, the holy one, whose glory fills not just a temple or a kingdom but the whole earth. He sees the seraphim, angels who always pour out threefold praise to the holy God. So he SEES in an enhanced way, and he is terrified. ‘Woe is me, for I am undone’, ruined utterly, like a city put to the sword, or the twin towers that have collapsed. To see God, we are told elsewhere in scripture, is to be struck down, because God is so pure, so holy, that no mere sinful human can bear the sight. He FEELS his complete unworthiness before God, and he realises that he lives in the midst of an unholy people. He is so unworthy, that he cannot ask or hope for anything, yet God himself takes the initiative and sends an angel to touch his lips with a coal from the holy fire, to cleanse and purify him. And he HEARS in a new way. We are not told directly that he hears the angels singing, but how else would he know? We are certainly told, though, that he hears a voice from the throne asking ‘Who will go for us?’ There has been a purpose to the vision: God has been recruiting, commissioning, a prophet to carry his message to the people of Judah. If we read on, we will find out that Isaiah is told from the beginning that the people will not respond favourably to the message but that they will continue to rebel against God, and Jesus quotes this later when discussing parables.

So an essential part of our concept of God is that he is mysterious, unknowable, and yet he chooses to be known. When we come to worship, when we come to the place set apart for worship, we come as if onto holy ground, although all the earth is his, and he is equally present everywhere. We can never be prepared for what God might do or say. We may SEE something of God in a new hymn or a fresh view of a familiar favourite. We may HEAR something of God in a sermon, or an apparently casual conversation. We may FEEL God’s presence the business of the Peace or sharing coffee, or in the quiet of prayer and meditation.

We have no rights, we are not the ones in control, the world has not been created for our pleasure and convenience.

It is actually much better than that!

The one, holy God has reached out to us, just as he asked Isaiah to help him reach out to the people of his generation. In John chapter 3 we read that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ You almost get a vision of God saying ‘Who will go for us?’ and Jesus saying ‘Here I am, send me.’ It is a passage that speaks of the Holy Spirit of God giving new birth, and being like the wind, blowing wherever he wishes.

Paul carries this thought further in his letter to the Romans. Christians are identified by the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. For too long we have lived independent lives to please ourselves; often we have sought to be good, moral, holy, but we have always failed, because we carry a root principle of self-regard and independence that automatically relegates God to second place in our lives. Only those who have realised that they are ruined, undone, completely without hope can be purified, not this time by coals from an altar but by the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross. The Spirit of God reveals to us the past grandeur of God’s creating work, the redemption that Jesus brings us, and the new relationship that points forward to a blessed future.

Truly, we have no rights or expectations, but God makes us joint heirs with his Son of all creation. He also reminds and reassures us that we are truly children of God, and leads us into unity with our brothers and sisters everywhere. To be an heir of God and co-heir with Christ means to share in his mission to the whole world. Paul talks about sharing in Christ’s suffering. So often we are surprised and upset when things apparently do not go well for us. The truth, however, is more challenging and glorious than that: the whole of creation is groaning waiting for God to sort it out. We are called to live as Christ’s, to share his love, and to pray urgently and diligently for his kingdom to come. We are missionaries in our own land, sharing the joys and disappointments of those around us. For Paul, this calls forth a glorious affirmation that God is not just present in all our circumstances, but also within us by his Holy Spirit; it also leads him in chapter 9 to contemplate any sacrifice to make it possible for his own countrymen to respond to the message of God’s love. To be God’s is to be involved in Mission. To be filled with the Spirit who brings us into contact with the Father and the Son is to have an urge to reach out and help others to encounter God and grow in him. We cannot help ourselves. (It is right that we should feel humble, diffident in accepting this task. Isaiah was definitely not ‘holier than thou’. You will find the Lost for Words course that we will start soon to be a help.)

How do we encounter God, the Holy Trinity?

Expect him to meet you in worship. Be prepared to see or hear him in unfamiliar, unexpected places.

Expect to meet him in others. If everyone here is a bearer of the Holy Spirit of God within themselves, then what potential is there for us to encounter God afresh? Earlier this year we reminded ourselves that love is kind, does not envy, is humble, respectful, patient and forgiving. As we are touched afresh by God’s gracious, cleansing presence, so we can become messengers who make the mysterious God available, encounterable by all who we meet.

Here I am, send me.

Discussion Questions
1. Do you think God would rather that we feel guilty or forgiven?
2. ‘Firmly I believe and truly, God is three and God is one.’ How does this apply in your daily life?
3. There is a trinity of Creation, Word and Relationships; which do yo find helps you most to encounter God?