Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Sunday 26 June 2011 Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42, Bruce

An escaping prisoner emerges from his tunnel, shouting I’m free! I’m free! That’s nothing, a passing little boy says, I’m four!

Jesus said that we he had come that we might be free, that we might have life and have it to the full. The honest truth is that many regard religion as something that constrains and restricts us. They fear that they will get a good telling off if they come too near. When we first hear the good news about Jesus, as Paul for instance outlines it in the first five books of his letter to the Romans, we can be filled with joy and exultation, just as we read in chapter five. The reality is that as we progress in the faith, we seem trapped in the wet long grass of our fears and inadequacies. We know we should be holy and loving like Jesus, but we are painfully conscious of the fact that we are not, and furthermore we fear that others are also conscious of this fact about us as well. In the film, Private Ryan is saved, but he seems to spend the rest of his life enslaved to guilt and regret, as he strives to be worthy of the sacrifices made on his behalf. This is not the Christian view of how we live our lives.

Don’t you realise, Paul says, that when you enter the Christian faith, you are entering into a real relationship with God? Jesus is sending his Spirit to live within you. Your baptism symbolises your burial in the tomb with Christ, and your rising to new life with him. He is reminding us that this is not just theory; it is a living experience as we see ourselves as the essence, the reality of God in everyday life.

So what is going on? Here is the paradox. You find true freedom in service. A lovely motorcar is fulfilling it’s purpose when speeding along the motorway. A bird finds freedom in soaring into the heights. We find freedom in fulfilling our purpose and vocation, which is to serve God.

We were created to live out the words “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth”, in us. From the beginning, though, we have echoed the disastrous choice made by the first humans, that we want our kingdom to come, our will to be done. Even when we are doing things for others, it is because in some way it pleases us and meets our needs. Thus Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that if they speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and do all manner of good things, but have not love, it is worse than useless.

Thus we find ourselves to be slaves to sin. This simply means that we constantly fall short of the high ideal that we find in Christ and that we set ourselves; that we find that every act and motive is in some way polluted; that every time we see a line drawn that we should not cross, we cannot help ourselves from wanting to cross it, if only to prove our own independence and autonomy.

But not now! We are dead to sin. If you lose your memory, you cannot remember things. If your hand is cut off, you cannot use it to pick things up. If the part of us that delights in independence and selfish actions has died, we no longer have to do wrong things.

The problem is that the part of us that delights in sin has not realised yet that it is dead, and we ourselves need constantly to be reminded. I am told that amputees often imagine feelings in the limb that they no longer possess; it gives them pain, or it itches. It takes a while for the reality of their sad loss to sink in.

In exactly the same way, we carry on like headless chickens, acting as if we are sinners even when we are not. We say things like “I cannot help being grumpy, it’s just my way”, or “nobody’s perfect”, as if this absolves us from the need to strive to live sin free lives.

Sin is optional. We have a choice. As we realise that we are alive in Christ and his presence is in us, so we find ourselves naturally walking in step with his Spirit, aware of his promptings, conscious of what will please him. In other words, we find our true freedom in deliberately learning to be slaves of Jesus. Our slavery to our old master, sin, stopped when we died (it is almost a comical picture of the furious master whipping a dead slave). We have begun our new lives of service to our new master, and we are free.

How does this work exactly? Paul says that we have come to obey from our heart the pattern of teaching to which we have been committed.

Obedience is key. We long to obey in every detail.

Heart is paramount. As we learn who Jesus is, we fall in love with him and seek to please him.

Teaching is essential. How can we obey God if we do not know about him? We can find it hard to love him if we have not been helped to understand more about him.

But we need all three. Obedience on its own is impossible. If we feel that we are failures, obedience leads us down that spiral of defeat and guilt that robs us of joy and assurance – we become de-motivated sad folk. If we feel that we are good at being obedient, we become puffed up and arrogant, and generally difficult to know – people do not see Jesus in us.

We need all three. I meet countless people who have warm, spiritual feelings about God; these do not seem to have any practical effect on how they live their lives, however, or motivate them to work to change the world for the better.

We need all three. I meet folk who love God and want to serve him, but are woefully ignorant of who God is or what he is like, or how he wants us to live. They therefore find themselves believing the wackiest things, following the strangest notions, and then saying “Well of course, I knew all along that religion is harmful or untrue”.

Two out of three will not do. If you know your bible and love God but are disobedient, you will be disappointed and guilty. If you know your bible and are obedient but do not love, you will be hard-hearted and like a Pharisee. If you love God and seek to be obedient but do not study the scriptures, you will be prey to cults and easily led astray.

Paul says that we receive the teaching, we read the word, we study the scriptures, we learn the truth that makes us free. As we encounter Jesus, the living Word, in his word, so we find ourselves drawn to love him and to want to please him, and we find ourselves unconsciously echoing the words of Jesus: “I delight to do the Father’s will”, “I do what I see my Father doing”, “I speak the words my Father gives me to speak”.

Let us count on God’s fatherly goodness, the forgiveness he gifts us in Christ, and the presence of his love-shedding Spirit in our lives. Let us rely on it the way that we rely on the unseen money that drops into our bank accounts; we issue cheques or flash plastic and things happen. In exactly the same way we adopt our roles as members of God’s household, and liberated slaves of Christ, walking with him through life.

Discussion starters

1. How does it feel to be a slave? What difference does it make to you to be alive in Christ?

2. Given that all three, obedience, heart and teaching are essential, which do you struggle with most?

3. Pray for each other in the group, for a fresh encounter with God, to grow in him, to fully realise all that he has done and is doing in you.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Sermon for Sunday 19th June 2011 – TRINITY SUNDAY – Matthew 28: 16-20, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13, Kim

Today’s Gospel passage makes me smile. The disciples met Jesus up on a Galilean mountain and it was a joyful reunion. Then Jesus gave them marching orders to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—some of the most familiar verses in the entire New Testament—what we’ve come to call The Great Commission.

And Matthew includes these three little words that make it all make sense, to me anyway:

“But some doubted.” Devout Jews that they were they knew, from the time they could talk, the Shema: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God!” They knew this truth about God inside and out.

But here they were, gazing at this one they’d experienced as human, like them, but had come to believe, in some undeniable way, was divine. And there he was, talking about sending them something called “the Spirit.” Even for those who may not have been as mathematically gifted, it was easy to figure out that comes to three, not one. And so, understandably . . . some doubted.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the one Sunday of the entire church year when we do not start our Sunday morning consideration with the teachings of Jesus or the words of the scripture text, but with a very difficult teaching of the church: the Doctrine of the Trinity. You know, God is three in one, but really one even though God is also three? And hopes for ease of understanding are not buoyed when one cracks open the commentaries and reads opening sentences like: “There are some themes for preaching that are both daunting for the preacher and puzzling for the congregation.” Or, even when the preacher turns to the timeless writings of Church fathers, like Augustine, who wrote in his great and cumbersome work, The City of God, these helpful statements: “The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Son is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.” And, finally: “There is Only One God.”

And some doubted. And you can see why. See, we believe in a three-in-one God, but the word “trinity” does not occur anywhere in holy scripture, and while there are texts that hint at some kind of Trinitarian doctrine, there’s nothing in all of scripture that defines this essence of God.

So it turns out, that on Trinity Sunday it’s not our job to explain the essence of God, a mystery if ever there was one. Instead, it’s our job to learn the essence of the one in whose image we are created, and then live with brave abandon into the essence of who we’re meant to be.

And who we’re meant to be, according to the little picture of God we can see, the little picture we’ve decided to call “the Trinity,” is a people whose basic character is defined by relationship.

The essence of God and who we’re meant to be! When we the Gospel for today and apply it to ourselves, I ask which of us haven’t at some time wished we could have a time over again; that we could undo some thoughtless and angry word, some rash commitment or unwise judgement, or some careless mistake? Do those lines sound familiar? Certainly not the essence of God. The good news of the resurrection is different. Why? Because it continues to change lives in the present, each day offering hope and new beginnings to believers across the world. Easter Day may be over, but we cannot consign the message it proclaims to the past. It is still good news, today and every day! It’s still the essence of God.

Did you know that the power used to keep televisions and electrical appliances in the UK on standby for just one day would be sufficient to provide electricity for a small town? It’s a sobering thought isn’t it, all that power going to waste, achieving nothing.

Perhaps equally sobering is the thought that we as individual Christians and, together, as a Church, might be guilty of wasting a different sort of power – the power of God. ‘You will receive power,’ said Jesus, ‘when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.’ The essence of God. What he envisaged there was the power of the Spirit so flowing through us that we shall make a difference to the world we live in, changing lives through our work and witness. Some, of course, do just that, but, all too often, our efforts are devoted simply to keeping our own affairs ticking over. We look to our own journey of discipleship, our own relationship with Christ, and no further. As churches, we look inwards rather than outwards, concerned with serving our numerous committees, maintaining the fabric and supporting church events. Instead of surging out, God’s power becomes trapped in an internal loop. It is as though we are put on standby, rarely if ever used for the purpose we were designed for. If the power stored in all those appliances on standby could meet the needs of a small town, so the power at our disposal could meet the needs of the world, if only we had the will and courage to release it. Being the essence of who we’re meant to be.

And with all these essences of God, we understand the truth that Augustine articulated: There is only one God. Creator, redeemer, sustainer, a God who relates to our world in many different ways and at the same time is, in essence, the very embodiment of loving relationship.

Characteristics that seem in conflict instead exist in creative community, divine presence, three in one, offering us the challenge of taking all the beautiful parts of who we are as diverse and multi-faceted expressions of God’s creation, somehow recognising the very essence of God imprinted on each one of us and living with courage into the kind of community God models for us. That is, living out the image of God, in which each one of us, different as we are, was lovingly made. Our job is to learn the essence of the one in whose image we are created, and then live with brave abandon into the essence of who we’re meant to be.

Prayer; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we learn more and more of your essence, help us to abandon ourselves in you so that we can become the people you want us to be. Amen.


1. How do you feel about the fact that God has commissioned you to be the essence of God? (Essence being made in His image, being transformed into His likeness, knowing that He working on us as you read this. To carry out to others His word, to be His hands, feet, heart etc.)

2. Do you know what God has commissioned you to do for Him? Has He given you a particular gift or talent or vision? Are you using it?

3. Pray for each other that as you grow in Him that you will be released to be the person He wants you to be.

PENTECOST. 12 JUNE 2011. PENTECOST. Acts 2: 1 – 21 John 7: 37 – 39, ROBERT

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, first at Pentecost, but ever since in the life of every Christian. But the problem is that we can find it difficult to understand the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives, and even more difficult to visualise this mysterious presence and power. So today I offer three pictures which I hope may help.

1. First Picture. If you drive out of Guildford on the A3 at night, you will see Guildford Cathedral standing proud and magnificent on the top of Stag Hill - looking indeed even better than it does in daylight - because it is floodlit. When I was a member of the cathedral chapter, I can remember the floodlights being installed and the enormous difference it made. There was a ceremony to mark the switching on - which was in a way like a sort of Pentecost, because suddenly out of the darkness the building appeared, illuminated in the most beautiful way by this brilliant light. What was previously barely visible now shone clearly and in glory.

Now you are not supposed to look at the floodlights! If you do, all that happens is that you are blinded and can see nothing at all. Christians sometimes want to see the Holy Spirit - to get a grip on this member of the Holy Trinity who seems so hard to imagine, or picture in the mind. But on the whole the Holy Spirit doesn’t want you to look at Him. Like the floodlights he directs your attention away from himself, and on to Jesus, whom he illuminates in a bright and beautiful, if challenging, light. Jesus tells us in John 16:14 that ‘When the Spirit comes, he will glorify me.’ So when Jesus becomes real for us, that is the work of the Holy Spirit shining his light so that we can see him clearly. And when that happens, as Jesus continues in that passage, the Spirit convicts us of sin, and righteousness and judgment. The Spirit urges us to look at Jesus, and believe in him, and give our lives to him. Jesus emerges out of the shadows of history and imagination. Jesus lifts off the pages of the New Testament, and becomes real and alive and present, and his presence leads us to the point of decision – either of faith and commitment, or of rejection. So imagine the Holy Spirit as a floodlight that reveals Jesus to us and leads us to faith. The Holy Spirit is God’s gracious gift to every Christian, so we need to pray always for his light and his guidance.

2. Second picture. Spiritual birth. In John 3:3 Jesus said: “Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “You must be born anew by the Spirit” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it will. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” You can’t see the wind. You can only observe and feel its effect. When I was in the garden this past week, I could see the trees around me swaying to and fro. I could hear the rustling of the leaves and branches. I could feel the wind blowing on my cheek. I couldn’t see the wind. But I could see and feel its effect and its work only too plainly.

You can’t see the Holy Spirit. But you can see and feel him at work. Jesus compares him to the wind that stirs up spiritual life within you. You feel dissatisfaction with things as they are. You hear whispers of spiritual gold. Sometimes inspite of yourself, you know there is something you must do. There is a prayer to be said, that must be said now. There is a decision to be made that must be done now. There is something in your life which you have known in your heart must change for some time, but now you know for certain that you have to do it, and do it before the wind has blown on and past and left you. There is an act of faith and commitment to be made, and now is the time - there is an imperative about it - because the wind of the Spirit is blowing now - now and not yesterday or tomorrow.

And if you go with the Spirit and do not resist, you find yourself emerging into another world - you are born into the world of the Holy Spirit - where Jesus is Lord, and stands illuminated. And you blink and realize that everything that was hazy and unclear before, you suddenly see clearly, and now you know what you must do in response.

Your life has been touched by the Spirit. That is certain because otherwise you wouldn’t be here now. Whether willingly or not, and whatever our motivation, we are here this morning by the Spirit’s appointment. He has something to say to us. There is something He wants us to do. Listen and he will tell you. The wind blows - the light shines and illuminates Jesus. And we ought not to go home until we have heard his voice and obeyed. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Behold today is the day of salvation, as St Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:2.

3. Third picture. It is the day of Pentecost, and the disciples are together in a room praying. And the wind blows, and the fire descends, and the Spirit is poured out, and they are thrust out of the room and on to the streets, proclaiming the great things God has done in Jesus in languages they didn’t know they could speak.

What happened that day was marvellous and miraculous, and would it might happen this morning as well. But the significance of the day of Pentecost did not lie so much in the miracles - the Spirit had come on individuals to do miraculous things for centuries - but on whom the Spirit came.

The prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled at last, as Peter makes clear in his sermon, which he quotes in our Epistle from Acts 2. The Spirit was being poured out, not just on one or two privileged prophets for a specific time - but on everyone who heard the message. Old men and women; young men and maidens, said Joel, irrespective of position or privilege or class, age or status. And even more importantly, irrespective of race. The story of the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the Spirit being poured out on Jews and then Samaritans and then Gentiles, until Paul can write (Gal 3:28) that we have all been made to drink of the same Spirit, and have become heirs to God’s promises - Jews and Gentiles and Barbarians, male and female, slave and free. No-one is now excluded from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That was what was different about the day of Pentecost. A whole new era in God’s work began that day, and continues today. We live in the age of the outpouring of the Spirit.

We are God’s people, gathered here this morning to celebrate that day when the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who believed in Jesus as God’s chosen Saviour and Lord, crucified, risen and glorified. They saw at last the truth about Jesus, as he was illuminated in their minds by the Spirit. The Spirit brought them to the point of faith and personal commitment. He blew into their lives, challenging, convicting, urging, warning, encouraging, guiding, bringing to personal faith. And as we celebrate Pentecost by opening our lives prayerfully to the wind of the Spirit this morning, so we come to new birth - new life - because the wind that the Spirit breathes is the very life of God himself, and so we are filled with the divine life through the Spirit’s breath - eternal life - real life at last. The wind of which Jesus speaks is the breath of life.

So we pray today that the Holy Spirit will breathe, and infill our lives in every part with the life of God. We want to pray this morning that the Spirit will bring us to new birth, new life, a new future full of hope. Come, Holy Spirit, - refresh and renew our lives today, and make us your witnesses that Christ may be proclaimed and glorified here in Camberley as we all - from every church - are filled with the Spirit, and proclaim the great things God has done for us. May we see the fruit of Pentecost in our own personal lives, in our churches, in our town, and in our world, until Jesus is acknowledged as Lord in all the world, and the Spirit’s work is complete at last.

I want to suggest a very simple discipline. Will each of us pray every single day: “Lord, today I open my life to the Holy Spirit. Fill me today with your Spirit.” Just that. If we will – every one of us and without fail – pray that prayer every day – then let’s see what will happen! Let’s see what great things God will do in our lives, in our church, and here in Camberley.


1.Do you find these pictures helpful? Which one helps you most, and can you explain why?

2.Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit touch your life in a very special way? Did it have a lasting result? Can you share the experience and its consequences with the group?

3.Can you suggest ways in which the Holy Spirit might infuse a greater spiritual life into our Church and guide us into the future? Discuss.