Saturday, 31 May 2014

Sunday 1 June 2014 Easter 7 Acts 1:6-14 John 17:1-11 Bruce

On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. It is all about Jesus. The vast range of events and beliefs that form the Christian faith all come together in the person of Jesus. He is the prism through whom we see and understand reality. He is the Word made flesh who made his dwelling among us. His is the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. On Thursday we celebrated the feast of the ascension. As Anne reminded us in her sermon, this seems to have faded in importance compared to the two major feasts of Christmas and Easter, but it is of equal importance. The same Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day returned to his home in heaven. He is there right now. He has returned to glory. This matters because without the ascension, Jesus might have been just a very special human, albeit a holy and extraordinarily gifted one. Because of the ascension, we see that Jesus is glorified. The word is doxa from which we get the word doxology. It means to be bright, effulgent, worthy of praise. It is the word to be used of victors, those who triumph, those who excel, who are supreme. We see the word used a number of times in John’s gospel. It refers to the person of Christ. It is sued when people praise others. It comes in response to a miracle like turning water into wine or raising Lazarus from the dead. In John 17, Jesus prays on the night before his death. He says that God will be glorified in the death of his Son, and that he himself will reach the peak of glory in this. He has brought glory to his Father God by completing the work that God gave him to do, and now he looks through the agony and shame of the cross to his regaining his place of honour in heaven – he will be glorified. This is what the disciples have an insight into as they watch the cloud cover Jesus as he is taken away from them, This is what we celebrate at communion services when we sing: Glory be to God in heaven, and again: Only Son of God the Father, Lamb who takes our sins away, now with him in triumph seated for your mercy, Lord, we pray: Jesus Christ, most high and holy, Saviour, you are God alone in the glory of the Father with the Spirit: Three-in-One! It is all about Jesus, and we praise him. And yet it is also about us. The whole of John 17 is a prayer by Jesus, to his Father, in which he prays for us. It is as if we get a foretaste, an insight, into how Jesus is spending his time now. He starts the prayer ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’ As he continues, he talks about his followers, those who have come to believe in his name. “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” It is almost as if Jesus is saying that the job will not be complete unless and until his followers are also with him in heaven. In verse 22 he says ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one’ and in verse 24: ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’ Here is the remarkable thing. Reading the repeated verses about Jesus and his glory, we might think that he is the centre of attention. Here he is suggesting that it is all about bringing us to be with him in glory. We get a sense of this when our team wins; for a brief moment last summer we all shared Andrew Murray’s glory at Wimbledon. But it is even more personal and intentional that than that: it is as if Wayne Rooney were to score the winning goal in the Brazil World Cup Final , and turn round and say: “St Michael’s Camberley, this is all for you!” This is how Jesus prays for us as we continue his work, that the Father’s will may be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus prayed: “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” Hence he says to his disciples: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.’ Yes, Jesus is in glory having completed his mission on earth. Yes, we continue his mission and thus continue to bring glory to him. For the disciples this was initially to mean taking no action at all. They were to return to Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said in John 14 that he was returning to the Father, and would ask him to send another Comforter just like him to be with them forever – the Holy Spirit. I have often wondered why there was a ten day gap between the ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. I suspect that this was not a delay in heaven. Rather, might it have been a delay on earth in the disciples being ready to hear and receive? We are told they all ‘joined together constantly in prayer’. The reading stops before we hear about what they did next – they had a committee meeting. It was only when they were ‘all together in one place’ on the Day of Pentecost that God could intervene in all his glory and transform them and the world. How can we respond to this? 1. We can give glory to Jesus. Allelujah! sing to Jesus, his the sceptre, his the throne; 2. We can cultivate our relationship with him, our living High Priest who is praying for us moment by moment. Intercessor, Friend of sinners, earth’s Redeemer, plead for me, 3. We can pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised he would send us. Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire; In the coming week pray every day for the God’s Spirit to fill you. Join us for the Day of Prayer on Friday, where we will be praying for the coming of the Spirit. Look for ways that he will help you to be his witness, not necessarily to ‘Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’, but to Yorktown, Camberley, Blackwater and College Town, to Surrey and to the ends of the earth. Discussion starters 1. Jesus seems to have seen glory in obeying his Father’s will, even in embracing suffering. How does this affect your understanding of the concept of glory? 2. As we finish our time together, what is the burning concern of your heart that you would share with God? Dare we believe that Jesus is carrying this burden with us and for us? How does this make you feel? 3. Let us spend a some time asking God to fill us afresh with his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus …..


Acts 2 : 42 – 47 Psalm 23 John 10 : 1 – 10 Christ has truly risen from the dead, and is alive and present for evermore! Last Sunday we heard the story about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how their shock, sadness and bewilderment were transformed when they realised – when Jesus broke the bread at their table – that He had conquered death and was truly alive and actually present with them. I try to imagine how their whole being changed as the truth dawned, filled them up to the brim with astonished joy, their whole world was transformed, their weary legs were filled with energy, and they must have practically run the 9 miles or so back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the amazing news. Their sadness turned into unbelievable happiness; their despair at the brutality and injustice of the world changed into hope that God really was at last bringing his kingdom to reality, and that God was in their midst doing something utterly new and wonderful. Here are we, 2000 years later, and I hope our mood comes something close to theirs. It’s very easy to say the Creed, which speaks of one wonderful miracle after another, without thinking too much about it. Now is the time to reflect deeply on the miracle of the resurrection, and let it fill us with new life and hope and joy. Are we really taking it in? Christ is risen and is present with us now – just as vibrantly alive as He was on that first Easter Sunday. The knowledge that Jesus is truly alive and present in our midst changes us, changes everything. Last week Sarah spoke of how we can ask Him to walk alongside us, as he walked with those disciples on the road to Emmaus, open the scriptures to us, and accompany us through good times and bad. This week the illustration changes and gives us more to ponder in the light of Easter. Jesus is the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold. Urban dwellers like me actually have little idea of how sheep are managed nowadays. But listening to a radio programme recently, it seems that mostly it is a case of a farmer, a dog and a 4x4. It was very different in the Middle East in the time of Jesus, and in many ways it may have not have changed very much. We think of sheep as being driven from behind. They were accustomed to sheep being led from in front, by a shepherd whom the sheep knew and trusted, and to whose voice they responded. The sheep’s safety and survival depended on the shepherd. He must protect them from attack from wild animals. He must lead them through the dusty wilderness to pools where they could drink, and grass where they could feed. They knew the sound of his staff tapping the rock and would rally with confidence. If one got lost, the shepherd would search until he found it. And the sheepfold was a place of safety for the night. The shepherd would guard the gate and examine each sheep as it entered, checking its condition, and using a little oil to soothe wounds. I understand that the shepherd would sleep across the entrance, personally guarding his flock from dangerous attack from outside, or from sheep wandering off in the night. It was a personal, vital relationship which we need to use our imagination to bring into focus, if we are to understand what Jesus is saying. What, then, can we learn from this for our Christian lives – as John clearly intends that we should? Let’s consider three key words – the gate; the shepherd; and the flock. 1. THE GATE. The first question we have to ask is whether we belong to Christ’s flock. As he is present with us in his risen glory, do we hear and recognise his voice and become his followers? This is a very personal question which we can only answer for ourselves. When we hear the glorious announcement of the resurrection and God’s great victory over sin and death, do we – in the famous words of John Wesley – feel our hearts strangely warmed, and know that – yes – I am a believer, a follower of Jesus. I do know that I take the decision to trust him and belong to him, now and for ever. I will put my life in his hands and ask him today to ‘restore my soul’ – be my guide and protector, and bring me at last into the ‘house of the Lord for ever’. 2. THE SHEPHERD. The risen Jesus is here pictured as the ‘good shepherd’ who gives his life for the sheep. This builds on the wonderful theme Sarah was describing last Sunday. She gave us the picture of the Risen Christ walking with us along the road of life, as he did with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Risen Christ as the Good Shepherd not only accompanies us, but leads us out day by day, and brings us through all life’s joys and sorrows, good times and bad, health and sickness, to still pools of water where we can refresh our soul, good pasture where metaphorically we can renew our strength through prayer, through the scriptures, through sacrament and fellowship. He sustains us through everything that life may throw at us. If we follow him, we will not be led astray through the enticements of false shepherds. And lest we think (as many do) that he is so concerned with keeping us on the right path, that all fun with be sucked out of our lives, Jesus promises the reverse. He promises in verse 10 “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” – have life abundantly, with all the wonderful pleasures that God intends for your life. And when life is hard, he tends our wounds and cares for us. As Peter says in is 1st letter (chapter 5:7) “Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you.” 3. THE FLOCK. For this we need to turn to our reading from Acts 2: 42 – 47. The isolated sheep is the one who is unlikely to survive. We belong together as a church. The early church grew fast, and that was because they were held together by deep bonds of faith and fellowship. We often refer to ourselves as a ‘friendly’ church, but that’s not enough. It’s got to go a lot deeper than that. We read here that those disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” They shared their possessions, they ate together in their homes, and praising God, they enjoyed the favour of all the people, and the Lord added to their number day by day. Each of us who is a regular church member needs constantly to try and put ourselves in the position of a first time visitor. What can we do besides giving them a welcome and a cup of coffee? Can we use our imagination? For example, look at the notice sheet which advertises lots of events. If you were new, would you go on your own and just turn up? Not many would. It needs a personal approach and the offer to go together. The early church met in people’s homes. How about asking a newcomer home for Sunday lunch, or for a coffee morning, or to take them to an evening group? We need to find out what has brought a newcomer to church – perhaps it’s because they are going through a difficult time. We could offer to pray with them or for them, and perhaps to visit and help in some practical way. This is all a crucial part of our Mission Action Plan which the PCC is working on, because we notice that many people come once or twice and then disappear. That may be because we have given them a friendly welcome, offered them a cup of coffee and sent them on their way. It’s not enough. They will go away spiritually hungry and without a real incentive to come back. We need also to ask whether it is really obvious and awesome, week by week, that the Lord really is here – his Spirit is with us? We need to pray always that God will send down his Holy Spirit to transform our worship and lift our hearts. That is what will draw people back as they witness the worship and the prayer we offer. I don’t intend this as criticism so much as an incentive to get our minds and prayers into imaginative and pro-active action. Under the leadership of the Good Shepherd, are we an attractive and inspiring enough flock to make others want to join us? We look out on a world of ruthless competition, unloving and often uncaring; full of brutality, hatred and needless suffering. The Risen Christ announcing God’s Kingdom is the world’s true hope – a Kingdom of love and peace and justice. How much the world needs beacons of light and hope. A Church that goes through the motions will slowly decline. We need to be a prayerful, hopeful, attractive beacon of light to a needy world. That is our task and our challenge. That is the message of our Easter faith. Discussion 1.Share experiences of finding the Risen Christ alongside you, or leading you through times of trouble and difficulty. How can we share these with others in the church, especially newcomers? 2.Share ideas of how we might add another dimension to our church welcome to those who come for the first (or second) time. Would you be willing to invite people into your home – or to a meeting? 3.What do you understand by Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold? Share experiences and ideas. 4.What do you understand by Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Share experiences and ideas.

Sermon for Sunday 27 April – Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – Thomas (Didymus) picks up the pieces.

After a large number of years, she finally plucked up courage to say ‘enough is enough’! It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the ins and outs, but as she sat contemplating the days until ‘D’ day, she started to feel uneasy which led to feelings of doubt and hopelessness that this was ever going to happen. Events leading up to this day had been difficult but ‘D’ day arrived and all was going well. But the doubt and hopelessness crept in and the panic attacks start to happen – and in good time – because the person she was running from - had found her. The lady next door heard the commotion and rung the police and in no time there was calm and he was taken away and the whole process of her moving somewhere safe; needs to start again. ‘It will be alright, I promise you’, said the helpful officer. This time he stays in (prison) and you will be placed in another town away from here. She replied with one of those statements that cuts right through you, "It hurts too much to hope." In her case a safe place to live. Can you imagine? Thomas could. Thomas was not there when his friends, the other disciples saw Jesus. He wasn’t an illusion, or a ghost, it was Jesus with the wounds in his hands and side. The phrase in our reading, "...the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord," does not speaks of the depth of what it must have meant to see it all fulfilled. "I will see you again," Jesus had promised. And after the terrifying scenes on Good Friday here He was! But Thomas was not there to experience the joy. All of us must deal with grief in our own particular way and that includes Thomas. He needed time to deal with his grief before he could join the others. The depth of his hurt was too deep. And this is exactly where our lives intersect the road that Thomas had to travel on. How do we pick up the pieces and go on when we lose someone who has become a mainstay of our living? "Dad will always be there to lean on won’t he?" -- "I can always ask mum, can't I?" Then it hits. "No... there are times when life hits you with such powerful disruption you wonder how you can ever pick up the pieces and go on! Times when it hurts too much to hope that things could be better. Thomas, the proverbial "seeing is believing" type fellow, had discovered something wonderful in Jesus Christ that had turned his life around. There is something wonderful about the story. If Thomas could find a way out of his grief and hopelessness and go on, then we can too. Whatever led him out of the dark place of doubt and discouragement can become a guiding light for you and me. We don't have a lot to go on about Thomas. John is the only gospel to give us anything about the famous "Doubter" and that information is limited. On one occasion Thomas asked a question and on another made a seemingly "off the wall" suggestion. Yet these two tiny clues provide an insight into the inner life of Thomas. In the first incident, Lazarus has died and Jesus says to his disciples, "Lazarus has fallen asleep," and then states, "I am going to wake Lazarus up," The disciples don't get it. Lazarus will be okay if he's sleeping they say. "No... Lazarus is dead," Jesus explains. Then comes this incredibly revealing comment from Thomas, "Let us also go," he says to his colleagues, "that we may die with him." In other words, if Jesus is going to go and join Lazarus in death, then Thomas is ready to go with him. While our knowledge of Thomas is limited, we do know this one thing. Thomas had so invested his life in Jesus that he was willing to follow him into death if that's what it took to be near him! Jesus had become the hub around which Thomas' life revolved. Whether he was a "She" who had never found a safe home or a wanderer who had never found an aim... he loved Jesus. The second incident takes place during the ‘Upper Room’ when Jesus is attempting to pull things together for his followers in this last evening they will share together. If the disciples are beginning to finally understand that Jesus is going to die, they are not able to figure how they will go on. Jesus tries to reassure them, remember the words? "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. ……..And you know the way to the place where I am going." John 14. Thomas asks the question most of them might have had in their minds but didn't express, "Well, actually Lord, we don't know where you're going. How can we know the way?" Here is a strong clue into Thomas' life that can help us understand the meaning of this morning's gospel reading. Thomas is one of those "what you see is what you get", kind of guys. He isn't about to sit and pretend he understands when he doesn't. He is the kid you always wanted in your classroom who would risk asking all the things you wanted to ask, but you hesitated because you didn't want to appear to be ignorant. Jesus says, "You know [of course] the way to the place where I am going." Peter, James, John and the rest sit quietly or perhaps nod in assent, "Sure, we know.... umm... if you say so." Thomas mutters. This is Thomas who loves Jesus and who basically says what is on his mind. (His question prompts one of the most quoted portions of scripture in the gospels... "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.") The disciples gathered, in part, to deal with their grief and experience of loss. Thomas, for whatever reason, could not work through his grief with the group. He had to have the freedom to be apart before he could be with them. That's important for you and me as individuals. We need to give ourselves permission to "do it our way" and not be pushed into "but, everybody does it this way." One of the difficulties with popular concepts like 'Stages of Grief’ is that some people begin to expect others to move in order from stage one to stage five. "Yep... Thomas' is definitely in denial right now ... we should expect his anger quite soon!" As we need to give ourselves permission to deal with grief and pain in our own way, so also the church family needs to allow for differences in dealing with life's tough times. Leave the door open for fellowship... We're not sure how it happened, but one or another of the disciples said, "Hey, we've got to tell Thomas." In any case, they reached out to Thomas and Thomas was open to their contact. Even in the midst of pain and doubt, an open door to the friendship of others is the first step on the journey to recovery. How many times has someone said to you with something like, "You shouldn't feel that or think that way or be that way?" When Thomas was told the really good news about Jesus, he said in effect, "It hurts too much to hope" The disciples probably expected his response to be that of "seeing is believing." That didn’t happen. But hope was at hand as our reading ends with Jesus turning this into a wonderful principle of faith, "Believing is seeing!" In a great example of true fellowship, Thomas is able to express and his friends are able to accept, honest emotion and authentic expression of doubt. It is absolutely crucial for our growth in faith to have freedom to express honest feeling and honest doubt. A basic principle here is: "We cannot work through and bring faith to fruition, any issue we cannot share with our family of faith." Acceptance like this has not been the strong suit of many churches, but I believe it must become so! If you spend enough time with people over a long period of time in all kinds of difficulty, you will discover an important and powerful principle: "We hide from each other the things we have most in common! Think about it. Having difficulty in your marriage, but feel a sense of failure, so hide the pain instead of reaching out for help. A young person is filled with a sense of being unacceptable, but instead of reaching out to a parent will reach out for an aesthetic (drug). Struggling at work, but feel that asking for help will show inadequacy. Perhaps most difficult for us clergy to hear is something like the remark from a person who has been absent from church for some time and they happen to bump into you and say, "I don't feel like I can come back to church until I get my act together!" If there is just one thing we can gain from the experience of Thomas, let it be this... Jesus accepts us where we are and gives us strength through His Holy Spirit to get where we need to be! When Jesus finally appears for Thomas, (most likely when Thomas was ready to receive it) he doesn't scold, "Thomas you plank! How could you not believe in the resurrection?" Jesus knows Thomas for who he truly is and gives Thomas what he truly needs. The end result! Thomas finally sees Jesus for who he is - Lord and Saviour. But it could never have happened if Jesus had not met Thomas where he was. This gave Thomas strength to risk hope once again. And Jesus will do the same for us. May God give us the grace to be the kind of persons and the kind of fellowship where lives are transformed, and where broken spirits find the strength to hope again! Amen. Questions: Have you ever had a time like Thomas? A time when disappointment was so intense you found it hard to hope? What/who/when did it change? If you needed to ‘do a Thomas’ for whatever reason; how/what would you like to St. Michael’s do to help you. (ie –a prayer room open all day!?).