Baptism Sermon – 22/4/12 (Lesley)

Well today we are welcoming Jesse to the Church or more specifically to the Church of England, but what does that mean?

I heard that there was a very good programme on the telly called “Midwives” or something like that… where a nurse inadvertently applied for a job at a hospital run by nuns. At the interview she was asked the question whether she had a faith, and she replied “No, I’m Church of England”.

We might think that is funny but when I was a teenager I asked my dad whether he was a Christian, to which he replied “well I’m not Muslim, am I?”

Mmm… I think there is more to being a Christian than that. I think there is even more to being a member of the Church of England than that!

We don’t become Christians by an accident of birth – it is a process of new birth. Jesus says that we become Christians by being born of the Spirit and Water. And I don’t think he was talking about having a Scotch on the rocks, as uplifting as that might be!

We become Christians by something we do – which is turning our hearts and minds to God,

Something that God does – which is giving us the Holy Spirit and Something that the Church does – which is Baptism.

So today we are baptising Jesse and we hope and pray that when he is old enough he will find God and decide to turn to God. He will then have the opportunity to be Confirmed and the Bishop will pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit.

For some people here there has never been a time when they didn’t know God in their lives through the Holy Spirit. For others, like me, the decision came later. I was an atheist, and quite an ardent atheist before I stumbled upon the church, and little by little it seemed to make sense, until the day when I had to admit to myself and to God that I believed in God. This wasn’t insignificant for me – it was a massive change in my worldview and also, I believed that if there is a God with a plan for my life then I should seek that God with all my mind, heart and soul…. And look where I ended up!

There are many metaphors in the Bible for the Church and I thought it might be helpful on this special day when we are welcoming a new member into the church to think about these Metaphors.

The first is that we are a Temple made of Living Stones. This is the only reference to a building in the New Testament – We are the Temple – us. Church doesn’t mean a cold building with uncomfortable pews and stained glass windows. Church is the people inside. Talking about uncomfortable pews – have you heard the quote by Abraham Lincoln where he said that if all the people who fell asleep in churches on a Sunday were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable?

But it is more exciting than that – we are living stones and when we come together we make a Holy Temple – a place perhaps where we can sense the presence of God.

Another metaphor for the church is that it is the bride of Christ – becoming part of the church is like being married to Christ. We seek to Love Christ, to walk alongside Christ. St. Augustine prayed, `You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’ Finding the community of the church where together we express our love and joy in Christ is something that answered a need in me – people talk about having a God-shaped hole, and for me I found that becoming fully part of the Church answered my restless heart. It was a falling in love for me, a marriage, when I worship in church it is a desire to tell God how I feel.

The final metaphor for the church is the Body of Christ, and I think this is favourite for many of us. Each one of us has gifts and skills that we bring to the church, and today Jesse is part of this family, part of this body. Together we aim to be Christ to each other and Christ to the world.

I have found the church to be the place for authentic and profound relationships and the place where people who need healing, love, forgiveness can find it.

I’ll finish by quoting Teresa of Avila who lived way back in the sixteenth century:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Let us together be the Body of Christ. Amen

Sermon – John 20.19-31 (Lesley)

The Resurrection of Christ
The Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

There is a great deal going on in this reading:

–          Jesus says “as the Father sends me so I send you”

–          He breathes on the disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit”

–          There is the rather peculiar bit about forgiving sins

–          There is the lovely story of Thomas

–          John reveals the reason for writing the Gospel – that through believing you may have life.

I can’t focus on all of these things and so I will focus on the words “As the father sends me, so I send you”

As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us…

I once heard a sermon from Stephen Cottrell, who was at the time newly the Bishop of Reading, now the Bishop of Chelmsford and he said that these words troubled him…

As the Father sends me, so I send you.

So he got out all his commentaries and he translated back from the original Greek and he looked for all the possible shades of meaning that this verse may have, and in the end, after much work, he concluded that what the verse actually means is…

As the Father sends me, so I send you.

It is shocking. God sent Jesus to minister to His creation, to proclaim the Good News, to heal the sick, bind up the brokenhearted. God the Father sent Jesus – the Messiah, some sort of superhero… and as the Father sent him so Jesus sends us. Little old us. And not some of us, not just the courageous and the articulate and the brainy and the holy ones…. ALL OF US.

No wonder people run away from ordination. Almost every ordained person I know ran from God for as long as they could. For Alan it was six months and then he made the mistake of going to a Vocations Day to prove that he wasn’t called to be a priest. For me it was a year, for a friend I know at the moment it has been two years. The reason we run is because we know that if we say “yes” then we have to face the fact that.

As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us.

But, of course, our baptism is our ordination. For all of us. Or perhaps we might say that our Confirmation is our ordination.

In this text is the model for our confirmation

For those of us who have been confirmed, the bishop says:

God has called you by name and made you his own.

He then lays his hand of the head of each saying:

Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.

God calls us and God sends us. It is interesting that we tend to focus more on our “calling” than our “sending”, and yet the Bible is full of the question “who shall I send?” not “who shall I call?”

The deeper we go into the meaning of God’s call for us, the more we find that God is sending us – God called Moses at the burning bush then sent him to set his people free.  God called Isaiah in the vision in the temple and then sent him to be a prophet to his people. God calls us at our baptism and sends us at our confirmation. The sending isn’t optional – it is part and parcel of being a Christian. When we baptise children it is on the understanding that they should be confirmed when they can declare the faith to be their own. The coming of age is a symbol of each of us accepting our sending.

A psychologist priest I know reckons that the Bible has two messages for us.

The first is “I am with you”, the second is “grow up”.

God has called us by name and also God sends us. But we are equipped by the Power of the Holy Spirit and we are equipped by the fellowship and love that we have for each other.

Furthermore we are an Easter People, a group who are formed by the Resurrection. Richard Rohr says:

“To believe in the Resurrection means to cross limits and transcend boundaries. Because of the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus we realistically can believe that tomorrow can be better than today. We are not bound by any past. There is a future that is created by God, and much bigger than our own efforts.

We should not just believe in some kind of survival or immortality or just “life after death”—but Resurrection, an utterly new creation, a transformation into Love that is promised as the final chapter of all history.”

But you will notice that Jesus’ resurrection body carries the scars of his crucifixion. As we all carry scars, I’m sure. Life becomes ever more complex and perplexing, to borrow two words from our Lent book. We end up with scars. These scars don’t evaporate, even in the light of the resurrection. But perhaps they do have their uses. Macabre as is sounds, they helped Thomas, and Jesus offered him exactly what he wanted – to put his hand in his nail marks and in his side. Perhaps, believing in the resurrection, even our scars become part of our sending.

I guess it is a lack of trust in God, this running away from the sending – if we give in to this Hound of Heaven who is gently pursuing us then what will happen? It reminds me of that story of a man who fell off a cliff and half way down he managed to grab hold of a branch. Suspended half way down he called up “is there anybody there?”

“yes” boomed the reply, “it is God, let go and I will catch you”

The man thought for a moment “is there anybody else there?”

The truth is that it is by accepting our sending that we find life in all its fullness. Accepting it without complaining, accepting it without grumbling, accepting it as God’s grace to us. Too often we moan that there are too few of us, or two few doing all the jobs, or complaining that people don’t see things the same way as we do. In these circumstances, if our church life feels like a burden then perhaps we haven’t determined our sending. Once we have stopped running away, stopped fearing that we will be taken, blessed, broken and given to others, then we wonder why we ran in the first place.

As the father sends me… sends me, takes me, blesses me, breaks me, gives me… as the Father sends me, so I send you.

I will finish with a story from a book called “Cutting for Stone” where a boy in an orphanage is talking to his Matron. She tells him that his must play the Gloria. He responds by saying:

“But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’ . . . ,” He’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.

“No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”

I pray that individually and together we all find our Gloria. Amen.

Sermon – John 12:20-33 (Jennifer)

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Lent 5 2012 St.John’s

Jeremiah 31.31-34       Hebrews 5.5-10     John 12.20-33

When I first heard that my mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer I was distraught.

That night, in terrible distress I curled up in bed in a tight ball sobbing

‘Oh no not my Mum’

‘This can’t happen to my Mum’

‘Oh God no!’

The universal human cry when something terrible is happening!

Jesus in his humanity was not exempt from this desolation.

In today’s reading from John’s gospel, we’re told that Jesus was troubled in his soul.

– “Father, save me from this hour”

Many people seem to work on the assumption that if you worship and follow God, he will make sure nothing bad happens to you.

Then they are disappointed and ‘loose their faith’.

Because it just doesn’t work like that.

Life is just not like that.

And Christianity has never been an insurance policy.

God sends the rain and the sun on the good and the bad alike.

We all have good times in life and we all have bad times in life.

What God does give Christians, is the assurance that he knows what we’re going through because he has experienced it himself.

When God himself was on earth in the person of Jesus, he experienced all our emotions from the very best to very worst.

But hang on a minute – when we are in the depths of suffering ourselves

and we gaze on the suffering of Our Lord Jesus

Is it really so comforting to know that Jesus went through exactly the same routine.

“God, this is awful, please stop this happening to me,” Jesus prayed.

But it didn’t stop, and the process continued with worse pain for Jesus.

In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died he spent the whole night in prayer,

but still it wasn’t over for him

and he had to endure the physical agony of crucifixion

and the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God himself had deserted him.

How can the God of Love,

God the Father,

allow this to happen to His Beloved Son?

And if God does not even seem to answer Jesus’ prayer what chance do we stand of being saved from our agony?

Oh God no!

Oh God why!

The most intriguing verse in today’s reading from Hebrews is verse 7, where the author says,

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

Was he heard?

On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he died.

So how was he heard by the one who was able to save him from death?

He wasn’t saved from death.

He died just as we all die

and the appalling circumstances of his death make it look as though the reverse is true,

that he wasn’t heard no matter how much he wept and prayed and no matter how reverent his submission.

When somebody is very ill,

one of the problems with praying for healing is that they so often don’t appear to be heard,

because the person dies.

That can leave those who pray feeling very guilty

or very insecure,

as though their prayers weren’t good enough

or they didn’t have enough faith.

But this was exactly what happened to Jesus.

He prayed for life and he died.

Yet the author of Hebrews sees this as “he prayed to the one who was able to save him from death,

and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

Perhaps the answer is that we can’t take the cross in isolation.

It can be understood in part if it stands alone,

for we all go through times of mini-crucifixion when awful things happen in our lives and in which we experience horror and agony and darkness and often the absence of God.

At such times we can identify with Jesus and face our own mini-crucifixion armed with the knowledge that Jesus has been there before us and knows how it feels.

But to look at the cross in its entirety we must include the resurrection.

This is the point of view of the author of Hebrews.

He sees Jesus as very much alive in a new, wonderful, radiant sort of life in some different dimension beyond death.

And this is the message which God is so anxious we should hear.

God is so anxious that we should hear it that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Just think – when we pray to God in the agony of despair

‘Why don’t you do something to end this!’

‘Why does it have to be like this?’

Just think – it was at that moment of supreme agony

Up there on the cross

That God in His Son is saving the world!

This is how he ‘does something’

24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit  –  explains St.John.

Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

The exact nature of this salvation remains a life long mystery

What we do know is that we do die in this life, many times.

We all have mini-deaths or mini-crucifixions because that’s the nature of human life.

We have good times and we have bad times, just as Jesus had good times and bad times.

Our bodies eventually die, never to be used on this earth again, just as Jesus’ body eventually died and was never used on this earth again.

But Jesus hung in there, facing the bad times and refusing to give up on love or forgiveness,

and as a result Jesus was seen again after death,

in a new body which was rarely recognised even by his closest friends

and which was healed and fit and well.

What we call “death” was but a gateway into a new and different and wonderful life.

We frequently experience this on this earth.

Things go horribly and appallingly wrong and it feels like the end of everything we hold dear,

but eventually…….

now let’s not be naïve about this

for some the suffering does go on and on until it overwhelms them – poor souls! – pray that they find consolation on the other side of death

But usually if we hang in there,

things get better and new and different doorways open into a new kind of life

which is often even better than the former life.

The same thing happens after our final death in this life.

A new doorway opens and we move into a new and different and wonderful life.

So perhaps the writer of Hebrews was right after all.

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

And God promises the same for all of us.