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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity

Ezekiel 17.22-24, Psalm 92.1-4, 12-end, Mark 4.26-34

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.  Once upon a time… it is with these words that generations of children settled down to listen to a story.  Children are wonderfully open when it comes to stories.  They love to hear them over and over again, knowing all the words and revelling in the repetition.  As we get older the fairy stories and fables turn into novels, tv programmes and films, but our enjoyment is still about the stories.  As G.K.Chesterton put it, “Literature is a luxury, stories are a necessity.”

Take any crime drama, whether an Agatha Christie or Line of Duty, for example, and they will often be criticized for not being completely legally accurate, but for the people who enjoy them that misses the point.  They love the characters, and the twists and turns in the plot.  

It is therefore not surprising that some of the best loved stories of the New Testament are the stories which connect emotionally with people.  Some tell the events of the early church’s history, but the rest are parables.  The most famous have strong characters, such as The Prodigal Son; a story that people can insert themselves into in many different ways.  But others are like the ones we had today. 

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his parables with the words “The kingdom of God…”  Unlike the character driven parables, they are more obscure, based upon objects and situations that would have been familiar to his listeners – plants growing in the field and specifically the mustard seed.  

Jesus used these parables to encourage his listeners to think about God in ways that were relatable.  And, of course, by choosing different objects around which to base each parable, there is no obvious answer, no definitive conclusion.  If you are looking for a straight yes or no answer, then often Jesus is not the person to go to.  He was always trying to get people to think, to respond from the heart, not to just be told what to think and do.  Parables make us do that – and the more obscure, the more we have to think!

The two parables today are often linked and read together.  They are known as the ‘parables of growth’. 

In the first parable, we are told about the secret growth of the kingdom.  The kingdom is not another word for ‘the Church’.  It is more like, ‘God’s way of doing things’, and it impacts politics, economics, and social justice.  And even then God’s kingdom is far wider and larger, all life, private and public.  It is a new way of being.  Later on Jesus comes entering into the kingdom as to entering into life, life lived to its fullest.

Anyone who has ever grown a plant for their garden will understand the relevance of this parable.  Growing a plant takes time and patience.  The seed needs water and sunshine to grow into something huge.  Furthermore transformation doesn’t happen over night, and so too the growth of the kingdom is in God’s hands.  Just as the gardener cannot prod the seed into growing any faster, so we must be patient and allow God to work his wonders.  

The second parable is about the mustard seed.  Now in true Line of Duty critic mode, despite what Jesus says, the mustard seed is not the smallest.  The seed of the cypress tree, for example, is smaller, but in Jewish literature the mustard seed was symbolic for smallness.  So the point is crystal clear – from something tiny will grow something so large and so welcoming that all the nations, the birds of the air, will find shelter and rest within it.  

Jesus echoes the words from the prophet Ezekiel here, and a hint to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God can be seen as well.  Once again the growth is God’s – God plants the tree with the purpose of inclusion and shelter, and God accomplishes it.

But what does that mean for our small church?  If we’re honest with ourselves the growth we saw in 2019 has been knocked back by Covid, so is this parable of growth irrelevant to us?  By no means!  Now is the time for us to be patient, to trust that God knows what he is doing, and to be steadfast.  

The kingdom of God is a time and place for transformation – seed to tree, sinner to saint.  When we feel occasionally frustrated or down about the lack of interest the world shows in God and his church, we can use these parables to remind ourselves, to transform ourselves anew, with the wonderful promise of the kingdom of God so beautifully sketched out in this pair of parables.   

The power of God, the Holy Spirit, is always at work, whether we can see it or not.  Our witness here, our life of worship together, and the faith that we take out into the world when we leave each service, is plain for everyone to see.  

We are no longer children in need of a bedtime fairy story.  We are the branches of the tree,  planted in the house of the Lord.   We are the disciples sitting at the feet of Christ, ready to listen, to be challenged, and to go out and “tell of God’s love early in the morning and of his faithfulness in the night-time; to sing aloud at the works of God’s hands.” (cf Ps 92.2, 4)

(Artwork: ‘The Mulberry Tree’ by Vincent Van Gogh)

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

(Isaiah 6.1-8, Psalm 29, John. 3.1-17 Yr A)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What does God mean to you?  

I could ask a thousand different people, and I probably get a thousand different answers.  

For some people, God is a myth, nothing more than the voice in our heads.  For others God is a frightening judge, a cruel tyrant or a puppet master.  

Even for people who follow Jesus and worship the triune God, God may still mean different things to different Christians.  They may focus on God the Creator, the very one who created our beings.  Or perhaps God brings to mind Jesus – salvation, freedom, liberation from sin and death and fear.  Or God the Holy Sprit, breathing life into us, moving through the world like fire or the wind.

Everything we carry through life, our history and experiences, the culture we live in, they all shape us and affect the way we think and perceive things, even God.  It really helps if we bring ourselves back to the Bible, the clearest place where God is revealed.  Even someone like Nicodemus, who was a committed Pharisee and a respected teacher of the Jewish Law, struggled to understand all Jesus’ teachings. 

In fact, that sort of confusion is something that the Church has discussed for centuries.  Someone would come up with an idea about God, it would be debated, and eventually it would either be accepted or dismissed.  The results of these debates can often be seen in the Nicene Creed, which is why we say it every Sunday.  We are underlining the orthodox Christian belief in God.

For example, the idea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three independent divine beings was dismissed as Tritheism.   How does our Creed begin?  “We believe in one God.”

Arianism taught that Jesus was not fully divine, just a man, though the greatest of God’s creatures.  A good man, a great teacher.  The Creed is very clear on this.  When we say it together in a few moments, pay attention to the middle section and how Jesus is described: “God from God”, “begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father”.

On the other hand, Docetism taught that Jesus only appeared to be human, he only appeared to suffer.  Again, look at the middle section of the Creed: “was incarnate”, “was made man”, “he suffered death.”  

All these statements in the Creed are present specifically to answer these heresies.  The absolute best teaching on the Trinity can be found in the Creeds.  Perhaps the best of all is the Athanasian Creed, which is still used in the Book of Common Prayer: “the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.”

And now this Trinity Sunday, I want to flip my first question.  Rather that ‘what does God mean to you?’, what do you mean to God?  God Almighty, awesome in every possible way, who is due honour and glory – what do you mean to God? 

Well, Jesus is the prefect revelation of God, so let’s look at the words Jesus said to Nicodemus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his own Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Love.  God is about love.  The Trinity offers us a loving relationship.  It’s always about a relationship of love – between Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and the world He created. 

And God the Father loves us, his creation, so much that Jesus, God the Son, came to live and abide with us, and sent God the Holy Spirit to continue to bless and sustain us.  This is about being in a relationship of love with God.

We can try to unpack the theology one way or another, but at the core we discover that God is about love and about relationship.  

What do we mean to God?  Unlike our thousand different answers, there is one.  

We mean everything to God.  We are precious in His sight and loved beyond measure.

(Artwork: The 12 Apostles receiving inspiration from the Holy Spirit and composing the Creed, from Somme le Roy, 13th century)

Sermon for Pentecost

(Acts 2.1-13, Psalm 104.26-37, 15.26-27, 16.4b-15)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There’s a story at the beginning of the Bible, way back many centuries ago, that tells of the descendants of Noah, after the Great Flood.  They were clever and resourceful, and they used their intelligence to produce stronger bricks, which in turn enabled them to build stronger, taller buildings.  Eventually they decided they were so clever they could build a tower so tall it would reach to the heavens, and they thought it would bring them fame and riches and power.  They were helped in this endeavour because they all spoke one language, and they all had the same aim – and this aim was not to bring glory to God, but to bring glory to themselves.  They wanted to compete with God, even thought themselves better than God.  So God came down and multiplied their languages.  This confused them so much that they stopped building the tower and they scattered across the land.  The tower became known as Babel, meaning to jumble or confuse.

Roll time forward by a couple of thousand years, and here we have another group of people.  Except this time they were aligning their will with God, not against it.  They sought to bring glory to God, not themselves.  Like the builders of the tower, they had a united purpose, but rather than to win fame and riches and acclaim for themselves, they wanted to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But there was a hurdle standing in their way.  They might not even have been aware of it.  They probably had no idea where their calling to follow Christ was going to lead them – out of Jerusalem and across the known world, to India and Africa and Europe.  

The problem is this – how do share something so important with other people if they don’t understand you?  The jumbled languages which are the inheritance of the tower builders arrogance have created a barrier.

So just as the Lord came down upon the builders at Babel and confused the languages, at Pentecost the Lord came down and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Sustainer, provided the remedy.  

The coming of the Holy Spirit changed many things that day – suddenly the disciples seemed more confident, and empowered for the mission that Christ had set them.  They were set on fire with love for God.  But as well as general empowering, the Holy Spirit also brought specific gifts, and the one which struck onlookers that day was the languages.  At least fifteen different languages suddenly were heard spoken, and that meant the disciples were able to speak directly to the groups from the many different regions about Jesus.  

The difference the gift of languages was going to make to the mission of the disciples cannot be underestimated.  Apart from anything else, it means that you and I have been given the opportunity to know, love and follow Jesus. 

It also means that Christians, with faith and commitment, have been able to take the Word of Christ to the furthest limits of human existence, higher even than the Tower of Babel. Next Saturday, May 29th, is the anniversary of the day when Mount Everest was first climbed, by Norgay Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary.  This was an extraordinary achievement, and climbing Everest remains incredibly difficult and dangerous.  We know that God is everywhere, and His creation is awesome: “he touches the mountains and they smoke.” (Ps 104.34). So what did Sir Edmund Hillary do when he reached the highest point in the world?  Not a selfie!  No, instead he knelt down and buried a tiny crucifix at the summit of the mountain.  

Can we travel any further?  When Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, he used a kit given to him by his pastor, and took Holy Communion and read Jesus’s words from John 15.5: “Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”  He later said, “At the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.” Or as the Psalm puts it, “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” (Ps 104.26)

So this Pentecost, let us pray for God to empower and strengthen us to follow Christ’s command to share His Good News.  Let us have a courageous and humble faith that we too can share our love of Jesus, to the glory of God, to the very ends of the earth, including right here (wherever you are), amongst our friends and neighbours.

(Artwork: Photo of Mount Everest by Shutterstock)

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Easter

Acts 1.15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, John 17.6-19

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

How did Joseph Barsabbas feel when it was the name ‘Matthias’ that was called out?  

Did he feel relief? 

After all, this was a role of immense responsibility.  The followers of Jesus would look to the chosen apostle for guidance, in his teaching and in his life.  He would be held to account by the authorities, which given the way in which Christ died was something requiring courage.  As it turned out Matthias, now called friend for following Christ’s commandments, would show the greatest love for his teacher, by laying down his life for him, being stoned to death.

Or did Barsabbas feel not relief, but resentment? 

According to Acts both these disciples were equally good and holy, both had walked the same path with Christ throughout his ministry and seen the risen Lord.  Did Barsabbas feel hurt or rejected?  Although the final choice was left in the hands of God, it would be understandable if Barsabbas had thought ‘why not me?’  Why was it Matthias being called for this role at this time in this place?

So often when someone is chosen, it means someone else is not.  Think of the Oscars, or the elections we’ve just voted in.  We know, in theory at least, that the choice is made based on the quality of a piece of work, or policies, or skills and experience.  Yet it can feel like a popularity contest.  Even if it is God who is doing the choosing.

So, from time to time we might all feel like Matthias or Barsabbas.  How does God help us?

Well, what God gives us in our lives is the gift of time; time to prepare, to allow the Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives, forming us spiritually, giving us space to listen to the voice of God, to discern what God is calling us to do with our lives, so that we can align our will with His.

This requires humility and flexibility.  Lives can change radically in even a short space of time, and given none of us is fully formed, we learn important things about ourselves as we go along.  And we need to be open to God’s call, in ourselves and in each other, supporting and loving one another as we grow in that calling to be a Christian.

For if there is one thing being a Christian is not, it’s not a popularity contest.  There will be times people look at us heading off to church and wonder why we do it.  

And each of us has a God given calling to tell others about Jesus, to share the God News.  This precious ministry is a God-given gift, and one to be shared with all His people, not a territory to be defended.  It is a calling of such immense privilege, but one with responsibility – to strive for holiness, in how we live out our lives in following Jesus, even unto death.

When others are called to a certain role in a certain place and time, especially one that we would have liked, we need feel neither relief nor resentment, but joy.  Because the Holy Spirit is at work in that person’s life, and we can safely abide in God, knowing that the Spirit is also at work in our own lives, but in God’s own time.

So let us be inspired by both these good and holy men, in how they gave their lives in faithful service to God.  

Matthias – called to be an apostle, planting the faith in Cappadocia.  

Barsabbas – tradition tells us, was later called to become the Bishop of Eleutheropolis where he too died a martyr. 

And when Christ calls each of us, in whatever way, saying ‘I choose you,’ let us reply ‘Thy will be done.’

(Artwork: ‘The Apostles cast lots’, icon writer unknown)

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10.44-end, Psalm 98, John 15.9-17 (Year B, 2021)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I want to start today by apologising. 

I am sorry if I or the Church has ever made you feel that being a Christian is hard work, or that you’re not welcome or that there are things you have to do in order to be “good enough” in order to be a Christian.

Because it’s not true.

Of course, we strive for holiness and to do good works, but that flows out of our relationship with God, it doesn’t earn it; and we are strengthened and empowered by the Spirit to do those things.  It should never leave you feeling tired to the bone with trying to please God or his Church, or feeling that you’re not good enough.

Because where is the Good News in that?

It happens to most church leaders at some point, that desire for the sanctification of the people, that actually ends up exhausting everyone.  I mean, look at St Peter and his group.  He turns up, speaks and finds the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, and “they were astounded” that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon this group without their authority or participation.  The fact that Luke mentions that Peter’s group were circumcised suggests that they had a feeling that the Gentiles wouldn’t receive the Holy Spirit until they had been circumcised themselves, that they needed to do stuff in order to receive God’s Holy Spirit.

But God was doing something new and exciting here.  He sent his Holy Spirit upon those who listened.  And so Peter says that baptism was the next step – not as a hoop to jump through, but as a response to grace, a gift of self-giving back to God.

So today that’s what I want to give you: the Good News of Jesus Christ, no strings, no hoops, no caveats.

And the first piece of Good News is that Jesus says ‘Abide in me’.

Abiding is to rest, to be in Christ.  This is, after all, the man who told his disciples:  ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’

And he means it.  He wants you to find peace, and the place where we do that is in being at one with God.  So when we rest in Jesus, who is one with the Father, we become whole, taking our place in God’s creation.

And how does this abiding, this peace happen?

No riddles, no opaque parables.  Jesus says “Keep my commandments.”

And Jesus takes all the Commandments in the Old Testament and the law and prophets, and he makes it so simple for us: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

That’s it.  Love is the answer.  Love gives you peace and rest and a homecoming.

Can it be that simple?

Well, we all know that sometimes love can be easy, but when it comes to loving our enemies, or even that person that just drives us to distraction, it can feel like work.

But Jesus tells us – I have loved you.

The love we then give to others is a reflective of this, and it is our response to God.

We can’t do everything by the book, jump the hoops and tick the boxes theoretically, if that then doesn’t show in our lives.  Love isn’t a one-off action.  It’s a way of living.

And the more we can let go of anger, irritation, bad behaviour, busyness that makes others in our lives feel invisible and unwanted, unkindness and impatience – the more we get rid of that, then the more we will discover the deep depths of the peace that Jesus offers.

And the final nail in the coffin of any thought that we need to work for Christ’s love is this:  Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’

We live in a culture where being in control is highly important.  Choice, whether at the ballot box, or in the supermarket aisle, is king. It’s something which has also filtered through to our churches, and indeed faith in general.

But Jesus reminds us that our faith is not about us picking him out of a choice of religions or denominations, but rather he calls us.  We are asked to respond, but it is always God reaching out to us first.  

So be of good cheer, because your God loves you.  

Your God wants you to know that he loves you, that’s why he sent his Son to tell you.  

And God wants all good things for you – love and peace and joy – so that you can live your life fully, as the person God made you to be.

Abide in Him.

This, my friends, is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

(Artwork: The Westcott Icon)

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8.26-40, John 15.1-8 (Yr B, All Age Eucharist)

When we think about being a Christian, we can spend lots of time thinking about the things we do.  

Sometimes that can be helpful.  For example, if we are the vine branches and we are called to produce good fruit, we might think about how do we grow in our knowledge and love of God?  How do I pray?  Which books should I study?  What are the fruits of my life?

But if we do that, we make it all about ourselves.  I, me, am at the centre of this image.  It’s as if the rose bush in our garden spent all summer going ‘Look at me! Look at what I can do!’

If you look closely Jesus actually gives us a different image today, and a very beautiful one – He is the true vine, and God the Father is the gardener.

I know there are lots of very good gardeners here today, so this metaphor will be one that makes lots of sense.   Take the rose bush – if you don’t prune it properly it will get leggy, and head off in different directions.  It will produce lots of green leaves, but perhaps not as many flowers as we would like, because its energy is going all over the place.   

No matter how lovely the rose, it needs the gardener to prune it, snip off any leaves that get rose rust or black spots, to water and feed it so that the rose can put all its energy into producing the beautiful blossoms, which in turn attract the insects, and so on throughout our ecosystem.

It’s truly amazing that by being rooted in Jesus we, the many branches, become one, as we become the linked Body of Christ, the Church.

The fruit, the good works of the Church, then arrives because of what the Father does.  God gives us water – the water of baptism that washes us clean, and nurtures us through the Holy Spirit in prayer and worship.  God gives us food – the Bible, the Sacraments of the Body and Blood, Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, and of course the Word made flesh, Jesus his Son to teach us and lead us.

Look at our first story from the Acts of the Apostles.  It was God who told Philip where to go to meet with the Ethiopian officer.  And with the gifts of the Bible and Baptism, food and water, the officer became part of the Church.  

God the gardener was able to direct Philip what to do in order to help this man become part of the vine, and in turn he would produce his own fruit.

And God will prune us – when we go off in the wrong direction He will step in guide us back, or remind us when we have been sinful and need to repent and be forgiven.  Sometimes that can be hardest time to be a Christian, when we realise we have got it wrong.  We have to let go of bad habits, and learn from our mistakes.  But it’s a really important part of shaping our lives to the vine.

And this is not only a personal pruning, for we are all in this together.  So the pruning is something we the Church share in.

If you take one thing away today, remember this.  It’s not what you know, or even who you know.  What’s really important is: you are known by the God the Father, the gardener of our souls.  And he’s at work, every single day, looking out for us, feeding and watering us, and cherishing us so that we can produce good fruit for Him.

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘The Gardener’ by Georges Seurat)

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4.5-12, Psalm 23, John 10.11-18 – Year B

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This week a rather timely and pertinent video came across my Twitter feed – it was entitled ‘Jesus and me’.  The location is unclear, but in the video there was a teenage boy standing next to a road.  Running parallel to the road was a deep and narrow trench, perhaps for drainage.  Sticking out of the ditch, barely visible, were the back legs of a sheep which had clearly become stuck.  Unable to help itself, it had no choice but to wait for someone to come along and save it.  The young lad reached down and grasped the leg, pulling it firmly upwards and outwards.  The sheep struggled and wriggled until it popped free of the trench, and the boy released it.  The sheep took a few joyous runs before attempting to leap the trench to cross the road.  And can you guess what happened?  Yup, it misjudged the distance and immediately fell straight back into the ditch.  The video ended with the teenager making his way towards the sheep to help it out once more.

Whoever posted and retitled the video ‘Jesus and me’ might have been making a little joke, but they also touched on a fundamental truth.  We try our best, but we are very much in need of Jesus to help, guide and save us.  Being far from perfect, our Christian journey is a path of making errors, missteps, going down dead-ends and sometimes putting ourselves in spiritual as well as physical danger.  I’m not exaggerating for effect here – if we stop and think about it, it quickly becomes clear how much each of us needs Jesus.  

Now of course, through prayer and theological study, and the encouragement of others, we can try to stick to the path.  But events and things outside of our control can often make us wobble.  In our Gospel reading Jesus calls these things ‘the wolf’, and in the psalm we could see this as ‘the valley of the shadow of death’.  And who helps us? Jesus the Good Shepherd.

The metaphor of the shepherd is one used throughout the Hebrew Bible, usually a bad shepherd who represents unfaithful leaders.  The prophets Jeremiah (23.1-8), Ezekiel (22.27, 34), Zephaniah (3.3) and Zechariah (10.2-3, 11.4-17) all speak of sheep left to the wolves by weak leaders.

God the Father replaces these bad shepherds with himself in Jesus, his Son.  He is the only one obedient and faithful enough to truly care for his flock, his children.  

He is also the only one to see that the flock is so much larger than just those people within the existing community.  This was a radical idea to Christ’s listeners then, and I think it remains so now.  Sometimes I read or hear comments by Christians who feel they are “in” with Jesus, that they have it completely sorted, and so are very happy to exclude and belittle anyone who doesn’t fit with their rules or their reading of the Bible.  We’re not the rule-makers here – Jesus states that he knows his own, and he will bring others who listen to his voice.  We are simply part of his flock.

And because we’re reading this passage in the season of Easter, let’s pay especial attention to the comment about the Resurrection.  “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (Jn 10.17-18)

These words are said before his entry into Jerusalem, so Jesus is foretelling his arrest, death and resurrection to the disciples.  Through John’s Gospel, we are also being told that this is a choice.  Jesus is in control here.  The events that were to follow were not an accident or a chance of fate.  Jesus knew what he was doing, and he was doing it for a very specific reason: to save his flock, every single sheep.  His divinity shines through here as he explains that he has the authority to lay down his life on the cross, and take his life up again on Easter Day, all in obedience to God the Father.

The wonderful truth about Jesus is that he never tires of helping us when we fall into a ditch, and constantly calls us by name that we will learn to recognise his voice.  All we have to do is follow, and in return “He shall refresh our souls and guide us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23.3)

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘The Good Shepherd’ by James Tissot)

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3.12-19, Psalm 4, Luke 24.36b-48 (Year B)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

After reading today’s Gospel passage it became clear that Thomas has been given somewhat of a raw deal over the centuries.  The moniker Doubting Thomas makes it sound like he was the only one to be uncertain that the Resurrection was really real.  But Luke makes it abundantly clear that there was more than one person to have doubts: “while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”  

And who can blame them?  It’s a natural and reasonable response.  They had seen Jesus suffer on the cross and without a doubt, he had died.

So how does Jesus help them through their disbelief?  He began by confirming his identity to them; he showed them the wounds on his body.  A number of accounts record that either the disciples couldn’t recognise Jesus because they just weren’t expecting to ever see him again, or because there was something indefinably different about him; Mary at the tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and by the lake side when they had gone fishing.  The disciples needed something to assure them that this truly was Jesus.

And then secondly, to prove that he was risen from the dead, and not just a vision or a ghostly spectre, he did something corporeal, physical.  He ate a piece of broiled fish.

It’s such a small detail, and yet it’s so evocative.  When the disciples were passing on their memories to people like Luke who later wrote them down, it’s the type of detail that you would hang a memory on.  We know that aromas can prompt past memories, and I can just imagine the smell of freshly grilled fish hanging in the air, as the disciples stood, first silent in wonder, and then a babble of chatter breaking out as each of them tried to greet their leader.

Likewise, when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, he bade her parents to give her something to eat.  It is a grounding action – ghosts do not need sustenance, they cannot consume.  Eating underlines the reality of life.  

And food was always an important part of Christ’s ministry.  Much of his teaching took place in social gatherings – the wedding feast at Cana, times when he was criticised for eating with sinners (tax collectors and prostitutes) or tested when he ate with religious and political leaders.  And there was the meal which foreshadows the heavenly feast, which we partake of in Holy Communion – the Last Supper, echoed in the breaking of bread on the road to Emmaus.

The broiled fish was a piece of evidence that the Resurrection was true.  Luke was setting out proof for those who had not seen the risen Lord so that they might too believe.  

Jesus extends his compassion to us now.  He may very well be asking us the same question that he asked the disciples, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Back then, Jesus continued to unfold the scripture so that his life, death and resurrection could be seen as the promise of the Old Testament fulfilled, part of an ongoing story of God reaching out to the world in love.  Jesus made sure that the things he said and did were witnessed by the disciples so that they could be carefully written down and shared, so that we who came later can trust that they happened and let go of our doubts.

And if we reflect even deeper it is a reminder that we in turn are nourished by Christ in Word and Sacrament, to “feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.” 

Amen.

(Artwork: The poem ‘Love (III)’ by George Herbert)

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 4.32-35, Psalm 133, John 20.19-31 (Year B, 2021)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are a number of Resurrection appearances by Christ.  They are so extraordinary, so dramatic, that we often get caught up mentally staring at the faces of those reacting to Jesus: Peter leaping off the boat to swim to shore (John 21.7-8), the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts filled with fire (Luke 24.13-35), and most famous of all, Doubting Thomas, and his exclamation of ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.28).  These expressions of delight, amazement and awe are so compelling that we can forget who they are about, that quiet, calm presence of Jesus.  So today let’s turn the focus on Christ.

Firstly, Jesus can go and be anywhere: the beach, on a road as we walk away, in a room where the doors are locked.  Jesus meets us where we are, and guides us, with kindness and compassion, to where God yearns for us to be.

Secondly, Jesus shared the peace.  Christ’s peace is ‘not as the world gives’ (John 14.27), meaning that it is something beyond political or military peace.  Christ’s peace cannot be bought, bartered or fought for.  It is a gift from God, and means a spiritual security of being right with God.  One of the Messiah’s titles was the Prince of Peace, and so through Christ we are reminded that we have a new relationship with God, where we have been reconciled and saved.

So impactful was this sharing of peace by Christ that it became an identifier of the early Church.  Romans 16.16 , 1 Corinthians 16.20, 2 Corinthians 13.12 and 1 Thessalonians 5.26 all speak of greeting one another with a holy kiss, and the last two use phrases along the lines of ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’  1 Peter 5.14 also mentions the kiss and ends the letter ‘Peace to all of you who are in Christ.’

The sharing of the holy kiss of peace was more than just a greeting.  It was part of the identity of the community, shaped in and by Christ.  The community was distinctive because of how they behaved, such as sharing their possessions (Acts 4.32-35) and this lived out peace.  

I’ve mentioned in the past how the word ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of ‘God bless ye’. And when we say ‘Rest in peace’ about someone who has died, we are actually saying, ‘Rest in the peace of Christ’. I do think if we are intentional about including greetings and partings such as ‘Peace be with you’, it would transform our community and relationship interactions.  Such words bind us together in our identity, which is in Christ.

Furthermore, there is a Latin phrase, ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’, which basically means ‘what we pray is what we believe.’  So if anyone asks you what the Anglican Christian church believes, point them to our worship.  The peace was traditionally part of our liturgy, mentioned all the way back to Justin Martyr.  In Britain it disappeared in 1552, but finally returned in 1928 in the Book of Common Prayer, and officially with the Alternative Service Book and remains now in Common Worship.

It’s worth noting here that the liturgical Peace is not a coffee break, and nor do you have to speak to everyone.  Rather focus on the person you are sharing the peace with, and try not to let your eyes slide over their shoulder as you look for the next person!  It’s absolutely fine to simply share the Peace with the person besides you, and in front or behind.  Come every week and share the Peace with 4 new people, and by the end of the year you’ll have shared it with everyone!  

And note how if you divide the service into two parts, the Peace mirrors the Confession at the start of the service.  So by the time we receive Holy Communion, we have been made right with God, and with each other.  As a community worshipping the Lord, we are one.

And thirdly, and finally, Jesus breathed on the disciples.  The breathing is highly symbolic here.  In our Lent Group we looked at the vision of Ezekiel, of the Valley of Dry Bones, and how God breathed new life into the bones, which represented Israel.  Think too of Genesis 2.7, as God breathed life into Adam, or the Wisdom of Solomon 15.11, which describes the creation of humans by God who “inspired them with active souls and breathed a living spirit into them.”  And so in Christ’s action we see the gift of the Spirit as the beginning of the new creation.  

Taken together, we begin to see the Resurrection for it is – ever-present, a gift of grace beyond all understanding, a new creation, drawing us into that new relationship with God, where our hearts find their true rest in Christ.  

Peace be with you.

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Jesus appears to the disciples’ by William Hole

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