Sunday, 28 May 2017

Who is Your God?

Who is your God?

Who is your God?. 

We live in a world that has seemingly lost its sense of balance and rhythm.  Cities are awake for 24 hours a day.  The internet never stops.  Media companies vie with each other to bombard us with news, alternative news and fake news, controlling how we think, what we like or dislike, and how we are likely to vote.  Perhaps something to bear in mind as we prepare for another General Election on 8th June

I don’t know about you, but I find the internet to be a sometimes very challenging experience.  Hugely useful on the one hand – keeping up to date with the latest evidence in the world of medicine, physiotherapy and drugs would be much, much harder without access to Pubmed, Medline and things like secure emails.  I can check all the NICE guidelines at the click of a mouse, not that I would really want to look at ALL of them.

On the other side of the coin, it can also be extremely addictive.  How many people have used their computer or phone to look up something only to get distracted and end up remembering what you wanted to do only after you have turned the computer off or put the phone back in your pocket!

In those moments, do I  inadvertently lose my focus?  Has facebook, twitter, Linkedin (yes I am on ALL of them) become a god in that moment as they claim my full attention, and sometimes drag my attention from the matter at hand?

This is not to argue for an instant that the internet is bad, just that sometimes, as usual, we manage to misuse God’s gifts for our own selfish pleasure, and in so doing miss the point.

Paul in the passage from Corinthians that we heard today, was explaining to the Church in Corinth (a church with some rich members who wished to keep the riff raff at arms length), what is meant to be an apostle.  I strongly suspect that Paul didn’t mean explicitly one of the twelve here, after all he already considers himself to be one, so the term has evolved.  In fact, Paul talks of trustworthiness and in a phrase that mirrors Matthew Ch 7, he advised the church not to be caught by the trap of judging others or indeed in judging themselves.  It has become clear to Paul that this is a societal habit that only leads to trouble, where we should reflect instead that we have only one judge and that is God.

Does he mean that we shouldn’t correct error.  I don’t think so, but rather doesn’t it mean that we should bear in mind our own limitations in trying to make accurate judgements.  We can’t make an accurate judgement without having all the information, and since having all the information about someone else is not possible much less about ourselves then we ought to be extremely careful in casting judgement.  We may have misread the situation.  In the end, the best we can do is make an educated guess.  The real problem with putting ourselves in a place of absolute judgement is that perhaps without meaning to, we actually are saying to God; “We don’t need you anymore”.

Is that what we really want to say?

Matthews Gospel reading today has in many ways a similar theme.  That’s probably why it’s on the lectionary!  Jesus says that you can’t serve two masters and everyone immediately thinks of money, but Jesus immediately widens his scope out to speak of worry.  I have often thought long and hard about this passage.  Why? Because suffering with chronic anxiety, I too worry.

Perhaps the translation into the word worry isn’t the most appropriate.  If we focus on the word worry, then those of use who live with and suffer with long term anxiety, often on a daily basis can end up worrying about worrying.  So, what happens if we instead of the word worry, insert the word concern.  The word concern can mean “to worry”, it can also mean “ a matter of importance to someone”.

If our clothing, finance, health, diet, or social media presence, is so important to us that it fills our attention and we become obsessed with it, then have these creations of ours taken the place of God as our proper focus.  It is reported that Jesus said. “Strive first for the Kingdom of God”, echoed by his transliteration of Deuteronomy 6:5 into his magisterial pronunciation of the whole of the law riding on two commandments; the greatest if which was “to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul and ALL your mind”.

If we love money, or fashion, or status in such as a way that we allow it to control our time and attitude then how can we keep this commandment?

What parts of your day can’t you do without?  What are the habits that you have developed that you cannot possibly not follow?  Are they getting in the way of you living your life to it’s fullest potential? 

If this is so, then reach back and strive once more for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness and everything that you need will be given to you as well. 

Don’t concern yourselves with what may or not happen tomorrow; focus instead on today, focus on the now, for tomorrow will have enough challenges of it’s own.

Just one more thought, reflecting on the traumatic events in Manchester at the beginning of this week.  Jesus, with his death and resurrection, announced the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on Earth.  If we say the Kingdom of God is here, then how is it that such atrocities continue to occur, how is it that big business can all too easily lie there way to financial success, how is it that the most powerful country in the world can’t sign up to an accord on climate change? 
It’s worth asking those questions, because it is only be allowing ourselves to be deeply challenged that we might then hear the voice of God amidst the war and the strife.  I would say this, The Kingdom of God is here amidst all that is happening, but those that have had their power usurped at Calvary, though beaten will still push back.  The limited power that we see in their push back, just shows the extent of God’s ultimate victory.  God has done the part that only God could do; it is now down to us with the help of the Holy Spirit – God him/herself, to continue the work of growing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.  It will involve pain and struggle, and will be cross shaped, let there be no doubt about that, but it is not a war to be fought with weapons, we are called to fight this war in ways of peace, love and mercy.  It is those weapons that the adversary has no answer to.

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


Amen

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Trust in God, Trust also in me

Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me (NRSV) John 14:1, that’s is how today’s reading starts.

This is a tough reading to get to grips with, it’s often a reading that is read at funerals, as I guess it seems to offer comfort to people that Jesus is saying that he has prepared a place for us.  However it contains much more than comfort, and is as powerful for the now as it is for comforting for the future.  I think to fully understand what is happening here one needs to look at what has happening.  Chapter 14 is part of the four chapters long farewell discourse by Jesus at the last supper.  For John the last supper is a key event in Jesus’ life, otherwise why would we get as much as four chapters.  

So, we are at the last supper; Jesus has just washed everyone’s feet, showing them that they were to emulate a style of leadership and living that was at odds with the world around them.  Indeed, Jesus’ actions and message echoes that given in Matthew Ch 20 when after James and John request special status and cause a rumpus amongst the rest of the twelve, Jesus has to call them all together to tell them that their view of leading is totally at odds with his.  They are not to follow the example of the gentile (Roman) leaders who lord it over their people by bully tactics.  Rather whoever wants to be great among them would need to become like a slave.

Perhaps this was the last straw for Judas as it’s after the footwashing in John’s Gospel that Jesus announces that one of them will betray him while also then informing Peter that he won’t do too well on the loyalty front either.  Talking of Judas, just how is it that no-one realised what he was up to other than Jesus?  John has Jesus clearly earmarking Judas as the person he is giving the bread to, and yet the others somehow still think he is taking money for the poor.  Perhaps it is an indication of the mood and the nature of the evening.  Perhaps no one was thinking straight.  It is no wonder then that their hearts might be troubled.  Jesus had told them that their leader was in danger, that there was no turning back at this point, but never mind Jesus says just trust in me.

Is it any surprise that Thomas and Philip press Jesus with questions trying to pin him down.  What do you mean you are going somewhere?  Where? How can we now the way?   At least they are asking questions, I wonder what the others are up to.  We know about Judas, was Peter nursing his hurt pride?  Early manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel paint a picture of everyone talking at once.  This is a moment of crisis.  Either way, it seems to me that people weren’t listening too well.

Jesus is not of course talking about physical mansions or dwelling places for his apostles or for us. He is talking more about being with him.  He means being joined with him in some way and therefore also joined to the Father.  Jesus is the way, because Jesus and the Father are somehow sides of the same coin.  This explains why Jesus responds in the way he does to Philip when Philip wants to see the Father.  Philip, Jesus reminds him, does not have to see the Father physically because he has already seen Jesus.  To know Jesus therefore, to experience Jesus in to know, to become part of, that relationship that exists at the very heart of the Trinity.  John actually develops this train of thought further with his representation of Jesus prayer for others in Ch 17.

So it is a this point with the darkness of chaos looming and the disciples facing the decimation of their movement, their lives to which that had given everything; Jesus turns and says to them something like this.  “Look it’s all going to go wrong in the next few hours.  But keep on trusting in me even when it looks as thought all hope is gone because what you are about to see as failure is actually the coronation of God as King of this world.  It’s the beginning of a new age.”

When, therefore, Jesus goes on to say that he will do anything we ask in his name, it is really important that we don’t forget the context within which this is being said.  It doesn’t mean that Jesus will provide the much needed money for a new Church Roof or a failing church; that might happen of course, who knows, but it isn’t what this is about.  Rather Jesus is saying that he will grant us life, true life, that is relationship with him, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  If we are in the Godhead, and the Godhead is in us then what else really matters.

I’m sure that many people here have experienced dark and challenging times; and chances are that you will again.  It is not my place to make the world sound like a Disneyland fantasy.  All I will say is to listen to Jesus’ own words in the midst of the imminent destruction of his own life and potentially that of his group.  “Keep trusting in God and keep trusting in me.”

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


Amen

Sunday, 9 April 2017

commitment, ours and Gods.....

What does Baptism or Christening mean to you?  What has happened this morning for Caitlyn and her family and friends.  I wonder if there is anything that related to what we remember of Jesus on Palm Sunday.  Let’s investigate a little together.
First some clarification.  We might Christen our child, or they may later undergo what is called adult baptism, (that’s not a second baptism but some people elect to wait until they are old enough to decide for themselves and then choose to be immersed in water – it is not necessarily better, rather it is different).  In either case, it is a ritual that is engaged in.  It is a very arranged piece of theatre.  Much like many church services you might think.  There are questions and responses, we have heard them this morning.  There may be Godparents, the person may be shown off to the church and afterwards a time of celebration. 
When we then look at the Gospel reading today from Matthew; Ch21 v 1-11.; what do we see or think is going on.  Some would argue that it is all done because God has planned it all since the beginning of time.  Well, that way of thinking is of course OK to a point, but if we don’t dig a little deeper, we often miss a whole load of good stuff in the writing. (Note the theological term “stuff”) We might just gloss over the story as we know it by heart and have heard it, well just too many times before.
First of all, there is nothing magical or miraculous in my mind about the story of the disciples finding a colt just as Jesus had told them.  Why do we assume everything Jesus said or did was in some way miraculous?  For a clue, we need to pop over to John’s Gospel account found in Chapter 7.  We have Jesus going in secret to the “festival of booths”.  He went alone because he couldn’t trust some of those who were close to him.  His brothers for one, remember they had tried to kidnap him once, and it is telling that he didn’t leave his closest 12 followers with the job organising the meal for the what would become the last supper.  For Jesus, these things he was planning had to happen, and he couldn’t risk being betrayed until AFTER they had happened.  He knew full well that the net was closing in.  Preparations had to be made, preparations like a colt and an upper room.
Like Baptism then, the entry to Jerusalem is a pre-arranged piece of theatre, full of imagery, and the imagery means that everyone would have known exactly what message is being said.
In Baptism, we have a naming ceremony and a promise of commitment to God; we might well forget our commitment to God but we make it all the same.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus lives out a commitment by God to return to his people and to rule again; albeit is a way that would take everyone by surprise.  The message however was clear to the people who lined the way down the hill into the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem.  God was coming back and Jesus couldn’t have said things any clearer; I am the Messiah.

Whilst we often forget our promises, and commitments that we make to ourselves, others and God. God, never does.  God is faithful to the promises he makes, and so Jesus rode in to the east of the city the poor end, the end with no sanitation, literally through a gate called the dung gate, to engage in battle with the imperial forces of Rome who were symbolically approaching from the upper western end (the posh seat of power, where there was running water and good air), with Pilate surrounded by armed guards and all the trappings of military might.  But this wasn’t to be a battle in the way that often think of.  Jesus rejected violence as an option and instead does battle with the one who works behind the scenes of the Romans, the Temple authorities, the same one who works behind the actions of selfishness, pride, hatred, and violence that can still attempt to enslave all of us.  He will do this in a way that will take everyone by surprise.

In the coming week, we will reflect and think about the events of the passion and the resurrection.  When and if you do, take a moment to remember God’s commitment to love and to you.  In Baptism, we recall that we love because first God loved us.  This Easter, consider that we live and love because God in Jesus lived and died for us and loved for us never straying from the commitment to love.

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


Amen

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Sin and Forgiveness

What do we mean by SIN?  (invite suggestions)
What do we mean by forgiveness?

In my childhood, I was raised in the Catholic Church and as such confession was a regular occurrence.  Most of the time I didn’t really know what to say, so offered a measly collection of lying, winding up a sibling etc.  On reflection, I feel a bit sorry for the priest, who must have sat there listening to a litany of material that perhaps didn’t really mean anything.  And those were the days before Ipods, and the like so he really had nowhere to escape to.  When I was preparing to write this message, I started to wonder why I didn’t really know what to confess to.  Was it a lack of imagination?  Unikely, as I never had problems with imagining myself in all sorts of situations and crises, always of course as the hero.  Was it because I didn’t sin?  Definitely NO.  I am the same as anyone else.  No, on reflection, whatever one’s views on the place or value of the confessional; I think the problem for me what that I didn’t really have a true understanding of what Sin actually was.  Is that really important I hear you ask?  But you see, if we don’t understand sin, how can we truly acknowledge ourself as being a sinner?  As a person in need of forgiveness, and then how can we realise that through the cross we have actually been forgiven, we have been freed from Sin.

I am going to repeat that last bit because it is important.  If we don’t fully grasp what sin really is, then we can’t fully grasp the nature of freedom from sin

Listening to our scripture readings today, there is plenty of scope to investigate and understand better the concept of sin and therefore forgiveness.

Matthew’s Gospel reading is a continuation of the so-called Sermon on the Mount.  I say so-called because the traditional view is of Jesus speaking to the multitudes and delivering a more radical set of rules and regulations than had ever existed in the Torah.  As a consequence, we sometimes view what he said as unobtainable, as just something to aim for but something that is impossible.  If we continue to look at it that way, we will sadly end up being sorely disenchanted, and that is dangerous and unnecessary.
If we go back to the end of Chapter 4 and the beginning of Chapter 5, we may get a slightly different picture.  A great crowd is following Jesus, who then climbs a mountain.  What happens is we link the two images in our minds, but that is not what I think Matthew is trying to portray here.  A great crowd was following Jesus so when he saw the crowds he went up the mountain.  This is normal Jesus behaviour to be alone, to spend time in prayer and solitude.  His disciples, as usual, catch up with him, and it is to them that he addressed what has become termed the Sermon on the Mount.  He is essentially letting them know what being a follower of his way is going to be like.  This is the no holds barred session on the hill.  You want to follow me?  Well great, this is how it is going to be, because everything is changing.

vv 21-37  look at behaviour, this is explicitly the behaviour that is to be expected of those who are living as part of the new Kingdom, this is the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. 

We need to be as careful of someone’s emotional health as their physical health.  It is just as unacceptable in the new Kingdom to destroy someone emotionally as it is to destroy someone physically.  How has the Church fared with that?

V 23 urges against hypocrisy.  How can we really be worshipping God at the altar if our love for our own ego is too great to seek reconciliation with another.  The one who refuses to reconcile is sinning against God because they are in effect turning away from God.  The price of exclusion from the Kingdom is to be seen as a measure until that person turns back which is the literal meaning of the word repent.

How do men fare with v 27.  Isn’t this unattainable?  Doesn’t this mean that Jesus is actually saying that in the new Kingdom, gender should not be used for the purposes of power and betterment of self.  Rather it should be that men and women should value each other as equal children of God.  The use of the words  -“to Lust” – indicates an uneven power relationship where a person is being forced to fit into the fantasies of another.  This  leads to a warping of God’s initial work, and so instead of a reflection of God’s love, we get an outcome that is out of balance and normally ends up with suffering and pain somewhere.

The new Kingdom therefore reflects relationship put right.  Relationship is put right when God is the true focus of our worship, our true worship and not something that is of our own creation.

The Church in Corinth was falling into the trap of creating their own idols.  There were followers of Paul, or Apollos or Jesus.  Yes, even when we worship Jesus or God, we need to be careful that we are not worshipping our own created image of God, in other words just another worthless Golden calf.  Worthless, because it is not real and therefore it is quite dead.  Paul reminds the church to turn back from this error, to repent.  To turn back from this sin, and to turn back to God, as perfectly illustrated in the life of Jesus.

When we create our own image of God, or when we allow ourselves to worship other gods, such as fame, money, sex or power, we sin against God.  We voluntarily enchain ourselves again with the very chains that God has set us free from!

We don’t have to do this now as there is a new creation, a new Kingdom in which no one is greater than anyone else.  There is no Jew, no Greek, no slave; there are in other words no boxes we need to be enslaved by.  There are no republicans or democrats; no tory or labour or liberal; no black or white; no gay or straight or trans.

There are only people living out the true purpose of being an image of God, worshipping the one true God and reflecting God to the whole of creation.

If we worship God in truth and in spirit, then we will live in freedom, because the power of sin has been destroyed for us by God. 

Yes, we can still fall, and we can still be hurt, both physically and emotionally, but we will never again be destroyed by evil or bound by evil.  We have been set free from sin and WE ARE FREE.  So we should act live free people and should not act like slaves any more.

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


Amen