Sermon for Sunday 12th August

Sermon For Trinity 11 Yr B

Lerwick 2018

From our epistle today,….

25Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.

I have had  a book on my shelves now for years and from time to time I have read it. First published in 1969, “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am” John Powel explores the processes at work in each of us from time to time which prevent us being well with each other.

At the beginning of this book he quotes from Genesis, “Then the Lord God said, “it is not good for man to be alone”.

And yet he goes on to speak about the place of falsehood we all from time to time live in, and how we walk around as if we were wearing masks over the face of our real selves, and that we often play roles to disguise our true selves.

I don’t know how many of you have been to a Masque ball or similar, where you really do wear masks even if only over the eyes to disguise who you really are… it can feel quite strangely liberating, and I also wonder if it is the same principal that many experience at Up Helly Aa when so many masks are worn by the squads.

From the 60s on we have known that perhaps haunting song “The Great pretender” some of its lyrics say,

 

“Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Pretending that I’m doing well
My need is such I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell

Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own
I’ve played the game but to my real shame
You’ve left me to grieve all alone

Too real is this feeling of make-believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can’t conceal”

Something I believe about the teaching and ministry of Jesus was that he enabled authenticity. He accepted people for who they were, he loved them no matter what, and he invited them to part of the story as it unfolded.

It was clearly difficult for his society to accept this challenge as they had so many rules as to how society should work, everybody had a place and they should stay in it or be kept in it.

Questions were often asked about why Jesus was seen mixing with the outcast and unclean, and the Samaritan women at the well questioned Jesus even speaking with her and asking for a drink, before later on going with excitement to her town to invite others to come and meet the man who has told me everything about me… and it is implied of course accepted me for who I am too.

None of us want to live a life of falsehood yet we do also often hide behind the masks we hold up for protection. John Powell makes the observation that I may be reluctant to tell you who i am because you may not like who I am and yet that is all I have.

For the people who met Jesus in the narratives of the gospels it would appear the real self was loved and accepted, and indeed even healing was enabled to take place too.

We know full well, that the early church was not free from dispute and tension and difficulties. Strong personalities (including I suspect at times Paul himself) came crashing against others. People were seen leaving the less fortunate to flounder, and differences of opinion did indeed cause stress.

Yet at the same time we also know that the early church was visible in society for the way it “held everything in common, how they supported and cared for each other” and in Johns Gospel the famous words on the lips of Jesus,

“I give you a new commandment that you love one another, just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another”

Paul also writes to the church that we should bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ

Nowhere is it suggested this way of living was easy, nor is it easy today. Yet we are called to mirror this more real way of being with each other in the church today.

We have had a good number of visitors to this church over recent months. It is wholly heartening to hear that they have found us a welcoming and warm place. Some have in fact deliberately sought me out to impress upon me what a wonderful welcome they have received, and how included they have been made to feel.

We should be proud of this, and of course continue this level of welcome.

Let us also develop a growing sense of love and acceptance of each other, one that will allow and encourage us all to be able to leave our masks at the door when we come in.

“putting away all falsehood and being members one of another” is not going to simply happen. There is no magic that will cause it simply to be.

Praying deeply with one another will certainly help, spending time with one another will also help.

The early church discovered that eating and drinking together significantly helped, and from this activity we have developed “The Eucharist” when we gather around the table and share the feast of the Kingdom. We partake and share The bread of Life. It is an opportunity for God to feed us and to sustain us.

In 1 Corinthians Paul likens the Body of Christ to the Church and perhaps comically describes the foot wondering “because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body”. He says here again we are members together in the body.

How do we see each other as members of ourselves?

John Powel suggests “To refuse the invitation to interpersonal encounter is to be an isolated dot in the centre of a great circle… a small island in a vast ocean”

We know what small islands can feel like.

He also goes on to emphasise “To reveal myself openly and honestly takes the rawest kind of courage”

Again I would like to point out that the liturgy of our Eucharist gives us on many levels the tools we may need. We break, we pray , we share, we eat, we are fortified.

Let us give thanks for what we can become in Christ.

Sermon for Tranfiguration

Sermon;  Transfiguration 2018 (Alma Lewis)

 

Today we have a prophesy, an eyewitness account of the prophesy fulfilled and a description of the actual event, the Transfiguration! Now that’s good organization. However I have to admit that I have had great  difficulty in getting my head around the meaning of the Transfiguration so I apologise, in advance, for my ramblings

 

Before we explore the event itself I’d like to look at the prophesy, and the prophet.

We probably, all know about Daniel and his friends,  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from childhood stories. Daniel was thrown to the lions and escaped unhurt, while his friends were cast into the fiery furnace, because they had dared to defy the king by remaining faithful to God, and survived without a hair on their heads being singed. We probably  have some memory of hearing about King Nebuchadnezzar who asked Daniel to interpret his dream and King Belshazzar who saw  the writing on the wall. Jesus would have been brought up on these stories too, as a child. In fact I suspect that Daniel would have been considered something of a hero to the little Jewish boys just as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were to my generation, and the whole range of present day super-heroes are to my little grandsons.

 

The story is set during the Jewish Exile, starting when King Nebuchadnezzar brought some of the young Israelites of the royal family and nobility, including Daniel and his three friends, to his palace where they were well cared for and well educated. Daniel distinguished himself by his ability to interpret dreams and proved the power of YHWH who protected him from the lions, but he was also known for his prophesies, one of which we heard today. These prophesies were important for the exiles because they promised an end to their troubles and a new beginning.

The Old Testament is, on the whole, strongly anchored to this world. Hardly any prophet ventures to hope for anything beyond this life. The conception was that when a man died his intellect, emotions and aspirations died with him. There was no after-life. YHWH administered punishments and rewards in terms of material prosperity and adversity in this world, a view still held by the Sadducees in Jesus’ time.[1]

But by the time the story of Daniel was written the Jews had been under foreign domination for about 450 years and people were beginning to give up hope of anything changing despite their adherence to the Law, and the idea of the possibility of vindication or retribution in a life after death began to take hold. This was the view held by the Pharisees.

And so we have Daniel prophesying about the Ancient One, with a wonderful description of God, with clothing as white as snow and hair like pure wool, with a thousand, thousand serving him and ten thousand times ten thousand attending him. It really gives you some idea of the whole host of heaven doesn’t it? And then came a human being, coming with the clouds of heaven, to whom was given dominion and glory and kingship that shall never be destroyed.

 

Now to the Gospel and the fulfillment of the prophesy.  Jesus takes three of his disciples, Peter, James and John up to the mountain where they are given the vision of their master transfigured and talking to Moses and Elijah ‘appearing in glory’, the same word that Daniel used.   They heard the voice of God saying ‘This is my chosen one. Listen to him.’  But when they left the mountain they told no one what they had seen.

That statement interests me. Surely if you had experienced anything like that you would want to tell everyone! I wonder if Jesus told them not to say anything? Quite possibly, because he often asked people not to report what had happened. Could it be because he was preparing them for the Resurrection.  After all, he knew that he was going to be killed because he was known to be a troublemaker by the authorities, and he also knew that he would rise again, so by allowing his three most important disciples to experience this transfiguration he would have witnesses who would remember what they had seen on the mountain. It would also confirm to them that he was the Son of God. It must have been a transforming moment for the three disciples, as we know from Peter’s eyewitness account and all three became significant figures in the growth of the early Christian Church.

They would have known the story of Daniel just as Jesus would and must have compared Daniels description to what they were seeing on the mountain. Jesus had previously asked them “who do the crowds say I am? And one of the answers he received was Elijah. But when he asked ‘And who do you think I am?’  Peter answered, ‘The Messiah.” I wonder if that is why Jesus took them with him? Perhaps to help them realize who he really was. In Peter’s letter he tells us, ‘we have been eye witnesses of his Majesty and we have had the prophetic message more fully confirmed.’ No wonder they were silent, it was a lot to take in!

 

We have no problem accepting this image of Christ because we only know him as our Heavenly king, yet to the people who knew him in the

flesh, he was an ordinary man who could do extraordinary things, a superhero, who was still human and who inspired his followers to continue his work and preach his command to love one another, even though many of them were persecuted and killed for doing so. Surely they too could be called superheroes?

However there doesn’t seem much call for superheroes today except in fantasy films and books.

So where does that leave us? Christ’s message is still the same, ‘Love one another,’ and Gods message is still the same, ‘This is my son, listen to him!’ Yet there are lots of heroes today listening to Jesus’ message to love one another and striving to follow it, Think of the divers who risked their lives to save the Thai boys trapped in the cave. Think of the aid workers who help people caught up in war and disasters. Think of the doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to heal the sick. Think of the carers who look after relatives at home.  Think of those who fight for justie for the oppressed. The list goes on.

And think back over the last few weeks in your own life when someone has done an unexpected kindness to you, or who has said something to cheer you up or make you feel better about yourself. There is a saying ‘You may forget what people have said to you, you may forget what people have done to you but you never forget how someone has made you feel.’  These people might not do the great deeds of heroes but they have shown love, and love is of God!

Lastly, think of something that you have done to make someone’s life a little better. That’s probably much harder than remembering kindnesses done to you, but I suspect that for someone, somewhere, you too were a hero who changed their life if only for a short while.

Jesus said, ‘’Love God, love each other.”

God said, “Listen to Him.”

[1] William Neil. The Hodder Pocket Bible Commentary

Birth of John the Baptist 24th June

Pew sheet for Trinity 3 the 17th June

Pew Sheet for Trinity 2 10th June

Pew Sheet for Pentecost

Pewsheet for Easter 6

Pewsheet for Easter 6

Easter 5 Pewsheet

Pewsheet for Easter 5

Easter 2

Sermon for Easter 2 Yr B 2018

 

There has been a tension within the Christian Faith between what we might describe as heaven and earth, body and soul, flesh and spirit.

 

It is possible that the tension has always been present and I think I can discern it in the writings of Paul, where he questions whether life with God is to be desired above life now, and in Matthews Gospel we clearly get the tension in chapter 26 when we read the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

 

I also believe the tension comes through from early Jewish writings and the way in which a life after death was discussed and a gradual emergence in Judaism after the exiles had returned to Jerusalem, in a resurrection.

 

Today we are most likely to believe in a resurrection, a life after death, though we may vary in how each individual sees this working out.

 

When John wrote his gospel at the end of the first century, the idea of  resurrection was  well established. Yet the relationship between this world and the world to come was still puzzling.

 

Enter Thomas.

 

Thomas speaks for many of us when he says he needs to see proof, even to feel proof, that this world and the world of the resurrection are connected.

 

It was all very well to speak of Jesus being raised to life again, but was this world and the next connected…. Did the life of heaven have anything to do with the life of earth?

 

Needless to say the Christian Church has continued this debate and people still sit on many fences.

 

Where does the body/flesh lie in the grand scheme of things?

 

It seems to me that our bodies do indeed play a huge part of what I am and what God has created in me, or formed in me. I also experience God through this flesh too. There is no great divorce or great divide, and it is one exciting thing about talking of incarnation… God becomes human.

 

 

The Christian Church sees incarnation focused in Jesus, it also sees resurrection focused in Jesus.

 

 

Richard Rohr reflects,

 

We must begin by trusting what God has done in Jesus. We cannot return to a healthy view of our own bodies until we accept that God has forever made human flesh the privileged place of the divine encounter. We have had enough of dualism, enough of the separation of body and spirit, enough over-emphasis on the body’s excesses and addictions. We must reclaim the incarnation as the beginning point of the Christian experience of God. (Rohr)

 

This week saw the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. Hearing his last address this week made me realise what a prophet of his time he was and that a more fuller understanding of resurrection means seeing the life of this world as part of it.

 

Hope in both this world and the world to come  was crucial to him. He famously said:

 

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

—Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

 

 

Thomas was able to witness that the life of God and the life of earth were vitally connected, and in seeing this he was the first disciple to be able to declare “my Lord and my God”

 

Various hymns have been able to express this

 

Now is eternal life if risen with Christ we stand..

 

Christ is risen, we are risen!
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory
From the brightness of Thy face;
That we, with our hearts in Heaven,
Here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered,
And be ever, Lord, with Thee.

 

Christopher Wordsworth, Hearts to heaven and voices raise

Pew Sheet for Easter 3

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