Sermon Sunday 14th October

Today’s gospel is very familiar territory. Lots of well worn phrases including that enigmatic image of the camel and the eye of a needle and again all things are possible for God. The first will be last and the last first too! Everything seems surprising… if not challenging.

The scene we enter is familiar to us too… a person approaching  Jesus and asking a question…. But what a question! “

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Perhaps the first most important thing to realise is that the question we hear is not probably the one we thought.

The man is not asking about life after death.

Today we naturally jump to this conclusion because we have focused on this point too much ourselves. It is common currency to us, but it was not so in Jesus time.

The idea of life after death was actually quite a new concept and was still (perhaps still is) in formation.

Eternal life was not life after death.

In the same way the phrase Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of heaven does not translate into something that is beyond this world.

When Jesus says, “the time has arrived, the kingdom of God is upon you, Repent and believe the gospel” (Opening chapters of Mark) he was not talking about something yet to happen, something for the future. Jesus was talking about the present moment.

So what must I do to inherit eternal life?

The man was a devote person, he always had been. He had kept the commandments as he had been taught. There is no reason at all to suppose he was not telling the truth here. He had indeed done everything possible to lead a good and holy life.

Another fascinating thing in this passage which we can easily miss is that “looking at him, Jesus loved him”.

This is an exchange made in love not in any sense of judgement or even testing. Jesus recognises his holiness and honours it.

With love for him, the Lord said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

As we have noted people in Jesus Day were still in two minds about life after death. It was getting more popular to think in such terms but it was not universal belief. Eternal life however does not mean life until the end of time. It did not mean life after death.

Life and Eternal life was not about quantity, but quality. Eternal life means a deep connection with the ageless and invincible values of the Kingdom of God. Eternal life describes a quality of relationship between human beings and God, bringing us into a present knowledge and experience with the loving and living spirit of God.

I wonder why we jump to the conclusion it is all about quantity or lastingness of life rather than a qualitative thing.

Elsewhere Jesus tells us that he came to bring life and life in all its fullness… a passage I love and echo so often.

We have turned Heaven into a reward system when it was not about this at all… it has always been about promise.

Jesus loved this man before him. The man in turn loved God and followed all the commandments. But he was also held back in a growing relationship with God by “stuff” by possessions (and wealth).

I dare say we can all recognise what holds our relationship with God back. What prevents us growing. I dare say we know what our attachments are.

I dare say we may know what Jesus would tell us is the one thing we lacked…..

What is it that we need to give up in order to gain what is much more valuable? Is it greed or prejudice – ignorance or pride – anger or the need to control others, the inability to acknowledge our sins of hurting others or the “things we have left undone” or something else?

We probably know!

In a material world with so much emphasis on reward and punishment and gain and loss it is so easy to respond to God with similar driving forces.

Jesus tells us the Kingdom of heaven is already upon us… enter with Joy into the kingdom. Let us grow further in God and not hold back, God is ready to greet us as the Father did to his wayward Son.

Sermon for Trinity 15 September 9th

Sermon For Trinity 15 Yr B 2018

Lerwick

All of us love to be noticed, to be recognised, to be understood, and to be loved. We actually need this.

True enough there are times when we want to be able to blend into the background, and to pretend we are not there. It is sometimes not nice at all to be drawn out when you would rather be inconspicuous.

But to be loved and recognised for the person we are is, I think, a basic and important human need.

Today in the gospel reading we see an interesting exchange between a woman from Syrophenicia  and Jesus. It would appear that Jesus reacted to her very badly… we might want to say out of character. He was acting in what today would be described as a racist way… not something we wold in any way condone.

Yet the woman answers calmly and realistically and Jesus recognises the positive response and her daughter is healed… drawn into that place of loving and acceptance, and in drawing the daughter in to this place the mother herself is of course also included and drawn in.

Heading on to another notorious region, the Decapolis, Jesus encounters a deaf man who had a speech impediment.

There are various curious parts to this story of healing, including of course the seemingly unseemly method of healing by sticking his fingers in his ears and then touching his tongue… but the one thing that stands out to everyone who reads this story is the word “Ephphatha” .

The word is equally odd in the Greek as in the English… a bit of a tongue twister … pun intended!

“Be opened”

It is quite interesting to note that Mark uses the Aramaic word spoken by Jesus… his mother tongue if you like on a number of significant moments.

We hear Mark using Aramaic words here when healing this man in today’s gospel,

When he is talking about prayer and teaching his disciples how to pray “Abba”

When he is on the cross speaking to his Father in agony “Eloi Eloi Lama sabacthani”

And when he is raising a little girl from her death bed with the words “Talitha Koum” (Little girl get up)

It is noticeable that in each case they are moments of intimacy and closeness. There is something significantly personal going on.

They are private and not public moments… even if others seem to be able to overhear.

So today we are drawn into a private encounter an intimate moment and we are allowed to hear the word spoken “Be opened”

Many commentators ask the question about this and similar passages, how are we the hearer also hearing the words spoken as if to us… in other words we also hear Jesus speaking as if to us “Be opened”.

Furthermore this would be Jesus as if it were speaking quite privately to us and intimately… “be opened”.

I know when I stop for a moment and get into that space and hear Jesus speaking to me “Be opened” I know what it is I am keeping “closed”.

I may be able to speak and I can usually hear too… but I know there are things “closed” which need the recognition and healing to be “opened”.

We have then encountered today a private moment with Jesus… a time set aside from the crowds when we come face to face so to speak and are invited to hear Jesus and to be recognised by Jesus for who we are. A moment when we can deep down beginning to feel the Love surging towards and through us.

It is intimate enough even perhaps to feel the fingers in our ears and the touch on our tongue… very personal stuff. And lets not forget Jesus uses his spit too!! (A little gross to our sensitive ears?) (

The word Ephphatha occurs elsewhere in the gospels too, notably again on the Road to Emmaus (another private encounter as it happens) and the disciple eyes are opened as they recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread, and in the Acts of the Apostles Lydia’s heart was opened to hear the good news of Gods loving call and acceptance before she then went on to invite Paul into her own home.

We might therefor be able to suggest that this word “Ephphatha” ..“Be opened”… is the heart of the message of Jesus both to his early disciples and to us.

Jesus takes us aside to the place we can hear intimately him saying to us “Be opened” and in this we are enabled to live our relationship with God and with others more fully…

 

….We live!

Trinity 14 Pewsheet. 2nd September 2018

Sunday 26th August

Sermon For Trinity 13 Yr B

Lerwick 2018

One particularly interesting thing today is that the gospel today repeated some of last weeks gospel. This is unusual.

it may therefore help us focus on the topic of importance.

We heard last week and again this week that those who eats this bread will live forever. Today again the main thrust of what we hear is about living and life.

The disciples we are told felt that this teaching was difficult…. I wonder why they found it so difficult?

There is much in our world today which on the one level seem to compliment things Jesus was saying. We are often told or that we have the feeling that if we “did” something, took something, bought something, then life would be  good. Some beers even reach the parts other beers cannot!

Our culture is driven by commercial success, the need to sell or to buy, the feeling that we should at least fit in, if not blend in.

Styles, fashions, trends, even our needs and wants, seem to be driven not by ourselves but by someone other.

The disciples found Jesus teaching difficult because like us they were focusing on the physical… the real bread the best wine. Yes it would appear that Jesus was not actually talking about that, but was rather speaking of spiritual things.

Once again he is speaking about the place we find home.. the place we need to abide in.

I spent some of this week in Glasgow at meetings. I was surrounded by people who were travelling, people who were moving from one place to another. Many were dragging huge bags and suitcases full of stuff. Some would have been trying to get home others were not.

I heard one check out assistant asking the chap in front of me where he was travlling to, and he answered he was heading home… to whch the reply was a question…. “home to relax?”

I was also struck by the number of feeding places specifically selling “food and drink on the go” one was even called, “grab it and go”

Jesus said “those who eat my bread and drink my blood abide in me”. He clearly was not talking physical food, he was trying to help people, you and I, to think of a reationship we have with God… the real palce we call home.

For far too long the church has spoken of heaven as if it were the place we head towards, whereas I really do feel that Jesus spoke about the kingdom as the place we already can live in. “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… thy kingdom come….”

This was the place he was inviting people to abide.. to dwell.

For Jesus and his followers this place of dwelling was also the place of eating and drinking. By eating and drinking together the bread and wine of the kingdom we not only remind ourselves of our home but we also remind ourselves of the relationship we have with each other and with God.

Paul certainly picked this up when he writes to many of the churches about the way we are the body of Christ and how we are literally members of each other.

A wholly incarnational theology needs to embrace the Spirit as part of the body, the material. God is amongst us and beside us, not divided from us. God infuses creation with his Spirit, we believe this in Christ. The Spirit is life and Jesus help his followers see this.

 

Bruce Epperly says, “the spirit is embodied, and the body is inspired in the interplay of divine vision and human creativity… the church should become a laboratory of spiritual formation…

What we might call “reality” is certainly more than physicality and touchability. As an article in New Scientist this week notices, “the reality we experience tomorrow is the product of the mindsets we hold today”

What we believe does , and can, make a difference to the way we live.

By sharing in the Eucharist, we share in an experience of the Living God that breaks down barriers, the barriers we have built. By living Eucharistically, we seek to recognize the Living God in others.

In living a Eucharistic life, we  find ways to recognise God truly with each one of us, no matter what. Jesus lived this and proclaimed it.

 

It was no wonder they found it difficult, but nevertheless those who were able to respond are heard asking “To who else shall we go?” and may we, with them, also recognise their response to the question….“you have the words of life, we have come to believe you are the holy one of God”

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

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Pew sheet for Trinity 3 the 17th June

Pew Sheet for Trinity 2 10th June

Pew Sheet for Pentecost

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