Thursday, 28 May 2020

Sermon 31st May 2020 – Pentecost Text: John 20:19-23 – Life through the Holy Spirit

Sermon 31st May 2020 – Pentecost

Text: John 20:19-23 – Life through the Holy Spirit


It seems strange to have today’s Gospel reading. I say that because we also had this Gospel reading – a shortened version of it – the first Sunday after Easter. It was then when we were into our 3rd week of lockdown and isolation and I made the comment how we were somewhat like Jesus’ disciples – locked away in fear. They were locked away for fear of the Jews who had just crucified Jesus on the cross. We were locked away for fear of the Coronavirus – COVID 19. Today’s reading is shorter. It doesn’t include the situation of Doubting Thomas who wouldn’t believe that Jesus came to visit them after his resurrection – unless I see the nail marks in his hands. Today’s focus is on the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples to prepare them for leaving the physical safety and returning to the world – the world of which they were afraid. That day for us also is getting nearer and in some aspects is already upon us.


John’s Gospel is quite different to the other 3 – Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn’t have a lot of the parables and accounts that the other 3 have. And John’s Gospel has stories that the other 3 don’t have

But something that particularly stands out for me is that John tells the story of Jesus as a retelling of the Genesis story of Creation. John’s Gospel and Genesis begin in a very similar way: In Genesis – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In John’s Gospel - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were created; without him nothing was made that has been made. So, they both start the same way – In the beginning – and both speak about creation.


Interestingly today’s Gospel reading also images the Genesis account of life being created. In Genesis chapter 2: Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. That breath of life is the Holy Spirit which God breathed into lifeless Adam. In our Gospel reading, in John 20, we see again the breath of God creating life: Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” We were dead in our sin but the Holy Spirit now breathes God’s forgiveness into us.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring life. But not just any life but God’s life. A life that brings order and purpose into life. Look at the disciples before the Holy Spirit was breathed into them. Their lives were chaotic and meaningless – ruled by fear.  Locked away in fear – that’s not quality of life. Their lives were very much like Creation in the beginning before God breathed life and order into it: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Look at the people gathered together in Acts on the Day of Pentecost: Gathered in Jerusalem was a whole host of languages -  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome.

And the Holy Spirit came and brought them together as one and removed the language barrier that had been confused from the time of the Tower of Babel.


God’s Holy Spirit created new life in them to hear the Gospel. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does in our lives too. Our new life begins in our Baptism when the Holy Spirit is given to renew our life with God. The old is washed away by the forgiveness of our Original Sin and a new life emerges to dwell with God. In Jesus’ own life this is when it all begins for his Ministry. At his Baptism he sees the Spirit of God descend from heaven and land upon him and the voice of God declaring – this is my Son whom I love. So, in each situation – there is life already there but there is no order or meaning. Adam was just dust on the ground before the Spirit of life was breathed into him. Jesus ministry began when the Spirit declares his Sonship. The disciples were a disorganised rabble of fear with no life.

And the people gathered in Jerusalem were a babbling mess brought into order by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And our lives were in darkness before the light of the Holy Spirit was given in our Baptism.


There are differing views on what the Holy Spirit does. And they are all valid – all mentioned in our second reading: Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, gifts of prophecy, teaching and leadership.

And then there are the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But these are all results of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us what the purpose of those fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are: For the common good The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to create order in God’s creation. So when Paul talks about the Holy Spirit in 1st Corinthians it was because Corinth was  a church that lacked order because they didn’t understand the Holy Spirit:  And Paul says that God is not a God of disorder but of peace.


As we continue to journey this unprecedented journey together as Church, the Holy Spirit has been the essential gift of God that has kept us united and in order. He has been our comforter in times of worry and distress about our church services being cancelled and our health concerns. He has been our intercessor – praying of us in those times when we just did not know how or what to pray. And he has been our paraclete.

A word that means someone who stands beside us. And that’s what God has done through his Holy Spirit.

He has stood beside us just like Jesus came and stood among his disciples in their fear.


Just like the Day of Pentecost where scattered nations were drawn together as one as they heard the gospel message preached by Peter, so too we have journeyed together at times not sure what to do or where to go but kept together by the Gospel. And now that lockdowns are starting to ease we’re having the same challenges to our life and order. Should we start services – should we wait. Should we have communion – should we wait. Should we have several services with 20 people each – how do we do it – who does all the cleaning and sanitising. I want to restart Holy Communion services more than anyone but we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we don’t become like the Corinthians – a church of disorder. This needs to be a spiritual beginning and not just a physical beginning of our worship again. There are many physical requirements we must meet before we begin but more importantly we need the Spiritual wisdom and presence of God through his Holy Spirit. So we need your prayers more than ever and we need God’s wisdom which is also the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget that even while our church doors remain locked, Jesus still comes in and stands among us. In the midst of our uncertainty and not knowing which way to go, Jesus comes and breathes his Holy Spirit onto us and says – Peace be with you.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Sermon 24th May 2020 – The Ascension Text: Luke 24: 44-53 – Ascended, not gone.

Sermon 24th May 2020 – The Ascension

Text: Luke 24: 44-53 – Ascended, not gone.


There seemed to be a feel of jubilation this week when I spoke with people. The first of the lockdown restrictions were eased which allowed family members to once again visit. With many mothers unable to see their children and grandchildren on Mother’s Day it was a feeling of joy when our Premier announced we could now have 5 members of our family or friends come around. So even though we are not fully there yet there is this sense of comfort knowing we are on our way back. It was a difficult time with families being effectively cut off from their loved ones. But knowing there was a hope of seeing them again kept us strong.


The Ascension would have had similar emotions for Jesus’ disciples as they learn that Jesus’ time on earth was coming to an end. For 40 days since the resurrection Jesus has been walking the earth, establishing eyewitnesses and encouraging his disciples to prepare them as he must now ascend to his Father in Heaven.

To them it will seem like he is leaving them. Still feeling the emotions of having seen Jesus put to death they now, again, feel that emotional drain of watching him leave. But saying goodbye this time will be different for them than the time they said farewell at his death. Despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead they did not believe that Jesus would do so. Even though Jesus had previously told them that he must be put to death and on the 3rd day rise again, they really didn’t understand what he meant. Was it a symbolic rising like keeping a person’s memory alive? At the Transfiguration Jesus told Peter, James and John not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark’s gospel says, they kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. Even in Matthew’s account of the ascension it says the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.


In today’s first reading the disciples are grieving for Jesus as he departs. But 2 angels say to them - why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The Book of Revelation also states his return in such a way: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”;  The ascension is not about Jesus leaving but about Jesus ascending to rule from the right hand of God the Father. And that rule of Jesus’ now continues through us as we continue doing God’s work until he returns. And in our Gospel reading Jesus tells us what that work is that he wants us to do. He says: repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.


While it was important for the church to establish eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are meaningless if they stand alone without any purpose. It’s a lovely story of good news for Jesus to hear that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – but what does that good news mean for us and the rest of the world? We hear that good news in the message Jesus sends us to proclaim - that God’s work of forgiveness has been completed. Let’s connect the dots.First, Jesus came for a purpose – At his birth: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life. That’s the purpose; Throughout his ministry we see that purpose unfold: Jesus exampled the work God sent him to do among the people and we hear the Pharisees grumble about it – who can forgive sins but God alone. And then at his death we hear those very words of forgiveness that create an eyewitness for us – forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing – and he cries out in his last dying breath – It is finished. The work of reconciling God and his children on earth is finished. And now Jesus says - repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed, by us, in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Jerusalem was their home town.


Our forgiveness begins in our homes – in our family homes – in our church homes.

You are witnesses of experiencing God’s forgiveness in your lives – now YOU go and proclaim that same forgiveness to others. And that’s why I and all other Pastors are saying – our church buildings may be physically closed at present but the work of God continues – it never stops. We are not to be discouraged at this time – like the disciples who kept looking up to heaven wondering when Jesus was coming back.

The angels said – stop looking up to heaven. Look at the world around you. Jesus will return the same way he left – don’t worry about it. And that’s the same message to the church today. Don’t stop doing the work of God while our physical worship together has stopped. Don’t get discouraged looking at the dates and stages feeling defeated wondering when things will return to normal. Remember the 2 Emmaus disciples whose faces were downcast – we had hoped he would be the one!


Physical church services will return – and even though we are missing our worship together and sharing Holy Communion together, Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. No, he says: I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. He is speaking about the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the same to his disciples in our first reading: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses It’s easy to become discouraged as the weeks roll into months and there’s still no clear indication about what and when things will get back to normal – and the uncertainty of what this “new normal” that everyone is talking about will look like. But let us listen again to Paul and be encouraged by his words as he speaks about the Ascension and the work of the church:

He says: God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


This passage by Paul brings us such great comfort and encouragement during times like these or any other time when I’m feeling powerless – when I’m feeling the church is powerless. Because I remember that Jesus has not left us but ascended.  And there’s a big difference between the two. Leaving means a physical absence. I’m leaving you. But remember Jesus’ promise last week – I will not leave you as orphans. Jesus didn’t leave – he ascended – as a king ascending to the throne to take power and control. And that’s what we must always remember. There is no war going on.  Jesus has won and will always win.


But there is a struggle that continues to go on but as Paul reminds us in the end of Ephesians: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But at the beginning of Ephesians, in our 2nd reading he assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Jesus is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. Jesus has won – he will always win. And he will win this struggle. Our call is to keep being the children of God. To keep being the eyewitnesses of everything that God has achieved for us. And to keep proclaiming God’s forgiveness in the world. Jesus has ascended to rule and has won the victory. We are to proclaim that victory as we proclaim his forgiveness to all.




Monday, 11 May 2020

Sermon 17th May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter Text: Acts17:22-31 – The Known God

Sermon 17th May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts17:22-31 – The Known God


Have you ever had that situation where you come across someone you should know? You’re 100% sure you’ve met them before but you can’t remember their name. When that happens to me I start to run through the alphabet in my head and attribute names to the letter to see if that works – 9 times out of 10 it does. Alan, Anthony, Arthur, Barry, Brian, Benjamin.

Names are important. That’s why when Moses was sent to free Israel from slavery he asked God – what if they ask your name. Even in society the old saying goes – it’s not what you know but WHO you know. God himself knew the importance of names and enshrined his own name as one of the commandments – you shall not take  the name of the Lord your God in vain. And in response to his humility by dying on the cross, God gave to Jesus the name that is above all names. And at the name of Jesus every knee would bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And this is the situation that Paul is facing as he is visiting Athens.


Paul says to the people – as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ So it’s a case of they knew WHAT they were worshipping – god- but they didn’t know WHO they were worshipping. And the problem with that is that if you don’t know WHO you are worshipping then you don’t know WHAT it is that they can do for you. They are just an inanimate object. It’s what God warned Israel about when they were about to enter the Promised Land and the dangers of worshiping foreign Gods: “There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell”. (Deuteronomy 4:28) Very impersonal.


So many people in society today say that they are spiritual but not religious. Or they say that they believe in God but they don’t believe in institutionalised religion. In other words, they don’t believe you need to go to church to worship God. Many people will say that they are not atheist but they are agnostic. An atheist doesn't believe in a god or divine being. However, an agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrine. We would tend to say that the Athenians fell more into the line of agnostic rather than atheism. They don’t reject God – they don’t know who he is. More and more we are going to discover people in our lives who fall into that category. I believe in a higher power – I just don’t know who he is.

I believe there has to be something more than this – I just don’t know what it is. I don’t want to believe that when I die, that’s it. I’m a good person – surely there has to be something after I die.


Paul explains to the Athenians who this God is these are the points he believes are important: He is: The God who made the world and everything in it,  He is: Lord of heaven and earth, He does not live in shrines made by human hands

He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. So in that description there is no initial mention of sin or judgment – that will come later on when he calls on them to repent. But first Paul is wanting to establish a relation between them and God. Paul’s focus is in getting them to know the God who created them. The God who provides for them. The God who is a personal God. Because God created everything then he has a personal interest in everything. And that helps us to cope in times like these when we wonder whether God is aware of the pain and suffering we are going through. Of course he is – we are his creation – we are his children.


This is the world God created. And God is a personal God. He doesn’t live in human made shrines. He doesn’t live in human made churches. He dwells in the people who gather there. He lives in us. He has made his home in us. And he is a God who doesn’t need us to sacrifice to him. He sacrificed for us. How often don’t we hear people who have rejected God because all he wants is our money. He just wants us to give and give and give. But our God is a God who gives to us and HE gives and gives and gives. I always like that passage in the Old Testament when the prophet Nathan rebukes King David for taking Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. God say, through Nathan, “I gave your master’s house to you, I gave your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

God is a God who gives. It’s at the heart of the Gospel in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


But that doesn’t mean people are automatically going to jump for joy and believe. No, there will always be a level of doubt – a level of rejection. That’s why Peter says to be patient: But in your hearts revere Christ as your Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

In this pandemic we’ve had the perfect opportunity to do such – although because of isolation we probably haven’t had the opportunity to be seen. But we have had the opportunity to stay strong in our faith. To continue to trust God in all this and not fear. And to be obedient to the restrictions. We could have looked for loopholes or maybe taken a risk – who would find out if we had a small church gathering? Maybe we’ve disagreed with the actions being taken. But that’s part of living under authority – which is always God’s authority. HE created the heavens and the earth. Again, that’s what Peter said: it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. And as I’ve said on a few occasions – they have closed our church buildings but we’ve been able to keep worshipping.  Because only the human made shrines have been shut.


I was speaking to a resident in one of our nursing homes about the restrictions.  She was telling me about her days during World War 2 in the Ukraine when Stalin sent officers from house to house to remove bibles. And any mention of God or Jesus would see you removed from your home. That’s not what is happening to us as we have been able to keep worshipping in new ways. And who knows, maybe this new way may be an opportunity to continue in the future to reach out to people who can’t or won’t come to church. In this pandemic it might have felt at times like God was being silenced.

But God cannot be silenced. Nor has God abandon us through this. No, Jesus himself said in our Gospel reading: I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. God has been right by our side in all this. He has been our Advocate, to be with us forever.


To the world our churches look shut and that’s a shame because they are wide open. And that’s because much of the world sees the church as a physical human made building. And sadly they see God that way too – a human made impersonal   object. But Jesus described the church in a different way: In our Creed we confess that the Holy Spirit creates the one holy Christian church on earth. And Jesus says, this is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he lives with you, and he will be in you. Paul wants us to understand that God is not a “what” but a “who”. God is a personal God – not an unknown god. So as we continue to go through this time of isolation, of church shutdowns, of uncertainty – remember that God created the heavens and the earth – and even more important – God created you and he loves you so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for you. And even more than that, he gave his Holy Spirit, the advocate to dwell in you. And that means, God is dwelling in you. So may you know that presence of God and may you always be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have to anyone who asks.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Sermon 10th May 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter: John 14:1-10 – Trusting in Lord Jesus – The “I AM”

Sermon 10th May 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter:

John 14:1-10 – Trusting in Lord Jesus – The “I AM”


Last Sunday Jesus made a bold statement about himself saying – I am the Gate for the sheep.

Today he is making another bold statement about himself saying – I am the way, the truth and the life.

Why do I say that they are bold statements?

It’s because Jesus was using a phrase that the people of his time knew was more than just an introductory phrase.

I AM is used by John’s Gospel 7 times in regards to Jesus making bold statements about himself.

I AM the true vine.

I AM the bread of life

I AM the light of the world

I AM the resurrection and the life

I AM the Good Shepherd

And our 2 from these past 2 weeks:

I AM the Gate for the sheep

I AM the way, the truth and the life.

And John being a scholar of wisdom has not coincidently used 7 statements but intentionally with 7 being what we sometimes call a Holy Number aligned with the 7 days of the Creation period.

I AM is the name that was given to Moses when God revealed himself to him to take to Pharaoh to release Israel from slavery –

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

I am in the Hebrew was translated as the name which Israel knew God as Yahweh and wherever you see LORD in the Old Testament all in capital letters.

And it is why we refer to Jesus as Lord Jesus – given the name that is above all names that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus used the name “I AM” on other occasions.

When he walked on the water to the frightened disciples who thought they were seeing a ghost – he said to them - “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” – But in the original Greek translation it says – Take courage – I AM.

When Jesus was being questioned by the Jewish leaders he said to them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.

They knew this was blasphemy and it says - they picked up stones to throw at him.

Jesus says to his disciples today – do not let your hearts be troubled.

Trust in God, trust also in me.

He is saying that because the disciples will soon see Jesus go to his death.

Even though we are now in the time after Jesus’ death, our Gospel reading was written just prior to his death so they would not lose faith in God when he is crucified.

So he says – keep trusting God even though it looks like he has lost control.

Keep trusting me – even though you will see me be put to death.

And then he explains just what it is that we are trusting.

He says that he is coming to take us home to be with him.

That’s God’s plan for us – it’s always been God’s plan for us.

Our difficulties arise when we believe that this here – today – is God’s plan for us.

Because if this is God’s plan then we can all agree that it’s not a very good plan.

It’s a plan that has been affected by suffering, crime, death,disease and anything else that prevents us from enjoying life.

And all these stem from our disruption to God’s plan through sin when the knowledge of good AND evil were permitted to enter into creation.

And sadly it is these things that can stop us from seeing clearly what God is doing.

And that’s what makes up the conversation between Jesus and Thomas:

Jesus says - you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

So Jesus explains the way – I AM the way, the truth and the life.

Forget about all the rest of the ways the world is trying to tell you is the way to life.

They will all let you down in some way or another.

Trust in me, he says.

No one can come to the Father except through me.

No amount of money, no amount of success, no amount of fame will achieve what God has planned for  you.

Trust in God, trust also in me.

And when we trust in God then we are able to face even the most difficult of circumstances – even death.

In our first reading we have in fact the first death of a Christian – Stephen the martyr.

Because he dared so proclaim Jesus as the Son of God he is put to death in a most violent and brutal way – stoned to death.

And what is interesting about this is that he is able to, before he takes his last breath, able to pray for those putting him to death that God would forgive them.

And that’s what faith does in the life of a Christian.

So certain of the amazing and glorious place that awaits him he wants none of them to miss out.

He says that he sees the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God and he wants them to see it too even though they are about to put him to death.

And he knows the only way that they can see it too is if God forgives them for what they are about to do.

That’s what trust in God looks like.

When we know that OUR salvation is assured through Jesus and we will do anything to have others receive it – even forgive them for the harm they do to us.

And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples.

Trust God.

Trust Jesus.

Trust what they are doing even if we don’t understand by our human understanding.

None of us understand what’s going on at the moment in regards to church services – but we trust God.

Remember when Jesus was being arrested and Peter tried to defend Jesus by taking out his sword and cutting off the ear of one of the mob.

Jesus told him to put away his sword and trust what God is doing.

Don’t you think that I could call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

Likewise, if God wanted his churches opened today – don’t you think he could send a multitude of angels and open them immediately?

Again, the message of Jesus today – trust God, trust Jesus.

Peter reminds us that it’s not about the physical church building.

Yes it would be great if we could all be back together again – and we will be.

But until then Peter reminds us:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

Like Thomas, at the moment we don’t know the way to where we are going.

But what we do know is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

And we come to the Father through HIM.

I’m looking forward to the day, hopefully soon, when we can be back together around the Lord’s Table.

But I think I’m going to have a new appreciation for the people of God – God’s chosen race – the royal priesthood.

I too am missing the sacrament but we could easily resolve that like some have done through remotely consecrating the bread and the wine.

But is that what’s really important?

No, it’s the priesthood of all believers – you and me.

As Peter again reminds us:

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.

I’m not suggesting the sacrament isn’t important or essential but let us understand WHY it’s important.

Our salvation is secured through Jesus.

But it’s important because it is uniting the spiritual house – the priesthood of God – by the one cup and the one bread.

But until that day we can gather around the table – we are still the priesthood of God and the spiritual house built by and on the rock that not even the gates of hell or any coronavirus can overcome.

Dear friends, let our hearts not be troubled – trust God, trust in Jesus.

In our Father’s house there are many rooms – and in none of them can evil ever enter so they will always be open.

And when Jesus is ready he will come and gather us to be with him.

Until then – we are the royal priesthood, God’s chosen race – God’s spiritual house with Christ as our cornerstone.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Sermon 3rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter - Text: John 10:1-10 – Our gated community

Sermon 3rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter
Text: John 10:1-10 – Our gated community

We are now in week 5 of our isolation away from our Sunday Church services.
Despite our sadness at not being able to worship together it’s been very encouraging that despite our lockdowns that we are continuing to put a high priority on our Christian faith.
I realise that because of all the people who have been watching these and other church services in not just from our parish but elsewhere
And there has also been the sharing that’s going on – the phone calls to each other to make sure we’re all going okay.
People continuing to support the church through their offerings.
And last week we had a ZOOM catch up where we had around 30 members have a video catchup with each other.
We are all missing gathering together in our church building
But we are in a way going back to how church first begun – in our homes.
Just have a listen again to one of the earliest examples of church gatherings in our first reading:
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they also broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
And we can even think of St Paul who spent a lot of his worship time in prison where the Book of Acts says they prayed and sang hymns together.
We are all hoping that this pandemic is going to end soon so that we can gather together again in our church buildings.
Until then we have the assurance that we have Jesus as our Good Shepherd to watch over us.
And that’s his role as our Good Shepherd – to watch over us.
As St Peter says in our 2nd reading: For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
What we are going through at present is affecting us in physical ways – but Jesus, our Good Shepherd’s role is to guard over the non-physical – our spiritual wellbeing- the salvation of our souls so that we can dwell in the house of the Lord forever as we heard in Psalm 23.
In the Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd today Jesus uses an interesting image in saying that he is the gate for the sheep.
As the gate Jesus is the one by whom the sheep enter and exit the sheepfold and anyone who enters the sheepfold must go through him.
There are many concerns in this current pandemic and there are many measures that have been implemented to keep us safe;
Social distancing – lockdowns – hygiene and other practices – restrictions on mass gatherings.
At the heart of all this is the suffering people are going through.
And there are various levels of suffering:
The suffering of those who are severely ill, of those who are dying and separated from the comfort of their families and the suffering of those who care for them.
And then there are those who are suffering because of the economic toll: those who have lost their income, their security, their childcare; children unable to attend school; those who are suffering from the strain of isolation, including mental illness, loneliness and anxiety; those who cannot even hold funerals for their loved ones, let alone be with them at the end; those whose wedding plans have be affected;
those who cannot see their children or grandchildren other than by electronic means.
We are all sharing in the suffering during this challenging experience.
And while we are doing it for the good of all it is done with a shared suffering.
And for Christians there is the suffering of not being able to gather together, to congregate which is at the heart of the word “congregation.
The need to quarantine and self-isolate and social-distance affect the very heart of God’s purposes when he said in the beginning – it is not good for man to be alone.
This is not saying that these measures are done to attack God but they affect God’s purposes for us.
And let us remember, there are many people who live alone – who don’t have another family member with whom they live.
So in these times for some people it is particularly difficult for them.
But there are good and positive things we have experienced also.
In this different time of being church we have had an opportunity to act as shepherds to one another.
We support one another through our prayers.
We encourage one other in our phone calls to one another.
We support physically those who are struggling physically, as did the first disciples of Jesus.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need
We also maintain our contact with God in word and prayer.
And many I have spoken to have said they have used this time of isolation to read more and spend time in prayer.
They have contacted people they haven’t spoken to for a long time.
That’s what the disciples did in their very first gatherings:
Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.
And though we aren’t at this stage able to gather around the Lord’s Table to break bread we know that in time we will again.
And that’s where we are called to remain strong in our faith knowing that even though we cannot receive the body and blood of Christ in worship, the body and blood of Christ continues to protect us in body and soul as the gate for the sheep.
As the Gate for our faith community, Jesus is protecting us from those who seek to undermine and destroy our faith at this time.
Satan is surely trying hard at this time to dampen our faith and have us feel that God is losing this battle.
He is the one that Jesus says has come to steal, kill and destroy.
He is the one who is trying to enter our gated community by another way as a thief and a bandit
But he cannot.
Because he cannot pass through into the gated community protected by the Gate – Jesus our Good Shepherd.
The work of the shepherd is to care for the sheep.
And this would normally be through gathering for worship – receiving Holy Communion – gathering for fellowship – these are part of the care that our Shepherd gives to us in our normal conditions.
But they are not the only way in these very un-normal conditions.
And just because our gathering together has ceased for the meantime, it does not mean that Jesus’ shepherding of us has ceased.
No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who promised, I am with YOU always – till the end of the age.
Presently we are being kept inside the sheepfold.
We don’t know why God is allowing this, but we know that God is caring for us in this time of quarantine and isolation.
Maybe this is the breather God is wanting us to have.
Not that he has created this situation but he is certainly using it.
I can see that and I hope you can too.
It’s not easy.
For some it’s extremely difficult and challenging.
But maybe this is how God is going to create some changes in his church.
We don’t know what the church is going to look like after this is all over.
Will all churches survive?
Will people flock back to church after this is all over?
What will the New Normal look like.
None of us knows the answer to these and a myriad of questions we all have.
We don’t know.
But we don’t focus on what we don’t know.
We focus on what we DO know.
And what we do know is – the Lord is my Shepherd – I shall not want.
What we do know is that – even though we walk through the darkest valleys we shall fear no evil.
What we do know is that – Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
And he remains the Good Shepherd during this time of unprecedented challenges.
Being a Christian and trusting in God doesn’t mean life is always going to be comfortable.
But being a Christian and trusting God means that during those times of uncertainty and suffering we have the assurance of the presence of the Good Shepherd with us.
And that’s what we have before us now.
And we are assured in our Psalm today - goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Sermon 26th April 2020 3rd Sunday of Easter - Text: Luke 24:13-35 – What our eyes don’t see.

Sermon 26th April 2020
Text: Luke 24:13-35 – What our eyes don’t see.

Three words in our Gospel reading today reflect so much of our society.
Three words that sound so sad they make you want to cry.
We had hoped.
Three words with so much anguish –
We had hoped.
2 disciples are on the road to a town called Emmaus.
They are saddened.
Now even though Easter Sunday was a couple weeks ago, this incident actually happened on that day.
The text says that this is the 3rd day since Jesus had died.
The same Jesus that they had hoped would be the answer to all their problems;
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
Maybe you have hoped more from Jesus at this time?
Maybe you have hoped that Jesus would have brought this pandemic before us to an end.
The disciples’ walk to Emmaus is an interesting walk.
It symbolises our daily walk as Christians.
What’s interesting in all this is that, like Mary at the empty tomb and like the disciples on the beach after Jesus’ resurrection, the presence of Jesus was hidden or as the gospel says, their eyes were kept from recognising him.
But in all 3 situations – Mary at the tomb, Peter and the disciple on the beach, and this walk to Emmaus, Jesus was physically present with them despite them not recognising him.
And that’s the teaching that comes out of our Gospel reading.
And what a comforting and reassuring teaching it is for us in our present situation.
In our daily walk we often go on our way not quite sure if God is with us or not.
Many times our eyes are kept from recognising him with us, like the Emmaus walk.
But being kept from recognising Jesus and Jesus not being present are 2 different matters.
On Easter Sunday we had as our 2nd reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians where he explained the life of the Christian after Jesus’ resurrection.
He said: for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
As Christians this is an important understanding – that we don’t always trust what our eyes see.
We trust what God has promised.
And that means trusting what our eyes don’t see.
That’s why Paul says – your life is hidden WITH Christ – WITH Christ.
But what he also promises is that Christ’s glory is going to be revealed to the world.
And when that happens, you and all the world will see the true life that has been hidden.
St John also said that in the Book of Revelation:
The book that reveals Christ.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”;  and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The comforting message that Christians have in all this is that we know that despite the current situation God has already won.
Despite what our eyes see or our lives experience – Christ’s victory is ours.
The grave is open, Christ cannot die again, is what we declare.
Despite what our eyes see or our lives experience we have that knowledge.
As the Emmaus disciples walk along, even though their eyes don’t recognise Jesus, he is there with them.
And when they invite him to stay, he does so.
He’s never too busy, he’s never too preoccupied.
And something interesting happens.
Jesus, the invited guest, becomes the host.
As he sits at the table with them he takes bread and breaks it and he gives it to them.
And from that encounter, TWO remarkable things happen.
After he breaks the bread and gives it to them their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;
That’s the first remarkable thing that happened.
But what happens next is even more extraordinary.
He vanished from their sight.
It doesn’t say that he gets up and walks away – no, he vanishes from their sight.
No sooner do they recognise him when he vanishes from their sight.
And doesn’t that happen to us?
There are times when we feel so close to God and yet times that he seems so far away, even absent.
And yet, God never moves away – he is always with us.
Just like St Paul talks about in Colossians – his presence is hidden.
Not gone – hidden.
Friends, this is so important for us to understand.
Not just at present as we live in the midst of this pandemic – but always.
Because once this pandemic is over and we can gather again especially around the altar to receive Holy Communion – we are still going to face the normal every day challenges of life.
Totally unrelated to the pandemic we will experience the everyday challenges of life.
Sickness, death, crime, accidents, natural disasters – because these are still part of the everyday life we see.
Life was not perfect before this pandemic hit us – and it won’t be after we’re through it.
But it’s what we don’t see that becomes all important.
The hidden presence of Christ with us.
Even when we gather again for worship – our eyes see bread and wine – but it’s what our eyes don’t see that is important – the body and blood of Christ.
Our eyes will see some splashes of water on an infant’s head – not much more.
But what our eyes won’t see is this child being rescued by God from the powers of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Light.
It’s not about what we see but about what God has promised.
It’s not about what we see but about what we believe.
It’s not about what we see but about what God has done.
And that’s exactly what the Book of Hebrews says regarding faith:
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see
Certain of what we do not see.
Did you hear that – Certain of what we DO NOT SEE.
Friends, please don’t worry or fear about what we see happening at present.
Please don’t worry or fear about what we cannot see.
Mary thought she was speaking with the gardener,
Jesus stood there on the beach among the fishermen disciples, although the disciples had no idea that it was Jesus.
And it says: None of the disciples dared to ask him who he was; they knew it was the Lord.
And today, the 2 Emmaus walk disciples didn’t recognise Jesus standing and talking with them even though their hearts were burning.
Often it is only in hindsight that we see and understand the presence of God with us.
Like the 2 Emmaus disciples.
After Jesus had vanished they realised his presence with them as they had walked – were not our hearts burning.
How often have you not looked back and seen how God has gotten you through a difficult time.
But at the time it seemed like he was not there.
Like that beautiful piece of writing we know as footsteps, in those times when we thought we were walking alone, we have discovered that Jesus was not just walking beside us by carrying us.
Let me remind you of that piece of writing as we close.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said You would always walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
During your trials and testings when you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you."
Friends, we never walk alone.
Jesus promised in our baptism, I am with you always till the end of the age.
And that promise is true and remains true.