Sunday, 11 April 2010

Easter 2 'Who is this Jesus?' 11th April 2010

I want this morning to summarise the ‘Who is this Jesus?’ Holy Week course building on the words of the healed doubter in today’s Gospel from John 20 verse 28: Thomas answered Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’

We’ve been engaging with the question Christ himself addressed to Peter: 'Who do you say I am?'

The Scriptures provide at least eleven different names for Jesus which directly or indirectly affirm his divinity – God, as in Thomas’ response (John 20.28), Son of God, as in Peter's response, Only Begotten Son (cf Mark 12:6), the First and the Last (Rev 1:17), Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8), The Holy One (Acts 3:14), The Lord (Acts 4:33…), Lord of All (Acts 10:36), The Lord of Glory (1 Cor 2:8), God with us (Matt 1:23), Our Great God (Titus 2:13), God Blessed Forever (Rom 9:5).

Some of these titles are used of Jesus again and again.

In his book 'What the Bible teaches' R.A.Torrey shows how the Scriptures affirm these propositions:

Jesus Christ is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. He is from all eternity, always the same, in the form of God.

In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in a bodily way.

Jesus is linked to our creation, preservation, the forgiveness of sin, the raising of the dead, judgement and the bestowal of eternal life.

Jesus Christ is a person to be worshipped by angels and mortals, even as God the Father is worshipped.

When we pick up the New Testament we can’t avoid the centrality of Jesus Christ and the repeated claim of his divinity which echoes on from that first affirmation of St. Peter.

'Who do you say I am?' asked Jesus in Matthew 16:15. 'Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God".Yet Jesus went on to say how it could be that people, starting with Simon Peter, could be given an aptitude to see his divinity:

Verse 17 goes on: 'Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.'

The Scriptures are essential to our seeing of Jesus but they’re inseparable from prayer, the Holy Spirit and the experience of his Church, which Christ goes on to elaborate.

'Who do you say Jesus is?' When someone reaches a firm answer, the conviction of his divinity they do so by a special grace, the scriptures say.

The Bible gives us the words, the pieces in the great puzzle of Jesus - what an awesome puzzle it is!

The pieces are to be fitted together around a living Person who is before us this morning if what the Spirit has said to the Church for 2000 years is true.

You may protest. Surely the knowledge that Jesus is 'Son of the living God' is something that can be reasonably proved as well as something to be received by grace through faith?

Fr. Prat of the Society of Jesus defines faith with this in mind: 'Faith is the amen of the intelligence and the will to divine revelation.'

It’s absolutely true. We can hear about Jesus, we can even believe notionally - in our heads - that he is God incarnate - but it may make no difference to our lives.

I believe Mongolia is in-between Russian and China but that belief makes very little difference to my life. I have prayed once or twice for Mongolia but I have never been there and have no friends from there.

Yet I believe also in the resurrection of the dead. I have not experienced that either, but it has come real to me through One whom I trust, who has himself experienced resurrection and who has promised me a share as well when I die!

It is the Jesus we are talking of who has promised me this!

'Christ is as great as your faith makes him' said the evangelist D.L.Moody.

The question of Jesus 'who do you say that I am?' has in fact a billion answers.

When we talk of a person, as we talk of Jesus, if we believe him to be alive, who he is to us has as many answers as Jesus has friends let alone seekers or people who barely know his name!

Someone was on the tube and overheard a teacher with a group of children who were asked about the founder of Christianity and heard them all draw a blank!

Someone also overheard a girl in Jewellers asking for a Cross, but for one, to use her words, 'without the little man on'!

My own personal testimony about Jesus is very much that of someone who was given all the facts of Jesus at School and welcomed a day when the pieces came together around the living Lord.

For years I have prayed for people who are nominal Christians formed in a Christian society, that they will allow the Holy Spirit to put the pieces of the jigsaw together - all those biblical truths I mentioned earlier.

Now I pray that people will be drawn by the Spirit to get the facts, the pieces of the greatest and most wonderful puzzle in the world, so that they can fit them together.

Who do you say Jesus is? Very often the only copy of the gospels people see are Christians - they get to the Scriptures only after Jesus has drawn them through Christians.

There may be ignorance of Jesus around but there are also images of him around that we need to shatter sometimes for people to do real business with the Lord.

Like Jesus 'meek and mild', the effeminate image on holy cards. Our Lord is meek, but he is also the strong Shepherd of souls, the leader and pioneer of our faith.

Or take Jesus 'Superstar', the 'coolest' guy of all. Well there is no one like Jesus, but his uniqueness lies more in his call to suffer for us and with us than to shine above us as hero.

Some Christians give the impression that Jesus is like a sort of 'heavenly security blanket' there to help us escape facing up to reality and almost an escape from the responsibilities of life.

One could go on but undoubtedly the distinctive feature of Christianity is the claim to divinity of Jesus Christ and its implications for all who encounter this distinctive.

Anyone investigating Jesus Christ through encounter with the Christian Church, her Gospels, Creeds and Councils cannot escape the question of his divinity and all that implies.

Who do you say Jesus is? There can be a moment when the full implications burst upon us.

The missionary Roland Allen in his book 'The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church' describes the force of the testimony of a new believer, something that may well echo in many of our hearts as we listen to the description:

'He speaks from the heart because he is too eager to be able to refrain from speaking. His subject has gripped him. He speaks of what he knows, and knows by experience. The truth which he imparts is his own truth. He knows its force. He is speaking almost as much to relieve his own mind as to convert his hearer, and yet he is as eager to convert his hearer as to relieve his own mind; for his mind can only be relieved by sharing his new truth, and his truth is not shared until another has received it. This his hearer realises. Inevitably he is moved by it.'

For those of us who accept Jesus as Son of God there remains a continual call to answer the same question 'Who do you say that I am?' as part of the call to intimacy with God that Jesus brings us.

Few writers in past years have shed as much light on the issues facing Christianity as did Thomas Merton who lived as a Trappist monk and died in the late 1960s. It was on a rare visit to the town near his monastery when the truth he had previously accepted of Jesus took on a new dimension, what he called a 'second conversion' to humankind.

As he walked briefly in the crowd he felt deep in his Spirit what he called 'the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate'.

Merton spoke of his Christianity beginning 'with the realisation of the presence of God in this present life, in the world and in myself, and that my task as Christian is to live in full and vital awareness of this 'ground of my being and of the world's being.' p320.

To live in Christ is to share immortal being in the Spirit. To Thomas Merton a dwelling upon and a facing up to death are essential as a means of deepening one's being into Christ and His victory.

It is the octave day of Easter and we come back to another Thomas – St Thomas who addressed Christ saying My Lord and my God.

Our basic optimism as Christians is rooted in the belief that in Jesus, God, has come earth, lived, died and rose….ed for the survival of the Church as guilty of an implicit denial of Christ's victory.

Yet it is that phrase 'I am a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate' that struck me in bringing up Thomas Merton.

By accepting the divinity of Christ we are granted purpose for life and reason for death. As Christians Eastertide is fro us the renewal of enduring joy at the coming of Jesus, which is the springboard of lasting hope for the human condition.

'Who do you say that I am' 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'.

What greater source of joy can there be for a human being than the knowledge of the salvation and dignity granted to us all by the coming of Jesus?

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus have put this planet, and one race within it, on the map of the universe opening up to us the possibility of endless life and communion with God the Blessed Trinity!

Yet for both our minds and hearts to say 'Amen' to Jesus we need to take his yoke - which means bending ourselves down before him.

For Jesus to take a deeper grasp of our lives we must come ever closer to him ourselves by acts of faith and love.

Let us close with the words of a hymn by Charles Wesley:

Jesus, confirm my heart's desire
To work and speak and think for thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up thy gift in me.

Ready for all thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Sunday evensong 4 April 2010

In the Eastern Orthodox Church they define the Great or Holy Week that ends tonight as the “spiritual spring which blossoms with the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22).

As we come before the Lord this evening our deep gratitude for his risen presence among us, with us and in us serves that spiritual blossoming.

A folk tale of the Belgian Congo tells of a clearing made in virgin jungle. A patch of ground was exposed to sunlight for the first time in centuries. Strange shoots appeared, strange plants, with flowers of indescribable beauty. No one had ever dreamed such exquisite plants could grow in that dark place.

Isn’t there some truth is this story for us? We allow our sins, negligences and bad habits to grow to the point where our soul becomes like a jungle.

How do we get light into that jungle to get the promised new growth and beauty?

Through sincere repentance. Like Mary Magdalene we are free to reach out to the Risen Lord and hear him call us afresh into intimacy with him. Allowing the touch of his forgiveness upon our hearts brings assurance that He will there and then remove the sins that hide from us the life-giving sun of His Spirit.

Mary Magdalene knew this already. She was so very appropriately the first witness of his resurrection as we just heard. She stood in that Easter Garden thinking they’d taken away her Lord and yet he was there.

Jesus was there in a hidden way, as he is here tonight, hidden again under the appearance of bread in the Blessed Sacrament and hidden among us in the hearts of his faithful people.

Mary Magdalene was first to see the Day of Resurrection, that spiritual spring which was going to open up the possibilities of God in all ages to all believers for them to blossom forth. She’d already seen the jungle of her life cleared by her Lord. Spiritual flowers of indescribable beauty grew where formerly there were but weeds. Now that growth became literally other worldly as Christ’s resurrection took her, as it takes us, beyond the forgiveness of sin and into the promise of immortality.

Holy Week and Easter are one of the Church’s means of helping us clear away the jungle of our life and achieve our greatest potential. This is granted as we come close afresh to the risen Lord Jesus in repentance and faith.

On Good Friday the children built us an Easter Garden outside church. Today we gather inside Church before the risen Lord to seek his blessing.

Jesus wants to see Easter Gardens grow up inside church in you and me. The fixture of the Easter Garden is a reminder of how the resurrection gains for the world a spiritual flowering. It is a flowering of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control through you and me.

The beautiful time of year is surely coming. Sussex is a beautiful place. What does Jesus most want though – he wants inner beauty! Having given us life he came this Week to bring us his life, immortal life that to flow in us as we come clean with him and trust the empowering Easter brings to repentant souls!

May the beauty of Jesus be seen in us as we open ourselves afresh to that empowerment on the Day of Resurrection!

Easter Day 2010 Jesus - the hopeful one

An Easter cake with trick re-lighting candles is displayed. Children try unsuccessfully to blow out the candles.

Jesus is risen – there’s no conquering him – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out!

We believe it, but we also want to believe it more from the heart and less from the head.

How can we get a better hold of the hope Easter offers and make it more our own?

Hands up if you were on the Horsted Keynes history tour Bob Sellens and I led on Monday with the School?

Do you remember we said Horsted Keynes was built around four elements? Earth, air, fire and water.

These primitive elements are a way into seeing how our community has grown up.

This church stands on ancient earth works as a site sheltered from the wind. The ironstone it stands on draws lightning fire from heaven down to a village built on springs of water.

On this earth mound the worship of the risen Lord Jesus replaced that of the pagans.

For 1000 years people have sheltered here from winds and gales through our building and the woods surrounding it.

Horsted Keynes and its vicinity lie on ironstone that draws lightning down from above. Saint Giles needs its advanced lightning conductor as much as The Crown!

Earth, air, fire, water. St Giles lies on top of a series of springs and that’s why streams of water flow out of our churchyard.

Earth, air, fire and water make up Horsted Keynes. The same elements serve the new creation Jesus brings at Easter.

When he came back from the dead he came out of the earth. The Jesus they buried in the earth was seen alive over the next six weeks by over 550 people on 11 different occasions.

The Jesus who rose from the earth changed the earth and made graves beds of hope. The Jesus who appeared to his disciples changed the air as he breathed the Spirit on them.

At Pentecost he cast new fire on them from above and released streams of living water in their hearts. Earth, air, fire and water are made new by what we’re celebrating this morning.

Christianity’s a new start. It’s a new creation that can run and grow in my life and yours making us beacons of hope.

In Easter services we use the elements of fire and water to proclaim this hope. We blessed a new fire last night from which the Paschal Candle still burns. We blessed the font from which we’re to be sprinkled shortly to remind us of the baptism that makes us Christian.

Easter’s about getting the out-of-this-world fire of the risen Lord Jesus to light our lives. It’s about getting the out-of-this-world springs of living water flowing out of our hearts.

We’re in church this Easter Sunday to get our hearts warmed. What we’re celebrating in the resurrection is truth to warm any one’s heart if they can but see it!

This is the day that the Lord has made says the Psalmist let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Our hope as Christians is built on this day of resurrection. Easter Sunday proves the Friday Jesus died was Good which means God’s, God’s who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3.16)

God become man to break the grip of evil over those in his image and invest in their future so they could move from his image into his likeness as part of a new creation.

Good Friday is God’s Friday of hope for us. It seals his investment in our race. If today is God’s so is tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. This is Christian faith. This is the meaning of Easter.

Jesus is like a candle we can never blow out. His light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome him.

Christian faith is under pressure in Britain today. That’s nothing new. G.K. Chesterton remarked that looking over the last two thousand years there’ve been seven times when Christianity seemed to be going to the dogs. Each time the dog died, be that ancient Rome, the barbarian invasion or eighteenth century rationalism.

We’re an Easter people destined to rise again and again with Jesus. Even the first letter of the Saviour’s name has a springing back about it. J is I pressed down to come back up again.

So we Christians are hopeful people. This morning is our waking up afresh to such hope.

That’s why we’ll soon be getting holy water thrown in our faces.

From Saint Giles on occasion water flows down Church Lane. This Easter morning, as you leave St Giles, you’ll be flowing out as living water to bring hope to the world. Jesus says to us through St John let the one who believes in me drink...out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water (7.38)

It’s as if we were called to be a spiritual version of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream brings warmth to Britain as it winds its way north across the Atlantic through colder and colder water. However cold the water around it gets the Gulf Stream itself remains warm. It maintains its own warmth in the midst of water that gets bitterly cold.

This is a picture of we Christians in Horsted Keynes today. By receiving God’s word and drinking of his sacrament we’re made to overflow with God’s warm love.

Christ is risen! His great warmth is with us. It’s our hope as we brave and cheer the icy world around us. Because Christ is raised we get raised. We’re no longer affected by the climate of negativity – rather we create around us a new climate. We’re thermostats and no longer thermometers.

This Easter eucharist is thanksgiving for Christ the hope filled one who builds unquenchable faith in hearts that welcome him as Saviour. To have hope is to believe tomorrow also is God’s, and tomorrow, and tomorrow since Jesus Christ is ever the same.

Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday 2010 Jesus - man of respect

Who is this Jesus? As Holy Week moves to its climax this is our question heading for a five part sermon series.

Over these three days running up to Easter we’re looking at five key aspects of Jesus: his origin, teaching, death, resurrection, his church and his return.

We started out of sequence yesterday with the church as this linked to the Maundy Thursday supper table.

Earlier this afternoon we looked at the origins of Jesus, evident as historical record. Now we ponder Jesus – man of respect – before we come to offer him respect as we come to his Cross together.

In Holy Week the world stops to respect Jesus.

It’s not so much what he taught but how he taught that catches us.

We live in a society where people lack respect. They tolerate one another’s differences but often times they do so without sympathy.

Think of the sympathy of Jesus. He listened to the rich young man. He loved him, scripture says, pointed him to the truth - but out of respect let him go away again.

Jesus was and is a man of respect, a man of dialogue. Today Muslims and Hindus also honour the Founder of Christianity. His teaching attracts them, even if the greater gift of his sacrifice affronts them.

Think of Jesus teaching how God’s rain comes down on good and bad people alike and demonstrating that teaching by reaching out with love to the social outcasts of his day.

There has never been anyone lovelier, deeper or more sympathetic than Jesus Dostoyevsky wrote.

Mother Julian of Norwich describes Jesus in these words: Completely relaxed and courteous, He himself was the happiness and peace of his dear friends, his beautiful face radiating measureless love like a marvellous symphony.

Jesus sees us, like a friend, with loving respect. He sees us as better than we are and by the events of Holy Week he helps to make us so.

There is a perception, or rather distortion of Christ and Christianity that sets forth a moral high-handedness about Jesus.

This goes against his own generosity in his encounters with individuals. The woman caught in adultery was not stoned because Jesus came into the situation and rescued her from the consequence of her sin.

Jesus did not come to rub it in but to rub it off as someone else once said of him.

There is part of us, even we who have come to join the few at Good Friday devotions, that is apprehensive about close encounter with Jesus.

We should be reminded of this - Jesus is more concerned to give us what we need than what we deserve, let alone what we think we deserve!

All of this witness to the respect and warm humanity in Jesus does not subtract from the challenge of Jesus.

I read about Napoleon, wrote Carnegie-Simpson, and I am edified. I read about Jesus and I am profoundly disturbed.

In one of her letters the writer and playwright Dorothy Sayers says that to call Jesus 'Gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild' is 'about as adequate as calling a man-eating tiger 'poor pussy'..

In Jesus we find the perfect balance of love and truth and power. His loving acceptance of sinners is coupled to a burning conviction of truth and holiness and a readiness to empower people with the Holy Spirit given after his resurrection.

That power is with us this afternoon if we will open ourselves up to it as we approach the timeless mystery of the Cross of Jesus.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

Good Friday 2010 Jesus - history maker

Who is this Jesus? The one in whose honour today is set apart on the calendar of the nations. The one from whose coming to die we measure our years on that calendar.

In Holy Week Christians all over the world ponder Jesus.

We stand in a great succession. Men and women for 2000 years have pondered Jesus.(The name of Jesus) is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world wrote Emerson.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as this One Solitary Life.

Lecky the historian of rationalism wrote: Christ has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.

The atheist Rousseau admitted it would have been a greater miracle to invent Jesus than for him to actually exist. Atheist historian H.G.Wells thought you couldn’t describe the progress of humanity honestly without giving Jesus first place.

Jesus is history maker though in our own day people discomfited by him have tried in vain to push him out of history disclaiming even his existence.

How do we counter these claims?

If people want to say Christianity’s made up they’ll be writing off a lot of historical evidence. The difficulty is that so much of that evidence is in Christian documents.

Not all of it. There are clear references to Jesus in first century writers.

Take Roman historian Tacitus. He writes that when Rome burned down in 64AD the Emperor Nero fastened the guilt …on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians…Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of…Pontius Pilate Tacitus confirms from his ancient history what Christians recite Sunday by Sunday in their creed.

The Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, a renowned scripture scholar says it would be easier, frankly, to believe that Tiberius Caesar, Jesus' contemporary, was a figment of the imagination than to believe that there never was such a person as Jesus. Trouble is you can see Tiberius’ face on a coin but you can’t see Jesus. That’s the way history goes! A Galilean carpenter wouldn’t in the normal run of things leave the same mark on history as the Emperor of Rome!

If someone says to me Christianity’s made up I’d point them patiently to the solid witness of the New Testament backed up by other first century writings.

At the heart of the New Testament is the story of Jesus who taught, healed, suffered and died in the name of his God. The astonishing part of this history is the record of his resurrection and the galvanising of his followers through the Holy Spirit.

You can’t consider Christ’s origins without facing this. If he is as believed the first born from the dead he’s got a double place in history. Jesus is in history and he’s above history as the beginning and end of all things.

Good Friday is God’s Friday because it’s the climax of the thirty three year life span of God in human flesh. We read in Saint John’s account of yesterday’s Last Supper discourse how the first disciples began to see, even before his death, how Jesus came directly from God (John 13.30b).

Holy Week ends as Christ’s origins are confirmed when God raises his son from death on Easter Day.

How people see Jesus makes all the difference in the world to them and to the world.

His story is history but it’s much more than that.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

Maundy Thursday 2010 Jesus - body builder

Who is this Jesus? As Holy Week moves to its climax with Maundy Thursday this is our question heading for a five part sermon series.

Christianity’s best asset is its Founder. In these days we seek to come close to him for as Dostoyevsky wrote ‘There has never been anyone lovelier, deeper or more sympathetic than Jesus’.

Over the next three days we’ll be looking at five key aspects of Jesus: his origin, teaching, death, resurrection, his church and his return. Because we’re starting today we’ll start out of sequence with the church.

If we’re to commend Jesus we can’t escape the inextricable link between him and the church he founded to be his earthly body.

Can you have Jesus without his church? Not in his fullness the bible says. To come close to Jesus you need scripture and you need the earthly body he came to build.

Yes, the church falls short of Jesus and can get in the way of Jesus but we can’t get around the fact that Jesus founded the church.

I will build my church Jesus said in Matthew 16 and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. In the 19th of our 39 Anglican Articles of Religion we read that ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance..’

Sacraments, notably Baptism and the Eucharist, were commanded by Jesus, so it’s not true to Jesus to go without them and you won’t find them or preaching outside the Christian church! The creeds and dogmas of the church may seem complicated but they’re vital signposts that protect believers from straying off the well trodden path of Christian believing.

Who is this Jesus? The appreciation of Jesus is something people can do alone but best do together. Christianity centres on the person of Jesus. Like any person there is a mystery about Jesus. People are prone to manage that mystery by simplifying and reducing it. Sometimes this can end up in a false remake of Christianity that serves no one. This is where the corporate faith of the church is important in keeping people on track so their prayer, faith and action remain faithful to Jesus.

Today on Maundy Thursday we recall the principal action of Jesus that builds his body on earth. This is my body he said over bread at his Last Supper commanding us to continue that action until he returns.

Though we Christians are many we are one body because we all share in the one bread (1 Corinthians 10.17) says St Paul. Communion in bread and wine makes and keeps Christians one body, Christ’s body.

Jesus died to gather together the scattered children of God. (John 11.52). What happened in Holy Week is drawing humankind into one.

When people look at the church they don’t always see it as the body of Jesus. Yes, we’re a sinful body - but Jesus remains in our midst.

The story of the church is the unfolding of Holy Week as Jesus makes himself known to each generation through the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. (Acts 2.42)

To this day wherever the Christian faith is being taught, the sacraments are being celebrated and people are praying and serving in Jesus’ name the body of Jesus is being built up under the sign of the Cross.

Jesus Christ is inseparable now from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that has grown up through the centuries across the nations.

Tonight in age old ceremonies this church recalls the gift of the eucharist which is ours to make us more fully Christ’s.

At that first supper in the upper room there was a cleansing of feet. That ceremony is to be repeated now. None of us is worthy to sit at the Lord ’s Table. All are in need of cleansing before we take our place.

We’re Christ’s body called to be more fully what he’s made us. The outward cleansing of feet now reminds us of the inward cleansing Jesus offers through his blood that makes us one with him in the new covenant established in that blood on this most holy night. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.