Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Armour of God Ephesians 6.10-20 28th October 2012

We're baptising Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua by the devil's door.

Yes that Saxon door over there is where they said the devil flew north at baptisms. That's why everyone got buried on the south side of Church. Rectors apart - they get buried at the east end where I hope to join Giles Moore and my illustrious predecessors.

Sorry this is no funeral. It's baptism Sunday by the devil's door which reminds us, with today’s hymns and readings that Christians need arming for the fight.

That armour is the truth of Christian faith and its expression in the word of God.

This is what lies behind that reading Alison provided us from the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Have another look with me at that passage. It’s on p4 of the service booklet under the heading 'Putting on the armour of God'.

'Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power'. It starts. 'Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.'

Paul goes on to list the six items of armour underlined  that are also depicted on the front of our baptism service booklet.

I want to think a bit about each piece of armour, linking it to what we’re doing this morning for these young people, and drawing out its significance for their parents and godparents.

It's been really good to see their families represented regularly on a Sunday. It means something, joining the church. If and when we get Maisie Rose a brownie uniform we'll be sending her to Brownies. If Ethan and Joshua get Cub uniforms what a waste it’s would be if they never went to Cubs?

Joining the church is like joining any organisation, though we're more a family than an organisation. This morning it's not Brownie or Cub uniforms the children are getting but soldiers’ uniforms. We're arming them up for life and that won't mean much to them unless mum and dad are armed up as well.

So six bits of armour, six rituals to come in their baptism and six questions for dad, mum, godparents and all of us supporting Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua.

v4 The belt of truth - where do I belong? Belts hold our clothes together. The belt of truth is Christianity given to hold our lives together. We belong to Christ's Church because we believe God sent him to us and what we believe and where we belong affects how we behave. Those promises we'll be making to turn to Christ and to renounce evil as part of the coming ceremony are practical. Our children need to see we belong to Christ and live by God’s truth through our practical kindness if their baptism’s going to impact them.

v14 The breastplate of righteousness - Do I do right? No good asking our son or daughter to do what we won't do ourselves. Children grow expert at spotting hypocrisy. I know. I have three and I am something of a hypocrite. We all fall short. The origin of the armour of God mentioned in Ephesians 6 is to be found both in the armour worn by a Roman soldier on our front page and in the description of the divine armour in Isaiah 59.17f and Wisdom 5.17-20. As God arms himself as a warrior to defend his people so Christians join his battle to right all that's wrong. If we think life's not a battle like this we've been deceived and that really is the devil's only power over us - to persuade us either that the world doesn’t need putting right or that, if it does, it’s not our job. Evil triumphs when good people slumber! Our children will be anointed on the breast today with the oil of exorcism to strengthen them to fight with us for what is right.

v15 The shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace - Am I a blessing? I mean are you and I blessings - do we bring peace or discord to those we meet? In the newsletter we recommend the new electronic discipleship resources on our website. One of these is a guide to meditation. Only by finding peace within ourselves can we hope to carry it to others. Knowing the Lord's love deep in our hearts is a lifetime's struggle. We get to know ourselves to better love ourselves and forget ourselves. St Seraphim of Sarov writing a hundred years ago said 'Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you shall be saved'. Meditation is worth it. The sending out at the end with the lighted candle is a sign of our mission to bring peace to the world.

v16 The shield of faith - Who is with me? On the front of the service booklet this is the biggest piece of armour. The Romans called it the 'scutum', a large quadrangular shield designed to catch and extinguish flaming arrows. No one in Church has lived their life up to now without feeling the assault of evil desires within or moral challenges from outside of ourselves. They can burn us if we don't know who is with us. Through faith and baptism Jesus is with us and there's nothing he and I together can't overcome. In the creed today we’ll affirm what God has done for us in Jesus. In renewing our baptism promises we lay hold afresh on what Jesus has done for us, and not only by the mouthing of words in a service. It's talk we need to walk so Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua have a practical lead in standing against wrongdoing.

v17 The helmet of salvation - Am I secure? To be saved is to know you’re secure through the great love God has for you in Jesus. When the great Reformation leader Martin Luther doubted this he would mutter Baptisatus sum...baptisatus sum...I am baptised...I am baptised. As we pour water on their heads and anoint their foreheads with blessed oil these children are given the invisible protecting helmet of salvation born by Luther and all the baptised. God grant them knowledge of this precious defence.

v17 The sword of the spirit which is the word of God - Do I act on my faith? To be a Christian is to have cutting power. We see this in Jesus, especially in the account of his temptation in the desert when again and again he countered the devil's taunts with quotes from scripture. Our families today will receive lights and children's Bibles at the end of the service as a reminder that the truth of Christ is given to be carried out from font and altar to the world. To read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the promises of God in the Bible is a way of consolidating our baptism to make it more fully our own. So is the ceremony of taking holy water in the porch and making the sign of the Cross on ourselves to renew our baptism as we leave Church in a determined fashion.

As we recall the armour we bear as Christians today may the Lord equip us to equip Maisie-Rose, Ethan and Joshua to make a difference in the world God has placed them in - and spur us all to take up the sword as Christian soldiers in combat with evil and injustice wherever we find it. Amen.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Trinity 20 What Jesus does for us 21 October 2012

What does Jesus do for us?

What does it mean for us as he says in today’s gospel that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45)?

There are three main Christian doctrines – the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Atonement. This morning the readings centre on this last doctrine, Atonement, how God and humanity are made one by what Jesus does for us.

How do we understand this making God one with us that Our Lord achieves?

More importantly how do we not only understand the doctrine but see it taking effect so that we know God not just only as our maker but as our saviour?

These are questions that spill out of all three scriptures this morning.

The Isaiah 53 passage was chosen to illuminate the text I read from Mark 10.45 at the end of today’s gospel. There Jesus makes a prediction of his coming Passion which pours cold water on the arrogance of James and John who thought their Lord was going to take worldly power and wanted part of his worldly glory. No, Our Lord says, my kingdom will be built from suffering service. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.  

Isaiah foresaw the lonely figure on Calvary who would bear the immense burden of sin separating human beings from their maker and how that sin bearing would cost the suffering servant his life like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. The passage hints at the tomb of Jesus given by the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, verse 9, they made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich. It concludes with a prophecy of the resurrection, verse 12. Let’s read it. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus himself gave no explanation of how his death and rising again made atonement other than to point to this scripture. Only after his resurrection did his followers reflect more fully upon what Jesus did and does for us as Saviour.

So we can move on to the second reading by the anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews. Here in this letter is the best source of teaching in scripture on the doctrine of the Atonement. This teaching centres on the priesthood of Christ by which Jesus takes what he did on Calvary and pleads it for all time in heaven. It’s this his pleading that we join to at the Eucharist.

Today’s small section of Hebrews is from chapter 5. We read: Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Priests have a ministry of representing mortals to the immortal God and the immortal God to mortals. The passage goes on to outline how Christ was appointed high priest by God but with full sympathy for humanity. He is the Son of God become Son of Man. In this passage we see graphic evidence of Christ’s humanity. It’s a powerful account actually of the passion of Our Lord that begins with his tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. It provides one of the most moving evidences in the bible of how deeply Jesus engaged with our pain and sorrow.

Let’s read this account in verse 7: In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

What does Jesus do for us?

Jesus shows us a God who expects nothing from us he’s not prepared to go through. But he shows us much more. He shows us God’s love and holiness, our need of them both and how we can attain to both.

Our Lord brings us atonement. He makes a way for the God of love and holiness to be one with us in our dignity and frailty.

In giving himself he does so in costly love. He does so on account of the requirements of God’s holiness. He does so because only by the Cross and its pleading for ever in the heavenly sanctuary can women and men be won to glory.

When we look at the Cross we see four things.

We see the love of God fully displayed.

We see the holiness of God in his hatred of sin. The Cross shows what sin feels like to God.

We see our dignity because this act of atonement is given to rescue us for eternal glory.

We see our frailty. Where else do we see the terrible consequences of our sin?

The doctrine of the Atonement is an awesome mystery. We will never fully understand the doctrine but that won’t stop us seeing it take effect in our lives so that we know God not just as our maker but as our saviour.

How does it effect our lives?

The Cross is once and for all but Jesus lives as eternal high priest to plead its benefits.  Inasmuch as we repent of our sins and trust Jesus all that he has done for us comes into operation in our lives bringing forgiveness, healing, deliverance and freedom in the Spirit.

As verse 9 of the Hebrews Chapter 4 passage states Jesus has become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. What is salvation other than an eternal relationship with God sealed on his side by love and ours by the obedience of faith.

Yes all that Jesus does for us comes to us as we obey. Faith isn’t a feeling it’s obedience. It has its beginning in baptism, which is our great ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to self. It has its end in the vision of God face to face with the selfless adoration of all the saints.

The good news of Christianity is very simple.

God made us for friendship. Sin became a barrier to that friendship. God sent Jesus to lift away that barrier making us friends of God.

Things get between us and God so that we’re not at one. Sin, fear, sickness, bondage, anxiety, death and the devil get in the way. Jesus brings atonement – at one ment literally – because what he did in his coming, his suffering, death and resurrection has established the means to overcome these evils - if we use them. That means that the words we read today in Isaiah he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases come true when we trust his healing power. When we read he bore the sins of many that can become true in our experience when we seek his forgiveness and become one of the many who’re made one with God through Jesus.

Atonement isn’t just a doctrine it’s a way of life. It’s living one to one, heart to heart with God.

This is what Jesus does for us. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Trinity 18 27th of Year Marriage 7th October 2012

Today’s readings centre on the sacrament of marriage.

How many sacraments are there?

The Church of England has seven sacraments of which two baptism and eucharist are given special status with the other five – marriage, ordination, confession, confirmation and anointing – named as lesser sacraments.

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The outward sign of water is a sign of baptism’s grace of cleansing and renewal. The outward sign of bread and wine is the sign of Christ’s body and blood. The oil of anointing is the outward sign of God’s healing. The bishop’s or priest’s hands and voice are the outward sign in confession, confirmation and ordination.

What about marriage? What is the outward sign?

The ring? No. The sign of marriage is the vows by which husband and wife give themselves to one another before God.

What is the inward grace of marriage?

Life-long union. Someone reads Mark 10.7-10 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Our Lord draws his teaching from our first reading, Genesis 1.21-24: So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The rib story is just that, a story, one that teaches truth, though - the truth that men and women share a common humanity and are designed to complement one another. Vive la difference!

That passage has been abused to argue for the subordination of women so that in Our Lord’s day the all male Rabbi’s would build arguments for divorce to please their fellow men which included ‘she can’t cook as I want’. In Mark Chapter 10 Our Lord challenges this maltreatment of women and the culture of easy divorce weighted towards men. He goes out of his way to uphold marriage as first conceived in Genesis over against the easy divorce of his day as we read in the Gospel v11-12 He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’

Marriage according to Christ is indissoluble – it can’t be dissolved.

It’s a high bar we struggle to reach up to. Like the high bar set in last week’s Gospel when he says if your eye offends you pluck it out.

If the food’s no good the answer isn’t divorce. ‘Pluck your eye out rather than do so’ is the sense of Our Lord’s teaching against breaking a marriage. That teaching has been a source of encouragement to married couples for 20 centuries.

Or should I say discouragement? At times when people are lured by the flesh to look elsewhere they’ve been discouraged from following those lusts by obedience to the wisdom of Jesus.
We need the wisdom of Jesus as much today as ever. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show divorce rates in England and Wales increased by 5% between 2009 and 2010, from 114,000 to 120,000.

High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge made headlines in May for describing marriage breakdown as one of the "most destructive scourges" in Britain. Sir Paul felt compelled to speak out because of the "unprecedented scale of the problem". He’s launched the Marriage Foundation charity to improve public understanding of the "nature, benefits and importance of marriage and how healthy married relationships provide the most stable environment in which to raise children". Interesting that today’s Gospel ends with just that concern, about the welfare of children, having made clear the importance of the faithfulness in marriage that’s so helpful to this.

How does the Church, how do we, today, make sense of Christ’s teaching against divorce?

Each denomination has a pastoral policy on second marriage that allows for what Jesus called hardness of heart in v5. Some marriage failures come, as some of you know, even where there is much soft hearted generosity.  Our Lord taught and showed us soft hearted, irrevocable love.   On Calvary he gave himself as God does, without thought of taking back his gift.

That’s God! Softhearted! Never takes himself back from anyone - only from sin.

We humans love but our love can be hard hearted. When we say ‘I love you’ it can mean ‘I love me and want you’! For all of that it’s the noblest act of a human being to say, as many of us in Church have said to someone, ‘I take love and to cherish. Till death us do part...all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

The nature of the marriage vow, the outward sign of a sacrament, makes repeating it to someone else, within the life time of your spouse, difficult.  For most Churches it is impossible to do so. That’s the position at St Giles. In Christianity, in Christ, a vow of love is a vow of loveIt goes against the grain of Christianity, of Christ, to take love back again.

So what of those who've got no option but to do so?

Roman Catholics have to seek the annulment of their first marriage. If you’re Free Church you fall back on a less sacramental and more human view of marriage and start folk over again. As Anglicans we offer a compromise. Our Service of Prayer and Dedication after Civil Marriage has quite a take up, for the honest service it is, in publicly admitting past failure and seeking God’s blessing on a new start.

If remarriage after divorce seems the unforgiveable sin, which it isn’t, it’s because the Church, being held to Jesus’ teaching, has to protect the integrity of word and deed as best she can. In doing so we try not to make the best the enemy of the good. Our Lord set high standards but was forgiving to those who fell short of them.

Many of us will know second marriages where God is evidently at work and first marriages where he needs to get in more, so to speak. This is the human reality but it would become so much more inhuman without the wise standard Jesus sets us .

If the outward and visible sign of marriage is the making of life-long vows to each other the inward and spiritual grace is life-long union. When you marry in Church you receive a special anointing from God to help you keep your vows that’ll always be there for you if you seek it.

It is an excellent practice for married couples to seek that grace together from time to time which is why on Sunday 7th July we’re inviting couples to renew their marriage vows together at this service.

The sayings of Jesus are unlike the sayings of say the Buddha. Jesus not only gave his teaching, he gave us his life to seal it. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ is able to empower us not just to hear what he says but to do what he says and to do it cheerfully.

What God has joined together, let no one separate – this is the word of Jesus. There is no word of God without power.

Let’s believe it – however much is might cost!