Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Letters of Saint Paul (4) Paul’s view of the future Last of four sermons – Sunday 28th July 2013

There’s a quiet cynicism abroad, a loss of hope about the future of the world and of human beings beyond the grave. That cynicism flows from our being brain-washed by advertising, with the deceits of materialism, to disbelieve the teaching of the Bible.

New awareness of other religions has confused our approach to the Bible, as has the publicity given to hypocrisy in the Church. It’s time for us Christians to get ourselves better rooted in our faith, and that’s why I’ve been doing a course on Paul’s letters this summer, hoping it may inspire you to read them for yourself.

What better antidote to cynicism and truth decay than to read one whose writings, next only to those of the Founder of Christianity, teach us to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13b)?

This morning I want to share about that hope as it is presented by the Apostle Paul as the last of my series giving a taster of his letters geared to encourage you to pick up your Bible and read them for yourself.

They run as follows: After Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts we’ve got Paul’s letter to Rome, his greatest work on God. Then we have the first and second letters to Corinth where Paul founded a church situated on the very bridge between Asia and Europe. The next four I remember using the vowel alphabet – a, e, i, o – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. These are short compared to Romans and Corinthians, especially Colossians which we’ve been following this month in the Sunday lectionary and the reading of which could be good follow up to today’s sermon.

Two letters to Thessalonica in Greece follow, then two to Paul’s assistant Timothy, one to his assistant Titus and then a very short one to someone called Philemon about a runaway slave. The letter to the Hebrews was once thought to be from Paul but that is now disputed.

As we look through these letters we see Christ’s resurrection as their overarching theme and it’s impossible to separate the objective fact of Christ’s being raised from Paul’s subjective experience of it, as you can tell from today’s section of Colossians: when you were buried with him in baptism, Paul writes, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses.

The God who raised Jesus raises us and the force of Paul’s teaching is enhanced by the well documented change in his own life from persecuting Christians to being Christianity’s greatest evangelist. As I said last month Paul had humble awareness that for God to touch his life in any way at all was an exceptional miracle. I received mercy he writes in 1 Timothy 1:16 so that in me, as the foremost Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience. He saw himself as the least of believers because he’d previously been a leading opponent of Christian faith.

That the resurrection was central to Paul’s teaching is evidenced outside of Paul’s writings in St Luke’s comment in Acts 17:18 that Paul told the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15:21 continuing,  as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death… When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

In these awesome words Paul maps out the future. It starts with Christ’s being raised which is described as first fruits. Christ’s resurrection impacts believers as it did Paul so we are the harvest as we get made alive in Christ by a spiritual resurrection. Then, either through death, or at the return of Christ, there is to be universal resurrection: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. This moves the cosmos to its own resurrection fulfilment as Jesus Christ, risen Son of God overcomes every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Paul’s graphic picture ends as Christ on his return with the church presents the redeemed cosmos to his Father. The Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

What wonderful words about the future – God all in all. In Greek panta en pasin literally everything to everyone.

Christianity in Paul’s belief - and it should be in our belief – is the most forward looking creed on the earth. Why? Because it accepts God has invested in the human race and when God invests in anything there will be awesome consequences out of this world.

When you and I look at the future we must put the fulfilment of God’s promises centre stage. That fulfilment may come before or after our death but Paul in either case makes plain the death of a Christian doesn’t take them out of the Church but places them in the privileged place as those who belong to Christ of awaiting Christ’s coming.

When Paul speaks of the future he speaks of it as fulfilling faith, hope and love but also as something not just with a human but with a cosmic aspect. He is inspired to write in Romans Chapter 8 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. 

Indeed! So – to summarise - what are the main points for us to bear in mind, to savour in the teaching of Paul about the future.

1     The resurrection of Jesus Christ turned his and can turn our world upside down as it brings a vision of God’s future into our lives right here and now.
2     Baptism is about a spiritual resurrection, a death to cynicism and birth of the positive attitude of faith which acclaims God’s desire to be everything to everyone
3     To live for the return of Jesus Christ is part of that positive attitude we call hope, which is faith looking with expectancy to its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
4     In looking to the world’s future our lives gain significance because even if we die before Christ’s return we hold faith that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
5     Lastly, looking towards God being everything to everyone makes for a change in our own individual future since like Paul you’ll best witness this when God is everything to you

As I finish this four part taster of Paul’s letters I hope it has given you some appetite for Scripture and for filling your mind with God breathed thoughts to counter the negativity of our age.

Meanwhile, looking to the future we celebrate as we always do in Church, a preview of forthcoming attractions for, in Paul’s words, as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you show the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Trinity 7 14th July 2013

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us to identify and serve people’s needs where they are, to make a difference to them and to keep on the case.

The Samaritan, unlike the priest and Levite, had his eyes on the world around him and the call of that beaten up man. The priest and Levite were strict legalists. Like that community police man who let a boy drown because he had not done health and safety training they went by their ritual law book which said you’d be made unclean if you touched a corpse. They left the man for dead.

The Samaritan, a religious outsider, obeyed a higher law than religion, the law of God and of common humanity. He met the man’s needs. He made a difference, He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

Furthermore the hero of the tale kept on his case. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

The parable speaks about our mission calling as followers of Jesus.

We are called to identify people’s needs and go serve them. Serve them not on our terms but theirs. Serve them without getting in the way of what’s best for them. Serve them also with a view to their ongoing welfare.
We have a big vision as a church – God’s glory and the salvation of the world – but we have a tight focus expressed in our Mission Action Plan or MAP as: to grow in faith, love and numbers.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? …You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us the big vision and illustrates it in a focussed example. This morning we are reminded of St Giles’ aspiration to serve that same vision with its own particular focus. Like the Good Samaritan we are keeping on the case.

In particular we are set on using the Martindale to serve our new MAP in engaging villagers with St Giles. Already it’s a hub of parish life but we want to make it more of a Christian focus. From September we’ll be having a monthly last Sunday service at 5 o’clock starting 29th September. Another initiative builds on the beautiful view we've now got in the main hall. We’re holding a quiet day there on 28th September which will be attended both by trainee diocesan readers and by any church members or parishioners who wish to join in.

So far as social engagement goes the PCC is working initially through the P&P deliverers to help St Giles engage more fully with isolated people in our community, especially those who would appreciate occasional visits from the Church.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus taught us to identify and serve people’s needs where they are, to make a difference to them and to keep on the case. When it comes to the action we’re planning in the coming months for outreach we can be inspired by the example of the Good Samaritan to see from God what’s needed and to be generous in providing for it with an ongoing commitment.

The Lord bless us through this eucharist as we express our love for him! The Lord guide us, individually in the coming week and corporately in the coming months, as we seek better expression of love for him and for our neighbours faithful to the calling he has for us as his Church.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Trinity 6 Marriage renewal 7th July 2013

Later on this morning we’ll be having a presentation from Laurence and Rebeka Hardy, married 60 years ago in St Giles, as part of a focus on marriage renewal which explains my changing the Gospel reading.

Their presentation is based on Gary Chapman’s book The language of love with a reminder love isn't love unless expressed and acted out.

This church was built because of love expressed and acted out. Its spire points to Love unbounded and the sacraments celebrated under its roof for almost 1000 years have invoked that love.

This morning at the eucharist we’re seeking a special anointing in that love, the love that made us, and all that is, and loved us so much as to give himself up for us all.

The love within married couples is meant to reflect that love – love that can’t be taken back. As God gave himself up to death in Jesus we give ourselves to one another for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

The Christian religion holds us to a high standard as we heard in the Gospel reading which has words used in a Christian marriage: what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Marriage can’t be dissolved in the Christian ideal because God’s love can’t be dissolved. Human love can dissolve, but if Christ is in our lives there’s a higher indissoluble power at work.

My song is love unknown Samuel Crossman wrote speaking of my Saviour’s love to me, love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.

What beautiful words!  Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. God in love treats us loveless beings beyond our wildest dreams so as to lift us up into his possibilities and teach us to do the same. For this is the practical truth of Christianity: husbands and wives and children do better when treated better than they deserve! This is what God shows us in the unmerited love he gives to every believer.

The sacrament of marriage is the language of such love. Words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time together, giving presents, touch (Gary Chapman) – all of these mirror how God acts towards us once we enter relationship with him.

I have loved you from the foundation of the world he says in scripture. See my Cross, see and share the bread and wine which is my body and blood, offered for you – accept my love: love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.

Marriage isn’t easy - but when God asks something of us he gives us the wherewithal to complete the task. Christian marriage is a particular anointing in the Holy Spirit and that anointing continues throughout life. Such anointing helps husbands and wives and all of us, whatever our state of life, to rise above worldly standards into those of Jesus Christ.

The Christian religion holds us to a high standard in the divorce friendly culture we inhabit: what God has joined together, let no one separate.

There is no word of God without power! What God has joined together, let no one separate. When we recognise the promise of God and hold to it we see things changing all around us mainly because we see things changing within us through the destruction of negative attitudes.

There is no word of God without power! May that power be with us by his Spirit as we keep fellowship with the Lord and with one another seeking him in prayer and sacrament, through the Bible and Christian fellowship.

Above all may it be ours in the eucharist we celebrate and receive.