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Luke 12: 49-56

“They will be divided; father against son, and mother against daughter.”

Well, this doesn’t sound much like a teaching from gentle Jesus, meek and mild does it? It sounds more like what you might find going on at a family dispute over the will of a distant relative.

So, how on earth can we square this with the teaching of Jesus which says:

“Love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself ”?

Let me tell you a true story.

When I was an Anglican curate I was asked to visit an elderly widow who was once married to a clergyman.

The parish priest had told me that she was very difficult; and I know that he found it hard to talk with her. But I visited her, and yes, at first, it was difficult. But I kept visiting, and when she was taken to hospital in Taunton I visited her there as well.

When she came home I continued to go to her house and before very long we started to get on just fine. She wasn’t difficult at all, and I soon realised that she was very sad, and actually very angry with The Church.

On one occasion she told me that she’d once asked her  clergyman husband whether he loved God more than he loved her, and he told her that he loved God most. Can you imagine the hurt which he caused his wife as he said that?

Now any clergy wife will tell you that they have to share their husband, and I know from my own experience that its sometimes a very hard thing for them to do.

And although I believe that a priest is called to serve above everything else, I don’t believe that by neglecting my own family ties I’m somehow serving God in a special way.

Surely, what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel reading is that we need to be totally committed to him. And this will sometimes result in disagreement and division from people who are closest to us.

It doesn’t mean that we have to seek ways of telling them and showing them what committed Christians we actually are.

We do well to remember that Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30. Why do you think he waited that long? Do you think he was busy devising a mission plan, or talking things over in the Jewish equivalent of a PPC? I don’t. I think Joseph had died and Jesus, the eldest lad, was busy looking after his mother and his younger relatives, until they could manage without him.

It was after this, when they came looking for him, that he said “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother and my sister”. But Jesus never neglected his family. Even as he hung dying on the cross, he commended his mother into the care of his friend John.

Of course, if we take our faith seriously we have to be totally committed, and this commitment will inevitably cause friction. Your partner or your children will find some of the things you feel you should do are very strange, to say the least.

There are plenty of things in my life which need attention. Plenty of places where my lack of commitment to God makes me desperately ashamed, so I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture here, I’m trying to explain how this teaching of Jesus can make sense in the everyday life of an ordinary 21st century Christian.

We don’t live in those parts of the world where we face terrible dangers for the sake of the gospel. Clergy here, don’t need to send their families off to a place of safety whilst they stay to look after a church because there isn’t anyone else to do it. Thank God that we aren’t brought to that kind of test.

But we do need to ask God to show us just where we deny him. Everybody does. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed him, and all the rest ran away. We all run away each day of our lives and that’s why the challenge of Jesus needs to be so sharp. Perhaps we run away from Jesus by fleeing away from the world into a type of religious life which allows us to neglect those whom we should be loving. It’s easy to worship God in church; it’s harder to worship him by loving your neighbour.

We must never forget the chain reaction which Jesus taught. He said:

“ When you give  a cup of cold water to the least of my followers, you’re giving it to me, and through me to God”

This is what loving God means. This is how we show our commitment to Jesus.

It’s said that here in Western Europe we live in a post Christian age, but if there’s any truth in that then we surely need to relearn the simple but deep message that we cannot separate love of God and love of neighbour.A lesson which will once more enable us to go out with a message to challenge and change the hearts of those we meet. 

May God give us all the grace to learn this lesson.

Luke 12; 35-40

It’s wise to be prepared for events which can happen very suddenly; but problems can arise if we’ve prepared for something which never seems to happen. Because then we can begin to think that all of our hard work has been in vain.

And, the early Church had a problem just like that.

 The first Christians had been taught about the coming of a new age which would change everything. A time when Jesus would return and when the Kingdom of God would be fully established.

And in the gospel story which we’ve just heard, Jesus is teaching about the importance of being prepared for this. He underlined his point by using a little parable.

He told his followers that just as a rich man’s servants who waited up for him, not knowing when he would return from his party-going, would be rewarded; so would those who were prepared for the second coming ,find favour with God.

However, this hadn’t happened, and the longer the wait, the greater the problem became. And this can be a problem for us too. “It hasn’t happened”, we might say, and then we might be tempted to add, “And it isn’t going to happen in my life time either”.

From there, it’s a short step to forget about it, and not to make any preparations at all.

But the whole reason for being prepared is that, we just can’t know when all of this will take place.  Jesus himself said that only God the Father knew. And so, we wait.

But, you know, when you think about it, there’s a great deal of waiting in the Bible. Waiting for exodus from slavery in Egypt.  Waiting to return from exile. Waiting for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Waiting for the coming of the Messiah. And now, waiting for the return of Jesus.

God’s people hope for salvation and the hope becomes a part of our story.  We have to struggle, because it seems that so often God just  doesn’t hear us.  Why do evil and suffering so often appear to be in control? Is God angry?  Is it our sin?  And yet we’re told that God will judge evil, and that he will redeem suffering.

So, perhaps in some way it’s the waiting that’s important.  Maybe it’s in looking for the kingdom of God and trying to live by its ways, that disciples are to become the people God hopes for.

As we hunger and thirst for righteousness so we become  more just and loving.  As we long for that time when everyone will know that they’re loved, so we begin to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Perhaps what we should take from all of this is the importance of our desire to be drawn more deeply into the ways of God and the mystery of Jesus.  Given the importance of the waiting, maybe this being drawn in is one of the ways in which we should prepare ourselves as we wait.

And just how do we do this?  Well, first of all, we have to be serious about our faith.  There may be a great deal about it which is beyond us just now, and there may be large chunks of it which make us feel frustrated and angry. If this is the case for you, take heart. It’s probably part of God’s way of drawing you in.

The most important thing is not great theological knowledge; no; it’s  

the realisation that we need to ask God to draw us more deeply into His life.

 He will do this, but it probably won’t be by means of a thunderbolt.  So keep your eyes and ears open for ways in which he answers your prayer.

When you pray, coincidences often happen.  You may feel drawn to speak to somebody.  To read something.  To visit somebody. Perhaps you’ll feel a strong desire to change the way in which you do something.  Maybe your daily routine needs changing.  But respond to these things in faith, and as you respond so other things will begin to connect with them.  God is indeed answering your prayer, and perhaps the miracle is that he’s doing it through the ordinary things of everyday life.

So, maybe we need to hold fast to the teaching which we find in the gospels. Time will end.  God’s kingdom in all its glory will arrive.  But as we wait and try to do his will; as we co-operate with him and allow ourselves to be drawn more deeply into his life then Jesus, through the Spirit, comes to us now.

 “Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” Amen.

The Lords Prayer

Luke 11;1-13 (Matthew 6: 1-18.)  The Lord’s Prayer.

In St Luke’s gospel the Lord’s prayer was given by Jesus to his followers when they asked him to teach them how to pray.  There’s no doubt that prayer should be at the centre of our lives, and yet like the first followers of Jesus, we all experience times when it seems  impossible to pray.

A Saint ,whose name I can’t remember, once said, “There’s only one way to God, and that’s through prayer”. But this raises a lot of questions as to what prayer actually is, and  I expect you’ve met God in many different ways. When some words from scripture seem to be directed at you personally. When you receive communion. We meet him in  each other, when we act lovingly. And we meet him in the beauty of nature.

So, we may take the view that the whole of our lives can become a prayer, and this makes much more sense of the statement that prayer is the only way to God. However, whenever you try to pray seriously in a formal manner, over a period of time, it isn’t long before you become aware that prayer can be tedious, boring and hard; and often seems to go unanswered.

Prayer is one of life’s great mysteries.  Most people pray at least sometimes, and some people pray a great deal.  At its lowest, prayer is shouting into empty space in the hope that that there might be someone out their listening.  At its highest, prayer mergers into love, as the presence of God becomes so real that we pass beyond words and into a sense of his generosity and grace. But for most Christians, for most of the time, it takes place somewhere in between these two extremes.

Sometimes we feel guilty because we think that we’ve forgotten to tell God something, or to pray for somebody who needs God’s help.  And so, we become tempted to try harder, and our prayer life starts to involve long lists of our own, to say nothing of the long lists produced by various church groups. Of course it’s important to pray for particular people and situations, but if we concentrate on this, then we shall feel guilty for much of the time that we pray,  because we shall always forget to remember somebody or something which needs to be held before God like this.

Jesus told us not to rush to God with lengthy shopping lists. In fact he criticised people who piled up a heap of words on the basis that the more they said, the more they were likely to be heard.  And yet, when we try to wait silently on God in prayer, it’s all too easy to allow our minds to be filled with lots of thoughts which quickly break up our prayer time.  So it seems that whenever we try to pray we run the danger of being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Well, we need a framework which will help us as we try to pray, and a framework is just what the Lord’s Prayer gives us. So, what I should like to commend to you this morning, is a method of praying which I find helpful, and which might be useful to you too.

Much of what I’ve said boils down to the suggestion that we don’t need to use a lot of words in prayer, but we do need to concentrate on God in order to bring to him all the things that we should.  And it’s when we’re settled  and quiet, that we’re most likely to hear God speaking to us through the thoughts and convictions and flashes of insight which can appear at those times.

When we’re serious about prayer we know that we must find a regular quiet time best suited to our own pattern of life. For me its very early in the morning. For some people it might be late at night .

So, perhaps some time over the next few days when you begin your prayer time,  use the Lord’s prayer as a basis for your conversation with God.  Begin by just saying “Our Father”.  Then stop.  Just concentrate on that, until you feel it’s time to move on.  There’s no need to say anything; you’re placing yourself in the presence of God your Father. Hold that thought in your silence and just wait for God.  Rest contentedly in His presence and don’t worry if you aren’t immediately transported into realms of spiritual delight.  God knows when you need that kind of consolation.  He also knows when it’s time for you to learn how to give your will to him as well.  And that means being prepared to sit in silence, content to leave to your heavenly Father, the consequences of your prayers.

When you move onto the next phrase,-who art in heaven-just repeat the process.  Perhaps as in your prayers, you acknowledge that God is in Heaven, and as you think about what that might mean, your understanding of heaven may change and grow.  And of course, God will use all kinds of things to speak to you about heaven as you acknowledge his presence there in your prayers.  You would probably be surprised at the vast amount of information which you already have buried deep in your mind about heaven. God isn’t in the least surprised, and is quite able not only to bring this information into your conscious mind, but also to modify and refine it.  But you have to give him a chance.

By now, I guess you’ll have realised that it might not be possible to completely say the Lord’s Prayer in the amount of time which you’ve made available.  Well, that doesn’t matter in the slightest .  Maybe Jesus intended this prayer to be repeated in its entirety, and of course that’s something which we all continue to do.  But I rather suspect that he’s also happy for us to use it as a kind of scaffolding. This prayer isn’t a magic formula.  It’s something we can mean with our minds as well as say with our lips, and it was given by Our Lord in response to his followers request.

Can there be any wonder then, that it’s such a powerful means of realising the closeness and love of God?  Amen.

Luke 10: 25-37

The Good Samaritan

The story of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the best known stories told by Jesus; but I want to tell you another story which I hope will help us look again at some of the deeper teachings which this parable contains.

Tom and Mavis were a retired couple who lived in a large block of flats in the middle of an estate which contained a lot of difficult and anti -social youngsters. They were both in their seventies and despite the fact that they were not very well off they were very happy.

They’d been married for over 50 years, and it would be true to say that they lived for each other. They were decent people and they’d both been brought up in a tradition which had taught them to treat other people as they themselves would want to be treated

Many of the youngsters on the estate took drugs, and were prepared to steal and cheat in order to get the money which they needed to support their habit They also seemed to take delight in being  rude and offensive to older people, and for some reason they’d made a special target of Tom and Mavis.

It was about 6 o’clock one Saturday evening in late November, when four of them carried out the mugging in the stairwell. They snatched Mavis’s handbag, and in the scuffle which followed Tom was stabbed. He died of his injuries early the next morning.
Mavis was devastated, and life seemed to be barely worth living. But she managed to give evidence at the trial, and very slowly she began to cope again. Two years passed before  she really began to pick up the pieces ,and then, almost three years to the day that Tom had died she once more found herself in the dark stair way where she’d been mugged.

She heard the groans before she saw the broken body of the lad who’d been kicked and beaten by his so- called “friends”. And in the dim light she recognised him as one of the hangers on to the group which had destroyed her life.

Although not directly responsible, he’d been there alright. And yet she didn’t hesitate. Perhaps it was because she’d trained and worked as a nurse , but there could be little doubt that her prompt action saved the young man’s life.

When she spoke of the incident afterwards  she admitted that although she recognised the boy and felt the hatred and the fear which his presence brought, there was something else within her which somehow just took over the whole situation.

For most of her life she’d practised caring for men and women who were ill or damaged, or in pain. Some of them were lovely people, but some of them had been very difficult indeed. However, it soon became second nature for her to care for everyone in need who came her way.

Now, I know that this story is only a poor substitute for one small part of the magnificent parable of the Good Samaritan, and that it also reverses one or two roles. But I hope it brings out one of the points which Jesus was making.

My neighbour may well be someone I don’t find easy to get on with, or I may be prejudiced against him or her for some reason. But if that is the case, then I have to learn to go out of my way to care for that person.

Christian love means being willing to understand other people; to listen to their needs and to care for them in practical ways. We don’t choose the neighbours in the street where we live  and we can’t choose whom we will and won’t serve. What we do choose is to allow God to show us who we are to serve.

This means giving hospitality to those who can’t return it; speaking to those who hold a grudge against us ,and perhaps hardest of all, loving those who hate us.

Well, this will often go against the grain. Most of us feel that we have a right to nurse grievances, to take our revenge  and to keep hold of our prejudices. So to become a good neighbour in the sense that Jesus talked about will be hard work. When we find it impossibly hard, as we sometimes will, then we need to come to the Lord, confess our weaknesses and ask him to change our attitude.

For you see, it’s not by doing good deeds out of a sense of duty, it’s when we do them as a spontaneous act of love that we most closely follow the example of Christ.

But when the heart is cold and our first instinct is to pass by, our will can make us turn around to do what we would rather ignore. And these acts of will, when they are often repeated, will lead at last to true acts of love.

This happened for Mavis. It can happen for us too.

Matthew 16: 13-20

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

Have you ever sat in a café with a friend when someone whom you didn’t know, came up and sort of joined in the conversation? When they’d gone, the first thing you probably said to your friend was:  “Who was that?”

The answer might have been interesting, but the fact remains, the person was probably unimportant to you. The really important information about someone else is that which we get as a result of a relationship. And, of course, only somebody with whom we’re in relationship, can let us know who we really are to them, and therefore what we might be to other people as well.

Most of us try hard to present a good face to the world and in the main we probably do a pretty good job of hiding those bits about ourselves which make us feel ashamed. It’s fairly easy to do this with someone whom you don’t know very well, but it’s very difficult to disguise selfishness, greed, arrogance or pride from someone with whom you share a great deal of your life.  Those who are close to us will see us as we really are, and their opinions are important because they will contain truth which hasn’t been deceived.

People saw Jesus as all sorts of things. Some saw him as a prophet, some as a preacher and no doubt many people saw him just as a miracle worker. And all of these understandings were true. But the opinion that he really valued was the one which came from Simon Peter. Someone who knew him well, because they’d shared so much together. Jesus was sure about his own vocation, but it was important to him that those people with whom he was in close relationship should recognise something else in him; something which made him very special indeed.

We know from the gospels that the disciples must have talked about Jesus amongst themselves. They must have shared their experiences of him with each other. We all do this about anyone who’s an important person in our group. But it was at Caesarea Phillipi that all of this came together for Peter and convinced him that his master was the Messiah.  And as he was brought to this point so Jesus was able to see that this revelation to Peter was nothing less than the work of God.

And what happened to Peter must happen to us as well. People will sometimes tell you about quick and dramatic conversion experiences; but perhaps to be brought to the point where you can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, needs a bit more than a quick burst of emotion. Perhaps it needs being in the company of other men and women who are often as confused as you are, and with whom you can share your doubts and your fears.

Perhaps it means watching what Jesus continues to do and teach through other people.

Perhaps it means being in a relationship with Jesus, for a fairly long period, even if you aren’t really able to explain or understand just how you can be in such a relationship.

 And perhaps it means accepting that our conversion is an on-going business, and that we shall grow more and more in faith as we journey on.

Perhaps it means all of these things, together with an understanding that we’re just like Peter.  We too, are on a journey. We can be brought to an acceptance of Jesus as Lord and we can then deny him and doubt him. But like Peter we’ll be restored and forgiven each time that we go back.

 If we’re honest we shall all admit that we pass through times of doubt and difficulty after we’ve accepted Jesus as Lord of the Universe. It’s not as though we believe and that’s that. Our journey will continue with many ups and downs. There will be times of glorious certainty, but there will also be times, perhaps long times, of doubt and almost of despair when we may feel tempted to give up. But it’s at those times when the seed of faith may well be growing most strongly inside of us without our awareness.

Confessing Jesus as Lord is indeed not the end. It’s rather ,the end of the beginning ; the beginning of a life whose beauty and fullness will only become crystal clear when we pass through the gate of death and know even as we are known.

May God give us all the grace to live in this faith.

Luke 9: 11-17

Most of us have a favourite possession. For many men it’s their car or their bike, or perhaps an expensive suit. A woman’s favourite possession might be an expensive pair of shoes, or maybe her engagement ring; and sometimes people use the cost of a gift as an indication of the value of the love of the person who gave it. You know the kind of thing: the more expensive the diamond ring, the more a girl’s fiancée must love her.

One of my most treasured possessions is a little home-made letter. On the front it says “daddy” and on the back I’ve written the date. It says “May 1979”. That’s 40 years ago. I was relatively young then, and my son, who wrote it, was just six. Inside the envelope there’s a small piece of paper, which just says;

“I love you”

James didn’t have much to give away when he was six, but what he gave me was priceless. It was all that he could give me. It was an expression of his love. This letter represented everything that he had, and when he gave it to me, it bore much fruit. I received what he gave me with love, and over the years that love has been multiplied.

We’ve just heard a very similar story. Some of the men who were following Jesus gave him all that they had; a few fish and a bit of bread. They gave it to him with love and Jesus accepted it with love, multiplied that love and gave it back to their benefit and the good of all those hungry people who were with them.

Today we celebrate a special day which we call “Corpus Christi”. Those are Latin words which mean “The Body of Christ”. And this celebration has a lot in common with the story of the loaves and fish.

The bread and the wine which we use in the Mass represent the work of our hands. They represent our lives, and when we offer them properly to God at the altar, small though these gifts might be, God accepts them as tokens of our love. He accepts them, blesses them, breaks them up and gives them back to us as the very life of Jesus himself.

Isn’t that amazing? When we give ourselves to Christ in love, he gives our lives back to us transformed by his real presence; a presence of love which will continue to grow and multiply in and through us; a presence which joins us to him in a love which will never die.

And you know, I can understand this a bit better because of the love which a little boy showed me 37 years ago.

John 17: 22-26

John 17: 20-26

In a few moments when we stand up to repeat the words of the Creed, one of the sentences we shall say is : “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

Now, the word “catholic” just means “universal” or “world -wide”, and there is a “world- wide church” made up of Christians of many different traditions;  Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Anglicans, Orthodox, and of course Roman Catholics.

Many people say “catholic” when they mean “Roman Catholic” but if we used our language accurately this confusion just wouldn’t be there.

So in this great prayer which we’ve just heard, Jesus was praying  that his followers in every generation after him, would belong to one holy and world-wide church.

In particular, he was asking that we should all be one, united by the teaching of his first followers, the apostles. That’s what one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church means.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that although all Christians do indeed belong to the world wide church, that one church is broken by our own divisions; by our disunity, if you like.

And this is a good reason for people outside of church, not to take us seriously when we start talking about loving each other.

Why should anyone believe what we preach if we don’t follow the teaching ourselves? Not only do we criticise Christians of different denominations; we frequently fall out in lumps even within our own tradition.

People sometimes stop coming to church when a particular priest is different from his predecessor, and they look for another church where the priest is either more traditional  or more liberal, depending on their own preferences. Perhaps we should stop treating the church as a kind of club for like-minded people, and pay a bit more attention to what Jesus said.

It’s important to distinguish between disunity and difference. There’s nothing wrong with difference. Difference is necessary for the health of the Church. St Paul made this point when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth.

When he compared the Church to a real body, he said: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members yet one body. The eye can’t say to the hand “I have no need of you”. Nor again the head to the feet “I have no need of you”.

There are many different ways of telling the same good news about Jesus. Different churches should develop different customs and different ways of worship. All of these contribute to the life of the world wide, or universal church. And this is a very good thing.

But it’s a very bad thing when differences are allowed to turn into divisions. And this can happen so easily. I don’t think that divisions happen because people aren’t committed to Jesus.

I think they happen because people are so committed to their own kind of striving to be faithful to the gospel, that they become blind to the strivings of others.

And then when they eventually open their eyes, they wake up to find that they’re separated. It’s certainly not something which they seek, or at least, I hope it’s not.

I think it comes from a kind of neglect of looking out for each other. A neglect of community, or a neglect of love.

And when this happens, some churches try to abolish difference altogether, whilst others begin not to care much about being separated.

The modern Roman Catholic church won’t tolerate much difference, and in this respect it’s similar in its thinking to the many churches of the Protestant Tradition which keep forming new sects in order to preserve what they see as being the true gospel.

It’s sad isn’t it, because none of us are living in accordance with the great prayer of Jesus.

The real sin of disunity isn’t what happened hundreds of years ago. The real sin lies in what isn’t happening now. For the most part the divisions in the church came about by neglect of love for each other rather than by the deliberate separation into which it just grew. And our sin is the refusal to deal with the mess which we’ve inherited.

Sadly, the divisions of the past, which came from the differences between good people of both sides, are now really no more than quarrels of little mean people, concerned mostly for the strength of their own group.

We need to clear up these, by now irrelevant divisions and at the same time to be warned by them. Because we live once again in age when the real disagreements of good people are leading us into new divisions; into another denial of the one spirit into which we were all baptized.

We need to go back to the good news of the unity between Jesus and God; the unity between the Father and the Son; the unity of love into which our own baptism introduces us. And the result of living together within this unity which cuts across race, gender, or class will be to show all who look at us what it means to be filled with the spirit of the living God, The Holy Spirit of love who will move all of God’s children through the Son to live in the glory of the Father.

For ever. Amen. 0000000000000

Ascension

Relativity

All of you will have heard of Albert Einstein. And what I’m about to remind you of comes directly from his famous theory of special relativity.

Imagine two identical twins. One of them sets off on a space journey and returns after two years of space travel at almost the speed of light. He’ll be exactly two years older. But his twin who stayed behind on earth will have aged thirty years. Weird but true. We think of time as existing in chunks, but that’s only the way we perceive it. A physicist will speak of the space-time continuum. Time slows down if you’re travelling fast. And before you tell me that we can’t travel that fast, let me remind you that the Hadron collider can accelerate sub atomic particles to almost the speed of light. And whilst we’re talking about sub atomic particles, did you know that something as small as an electron can disappear from one place and reappear in another without going through the space which separates the two places? This is a fact, and much of our modern science is built on so called “quantum weirdness”

We live in a really strange universe, and indeed, some scientists have suggested that our universe is just one of an infinite number of parallel universes.

The power behind all of this must be way beyond our ability to understand; and it’s this power which belongs to God.

I make these points because there’s a tendency today to dismiss parts of the Gospel narratives as fanciful fairy tales which carry deeper truth. However, when you set those gospel reports alongside the weird stuff which science now takes as routine, you may well conclude that perhaps they’re not fanciful at all.

But why would God bring Jesus through death and then move him from this world into what is commonly called “heaven”? And where is heaven? Did Jesus take off like a space ship and zoom away until he got there?

There is deeper truth beneath the surface accounts; of course there is, so perhaps I can remind you of what, as Christians, we believe. It makes a lot of sense and helps to challenge a lot of modern liberal thought.  

Love is the most powerful force there is. We know this from our own experience. So whatever else God is he’s a God of love. He created us as an expression of his love because love always expands. He created us in His own image in order to reflect His love back to him and onto everything in creation; and we’ve failed.  All of us.

But God never gives up. He’s shown us in the resurrection of Jesus that he’s quite capable of creating a new person from the old one. Using the same kind of stuff but which is also different. That’s what all those stories about the resurrection of Jesus are trying to tell us. And this new creation will never die.

Where did Jesus go as a result of the Ascension? Well, the universe which we live in is pretty strange and God’s heaven is linked to it. It’s very close, just beyond our perception, but it’s there all right and the Ascension tells us that God’s dimension of reality is open to human beings. Jesus has taken our humanity there, and although the way in which our humanity will be finally embodied is not for us to know just yet, we can rest content that one day heaven and earth will be joined together. There will be no more death, decay , suffering or tears. We shall all rise from death and our hope is that God’s mercy will let us enjoy the beauty of heaven forever.

And so, a novelty has been introduced into heaven.  And that novelty is our human nature. This whole movement places our humanity in the presence of God.  It’s a glorification not only of Christ, but of all human nature.

Christianity teaches that human life draws its dignity not from any particular rights which we think are due to us, but from the fact that because of the Ascension of Jesus , being human means being permanently involved in the presence of God.

It has been said that because of the Ascension we can think of the human race as like a person standing in water up to the neck, safely living because the head is above the surface. This is a good thought; Christ the Head, giving life to those who remain below.  Christ is now raised above the heavens, but he still experiences on earth, whatever sufferings we, his members feel.

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us .  And we, while on earth are also with him. 

He is with us in his God head and his power and his love.  He didn’t leave heaven when he came down to us from God; and he didn’t leave us when he ascended to heaven again.

 “I am with you always”, says the Lord, “Even until the end of the world.”   Amen.

John 14: 23-29

Jesus said; “If you love me, you will obey my commands, and I will ask the Father to send you another Counsellor to be with you forever.”

So it seems that in order to receive this Counsellor sent by God, we must love and obey Jesus. Well, what can this mean for us today?  

St John teaches us that obedience is the only test for love.  It was by obedience that Jesus showed his love of God; and it’s by our obedience that we show our love of Jesus . Many people will tell you that love is all about feelings, but according to the Gospel which we’ve just heard, we’re wrong to try to measure our love of Jesus by the strength of any feelings that we might or might not have.  St John never spoke of love as a feeling or an emotion.  For him, love was always shown by obedience.

It’s not easy to know that you love Jesus.  And this is where that difficult word, translated as “Counsellor” comes in. The word is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it’s when we begin to try to talk about the Holy Spirit that we meet all kinds of misunderstandings and difficulties.

Many Christians feel that they’re a failure in their faith and that there’s something wrong with them.  They listen to others who tell them that they feel the presence of Jesus in their hearts, or maybe place great emphasis on speaking in tongues. And because they know that their faith isn’t lived on an emotional high they think that somehow they’ve missed the point.

Perhaps they struggle with prayer, and wish that the gift of easy talk to God had been given to them. And so they tell themselves that because this hasn’t been their experience, then they must be a kind of second-class Christian. But this is a sad and painful mistake.

Because what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel, is that he recognises the difficulties of following him, and he won’t leave us to struggle with them alone.

He promises to send the Holy Spirit, to help us live the Christian life; and when he goes on to say that the world cannot recognise the Spirit, he’s pointing out that we can only see what we’re fitted to see. 

An astronomer will see far more in the sky than an ordinary man.  Someone who knows about art will see far more in a picture than someone who’s ignorant about these things.

 What we see or get from any experience depends a great deal on what we bring to it.  A person who’s removed God from their life will never listen for him, and yet it’s when we wait in prayerful expectation that God’s Holy Spirit comes to us.

This obedient, trusting, waiting love leads to the presence of God. It’s only to the man or woman who’s looking for him, that God reveals himself.  It’s only to the man or woman who, in spite of failure, is reaching up, that God reaches down.  Knowing God is dependent on love; and love is dependent on obedience.

When we’re obedient and open to God in this way then we’ll begin to be aware of the Holy Spirit working within us just as Jesus promised.

 Perhaps we need to stop comparing ourselves and our experiences to others and start thinking more seriously about some of the things which Jesus taught.

For instance, he said that just as we recognise the presence of atmospheric wind by its effects, so will we recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit by His effects.

Do you know a Christian person who’s patient, or kind, or gentle or faithful?  Do you know a Christian person who’s loving or joyful or who seems to be at peace? If you do then you know  a Christian in whom the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work.

Some of these men and women might well be reluctant to say that they’re the living fulfillment of the promises which Jesus made, but it’s when we begin to see with the eye of faith that we also begin to understand that they are.

As we follow Jesus in loving obedience and as we open and prepare ourselves for him so will we become aware of the truth of his promises about the Holy Spirit.

 Perhaps one of the most significant times on our journey will be the realization that we meet him most commonly within the ordinary happenings of everyday life.  He’s there in every loving encounter that we experience.  He’s there at that moment when a piece of Scripture suddenly takes on a deeper meaning for us. 

He’s there when the words of a preacher seem to be directed at us personally.  He’s there when at the very moment of temptation a saying of Jesus flashes unbidden into our minds.

 And so, the next time that we begin to doubt some of the basic teachings of our faith; the next time that we begin to entertain a strong suspicion that all this talk about the Holy Spirit is outside of our experience, then we need to remember these things; because the promises which Jesus made are for all of us.

The peace which he offers us is such that no experience of life can ever take it from us. And no sorrow, no danger no suffering can ever make it less. This is the peace which he wants to give us.

All we need to do is to accept it.

Amen.

Lent 5

John 8: 1-11

On Friday of this coming week we shall celebrate a Requiem Mass in St Mary’s church as we say goodbye to our dear friend Michael O’Flaherty.

I have no doubt that the church will be full to overflowing and I also know that although it’s the fifth Friday in Lent, there will be many floral tributes.

No one will raise any objection or criticise the breaking of a Lenten tradition, and this reminds me of a report I read earlier about an Anglican churchwarden who didn’t like his parish priest.( Can you believe such a thing?!) Anglican Lenten Traditions are quite similar to ours and our hero was deeply shocked when he found out that the priest was planning a wedding during Lent.

“What!” he said “Flowers in church during Lent !”.

 And so he didn’t wait to discover the very sad circumstances behind the wedding. Instead, he made the most enormous fuss, and caused a scene which took weeks to calm down.

Now, I don’t know your position, but I believe that however precious our Lenten observances might be, they should never be so set in stone, that human need is always ignored. 

And the gospel story which we’ve just heard is a very telling comment by Jesus about religious observance and human need.

The church warden that I spoke about just now couldn’t see beyond his wish to keep up the Lent Traditions. Just as the Scribes and the Pharisees weren’t at all concerned about a woman whose life was in a mess. They considered her to be a worthless adulteress and made her a pawn in their game with Jesus.

In both cases, enthusiasm for Tradition came before respect for other people and a wish for their well- being and salvation.

Now, look at Jesus. Yes, of course he’s concerned about tradition and the Law of Moses; after all he quotes it often enough. He very cleverly upheld it in the story which we’ve just heard, but in such a way that those who were so intent on punishing a lawbreaker were forced to look at their own hypocrisy first. But he’s much more concerned that all people, who are equally precious in God’s eyes, should be made aware of God’s mercy, forgiveness and salvation.

“Woman” he said, after her accusers had left, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one , sir” she replied.

“Neither do I condemn you” said Jesus. “Go away and sin no more”

Can you imagine the effect of this acceptance and forgiveness on her? Can you doubt that she would respond to God’s love flowing to her through Jesus in a way which would make any other religious tradition pale into insignificance?    

So whatever you’ve chosen to observe during Lent, you should be clear that it should never be a way of appearing “holier than thou”, or indeed, a way of manipulating someone else.

No; It should always be seen against its effect on other people.

Hopefully, we’ve been moving through Lent with serious joy, trying to grow closer to God. And so, yes, it’s important to look inward. But we must also always look outwards towards the well- being and salvation of those with whom we have to do.

And we do well to remember that no matter how careful our Lenten Observance is, we are all, in one way or another, in the position of the woman in this beautiful Gospel story.

So as we hear God’s forgiveness declared today; how do we react?  Do we perhaps expect it, and take it for granted? Or is it to us, as to this woman, the word of life, and a reprieve from a death sentence?  Amen.