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.