Sunday, May 23, 2021

Franz Jägerstätter, Ariana Grande and the Coming of the Spirit.

Franz Jägerstätter was an unknown peasant farmer in Austria. He fell in love with Franziska Schwaninger and they married on Maundy Thursday in 1936. Their honeymoon involved a pilgrimage to Rome where they received a Papal blessing.

Inspired by his wife’s faith, Franz began to study scripture and the lives of the saints. When German troops moved into Austria in 1938, he began to openly oppose the Nazi rule and propoganda but he never joined any part of the official resistence. He became a Fransiscan tertiary and during the 1940s was astonished that Catholic layperson and Bishop alike were unprepared to speak out against the regime.

In 1943 he was called up to serve in the the Nazi army but he refused to fight and was tried and executed on 9th August 1943. He is reputed to have said, ‘If the church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?’

There is a place for silence - it is good for our prayer lives and our mental health. Silence, out of fear of what others will think, or in extremis, in fear of our lives, is bad for us and our communities. But speaking up isn’t always easy - whether that’s at school when you know who broke the window or stole the calculator; or calling out our government or other governments when they are inactive in matters of justice which especially affect the poor and marginalised in society. We don’t always feel like we have the power to speak.


The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot which recalls God giving the Torah on Mount Saini with it’s clear countercultural expectations about distinctive living as God’s people. Also at Shavuot, Jews celebrate a sort of harvest festival 50 days after the passover, where the firstfruits of the harvest are offered back to God. Words from Leviticus are read which remind the community that their agriculture should not only produce enough for the community, but a certain amount should be left for the poor, needy and the foreigner. These actions demonstrate God’s expansive generosity to all people. 


St Luke records: And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.


Four years ago today, Salman Abedi was at the Manchester Arena towards the end of the show by Ariana Grande. A member of the public reported him to the security team on the gate, as they thought he looked suspicious, dressed in all black with a  large rucksack. Another guard noticed him too but decided not to intervene in case he was branded a racist. Five minutes later, Abedi detonated his device in the foyer of the arena, killing 23 people including himself and injuring over a thousand others.


A few weeks later, Ariana Grande hosted the One Love Manchester benefit concert with a message of unity and peace between all people. The concert and associated fund raising raised an extraordinary £17 million for the victims of the attack.



Luke records a crowd gathering. They were inquisitive and excited like a crowd at a gig. What drew them though was not the phenomena that the disciples experienced in the room, but what the crowd heard outside it. All too often we focus on the phenomena of the Holy Spirit at work - oh we don’t do that here. There’s an inference that manifestations like what Luke tries to describe, are irrational and should be avoided. The crowd gathered because of what they heard said in a way they understood.


Luke records the crowd hearing in ways they understood about, ‘...God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 


London’s Tate Modern gallery staged an exhibition of 20th-century paintings. One wall was just a blank painted surface. Directly opposite was one of Monet’s paintings of water lilies. After staring at the Monet for ages, one gallery-goer described in wonder how she turned around to look at the blank wall behind her. Monet’s vibrant, swirling colours changed what they saw from something flat and formless to a surface with shade and texture.


Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, we need to be open to seeing the blank and ordinary, differently. The experience that was personal to the disciples in that room had transformed their ordinariness into extraordinariness. The encounter with the Spirit made them bold and courageous to tell the vibrant and varied crowd who had gathered, about God’s mighty deeds.


Occasionally sand from the Sahara desert can be found in the UK, having blown here on the wind. Different cultures and nationalities are mentioned by Luke as having gathered in that crowd - each heard about what God was doing in ways they understood. Could we be more open to the surprises blown in by the Spirit today? A friend has spent months in hospital over the years I have known him, tended to and cared for by medical specialists who look out for him and speak up for his cause and act in his best interests. The Advocate of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel, will do the same for us. Luke’s account in Acts of the activity of the Spirit in each disciple will have been a process of trying to recount a very dramatic but very personal experience later on. In Romans, St Paul describes the Spirit’s work as helping ’... us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought’ and ‘intercedes for the saints’


What is God asking of us? The gathered crowd, on hearing the disciples communicate clearly with them about God’s activity and love, ask - what does this mean? As if it is possible to comprehend or understand the ways of God. In the Greek text the crowd ask - what will this become?


We have each received the Holy Spirit ourselves - at our Baptism, our Confirmation, at our Ordination, at our Licensing or commissioning for any sort of ministry or service, and at this and every Eucharist as we pray this or similar, ‘‘... Pour out your Holy Spirit as we bring before you these gifts of your creation… as we eat and drink these holy things, form us in the likeness of Christ…’ Filled with the Spirit, we have been given the resources to speak and demonstrate God’s work in us and amongst us - we must speak, as our communities are looking for hope and healing as we edge (please God) out of this pandemic - let’s look for surprising opportunities to speak of or demonstrate God’s love to others; let’s trust the Spirit to be our Advocate, enabling us to be advocate to others and come alongside them - supporting and encouraging them; as the Spirit prays in each of us, let us intentionally turn to prayer afresh for our communities and the church because God knows both need it. As Franz Jägerstätter said, if we don't speak, the church we love, may as well never open fully again. We too are filled. We too must speak.


Monday, December 07, 2020

Comfort - An Advent Sermon (Isaiah 40:1-11)

 

Comfort. Comfortable. Like a pair of shoes or jumper, you’ve owned for years. They’ve seen better days. And yet, the fit is just right. The memories of places and amongst people that they’ve been worn, cluster in your mind. Good times.

 

Comfort is not rose-tinted. As you fall in the playground, comfort is someone cleaning the graze; comfort is telling the grieving widower that in time it will be alright; comfort is the reassuring phone call that they are safe out of the operating theatre and it’s gone well. Comfort is a present knowledge that all shall be well.

 


Comfort is the action of intervention in love. It is active, not passive. It meets us where we are. It is tangible, look-you-in-the-eye-and-doing-something-about-it hope. God calls for Jerusalem - exiled into Babylon, now returning - to come home, and as they do they find the city, their home, the dwelling of God, razed to the ground, houses obliterated, walls shattered, lives and livelihood decimated - and God tells them it will be alright. The awfulness of the time passed is ended. They are home. God promises to give them double in goodness for what they received in suffering and death.

 

The promised comfort isn’t just reassuring words - as tender and beautiful as they might be - like a loving mother holding and gentling rocking her hurting child. God’s comfort to His people will see a safe passage created for them to return to Jerusalem - a safe road, not one surrounded by bandits and wild animals in the shadowy valley, this road will be built for them to travel from Babylon home on. The journey is long and difficult, but to ease it, God will level hills and fill in valleys and the scrubby wilderness will be laid with green grass like a newly fitted carpet. Every other nation will go - wow, look what Israel’s God does for His people! Now that’s love! That’s comfort.

 

A further voice comes to the conversation - hang on. Don’t get people’s hopes up! They will love this sort of comfort, but like the meadow flowers they’ll respond - growing beautiful in their renewed faith and trust, but before you know it God, they’ll die down and go back to living the same old same old and ignoring you. God says - what I have promised I have promised. I am faithful.

 

So Jerusalem, if this is news you needed to hear and you are excited - go and tell others. Get up to a high point where people can see and hear you - tell the surrounding peoples and communities, your neighbours and friends - God is here! He isn’t absent. He didn’t cause this devastation. He didn’t abandon you. He left you, you having told him forcefully like a hormone-filled teenager in your actions and words that you didn’t need him - to walk off, as any loving parent would, to see what you would make of your longed-for independence, not loving you any less, but realising that you just weren’t listening, or accepting loving help and support.


Tell your neighbours - God is coming. God is here. Like a loving father, He will protect his beautiful teenage daughter. Like a shepherd on the hillside - he will eat and sleep and provide for you 24/7 and when you are afraid or hurting, He will carry you.

 

Comfort. Comfortable. Like a pair of shoes or jumper you’ve owned for years. They’ve seen better days. And yet, the fit is just right. The memories of places and amongst people that they’ve been worn cluster in your mind. Good times.

 

Comfort is not rose-tinted. As you fall in the playground, comfort is someone cleaning the graze; comfort is telling the grieving widower that in time it will be alright; comfort is the reassuring phone call that they are safe out of the operating theatre and it’s gone well. Comfort is a present knowledge that all shall be well.

 

Comfort is the action of intervention in love. It is active, not passive. It meets us where we are. It is tangible, look-you-in-the-eye-and-doing-something-about-it hope. God calls coronvairus invaded, recession filled, unemployment rising, public debt increasing, hungry family, longing for a hug filled Britain and the other nations of the world, to look forward, gingerly, to a time when all of this will be ended. God tells us it will be alright. The awfulness of the time passed is drawing to a conclusion. We be home.


 

The promised comfort isn’t just reassuring words - as tender and beautiful as they might be - like a loving mother holding and gentling rocking her hurting child. God’s comfort to us is like seeing a safe road, not one surrounded by bandits and wild animals in the shadowy valley, this road will be built for them to travel home on. The journey is long and difficult, but to ease it, God will level hills and fill in valleys and the scrubby wilderness will be laid with green grass like a newly fitted carpet. Every other nation will go - wow, look what God does for His people! Now that’s love! That’s comfort.

 

This passage isn’t about a coronavirus action plan but it is about comfort, a reversal of awfulness in love by love to love. We all need comfort - an active, physical knowledge that all shall be well. This is the road, the song, the unbridled hope of Advent. This is how God feels about us. This is how God feels about you. Come home.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

I Am Judas - A Sermon for Wednesday in Holy Week

Anxiety is a common emotion amongst many of us. For many of us, in these days of pandemic it will come in waves. We might be enjoying the opportunity to read a chapter or two of a novel each day that we haven't ever quite got to, or to immerse ourselves in a film we have always loved, but perhaps like me, you find that soon after that, anxiety washes into our inner lives as sure as the ebbing tide.

The thing that makes that anxiety so insidious at the moment especially is that it ebbs into our lives as we spend enforced periods of time in the place that should be our security and safety - our homes.

Anxiety has ebbed even in to Jesus' life as he sits with his security and sureity - his friends and closest companions gathered around a table for food; and that anxiety is there, like a taut drumskin before Judas does what he has to.

Judas gets bad press in Christian tradition. We know little about him. Judas, his given surname could mean that he came from Kerioth a town in southern Judea. Iscariot could also come from a dagger - the sicarius - and it could be a nickname 'dagger man' referring to Judas perhaps belonging to a Jewish terrorist cell - the sicarii. Iscariot could also be a corruption of the aramic word for 'red' and Judas is sometimes portrayed in red clothing or with a red beard in Christian art.


We do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Some say it was because he loved money. John describes him as a thief. But to me the way scripture describes him in those sorts of terms feel like an addendum - a naming of the way that Christian tradition has treated him. Two of the Gospel writer ascribe Judas' motives due to diabolic or satanic action.

We find him offensive because of what he did to his friend Jesus--he handed him over into the hands of his enemies. We are offended by that for most of us can identify with the pain of being turned on by a friend. The wounds inflicted by a friend seem to go deeper and hurt more than the wounds inflicted by someone who cared nothing for us. David said in the 55th Psalm, "It was not my enemy who reproached me, for then I could bear it, but it was my friend." So we are offended by Judas because of what he did to his friend.

Judas not only offends us, but he also frightens us, for Judas is an unpleasant reminder to all of us that on any given day a faithful follower, like you or me, could turn from following Christ and stumble out into the night, caught up in the power of darkness and be quickly led to our death.

He frightens us even more when we try to put distance between ourselves and Judas by pointing out all that was wrong and rotten about him. We say Judas allowed himself to be used by that one who is opposed to the things of God, but have we not all at some point in our lives been used by that which is antithetical (totally opposing) to God? We all at some point in our lives have allowed ourselves to be taken over by evil schemes, harmful suggestions, misguided intentions and ruled and guided by other forces and powers.

We say Judas lacked honesty and integrity for he stole from the money box over which he had been placed. But have we not all done some things for which we are now ashamed?

We say Judas was small-minded and mean spirited, for he complained when the woman anointed the feet of Jesus with a costly bottle of perfume--but we all have to pray from time to time and ask the Lord to help us not to major in minor things; not to drown in shallow water; nor to lose our soul behind stuff that doesn't amount to anything.

Well we say he was duplicitous and deceitful. On the night of the Last Supper when the Lord tried so desperately to reach him, Judas resented correction and resisted reconciliation. He was stubborn; once he made up his mind you couldn't turn him from his course. In a moment of empathetic truth, we see so much of ourselves in Judas.

And so, for whatever reason, Judas decided to walk out on Jesus. He turned from the light, lost his way, and stumbled out into the night. What could entice a person to turn away from Christ?  Some people turn away from Jesus out of disillusionment. They thought that faith offered immediate rewards, with little sacrifice, at no cost.

Some turn away from Christ when confronted with some unexpected loss or horrific ordeal in their lives. And because they were caught off guard, they think Jesus was also caught off guard or does not care. They seem unaware of the fact that nothing takes our Saviour by surprise, and that Jesus cares for us when no one else does. In fact, he loved us before we loved him.

And then, as strange as it may seem, some people turn away from Christ because they say they want more out of life. They believe they have outgrown the faith. They believe other avenues and interests can speak to their condition better than the claims of Christ. 

John says when Judas walked out it was night. When John says it was night he is not simply calling our attention to the clock, he is calling our attention to the condition of any person's soul when they turn from Christ. When Judas, by his own choice, turned from Christ, he cast himself into the worst darkness.


Judas is me. Judas is you. We, and especially in times of great stress - where our jobs are not secure, or our relationships are strained, or sickness lies at our door as in these days - can all behave uncharacteristically selfishly for our own ends. Judas is us.

When we are Judas we need to be told another story. We need to live another narrative. Even in days of anxiety and in and through our actions and words which betray Jesus, God's glory is revealed. Now, says Jesus, in days and moments like these, are ones that sodden and heavy with the Divine Presence.

Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, treated like a brute beast in the concentration camp, wrote about his refusal to accept this definition of himself by holding onto his belief in his humanity, his memories of being loved. He withheld his consent, refused to be an object, though he was unable to change what was happening to him.

We encounter Judas today in scripture, but each day in ourselves. This journey that Jesus willingly walked towards the cross is one that darkens as each step falls until it was night. But in the midst of the deepest darkness on the cross, the light and love of God could not be extinguished raised Jesus and reshapes our present and future renames us as much loved children of God.

The name Judas is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah, which means God is praised. When we find ourselves awash with anxiety or we betray ourselves of others, or that night is setting in, the light and love of God in Christ that cannot be extinguished still shines on and in and through us transforming our hearts and lives to be places - with Judas - where God is praised.

Save Us! The Prayer Of The Heart - A Sermon For Tuesday In Holy Week

On Sunday, as we recalled Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with its palm branches and shouts of praise, I remembered that the word ‘hosannah’ does not translate as ‘hurray’ but as ‘save us!’ And all of a sudden the story that we unfold this week takes on a very contemporary edge.

We cannot help but hear this tale through our own current experience of pandemic and social isolation. Yesterday Anne helped us ponder of the wastefulness or not of panic buying; of building HS2; or using venthilators on over 70 year olds with underlying health conditions at the moment; and of Mary of Bethany use of a year’s wages to buy perfume to anoint Jesus. In her case at least - that extravagance was an act of adoration and worship of the Jesus who had transformed her life and that of her sister by raising their brother Lazarus’ to life.

The same crowd that cried out to Jesus to save them in previous days, have generated some further, perhaps more in-depth enquiries of what that saving help might mean … but from the non-Jewish Greek community. They want to see Jesus.  Is He wasting his time giving them attention, or not?

Jesus doesn’t really answer their request for an audience - and as Greeks they might have expected wise words and rhetoric from this teacher - instead, Jesus seems to speak to Andrew and Philip about the hour having come for the Son of Man to be glorified. A strange response indeed. For St John, the verb to glorify comes over 20 times in his account of Jesus life beginning with “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The verb to glorify has a complex meaning. Glory, doxa, in the New Testament is a translation of a Hebrew word - kavod - which means heavy, honour, respect. Someone who has gravitas or authority. Glory, doxa, in Greek society meant common belief or popular opinion. To see the glory of God in the Word made flesh, for John, is about experiencing something of the profound extraordinariness of God in and through Jesus.

To me, Jesus is responding to the request for an audience with Him from those Greeks by reminding them what any time listening to his teaching or seeking to live lives as he has done means. Perhaps this may be the best way of understanding what the verb “glorify” means. To listen to Jesus means to learn and learning leads to following and following Jesus points ultimately on towards the cross. To glorify God, for Jesus, is not to appease God’s anger over human sinfulness, but because a death like his can be the means for bearing much fruit. I know that Archbishop Oscar Romero found great consolation in this verse when his own life was threatened and, in fact, his words have reverberated ever more strongly since his assassination.

‘Save us!’ is the prayer on every person’s lips in these days of pandemic. It’s a cry to our healthcare professionals; to our politicians; to scientists working on a vaccine.  

Save us! Is the same taunting cry from the thief crucified alongside Jesus and from neighbours and newspaper editors - why did God inflict this disease on us and how come Jesus is not acting?

In response to the request for an audience seeking wise words and lifestyle choices, Jesus instead points towards a weightier matter; a time and place where God will be honoured and people’s requests will be answered; where popular belief and common opinion will be confronted by the profound extraordinariness of God at work in Him - on the cross.

And in days where families and communities are shattered by grief, here we see a Jesus confronted by that same weight and fear - his soul is troubled; fearful in the depths of his being; to his very core. For Jesus to answer our cries for saving help still, and especially in these days, this is a road he acknowledges he needs to go down. 

In these days of pandemic, we will each be heavy with profound and puzzling questions and faced with the reality of death; but we journey these days with Jesus who willingly chose to walk to the cross and embrace it knowing that through it a new relationship with God will be forged for all people everywhere. At the cross we will be heavy with profound and puzzling questions and have to face the reality of death head on, but there we are confronted with glory and an offer of eternal - life transformed by the love and the glory of God in the now - is made still.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

On A Pause... New Blog Active

This blog is currently on sabbatical as it were.

I am still blogging but I am reflecting at the moment about some experimenting that I am doing with silence.

You will find me at https://experimentsinsilence.blogspot.com

I hope to maybe see you there.

Blessings!

Simon



Tuesday, August 20, 2019

On Being Available

One of things expected of us, as parish clergy, is us being available to our parishioners. In the 21st century church this is increasingly difficult to achieve, but hopefully, it remains a cornerstone of the way that Anglicans minister. It is worth noting that being available is not sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring or the doorbell to be pressed. Being available is as much about making ourselves available to others.

Making ourselves available can occur in many and varied ways. For me, in recent days, this has included taking the Sacrament of Holy Communion to the housebound. This is a joy and privilege that I discovered in my Deacon's year and has remained a vitally important part of the ministry I exercise.

Earlier this week, as I walked to my car parked outside one of our church buildings to make a Home Communion visit, I encountered a family. We got talking - they were staying in the area on holiday - but that day a much-loved family member's funeral was taking place in the north of Scotland. Their pre-arranged holiday meant that they couldn't attend, and so were delighted to discover the church building open.

They had already been inside to think, to remember and to pray. They hadn't discovered where they could light a candle in the Lady Chapel - a beacon of hope, love and light in the midst of their grief and a prayer to the God of Compassion in their sorrow.

I showed them where they could do this, and they lit and candle and prayed for them and those gathered at the funeral many miles away, and for the repose of the soul of their loved one. This gentle act reduced them to tears.

They were effusive in their thanks that I had just been there and able to pray with them, and that the building was open to hold time and space.

As we parted ways they assured me that they would come back if staying in the area. In so many ways that doesn't matter. What matters is that the church was available to them; a space in which they knew they could come and be and hold their loved one in the Love of the One who loves us all.



Monday, August 19, 2019

The storyteller, faith and Emmanuel's brother: A Sermon on Hebrews 11:29-12:2

I knew someone once who is a traditional storyteller. I don’t some sort of glorified children’s entertainer. I mean someone who collects and retells the ancient stories of the people and communities and land that makes up these and other islands.


We got talking about why these stories remain important. Anyone who has heard these sorts of stories will know that they resonate deep within your soul. They meet us in a way that can surprise and delight us.  He explained that the stories connect us, deeply, with one another. He said: as I retell a story centuries old, the person who told me stands behind me (not literally) with their arm outstretched and their hand on my shoulder, and the person who old them stands behind them with their hand on their shoulder, and the person who told them stands behind them with their hand on their shoulder and so on, right back to the person that the story is about.

When I first became a Christian in a Lancashire Low Church, I was taught nothing about the Saints of God. I later deduced that the Saints were Jesus’ disciples and others who became close to Him in life or a life of prayer, worship and service. But because they were enshrined forever in stained glass windows, as people to emulate in my own journey of faith, they were unobtainable and deeply removed from my own experiences of life and faith in suburban Preston. Often the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has been quoted and taught to offer a different vision.

The letter to the Hebrews is by an unknown author but was probably written to an early church community living in Jerusalem facing persecution from their fellow Jews for following the new Way of Jesus and it almost exclusively focusses on understanding who Jesus is as Messiah and His role as mediator between God and humanity.


‘... By faith …’ And so we continue straight on from last week’s section of the epistle. By faith such and such happened to so and so. By faith such and such happened to so and so. Bearing in mind these letters in New Testament were meant to be listened to, for me at least, it feels like the writer - if they were writing today - would be channelling Martin Luther King Jr or Barak Obama or another great orator of our day. It feels like they are reaching some sort of impassioned crescendo - and indeed they are! 


We talk much of faith in the church but we often do so in one of two ways: faith is either a commodity that we are exhorted to have more of so that we might find the gap between those enshrined in stained glass windows and us is lessened. We hear Jesus - O ye of little faith… where your treasure is there your heart will be also… and in these and many other instances, faith is something that we should be seeking to accrue, saving in the heavenly bank so we can cash it in later.


Alternatively, the language of faith is used interchangeably with the language of belief and in that context, we are often then trying to defend a position of faith as being true. We have all been in conversations like this - how does your faith stack up against… insert this week's favourite knockdown offered by the ever noisier evangelical atheists around us. We are constantly being encouraged to have a confident faith - which to me sounds like being sent out armoured to the hilt with great arguments. Faith in that context is the ultimate trump card of propositional truth.


The writer of the letter to the Hebrews offers us another way. The phrase, ‘... by faith…’ comes nearly 20 times in chapter 11 and in every case the expression is used actively. By faith someone did something but this isn’t just in English. In the Greek that the letter is written in, the word for faith - pistis - is in the dative tense and is something that someone is a recipient of or an is an action done to them. In other words, faith for that very early Christian community was not something you believe to be true like some sort of equation; nor is it something that if you have enough of God will smile more favourably on you - faith is something that is done or you do; something you give and receive. Faith is something you live out.



A year ago, a motorway bridge outside Genoa collapsed plunging cars, lorries and buses to the ground killing 43 and injuring dozens. Henry Diaz was driving his brother Emmanuel to the airport to fly to Columbia to study. By the time Emmanuel reached his destination 140000 km away he heard of the bridge collapse and knew that something was wrong - his brother felt even further away. He later saw footage of his car being removed from the rubble. Henry was dead. Subsequent tests proved the bridge to have fatal flaws in it. Emmanuel has put his studies on hold to care for their mother and to attend the hearing into what happened to discover why what happened on that day happened.



The ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that the writer refers to, are the faithful saints and holy ones of faith gone before us. They are not distant and aloof, enshrined in windows or silenced in plaster busts. The early church that the author writes to was small in number and looked constantly for encouragement as they sought to live faith. Much like the traditional storyteller in a long line of story, or Emmmanuel Diaz in the courtroom in Genoa, they watch the church - the people, you and me - and they notice when faith is lived out. They rejoice when one of us prays for healing for a sick friend. They smile with joy when one of us visits someone who is bereaved. They sing for joy when one of us sings God’s praises. They cheer when one of us stands up for justice. It warms their hearts when one of us supports the needs of a lonely and isolated neighbour. They notice. They are witnesses to what we do and how we live.


What is the writer of the letter to Hebrews asking of us: Simple. Don’t just accumulate faith for some future point. Don’t just learn about faith to win an argument. Live faith. Look to Jesus. Do what He taught - love, forgive, pray for, feed, clothe, seek justice and mercy, not worrying what others think or dwelling on when we fail - live it out - make the cloud of witnesses go nuts.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Surrender our life; live His life - a sermon on Colossians 3:1-11

At a point not far from El Paso, the architect Ronald Rael has installed something beautiful. As a way of reminding people both sides of the US/Mexican border that that which unites is far greater than that which divides, several pink seesaws have been installed between the fence. He said that the event was about bringing joy and togetherness at a place that signifies division, and a reminder to all as they play, that actions on one side have a direct consequence on the other.



These seesaws are a sign of hope and unity, that the writer of the letter to the Colossians refers at the end of our Epistle this morning. It is a stirring vision - there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free, and I don’t believe that this is intended as an exhaustive list! - all of the societal, religious and cultural barriers that we continue to maintain that divide - are broken down by and in Christ.



The letter to the Colossians is written to one of the earliest Christian communities. It’s hard to date but it was probably written between 30-60 years after the resurrection.  In the section prior to what we hear this morning, the church are being reminded that if they want to have a deep and life-transforming faith, they need to continue to remain rooted in Christ. For a plant to grow it needs to put its roots down into good well-watered soil, so too for the Colossian church.  The writer reminds them that by following Christ they have been freed from whatever they believed, or however they behaved, before hearing of the Way of Jesus the Carpenter and seeking to live that out. So because they are free - they shouldn’t feel compelled by other teachers to be bound again by other rules and regulations in regard to their new faith. In other words - the writer of the letter doesn’t want them to slip back into an expression of faith that says ‘if I do this or that, or avoid  this or that, I will please God.’ The writer says ‘NO!’ - they have been living the new life Christ promised already - focus on that.



‘... So if you have been raised with Christ… [s]et your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…’



The remarkable sculpture, the Knife Angel, has been touring the UK since 2018. The 27 foot tall sculpture made with over 100,000 knives is an artistic response to the ‘surrender a knife; save a life’ campaign run by the police in 2014. The angel looms large reminding us that the status quo regarding knife crime and violence in our communities must not continue and something new must be forged.


The writer of the letter to the Colossians, contrary to what the opening verses sound like they are saying, is encouraging the church to continue to live in the now, the new life forged for us all by Christ. They are not asking their hearers to step out of the world and focus their endeavours on things that are above or otherworldly, thus ignoring life around us. Rather as Christians, as we live Jesus’ life in us and look to Him as our raised and ascended Lord, so we should allow the life and values forged from ‘above’, of heaven, to permeate our daily living. In other words - we need to continue to allow the teaching of Jesus risen and ascended to guide us. Living this way should mean that the way we act and react should be transformed.



Thus, the things that should be put to death (on the cross of Christ) and got rid of are actions and individual character traits that will ultimately harm us and those around us. They are listed by the writer as examples of what someone who’s eyes are not focussed on Christ, who’s life is not being oriented His way, might do or think. But if we don’t read this passage through the lenses of the Old Testament we might miss the hint that this renewal, that we who seek to follow Christ are invited to consciously put on like a coat, renews us in the relationship that God wanted to have with people as told in story form in the book of Genesis. Similarly if we don’t read this passage through the lens of empire and nation-building we might miss the hint that the renewed relationship that we called into in Christ doesn’t so much do away with our cultural, religious and ethnic differences, but that all are welcomed into that relationship, no one is excluded, and Christ Himself as we look to Him, fills all of us with the life of heaven.

Like the Colossian church, if we are seeking to live as our risen and ascended Lord has shown us, what actions and thoughts should characterise us individually and corporately? The writer of the letter is suggesting that in the same way that the clothes we chose to wear to church this morning were carefully chosen because we like the colour/fabric/the fit/the way they look/the ways they make us feel/or even say something about us - so, as we continue to put on the renewed life of Christ - our inner thoughts and outward actions should point to the One whose love is transforming our hearts. 


We can consciously put on that renewed life by rooting ourselves in His life and I'd like to suggest 3 ways:

Firstly, I’d like to encourage each of you to take time each day to read a little scripture. Remind yourself of the story of Christ in the Gospel. Start with Mark’s account - it’s short and has less tricky theology. Read a portion each day. Ponder it. Try to live what Jesus teaches.


Secondly, pray. Prayer places us intentionally in God’s presence. Many of us find prayer difficult, so keep the prayer simple - the Lord’s Prayer is a good place to start. Say it every day.


Thirdly, come to church, not to the building but come and be part of the community who are trying to do and live this - come and encourage one another - and be renewed by the One who loves us as we meet Him veiled in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.



Our lives should visibly reveal Jesus renewing us; breaking down the barriers that we maintain between us. Not so much ‘surrender a knife; save a life’ but ‘surrender our life; live His life.’