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Sermon 'Out of your boat' 9/8'20

The theme for this morning from the gospel of Matthew is having the faith to walk over water. Walking over water is not possible, although there appear to be some exceptions.

Two monks, having a day of, go fishing. Being at the side of the pond, having made their fishing-tackle ready, they lower their line and float in the water. They put their fishing-rods in a holder, and begin to watch their float. When one of the monks sees his float going under, he doesn’t take his rod out of the holder, but walks over the water and pulls the fishing-line out of the water. 

Another fisher-man opposite the two monks, can’t believe his eyes. He looks with amazement how the monk walks over the water to lift up the float and fishing hook. 

Then the other monk has a bite, and even so he walks over the water and takes up his fishing line. The man opposite them doesn’t know what to believe anymore, but when he sees his own float go under, he says to himself; If they can walk over the water, why can’t I? So, he raises up from his seat and boldly puts his first step on the water.  As you can imagine, with a big splash he immediately goes down under. 

Then the one monk says to the other; You see, my dear brother, he’s got the faith, unfortunately he doesn’t know where the stepping stones are.

Having the faith, but not knowing where the stepping stones are, is certainly not unfamiliar for the churches today in the midst of a pandemic with many churches under lock down. Even before the lock-down officially begun, the Church closed all its buildings and forbade anyone to enter the church for the fear of the Covid-19 virus. 

And here we are today, puzzling about how and where to organise our services. And in order to continue with services, churches embraced the internet to video or live-stream services as we do. And for a venue any place will do, like we saw with our own archbishop holding the Easter service from behind his kitchen sink. 

We don’t know what the future holds for our services and we don’t know when we can come back to normal. We don’t know what the new normal will  and we don’t know how many will have turned their back to the church. After all a church controlled by fear will not be able to guide others who are fearful or have lost the plot somewhere along the line, like the church has. 

Is there a better example of not knowing where the stepping stones are? The stepping stones of how to walk on the rough waters of society in the grip of a minuscule virus they can’t control.  

In the middle of a world looking for answers, with strong winds blowing against any form of Christian doctrinal teaching, what should be the voice of the Church? Instead, the world now listens to the scientists and it has turned itself into a chaos of enormous economic proportions and uncertainly about jobs and futures.

The church unfortunately has already lost its power to work miracles a long time ago. It was Augustine it the 5th century who told the anecdote about one of the early Church-fathers. He was shown all the riches of the Vatican and the pope said to him: We don’t have to say anymore; silver and gold we don’t have as Peter said to the lame man in the porch. On which the reply followed: True, but neither can you say any longer; take up your mattress and walk.

Having lost the possibility to work miracles a long time ago, it seems it now also has lost the ability to find the stepping stones. It has lost its way of walking on the waters of turmoil and tribulation and how to guide others through problems and difficulties. It has neglected to stand on Jesus Christ the Rock and to witness to the world of the risen Christ. 

When the Church doesn’t stand firm on this fundament of the risen Christ, it has lost the way and has no understanding of what to do next or knowing where to go to. Already Confucius (600 years BC) said that if you don’t know what road to take you will end nowhere.

The 2 monks in our anecdote at least knew where the stepping stones were and when Peter got out of his boat he had Jesus as his stepping stone on His side. 

Everything which now happens with the church is like being in a storm, with the winds against. The same type of weather the disciples were facing while being in their fishing boat. And we are now in the same boat, threatened by the storm and winds against us, bereaved by the loss of the many church communities. 

In circumstances like these we could also easily loose sight on the real Jesus Christ. We then ask ourselves whether we have the real Christ on our side, or just an image of Him.  In such times, we should remember the promises of God we have received through Him that God will never leave or forsake us. It, it are in these moments we hear Christ speaking to us: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

Jesus doesn’t ask from us a great faith in difficult circumstances, but to take heart and stop doubting or fearing. In all such circumstances Jesus says; take heart here am I, to take away your doubts and fears.

When we look to our churches we can’t oversee all the questions and difficult circumstances it is facing. But it are in these moment of uncertainty that Jesus also speaks to us to keep our faith in Him: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

When Peter get out of his boat, it was not because he was a hero of faith, but perhaps only because he wanted to test whether he saw a ghost or the real Christ. Peter resembles us all with his fear and his doubts, but do we dare to test our faith as Peter did by trusting in the Lordship of Jesus Christ? 

If we only focus on the circumstances we will all go under like Peter did, but the voice of Christ then also speaks to us:  Take heart it is I, have no fear! 

Having faith is not a remarkable achievement of a remarkable person in difficult circumstances. Real faith is relying on the God Who stretches His saving hands out to you and me through Christ.

With Christ we can walk over the raging waters and against the storm, if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Hans

Lammastide - the beginning of harvest

Last week, at the very end of July, Anna and I walked up to Foscote and across the fields, when we saw a combine harvester at work, starting to bring in the first of the wheat harvest. Talking with parishioners at the St Edmund’s coffee morning, held outside the church yesterday, I was asked “What was that, a red Massey Ferguson?”

I answered that I supposed that it was – and then was told just which farmer it was who would have been at work. It was a reminder to me of just how close we are, living here, to the farming life – a reminder made sharper by the conversation that followed, about the width of cut that different machines offer (from 18 feet to 40 feet) and their comparative advantages and drawbacks!  

My mother was a farmer’s daughter from Norfolk; and as research for a book that I am writing, I have been reading about how the harvest was brought in during the first half of the 19th century. An 1843 description of harvest in Norfolk describes the activities and methods: “Thirty-four men mow the wheat and in order to lay it evenly, their scythes are fitted with cradles made of iron rods. These men are each followed by two women and a boy or girl to gather up the corn into small sheaves. Eight teamsmen ..... follow to shock up the sheaves, of which they place ten in a shock, or stook ... 300 acres of wheat is cut in six days. Carting takes a further eight. Eighteen to 20 days are needed to complete the harvest.

How times have changed!

But what has not changed is the importance of the harvest, however close or remote we are to it. Bread is for most of us still a daily essential; and the importance of the flour from which it is made was reinforced at the start of the recent pandemic, when the shelves were cleared of it.

As such, it is an opportune time to remember the ancient English Christian custom of baking a first loaf of bread from the flour of the first harvest and then bringing it to church to have it blessed. In early Christian times this custom came to be fixed for celebration on August 1st – last weekend – a day that was called “Lammas”, formed from the phrase “loaf mass”, when prayers were offered for a successful harvest. I remember some years ago attending a Lammas service in another rural church, where an elaborate loaf baked in the form of a sheaf was placed upon the altar – and how strangely moving that service was: connecting us with the faith of all who had worshipped in that place over so many centuries.

So early August is Lammas-tide, a time to focus on bread and our dependence on the fruits of the harvest. Blessing a loaf of bread in church may sound a bit odd to some. But it’s interesting to note that in some Christian traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox church, prayer books also include prayers to bless not just bread but for digging wells, for salt, for sowing seed, for barns, for herds and enclosures for cattle, bees, beehives, honey, planting vineyards, stocking fishponds – and much more.

What’s interesting to note about all these blessings is not so much their specialness, but rather their very ordinariness. Many of them have to do with a farm life that most of us never touch directly, but the produce of that farm life is relevant to us all, in the foodstuffs upon which we all depend. Even the most meagre of diets—bread and water—includes bread. Bread goes to the very heart of human life.

It is therefore no coincidence that when Christ broke bread at the first  Eucharist, and instructed us to “do this in memory of me” he chose to do it through something so universal, made with the hands and the knowledge of a baker, and at the same time, the fruit of God’s creation.

We recall Jesus’ teaching after the feeding of the five thousand, where he describes himself as the Bread of Life – the one who provides everything we need in life: the answer to our prayer “Give us this day our daily bread”. Just as the bread distributed to the five thousand was sufficient for all bodily needs, so the life of Jesus in us has the potential – if we seek it – to fulfil our inner needs, our thirst for love and grace, for belonging and significance.

At Lammastide, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God as a response to his provision. 'All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.' So may we reflect, even at this difficult time, on how by God's grace the seed will continue to grow, the dough will rise, and that the fields around us will yield a rich harvest. And may we remember also to be thankful in everything we do: recognising that the first claim on all that we have is God's, because He is the provider of all things.

Sermon Romans 8

Reading from Romans 8 is a well known part of the Bible. Nothing can separate us from the love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. 

It's rather easy to make a sermon on the subject of God’s love of from our reading, because there are numerous sermons on this subject floating on the internet. Tweak it a little here and a little there and no one will ever notice.

But I was taken by what it says in our reading in : 33; Christ Jesus, Who died, yes Who was raised from the dead. 

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was writing primarily to non-Jewish people. The church in Rome was not founded by Paul, but he was eager to write them a letter of support. Paul also wanted to visit them, but because he didn’t established the church in Rome we was careful not to trespass on someone else’s missionary work. For this reason Paul says in his letter to visit them in passing. 

In this letter to the Romans Paul explains the fundamentals of the Christian faith. In the first sentence of his letter, he is calling himself an apostle and servant of Christ. Already in the next sentence he describes the gospel as concerning about Jesus Christ, which he said is ‘designated the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead’. 

So, from the very beginning, even before explaining any of the fundamental principles of the Gospel, Paul emphasises the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without His resurrection, Jesus Christ would never have been the designated Son of God. 

It’s not the first time we see Paul explicitly taking the resurrection of Christ as the driving force for the proclamation of the gospel. 

When Paul was in Athens he walked through the city and as it says in chapter 17, he was provoked by the many idols placed in the city. And when he was Athens he preached in the synagogues and evangelised on the market places. Paul used one of the idols he saw named ‘to an unknown god’ as a starting point for his mission. When more people became aware of his mission they said to each other; where is he talking about. And the answer they came up with was; he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities, because he preaches Jesus and the resurrection.

So, whenever he was in Rome, the capital and symbol of the Roman Empire, or in Athens, the symbol of the Greek Empire, Paul had one message; Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that’s the gospel.

In this day and age however, the emphasis seems to have changed from the resurrection to the love of God. The love of God has become the main theme and we can find it as the basis for much of the church’s new mission. With the love of God comes the church’s call to spread this love of God to the world and to the society in which it stands. God is love and so now is the church. 

But, the famous words of Richard Niebuhr from his book Christ and Culture published in 1955 are still very true today: ‘A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross’. When the love of God is not firmly rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to reconcile us again with God, it becomes a human phrase. The church has then become like one of the many social institutions fighting for social justice and equality. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the calling of the church.

The church is called to preach and established on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the proof, the evidence, the vindication of the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Trusting in the love of God begins with believing in the resurrection of Jesus Chrtist. 

Hans

Rector's Magazine letter Summer 2020

It could very well become a hot summer; perhaps not only literally speaking, but figuratively as well. Whereas in the past people use the summer to go on holiday, it now seems to have become a time to go out demonstrating ending in rioting.

A quick look into rioting shows a mass of articles in newspapers about the correlation between rioting and frustrations.

As its seems the words of Martin Luther King are becoming true again: If it’s true that ’a riot is the language of the unheard’, then a lot of people around the world are becoming fluent in that particular dialect.

It is undeniable that a lot of frustration, annoyance and agitation stands at the basis for the mass outbreak of riots worldwide.

But, in all these rioting and expressions of frustrations to try to create a different world, the words of the prophet Isaiah spring to mind.

 

In Isiah 42:1-3 it reads: Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;I have put my spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

What is prophesied by Isaiah stands in contrast to the outcry of many on the streets, often turning into violence at the end. Those on the street uttering their frustration hope to make an everlasting change by going demonstrate and make their voices heard.

Unfortunately, even if changes occur because of such actions, they do not last forever. History teaches us that before we know it, we’re back into a situation of what is felt to be wrong, leading again into frustrations and feelings of hurt. History simply repeats itself and it appears impossible to escape from this merry go round. 

On the other hand, what Jesus begun has captured the world and more than anything else it has been everlasting as it has become the basis of our society in which care and support for each other are so important. Jesus never started a riot or asked those believe in Him to go onto the streets and to fight for their voices to be heard.

 

Jesus asks us to break any oppression or what is wrong not by violence, but by walking the other mile, or turning the other cheek, as the Gospel tells us in Matthew 5.

This doesn’t mean to become a ‘walkover’ or ‘pushover softy’, but to understand that there are other means to let peaceful voices be heard. In walking the other mile and turning the other cheek, Jesus refers to the first mile and the first slap as the symbols of oppression, but how that can be broken.

The first slap on the face forces the authority of the oppressor over the oppressed, but that authority is broken by turning the other cheek. Even so, when Jesus spoke these words, any Roman citizen could force a non-Roman to carry a load for a mile. With going the second mile, the rights of the oppressor are broken, because the second mile is the mile walked in freedom.

What will be done in Christ’s name will have an everlasting effect on our friends, neighbours and society as a whole. Much more that trying to overturn the world around us by demonstrating or even rioting. Jesus has not fulfilled His ministry by using force, but as it is proven the forces of God are stronger than any force of the world. Jesus Christ’s ministry is an everlasting ministry, because it based on God’s call to be reconciled to Him and to one another. 

 

In knowing that God has reconciled Himself first to us through Christ, may we take our part in proclaiming and living a message of hope, peace and reconciliation even in disturbing times.

 

 

Hans

Matthew 10: 26-32

I read this passage in Matthew whilst thinking about Father's Day, and the love of our Heavenly Father:

At this point in Matthews Gospel Jesus send his disciples out to heal and proclaim that "the kingdom of heaven has come near", God Himself had come to earth and was living among us.

Jesus tells his disciples that proclaiming the good news may not be easy; people may not understand and some will reject them. So, Jesus gives his disciples words of encouragement and reminds them to see God's bigger picture.

3 times Jesus tells them not to be afraid. In vs 26 he says that nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed - God's truth will triumph. Even though not everyone knows Gods message of love now and many reject it, there will be a time when everyone knows it. God is ultimately in control and his love will triumph.

In vs 27 Jesus says "what I tell you in the dark, speak in the light" - as Christians we are in relationship with God and we pray to him. Prayer involves both speaking and listening. Here Jesus is saying that what we learn in the quiet of our own hearts we should share with others - Gods love is not a secret and we should share it. Sometimes this can take courage and Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, reminding them of Gods big picture of eternal love and glory.

Then Jesus gives 2 wonderful illustrations of Gods care and love for us:

Firstly, though 2 sparrows are sold for a penny, God knows when any sparrow falls to the ground. The greek for 'falls' here doesnt mean 'dies' but when a  bird flies down to hop on the ground. This is a lovely illustration of God's knowledge and involvement in his creation; think how much then God cares for us.

Secondly, Jesus says that God has counted the hairs on our head - God knows us in that detail! And how does that make us feel? precious, valued, cared for, he loves us with the unconditional love of a parent.

Finally, Jesus says that whoever acknowledges him, He will acknowledge before God. This is a promise that Jesus is our loyal and true friend, which gives us courage to proclaim his gospel message that the kingdom of heaven is near: for if we accept Jesus' gift to us of his death and resurrection, and follow him we enter the Kingdom of God NOW. I live in the world and I also live in the Kingdom of God which lasts into heaven and eternity - a kingdom of love.  Cathy 

Reflection on Jesus call to ministry - Mathew 9 vs 35 to 10 vs 8

 

 

Our Gospel this morning is from Matthew,  Chapter 9 verse 35 to Chapter 10 verse 8

 

The Workers Are Few

 

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 

 

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

 

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 

 

38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

 

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

 

10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

 

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 

 

Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 

 

Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

 

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 

 

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel! 

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 

 

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

This is the Gospel of the Lord

 

Good morning. The intention was to record in Akeley Churchyard, but the wind was such we have had to move back to Maids Moreton

 

Let us first pray

 

Lord we thank you for bringing us together to worship you this morning.

 

Help us to listen and to learn from your word and to be encouraged by it to face with confidence the challenges that still lie before us.

 

Although physically apart, bring us ever closer into your family

 

In Jesus name we pray.

 

Amen 

 

As I was assembling my ideas for today I naturally thought about Covid 19. We have given a fancy name to it — a pandemic — but in earlier times we would have called it a plague. 

 

A plague can be defined as an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : 

 

They can affect humans, animals or plant life.

 

Plagues are nothing new, but one difference is that now the we have it placed before us by the media all the time. Mostly from a negative point of view. 

 

How are you coping with Covid 19? It is hard isn’t it?

Separated from family and friends.

Young people not knowing how their educational opportunities will pan out or if they will find employment.

Vast numbers of people potentially out of work.

Parents anxious about there prospects, and how they will support their families 

Will things like sport, entertainment, restaurants, pubs, cafes, ever be the same. Can we go on holiday again?  When can we meet collectively in our churches again?

 

The list of negatives is endless.

 

But so are the positives but we only tend to find those in the bottom corner of an inside page in the newspaper.

 

Traffic and thus pollution greatly reduced

Time to stop and enjoy nature

Parents able to spend time with their kids!

Being able to step out of the rat race

The quiet

Time to reflect on what is really important in our lives.

 

One of the best things that has happened is that so many more people are helping others.Some doing big things but most showing little acts of human kindness to someone else. Do you notice how many more people acknowledge you as you pass. Showing the need for human contact!

 

Even as christians many of us have got out of the habit of such acts, being too self centred, too concerned about our own lives, and rather less about the charge that Jesus Christ has given us.

 

And so todays readings are a timely reminder 

 

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 

 

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

We may not have the medical skills to heal the medical condition, Covid 19, but I foresee the greater medium to long term need being for the mental health of those around us. There we can help by our contact, by giving our time to listening to and reassuring people.

 

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

 

This Gospel  passage describes a pivotal moment in Jesus ministry. Up until now,Mathew’s Gospel has all been about Jesus’ personal ministry. Jesus had been traveling all throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Not only that, he’d been healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and raising the dead back to life.

 

Can you imagine what it would have been like to see this? It would have been extraordinary. 

 

But as we move into In Matthew chapter 10:1 we read, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” 

 

We are right at the moment when Jesus makes the switch from preaching and teaching and healing himself, to commissioning his disciples to go out to preach and teach and heal. 

This is the moment when Jesus commissions his followers to do what he’s doing. So what does this tell us? It tells us that whatever happens, if we claim to be a follower of Jesus then we are charged with exercising the same type of ministry that Jesus had. 

 

We read in verse 36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” 

 

The compassion of Jesus is a theme that keeps coming up in the book of Matthew.

because Compassion is at the heart of Jesus.

 

You could think that the reason for that compassion would be because of the sicknesses that he’s encountered everywhere he goes.That is certainly worth his compassion. 

 

But what moves Jesus here isn’t the physical illnesses that he’s encountered. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” 

 

What moved Jesus was the great spiritual need of the people. Their lives had no centre, their existence seemed aimless, and their whole experience was one of futility. How many of us, if we are honest have experienced such moments in our Covid lockdown?

 

If we are to serve like Jesus served, we must have a heart that is like the heart of Jesus. This means that we must have compassion for those we encounter who have not yet found the great Shepherd Jesus Christ. It means that we look around us and see people the way Jesus does, and feel compassion for them the way that he does.

 

As we read this passage today, we, like the disciples,  are given something to believe and then something to do.

 

First, we’re given something to believe. Jesus says in verse 37, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” 

 

He tells us is that the harvest is ready. People are ready to receive the good news of the kingdom. The problem isn’t that people are unready to receive the good news; the problem is that we aren’t ready to tell them. 

 

One of our greatest challenges as Christians is that we can believe  that people aren’t interested, that it’s a waste of time to tell them. Jesus tells us that is not right.They are ready to hear. This is what he tells us to believe. Do you believe it?

 

Then he gives us something to do about it. 

 

You would expect Jesus to say, “ Get out there and tell them!” But that’s not what he says. Surprisingly, he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus tells us to pray first instead of doing something? 

 

In the very next chapter, remember, he’s going to instruct his twelve disciples, and then send them out to preach and teach and do the things that he’s done. 

 

But he knows that before any can have the ministry that he has, they must have the same prayerful reliance on the Father that he does. Before we can have the compassion of Jesus, we must have the connection with the Father that Jesus has.

 

It’s one thing for us to go and do. It’s another thing altogether to plead with God that he would raise up people — either through conversion or growth — who are ready to go; to pray that God would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and give them wisdom and success.

 

When I think of the cross and I see the Shepherd willingly lay down his life for me so that I could become one of his sheep I know the least I can do is pray for others.

 

And when we start to believe that the harvest is plentiful and pray that he would send out workers, you never know if we may become the answer to our own prayers — that we could be the workers commissioned by the Lord of the harvest himself. 

 

What an inspiring thought!

 

Let us pray!

 

Lord, your harvest is your love;

A love sown in the hearts of all people;

Love that spreads out like the branches of a great tree covering all who seek its shelter;

Love that inspires and that recreates;

Love that is planted in the weak and the weary, the sick and the dying and those who spend their life in fear.

 

The harvest of your love is the life that reaches  to the sunlight of resurrection through the weeds of sin and death.

 

Lord, nurture our days with your love, water our souls with the dew of forgiveness, that the harvest of our lives may be your joy.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity Sunday - the beginning of Summer

trinity-sunday-846x444

It was on the Sunday after Whit Sunday (Pentecost) in the year 1162, that Thomas Becket was consecrated as perhaps the most famous Archbishop of Canterbury. It was he who subsequently decreed that the day of his consecration should be instituted as a new festival, in honour of the Holy Trinity. This feast became so important that the Anglican church has always named the long season of summer Sundays – right through until Advent, in fact – as “Sundays After Trinity”: an observance that spread from Canterbury throughout the whole of the Christian world.

Interestingly, this is the one festival in the Christian year that does not relate to particular events. Other festivals – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost – all of these relate to specific events in Christ’s life on earth. But Trinity Sunday is different. It refers instead to the faith that we profess, of a God who is the three-in-one creator, redeemer and sustainer.

For many Christians, however, Trinity Sunday is an annual reminder of the difficulty of our faith. How can three be one? But of course, when we are dealing with faith, we are always dealing with something more than we can fully grasp or define.

The early Christian Church, however, felt that definition had to be attempted. And so evolved what has been called Christianity’s ‘new mathematics’, whereby 1 + 1 + 1 = 1: one God, ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ – which we have heard in today’s gospel reading from Matthew – the so-called ‘Great Commission’: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This can be a very difficult concept to take in. And so we do one of two things: either we fall back on saying “it’s a mystery” or we attempt to define our faith in complex creeds – and whichever route we take, we are left open to criticism. It can be hard to find a way through. So as always, let’s look at what the Bible tells us. The Gospel of John is especially rich in Trinitarian language. In John 1: 29-36 we read how John the Baptist gave this testimony:

“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

In this one passage, the writer speaks of the Father (“the one who sent me”) the Spirit and the Son. Then, in John Chapter 14, Jesus tells his disciples: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26). Finally, in John 16:13 we read:

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

At Pentecost, we heard about what Jesus told his disciples: that when he was gone, the Father would send this mysterious spirit that in Greek is called Parakletos, the advocate. We have to remember that the disciples, most of whom were destined to be dragged before the courts to explain their rebellious faith, would need all the help they could get when this happened. But this is not an educated lawyer that Jesus is talking about, when he says ‘advocate’: he is talking about the Holy Spirit.

So perhaps we can begin to see how the post-Pentecostal experience of the early Church eventually led to the formal doctrine of the Trinity. At this point, I’d like to quote, as I have done before, from a sermon given by Rowan Williams on Trinity Sunday back in 2009. In it, I think, he explains very powerfully how it was that the early church came to this understanding:

“…when the disciples have stood alongside Jesus, and then failed to stand alongside him at his crucifixion, but then were recalled to stand alongside him again in his resurrection, then the risen Lord says, 'Go and do the same'. ‘Go, baptise, go and draw people into the mystery of the threefold love. Go and draw people to stand in my place and pray with my prayer and breathe with my spirit.’ And they do.

And out of that, comes the teaching. Out of that experience … comes the doctrine. Because if you try long enough to stand in that place where Jesus is … sooner or later you'll begin to search for the words that might begin, just a little, to do justice to this mystery – and you will understand that you stand with the Son, crying out to the Father, borne up by the Holy Spirit. And bit by bit, the Church of God learns that language and begins to teach that doctrine.”

I think that Rowan Williams helps us here to understand how it was that the Church came to the conclusion that there is an inseparable link between God the Father, the creator-judge; Christ the redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, who gave the first Christians the power at Pentecost to take their faith out into the world.

This Holy Spirit is described by Paul (in Galatians Chapter 5) not in terms of fire and wind and speaking in tongues, but in terms of the “Fruit of the Spirit”: “Love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Whenever we seek meaning in our lives, a search for sense and grace, these are the qualities – the gifts of the Spirit – that help us to become more fully human. And when we fall short of our human potential, as we surely will - but still receive forgiveness and a renewed determination to live a more purposeful life; it is then we have an experience of salvation.

Creation, revelation, salvation: a powerful example of the Trinity made real.

So on this Trinity Sunday, let us pray:

Lord, we pray that day by day we might, little by little, become more Christ-like people:

People who praise God the Father, the creator, who gave us bodies to live in this created world;

People who praise God the Son, who through his incarnation, his life, teaching and suffering, brought us salvation;

People who praise God the Spirit, who leads us beyond this world – and into eternal life.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

June letter

The festivals on the church calendar have become quiet and events like Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost have silently passed by, in the sense that our churches have remained empty.

In the month of June, the first Trinity Sunday appears on the calendar. This marks the beginning of the longest period of the church calendar, with about 20 more Trinity Sundays, before ending with the Advent Sundays, in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The Trinity is a theology that developed over time and is not part of the beginnings of Christianity. It began in answer to questions that evolved over time and caused divisions and heated debates between different parties with different viewpoints.

It’s surprising to see the Church spending much of its time and energy on a subject they don’t understand and which has led to many controversies over the centuries. Perhaps it was to make a final statement to exclude further discussion. Whether all the infighting was ever worth it, is difficult to answer and the tide can’t be turned back anyway.

The earliest Creed, which probably can be found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2:5-11, doesn't mention the Trinity. It tells only Jesus Christ being found in the image of God humbling Himself and not taking His position as loot. Because of this, God exalted Him to be Lord (i.e. Saviour) of all.

When Luther (around the 15th Century) was asked to explain the Trinity from out of his Reformed theology, he described it as a stone thrown into a pond but all that is left to be seen are the ripples in the water.

It appears we’re living in a similar time period in which we experience the ripples of what we might call a bombshell dropped in the midst of our society. The ripples are still continuing and no one has a clue when the effects of this bombshell will come to an end.

Like with a theology of the Trinity, many experts are divided about how to interpret the signs and each country adopts its own ideas and policies based on what their own experts tell them do. Again as with the Trinity, the experts themselves don’t know for sure and make suggestions on how to interpret their data and insights into a matter they cannot fully grasp.

Above all our disputes and uncertainties, remains the desire for an unmoveable truth. Many had found this truth in what the sciences reveal, but this truth seems not to be as unmovable as it once did. Above all the questions humanity is faced with, we have never stopped questioning how to look for God and how God stands in relation to the world and the human beings in it.

At this times like this, this question has become even more apparent and people start to look for answers. As a church we can only point to the central message of the first creed about Jesus Christ as God’s chosen Instrument to be reconciled to Him and make sense of the world even when questions remain.

It is not the Trinity that brings us closer to God, but Christ alone and I hope that during the Trinity Sundays, the church and each one of us will not forget the core of the Christian message.

Hans

Pentecost John 20: 19 - 23

In our reading from John's gospel, Jesus stands up at the Jewish festival of Tabernacles. This is a festival of thanksgiving for God's provision, similar to our harvest festival, but also reminding the Jews of their history of the Exodus out of Egypt and slavery and their journey through the wilderness.

When I was in the Holy Land in October 1992, the festival of Tabernacles was being celebrated, many of the Jewish households built a makeshift shelter made from palm and other tree branches. Then the family would live in these shelters for the legth of the festival, to remind them of their nomadic history, whilst praising and thanking God for his guiding and provision then and now.

On the last day of this festival, we read, Jesus stood up and addressed the Jews, telling them that, "yes," God has been good to you in the past, but now God is doing a new thing through me, Jesus." Anyone who is thirsty," in other words, has needs,worries, concerns, etc, "come to me, believe in me and I will give you the Holy Spirit, We remember what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples, It broke their fear and gave them confidence to speak out the wonders of God. Everyone listening heard and understood what was being said, even though there were people from many different nations.

Jesus likens the result of the giving of the Holy Spirit to streams of living water. If you think of streams of fast running water particularly in mountainous areas, the water falls are very powerful, the streams are pure, clean, clear water. Jesus says: "this is what will flow from us when we receive the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a particularly dramatic and powerful way on that day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is still around and available, with power but also a gentle, comforter and guide, now.

Just recently Lovell has had fibre optic wire laid round the whole village even to the out lying farms, to bring super-fast broadband and although it's been laid sometime ago, it's useless, due to the pandemic, until each household is connected to the fibre in the ground. This is similar to the Holy Spirit, it's available and ready especially since Jesus left the earth, but each person has to believe in Jesus and come to Him with their needs, worries and concerns, as well as their joys and thanks and we will receive the Holy Spirit. It may be in a powerful, dramatic way or it may be in a gentle, comforting or guiding way, alaying our fears, purifying, cooling refreshing us, giving us confidence to do right things and to speak to others about God. We may not feel confident but just do it and see how the Holy Spirit helps us and them.

 

Caring

In our Parish we video a service for every Sunday at one of our 5 churches. Without the enthusiasm, support and contributions of so many these services would never have been produced.

We see a the same so often in our own society and probably everywhere else in this world, so much is done by groups of dedicated volunteers what is often not noticed. And even worse, is sometimes not even appreciated, but only receives negative criticism.

Every Thursday night we single out many of our carers, but we should not forget so many others who keep our society going by their continuing support for each other.

Without all those people serving behind the scene our society would not exist as it is. 

The Bible readings from last Sunday’s service on Acts 1 is often seen of being the origin of the church in Jerusalem. A community wherein people shared the same faith and congregated together. But, was this church as shown to us in Acts in reality the church as God intended it to be? If so, why then disappeared this Church after about 35 years? Already during the writing of the New Testament many other churches appeared and as it seems, none of them followed the example of the Jerusalem church.  

Wherever the church people gather into a close knit community sharing everything and turning into a secluded group of like-minded people, God seem to demolish those ideals.

God doesn’t want His people to be a select or elect group of people who have escaped the world, but instead He wants His Church to be in the middle of the world.  Serving the mission of the Gospel and caring for the people of the community wherein it stands. This is what the history of the Church has shown us; it is thriving where it is focussed on its calling to proclaim the message of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus and where it cares for its community.

What care actually means is difficult to transcribe or explain. The root of the original Greek word is nearly identical to our word for melody. We often hear from people how music, or a particular song or melody, moves their heart. And perhaps that is the reason why the Greek word for care relates to what moves the heart.

The care the Bible speaks about is not caring in the sense of performing a duty or doing your job, but because the heart is moved to do something for somebody else.

The Bible is asking us to do this, because God did is first for us. By sending Christ Jesus into the world God showed His ultimate love and care for us. Jesus did not came into this world because it was duty or His job, but because He kept us at His heart. Christ was moved by love and care for us.  It is for this reason, Jesus didn’t call the disciples His servants, but His friends.

It is by putting our trust in Jesus Christ and into His ministry to reconcile us with God, which overflows in caring with our heart for others as much as God cares for us.

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