Tag Archives: Sermon

Sermon – First in a long time

I was asked to consider putting this online 2 years ago when I wrote it, but it’s been used for assessment in the meantime.  As it made a reappearance this morning, I thought I’d stick it online now.

To accompany: 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Colosians 3:12 – 17 and Luke 2: 41 – 52

Dear God, Mary here. Nearly 13 years ago you sent your messenger to me to tell me that I was to bear your child. Your Son, Jesus… you know… Son of God, Messiah, Prince of Peace. So why is he being such a pain today then? You could at least have given me a break when it came to bringing him up? Could you not have made it a little easier? He’s just like all the other kids, noisy, tearful, delicate, wilful, precocious, adorable but insufferable and now this! I can’t take it any more. Why did you pick me? I can’t do this! Your loving servant, well I try.

Hmm… maybe that’s not the best prayer for the day but it kind of sums up how I feel. I’m exhausted, stressed and drained. Why, oh why, has my son inflicted this on me? We come down to Jerusalem for Passover as we have more years than not. He knows the routine, we get here, celebrate the festival with friends and family, then all go home as part of the group. Anyway, the dear child decides that this year it’s not right for him. No! He just stays behind! Not a word to me or to Joseph about it.

Anyway, we got moving, went for a day, set up camp for the night and realised we hadn’t seen him all day. Do you realise how scary and embarrassing it is to lose your son? Why had it taken me so long to realise he was missing? How I had let him down as a mother, why didn’t he tell me? Where was he? What had happened? Was he okay? What was going on? I was so scared – I can’t think of a time I’ve been more worried. Even the thought of motherhood, outside marriage if necessary, being shunned by the family, being exiled in Egypt – they were nothing to having lost my son. Joseph was beside himself too.

It was three days ago when we realised that. It’s such a relief to have him back but it did take so, so long. Jesus was sat in the Temple! He was talking with the teachers – the boy has some nerve. Most of the kids I know wouldn’t dare approach the teachers, but then Jesus always has been a bit special.

It seems only a few days ago that we had trekked to Bethlehem for the census and he had been born. Oh, that was an interesting time. The hassle for a room then giving birth, then the shepherds visiting. I was so tired but it was such a joy to see his little face. Bringing the boy up has been a challenge though. It’s strange to think I was hardly older than he is now – he still seems so young but I was only a couple of years older when I became his mum. Anyway, I’ll go all dewy eyed if I’m not careful.

But I never did feel ready – learning how to be a mother was difficult enough before the wise men popped by. It was really lovely to have them visit, and the reverence they treated our son with was amazing. They did bring bad news to though – and we had to leave home again. We went into exile with a toddler, he was learning to walk and talk while we were learning to live in another land.

Eventually we returned to Nazareth, and it was really nice to get home but was very difficult too. Our families had calmed down a bit – they’d not taken it too well when they discovered I was pregnant with Jesus, but after our exile they realised how important it was to put that behind them. Many of us had heard about all the other boys his age had being killed in Bethlehem– and the family realised how special it was to have him. It was hard on our friends though. We weren’t the only ones to have friends and family hailing from that area. Many of them had lost nephews or friend’s children and they all responded differently to our return. Some were sad or angry because he was a living reminder of the loss those close to them had suffered. Others were delighted to have another boy that age around and spoilt him rotten because he was so special to the community. Others still seemed not bothered either way but it wasn’t the easiest situation for a little boy to return to.

Anyway, with that background you can hardly expect Jesus to be the most well-adjusted and ‘normal’ child ever but that’s where I hoped his father would come in. Not Joseph – God. All those years ago, and I remember it like yesterday, the angel came and told me about being pregnant, I naively thought that God would make things a little easier, or at least not more difficult than it has to be. That hasn’t proven to be the case at all – my eldest son is just like any other child and now he’s hit adolescence things could get more interesting.

Today, as we discovered, he thinks he’s an adult! Engaging with the elders and teachers – he doesn’t seem in the least bothered that he’s a child. I know he’s been through his Bar Mitzvah now and at least ceremonially he’s an adult but he needs to know that he’s not really. The Bar Mitzvah, was a lovely celebration though – all the neighbours came along and we really celebrated his life. He’s my baby, and always will be, but he’s also got to learn that there are ways to do things. I’m worried that this approach to authority is something he’s not going to get past. He seemed so unconcerned that he might end up disregarding all kinds of authority and getting into more trouble. Who knows what will become of him – I worry about that child.

The elders impressed me though – they were so lovely to Joseph and me. They even praised me on what a wonderful boy he is which seemed a bit strange seeing as it had taken us four days, yes, four days to find him. What a terrible mother I am, or at least that’s how I feel.

Standing in the temple looking at him with the elders was an interesting experience – he looked so at ease. It made me wonder if this is what Hannah experienced when she returned to the temple. Hannah – she was an amazing woman, so the stories make her out. She’s been such an inspiration to me.

Like me, Hannah was picked by God to bear a child for him, a son who will lead God’s chosen people. The way he’s going, I’m not sure quite how Jesus is going to do that but I trust God that it will happen somehow. Anyway, I don’t envy Hannah. She had to wait until she was old to have her first child, Samuel. I’m exhausted and drained, and I was only a teenager when I became a mum. Samuel was a special and wanted child, but Hannah had to give him up to God through the temple authorities. I hope Eli and the other temple authorities were as kind and loving to Samuel as the teachers today have been to Jesus. They really have impressed me.

What I struggle with is how Hannah coped – she gave up her desperately wanted son to the temple and only saw him once a year. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been, and even though she had more children it would never have taken away the loss of Samuel. I also wonder how proud she was when she saw what he became. The faith and determination Hannah showed, as well as her grace and patience are such an inspiration. I hope that I can hold onto those things when I’m bringing up my children too.

That said, today I did wonder if it would have been easier to give Jesus to the teachers and they can bring him up. Immediately I felt so bad for even thinking it but I keep thinking I can’t do it. It hurt so much to have lost him. These have been the longest three days of my life and I hope I never have to go through anything like this again. Joseph has been a complete star, he’s tolerated my shouting and crying. And in all fairness to the child, Jesus was a good boy when we found him. I’ve never seen him so upset and anxious for the pain he’d caused us, but he said something that surprised me. He talked about us finding him in ‘his father’s’ house. Joseph took that surprisingly well, as he’d just been slighted rather. Jesus seemed to have a much greater understanding of his role in life than we did and that was hard to hear. He is already beginning to see that he’s got to make a distinction between us and God. I mean, I want him to be a faithful and devout follower of God, but even so! He referred to God as his father, which of course he is, but I’ve not heard him say it or even spoken to him about it in quite such terms. Joseph’s his father, but then again he isn’t really, is he? He’s putting God first which is great but a little bitter from my point of view. He initially seemed so oblivious to the hurt he’d caused us and I’m scared by what else we’ll have to go through – him, me and Joseph, as he lives out his life and does what God wants him to. Still, that’s not a worry for now. He promised that he’ll behave better now, doing what we tell him. He seemed to have enjoyed the experience and learned a lot – it’s so hard to remain being cross with him when my overarching feeling is just relief to have him back. The whole experience just makes me think back to the time when I found out I was pregnant and when he was born. He has changed my life in so many ways and I can’t and wouldn’t take it back but it’s certainly not been easy nor has it been what I expected. The twists and turns my life has taken since becoming Jesus’ mother, since agreeing that I will bear God’s son, have been beyond belief. They’ve been the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but they’ve also been the most rewarding. Seeing the way I’ve grown and developed makes me proud, even if it does make me feel a little old and I’ve not even hit 30 yet! I let God into my life and he turned it upside down and inside out. He may have given me the most amazing gift but it’s not without its challenges too. I still frequently think I can’t do this, but just keep on going. I guess that God may not have made Jesus’ childhood any easier than anyone else’s but we get through it. Maybe what he provides me with is the strength and reassurance that I can get through this. All I need to do is hold onto God, and hold onto those gifts, and I’ll just keep on doing what I do. Maybe I should also try and remember the song I wrote when discovering that God had chosen me to bear his son. It makes me happy to remember that. And with that I’d better go back to my husband and son, or they’ll be worried that I’ve disappeared and we’ll have all the hassles of another search

Sermons part 2

This is my most recent sermon. I’d like to thank an unnamed wiblogger for her help in getting this proofed and picking up the typos.

Readings – Hebrews 10:11-14,19-25, Mark 13:1-8

Sermon

When I was at university, rather like a good number of the students I now work with, I had a bit of a crisis. The crisis was of identity and where I fitted into this strange thing called life. I’d left all that I’d known, my family, my church, my friends, all the different communities I was part of. I didn’t know where I was without them nor did I know where to turn for support when all that I was familiar with had crumbled down. In view of the world I saw and experienced at university I was changed, and more so than I could imagine or predict. It wasn’t always easy but I couldn’t go back from it either. I was alone in a strange city with nobody I’d known for more than a couple of day or weeks and hundreds of miles from home. Where could I go?

Well, I knew that I wasn’t entirely alone no matter how much I felt I was. I had God with me. I had the security that I was not being left to cope alone and I also knew that I could go in search of other Christians too. With them I might, just might, have something in common and could find the community I was looking for. I found the support and love I needed in the student group and church I joined and in the new friends and spiritual family I found there. The church I went to at uni was about as different from the one I’d left as you could imagine but it wasn’t the familiarity of the liturgy or the style of worship that were of supreme importance. More important to me was whether I felt I was part of an active Christian community remaining faithful to God and living out their faith honestly and sincerely. They were there for me in the difficult times and offered me the hope I needed to hold onto and a way of looking forward. They also offered me complete and unconditional love and encouragement. It was such a lovely place and through it I, and my faith, grew and developed. I was an active member of the church too, contributing back into the community that meant so much to me in the hope it would be there for others too. Building was a bit of a shocker though. Good thing I wasn’t looking for a pretty church or awe inspiring building. Despite leaving university over three years ago now, I’m still in touch with many people from there and they are as close to me as the family I grew up with. It was the community of people of God that were faithful to God, aware of the needs of its members and loving to all who came into it.

The experience of losing all that you’re familiar with is similar to what the disciples were being told about in Mark’s Gospel. All that they were used to with was going to change. The temple symbolised the centre of religious and cultural life in Jerusalem, and was quite an awe inspiring structure – it was huge! It dominated the skyline of Jerusalem! It wasn’t just the building that was huge – the influence it held over all aspects of life was equally as large. When Jesus predicted its destruction, the damage to the building was not entirely what he was referring to. He is speaking more broadly of the political, cultural and religious influence it had, and how that would end. How often do we hear people say ‘something came crumbling down’ and expect them to mean a physical thing? I’ve already used the phrase this morning and I certainly wasn’t referring to physical destruction. Jesus is talking about the changes that come with the new order he is introducing. He has changed things, and will continue to do so through his death and resurrection and ongoing legacy – but that hadn’t happened when the Disciples were discussing the future of the temple. Jesus was bringing peoples attention back to God, and in the process is removing the need to follow the old traditions of the Jewish laws. Like so many times in the Old Testament we read that the people were still undertaking religious duties but were neglecting God. We also hear this criticism repeatedly in the New Testament too. In the reading we heard this morning, Jesus was reminding the disciples not to get distracted by false teachers. The people were too distracted by the traditions and ceremonies to remember that God was behind them. God was lost in the face of religion and culture.

We still have those temptations now and are in danger of losing God again – through consumerism, the cult of celebrity, work, hobbies, family or even church, we can lose sight of God in our lives. We have our own rituals and routines. But how many of us allow time for God, let alone him being the focus of our lives. The false teachers we need to avoid are those things which distract us from remaining true to our faith and to God. Only we know what our own distractions are but we do need to overcome them. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that even when Jesus was saying that, his disciples were getting distracted by concerns about how long they’d have to do that for. They are asking for a key to the signs so they will know when the end will come – when they won’t have to worry about the distractions any more. Jesus doesn’t answer this at all or maybe in typical Jesus style, answers the question that they didn’t ask!. He warns them instead that it’s going to be a real challenge to follow him but that it will be worth it and we have to remain true to God. Being a Christian, he tells us, will involve wars, torment, earthquakes, destruction and more. Like the temple coming crumbling down earlier, it’s worth considering these as symbols for the problems to be faced rather than actual literal predictions. When Mark’s gospel was written, the early church was already being persecuted and it is with that view that we can approach the list of tragedies. Some of them would have been personal and some broader, but all the community would have been aware of the problems they were facing. In fact, by the time Mark’s gospel was written the temple had been destroyed and I’d imagine that this fact would make Jesus’ warning all the more relevant. It gave them something to hold onto when they were feeling oppressed – Jesus was there with them. He was going through it with them and they could hold true to their faith in him.

This is where we get to the second of our readings. Again, the community – this time not in Jerusalem, were being told to hold true to their faith and being reminded that Jesus had overthrown the old way of living. They are also encouraged to remain true to their faith and that Jesus will remain true to them. We, too, can hold onto this promise. If we remain faithful to Jesus he will remain so to us.

The second point we can take from the readings this morning is again something I found in my church at university. We can and do need to be part of a community. When I left for university the minister from my home church sent a letter to the chaplain letting him know I was coming and asked him to get in touch with me. During my first week I got a letter welcoming me to the university and letting me know there was a friendly chaplain I could go to should I want to. I did, and it was his church I got involved with. When I went to see him, he remembered he’d written to me and it was really lovely to think that there was someone looking out for me. This is just one aspect of the Christian community that we can see and appreciate from Hebrews. While the style and content was very different from the one I received from my chaplain, the idea of someone looking out for the interests of another remains the same. The letter writer is offering hope to a distanced community and emphasises the importance of consideration, love and encouragement for its members. He wants the readers to consider the needs and requirements of the wider community. He focuses on the relationship we have with Christ and God through Jesus’ sacrifice but sets that reassurance within the context of a community. Like the Christians when Mark was writing, the Hebrews Christians were being persecuted for their faith. It was all the more important to remind them that they were not alone – the letter itself was one way of doing that, but also reminding the readers of their special relationship with God through Jesus, but we’ll come back to that.

The letter to the Hebrews encourages them to focus on considering how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. This was particularly relevant for a community under oppression because you’d never know what was going to happen next and who would be affected in what way. Meeting each other would have been important to check that everyone was okay or coming to terms with what it meant when someone wasn’t. Encouraging with other, provoking good deeds and showing love would be particularly important as it must have been hard to deal with living in such conditions. Encouraging people to hold true to their faith must have been very difficult when that faith could very easily get them killed. While we are not in danger of being arrested and killed by the UK government or Birmingham City Council for our faith, the values the Hebrews were advised to consider would be well suited to the church here and in the wider circuit. I’m sure we do many of them anyway, but it is a good aim to hold to – to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.

As I found when I went to university those things are invaluable. It’s also all the more relevant when people are having difficult times and that brings us back to the challenges suggested by Mark. When the world comes crumbling down, to know that you can find love and encouragement is all the more important. Each of us will need it at some time or another, and some more often than others. Each of us will also need to offer it too and if we all look out for one another we’ll get a long way. Sometimes we need to do both at the same time and that’s not always easy but through the community we can, and do, do it. When I first arrived at university it was certainly the case that I needed that support and when I got to the second year I was able to offer it to the freshers on their arrival. When I had bad days people were there for me and when they had bad days I was there for them. It was a real honour and privilege to do so – and also to know that there were people doing it for me. It really did, and continues to, show the love and hope of Christ lived out.
Hope is the final of the points we can hold onto from our readings today. It goes back to the special relationship with Christ we touched upon earlier. Jesus, over thrower of the old laws, source of our hope and love and foundation of our communities, also brings us to a unique relationship with God. Through his sacrifice we are made perfect and can enter into God’s Kingdom. Hebrews talks of us no longer being separated from God – God is with us and each of us is with him. We are welcomed into his home and cleansed and purified. This is quite some hope. When we are feeling down and under pressure this is a hope we can hold onto. No matter how bad we are feeling in ourselves, how guilty we are feeling for the things we have and haven’t done, for the hurt we experience and seeing those we love suffer, we can remember that each of us is perfected through Christ.

I can’t even begin to imagine how important and liberating that would have been to the earliest Christians who received the letter. When dealing with people, as is the case within communities, we run the risk of hurting and being hurt by each other. Of letting people down and not doing what we should. Sometimes we do what’s spot on, we get it right, we make a difference in a good way. We can and are there for other people and often find ourselves being there and offering hope when we’re not expecting it. Even when we make mistakes and get things wrong, which I certainly did at university and continue to do so now, we are still pure and clean in the eyes of God. We are perfected through Jesus. We have the hope offered by our relationship with God, we have the hope and promise of the love of Jesus. We have the hope and support of the Christian communities we’re in. We can and should share these hopes with the other members of the community. We can look forwards in the knowledge of this hope.

The readings this morning offer us many challenges – how are we to live our lives faithfully? How can we show love to all that come to us? Warts and all! How can we find hope? How can we live these things out in the community of God? Each of these things is possible through Jesus. By putting our faith in him we can receive and share his love and hope. By remaining faithful to him we will find ourselves on the receiving end of those things to and will be strengthened and nourished by them. By sharing together in a community we can see the best of these things at work and be there to support each other when we need it too. We can and will find ourselves living out the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Sermons

I was planning to blog about knitting and sermons for a while. As you will be able to see by the fact that I’ve only blogged once in the last two months (before today), I’m kind of behind in my blogging. Life, it seems, gets rather busy at this time of year. My feet don’t feel like they’ve touched the ground in a while, and it will still be a few months yet before they really do.

Despite feet not touching the ground, Jen and Sarah came to my trial service and this is the sermon from then. I think this is the one but I’m not the most imaginative or sensible when it comes to filenames so who knows…

Readings – Proverbs 9: 1 – 6, John 6: 51 – 58

Sermon
Communion! Bread rolls and grape juice or port and wafers. Communion! That’s what sprung to mind the first, and every, time I read through today’s Gospel reading! It’s something familiar to Christians throughout the world, continues in a legacy started by the first Christians and follows a commandment from Jesus. While different churches have their different approaches and different styles, sharing bread and wine together is what many people, even outside the church, associate with Christianity. Communion is something very special to me and I have been fortunate to share in many different celebrations. From everyone sharing their lunch together at a Christian festival like the one I’m going to next weekend, or joining half a dozen elderly nuns and a priest in a convent to an integral part of a friends wedding or on a normal communion service on a Sunday morning, it is always a special experience. I was intrigued to know what, if any, insight could be gained from the readings. How could Proverbs bring understanding to a practice that hadn’t even started, and why is John’s account so different from his fellow Gospel writers? What challenges can we take from the experience and what reassurance, and how can we share this with others?
Proverbs may not seem the first place to turn but it presents many interesting ideas worth exploring when considering communion. We hear of the host preparing a feast and inviting guests – something that echoes the Gospel reading but we’ll come back to that later. The host, Wisdom is a female representation of the Holy Spirit and the poet tells us that:
“She (Wisdom) prepared her meat and mixed her wine.”
as the New International Version translates the verse. This verse is later followed by the invite to the guests saying:
“Come, eat the food and drink the wine mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”
The Spirit, in the form of Wisdom, has made a feast for all who want to gain in life and knowledge to join. I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all of us, want to live in the ways of understanding and life – and that invite still applies to us! The Spirit invites all of us, from the beginning of time, to share in the feast and that legacy will be passed on to a new generation by us. Through sharing with each other, and with the spirit we will grow and be nourished by it. As we become more familiar with the Spirit we can begin to understand the role it plays in our own understanding and life. It is our ongoing connection to God, and the gift given to us by Jesus to help us.
To come to Wisdom’s table requires us to admit our shortcomings – we will will always be unable to truly comprehend the nature of God. It also requires us to look at what we are being asked to share in – the feast itself. Wisdom has prepared meat and mixed wine. This is where the echo with the Gospel gets a little louder. It is the same flesh and wine we are invited to consume by Jesus. The Holy Spirit is inviting us to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. This is the feast prepared by Wisdom and talked about in Proverbs. By sharing in the feast we are entitled to taste the delights she has to offer. We learn more about ourselves and the nature of God through this relationship. It is through the involvement of the Spirit that the feast becomes more than the sum of its parts – it becomes Communion with God.
It is this communion with God that John is talking about. His account of Jesus’ commandment to us is markedly different from those of the other Gospel writers. When Matthew, Mark and Luke offer the Last Supper as the setting, it is worth noting that John does no such thing. John doesn’t actually mention the last supper at all – not in relation to this or any other story in the whole of his Gospel! He emphasises different aspects of Jesus’ commandment and they can add to our understanding but we need to explore why John writes so differently.
The earliest Christians generally came from the regions where Jesus conducted his ministry and were primarily Jewish by background and culture. As the early Christian movement grew, it spread into new areas and reached people of different backgrounds. John, it is believed, was writing from Ephesus in modern-day Turkey around 70 years after the death of Jesus. The community he was living in was so different from those that Jesus visited. The culture, language, religion and lifestyle were completely different and he needed to find a way of getting his message across. He wasn’t writing for people who were seated in Jewish traditions, he was trying to write for everyone. There is nobody who is excluded by the Good News and John tried to write for as many people as possible. As such he wrote with explanations of Jewish tradition for those unfamiliar with it, but also with ideas and images familiar to people from other backgrounds. It is with that in mind that we return to the reading we heard earlier.
John’s exploration of Jesus’ commandment is firmly set in traditions outside Judaism. Many religions of the time held the belief that you could achieve communion with a God by eating some of a sacrifice offered by a priest. The priest would offer the sacrifice and after everything else had been sorted, the believer would be given back a portion of the meat. It was believed that the sacrificed meat was transformed into the God. By eating the flesh, the believer was bringing the God into themselves and would become one with them. The consumption of any food, including meat, is a very intimate process. The food is taken in, absorbed, and becomes part of us. You are bringing something from the outside into you. If it is good, it will feed and sustain you. It will lead to growth and keep you going. The meat from the sacrifice nourished the person not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally – just as communion can and does for us.
By explaining Jesus’ instructions in the way he did, John is giving people an understanding of the importance of Jesus. He is emphasising the Divinity of Christ. It says to the readers of the time, This man is God. By sharing in the feast, we are sharing with a man, but a man who is equally God and equally human. For us, he is our living sacrifice!
John makes it even clearer when he reports Jesus saying:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living father sent me and I live because of the father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
By eating the bread of life, the flesh of Jesus, he is with and in us and each of us is in him. That’s what communion is for us. A celebration of the eternal link between Jesus and each of us. But how is it that the bread and wine that we share become the spiritual foods spoken about by John, or hold the promise mentioned earlier by the poet in Proverbs? The answer is in the involvement of the Holy Spirit. If we were to carry on reading from where we left off in John’s Gospel we would come to a passage about the importance of the Spirit. Jesus talks about the role of Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, when he says:
“The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life-giving spirit.”
This refers back to the promise spoken about in Proverbs where Wisdom offers the guests a way to life. The Spirit is transformative. There are many accounts in the new testament of the work of the Spirit and the way it brings life. We are invited to receive guidance for our lives from the spirit, and it is the source of the gifts God gives to share life with those around us. When we share in communion the Spirit is with us and there is a transformation here too. The bread and wine are changed through the Holy Spirit to bring the blessings of life and understanding promised by Jesus and to which we were invited by Wisdom. In the moment of joining in communion we are united with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by this union we are transformed. We may not always be aware of it but we will have been nourished. Through this small action on our part, we bring Jesus into our bodies and into our lives. Is is with us in all that we are all that we do. Sometimes that knowledge can be really unsettling but that is a good thing. We can be reassured and know that Jesus is alongside us and we are never alone. This is also where the challenge comes.
Jesus is with us in all that we say and all that we do, which means he is with us every time things go well, but also when things go badly. With that in mind, we should try our hardest to be faithful on all occasions. Through the guidance of the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus we can learn how best to act in each situation. We know that we are growing in life and understanding but how are we dealing with that responsibility? Wisdom tells us to leave foolishness behind as we feast and we need to live that out in our daily lives. Jesus tells us that he is the bread for the life world, but we know of so many parts of the world where life is restricted. With the transformative Spirit, we can take this challenge and embrace it. We can each play a part, however small, in the lives of those around us. Whether it’s making a cup of tea, doing a night of babysitting, volunteering for a project or something entirely different we can share with those our lives touch. Maybe our actions will be as small as the pieces of bread we eat, or as short lived as the taste in our mouths but through the Spirit of God they may be changed into something amazing. When we share in or remember the sacrament of Holy Communion, may we feel encouraged to use our lives to share understanding and life with the people we meet.

Sermon

I’ve been learning how to be a local preacher since November and today (well, yesterday now) I delivered my first sermon since starting training. I hope to post a selection of the sermons on here as I progress through my training so I can see how I’m developing. I hope there will be improvement and any comments would be appreciated if you’re mad enough to read the whole thing. So here goes…
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Readings: Acts 10:44 – 48, 1 John 5:1 – 6, John 15:9 – 17

Do you ever have those days when you just end up really annoyed at someone? It doesn’t matter what they have or haven’t done but you’re still annoyed? I know I do. Not often but it still happens. It was after one of those days that I ended up on the phone to a friend of mine whinging about it. He’s great at calming me down in these situations by using a mixture of understanding and sarcasm. Do you know what he said about it? Ever sympathetic, he said:
“Don’t worry Jo. You aren’t asked to like everyone.
You’re asked to love them.”
It’s a good thing that you can’t see a scowl or withering look down the phone line – even if it’s in response to a semi-sarcastic comment!
Despite my immediate reaction, this seems an interesting way to start to look at the theme of love. Love is something fantastic, brilliant, wonderful and forms the target for all Christians, to love one another and to love God. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
But what does this mean for us?
My friend pointed out that there can be difficulties and times when this really isn’t easy to do. The story we heard from Acts suggests that the request to love one another can really push our comfort zones.
In the story, we hear of Peter preaching to a congregation of circumcised and uncircumcised people. The circumcised people, former members of the Jewish community, are surprised by the way the Holy Spirit is poured upon the Gentiles. At the time, early Christians were still trying to establish whether they thought that the Gospel was only for people of Jewish origin and this very clearly, very publicly, very unashamedly proves that it’s not. What else can we learn about life at the time? Peter, himself, had just had a vision which challenged his own opinion. He was a man who had never profaned himself and obeyed the laws of the Jewish community but had just been told that they no longer matter! In the Christian community, these laws just don’t apply! Peter was confused by this image and didn’t know what it meant, then he met Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion (albeit a respected one) and a Christian, but not only was he not Jewish, he was Italian – an invader and a gentile. This framed Peter’s vision and led to him welcoming Cornelius into the community and into his home. Gentiles, Samaritans, Italians and others like Cornelius were outsiders. The country had been invaded by the Romans but was still allowed comparative freedom. The Jewish authorities were still in charge of their communities and so the Gentiles and others were people who fell outside those laws. Including ‘outsiders’ in the new Christian community had the danger of further alienating the Jewish community many early Christians had grown up in.
To believe that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ as John said in his letter, cost followers everything. Even if they weren’t actually killed for it, they were being asked to give up everything they knew, their communities, their life; to join a new, different, radical, dangerous movement. And they were asked to love, welcome and accept all the members, regardless of who they are or were before becoming Christians – just as Cornelius was welcomed by Peter. Sounds like rather a challenge, doesn’t it? However much an invading soldier was respected, he was still an invading soldier. If Cornelius could be welcomed, then it showed that anyone could. Regardless of anything that had defined a person before becoming a Christian, all were welcomed. None of the old rules apply and we’re invited into a new way of living. Peter is reported as saying:
“You yourself know that it is unlawful for a Jew to be associated with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
This is a fantastic aspiration, to say that nobody is profane or unclean. As Christians, most of us don’t hold to the laws of the old testament – we eat shell fish, we wear mixed fibres, we don’t have the same views of what is clean but we do still have ideas about what forms acceptable practice. The old rules no longer apply, but have we made new ones?
Does the Christian community welcome everyone into its fold regardless of background? I’m sad to say that I don’t think we do. If you ask people outside the church, and some inside, to describe it, I doubt many would use the adjectives ‘welcoming’ or ‘inclusive’. That falls to each of us in turn to live out and most of us have one group of people or another that we are uncomfortable around. Each of us is likely to have a blind spot. I welcome everyone! Except…
Blind spots are a problem, but not an insurmountable one. That’s why when I was taught to drive I was asked to acknowledge them and learn to work around them. Blind spots are the areas we can’t see in our mirrors when we’re in the drivers seat. If we can’t see what’s coming up behind us, we just don’t know. When we acknowledge our blind spots, we can address them. When we’re driving, we know that we won’t hit anything or get hit ourselves. When we think about ourselves, we need to think about what we are unwilling to admit or try to hide. What are we unable or unwilling to see? Our challenge is to consider who it is who pushes our comfort zones. Who makes you feel uncomfortable? Who is in your blind spot? Is it an individual or a group of people? It could be rich or poor, young or old, people defined by their ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality? People from different social backgrounds or geographical locations? Only you know. well, only you and God. We may try to convince ourselves and those around us that these blind spots are nothing of significance but God knows in our hearts. In his first letter, John says:
“Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him (Jesus).’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar and in such a person truth does not exist.”
We need to learn to accept our blind spots and work around them. Hiding them and denying them is not acceptable. John says that to not live out this love is as bad as not believing in Jesus at all! Not an easy challenge but we’re already responding and sharing our love with those we welcome and include. The difficulty comes when we have to demonstrate our love to people outside this group. How do we learn to do this? John suggests that we should “love not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. He is teaching us a way of living out the commandment – intention and belief are good but not enough. It’s through the actions and truth that we live out the commandment best.
This is a reflection of God’s love for us. God’s love has been repeatedly demonstrated through actions – sending Jesus to live amongst us being the biggest and best of all. Jesus – the truth – calls us to love him and to love one another as he loves us. He set us the example and an example that seems impossible to live up to. His love for us is unconditional and beyond comprehension. We have been chosen by Jesus and welcomed into his love. This is a love that overcomes everything. We are loved. Each of us. Nothing can separate us from this love. *This* is the love we are united in and the love we are challenged to share with those around us. There is nothing that should stop us from loving each other, just as there is nothing that can stop Jesus loving us. He says, himself,
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
We are still asked to keep the commandments – to love Jesus and to love one another – but that is not supposed to be a chore. We heard it in our reading from 1 John earlier. It may not be easy to love everyone, we still have our blind spots, but that is not the same.
John says,
“Since God loves us so much, we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.”
Through Jesus’ love and by living out the commandments, God’s love is perfected in us. Jesus tells of the joy that this brings when he says,
“I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
As we remember these messages of hope, love and joy, let us think back to those people who challenge us. Let us spend a few moments reflecting that there is nobody outside the love of Christ. Think of the people who we love and welcome. Think of the people we shun and exclude. As we bring these people and ourselves to God we ask that we are strengthened as we try to share his love. Whatever the situation, whatever the location, whoever the person, let us live out this love as faithfully and as honestly as we can.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Amen