Sermon - Pentecost 2016
I suspect that we have all had the experience of being really excited and just a little bit terrified at the same time? I have had this experience on many occasions. On my wedding day, awaiting the birth of my children, before my ordination, stood at the top of the steepest ski slope in the Alps.
I think that in some ways as we think about Pentecost the same feelings might just occur. What if the Holy Spirit were to come amongst us today, as he did at the first Pentecost? How would we feel? What would our reaction be: would it be to celebrate in His arrival, or would we stand on the sidelines, as some did at the first Pentecost, and sneer? My fervent hope is that we would celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Surely we want to be the sort of Church that speaks to all in a language, or vernacular, they understand? Surely, we want to be the sort of church that says with boldness and confidence:
'Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
This is our hope, isn't it?
So, how do we become this sort of church, a church which is truly charismatic and evangelical in the best sense of these terms; a church where the presence of God is real and tangible? Or put another way how do we become the sort of church where the Holy Spirit is demonstrably alive and active? Well, the Gospel points us towards the answer:
'If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.'
So the way to become a truly charismatic is to be obedient to Jesus' teaching, to keep his commandments but above all to love Him. If we do this then the Holy Spirit will be given to us. We can't earn the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can't demand the presence of the Holy Spirit, but we can expect to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit if we keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, if the deepest uttering of our heart is 'Jesus we love you…'
It is an amazing thought that God's greatest gift is Himself; the gift of the Holy Spirit amongst us, to sustain us, to keep on leading us into all truth, is testimony to God's desire to keep on giving day-after-day, week-after-week, year-after-year.
So we need to allow ourselves to be drawn into the greatest of all love stories, the story of God's love for us. And as we give Jesus our love he gives love back to us, and he broadens our horizons, he shows us that the love of God is to be shared amongst all people.
But, the Holy Spirit does something else. He leads us in mission. At the very first Pentecost he confirmed the Church in its mission, and he gave to the Church the language and resources it required to fulfil its task. The Holy Spirit, as Advocate and Sustainer continues to do this today. He gives us all that we need, equipping us to to say to all, with confidence, in a language relevant to each and every person:
'Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
So let us keep a short period of silence during which we say to Jesus:
'Thank you,' and, 'we love you,' and let us pray to the Lord for the spiritual renewal of this Church, Amen.
Prayer, Sunday 8th May 2016
As most of you will know the Archbishops have called for a week of prayer, focused on the Lord's Prayer, in the week running up to Pentecost and that this benefice have decided to make a positive response. I am pleased that we have. I firmly believe that prayer should be the 'axis of our lives.' I believe that prayer really does change things. But, most of all I believe that prayer changes us. It is through prayer that God aligns us with his intentions or plans. To pray properly is to fully cooperate with God.
On Tuesday night I will talk a little bit more about prayer in general and the Lord's Prayer in particular. I am also happy to answer any questions about prayer in general, or my own prayer life.
On Wednesday I will lead us in short mediation on the Lord's Prayer and, on Thursday we have the opportunity to listen to some beautiful Taize chants and pray the Lord's Prayer.
The Gospel reading we have just heard (Luke 11, 1-13) is of course all about prayer and so this morning I would like to identify four values, or virtues that I think can inform and guide our prayer lives. I am going to focus on these values, today rather than the specifics of the Lord's Prayer. These values or virtues are: humility, intimacy, simplicity and perseverance.
The Gospel passage starts with one of the disciples asking Jesus to 'teach us to pray.' At one level this is a strange request. You would have thought that a good God fearing Jew would know all about prayer, After all they would have spent a lot of time in the temple and synagogue, sat at the feet of the Rabbi and Priest. So I guess what is going on here is that the disciple is saying to Jesus: 'for whatever reason my prayer life isn't quite working, its a bit arid and dry.' I suspect that sometimes we all feel a bit like this. So we like the disciple need to have the humility to ask how to pray.
Jesus response is so radical as to beggar belief. He says that we must start with intimacy: Our very first words should be 'Our Father,' yours and mine. Abba, Daddy. There is a robust theological logic to this: what on earth would be the point of praying to an entity that we can't relate to; such an entity would be bound to be a false god.
And, of course through using the word 'our' Jesus is stressing our interdependency and our equal status as children of God. Prayer is from now on to be warm and relational; intimate. Prayer is to be collective as well as personal. Whenever we pray the Lord's Prayer, even when we do so by ourselves we are praying the Prayer of the Church, alongside countless others doing the same thing at the same time. The intimacy of the Lord's Prayer brings us into relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Then we move onto simplicity. The Lord's Prayer is nothing if not brief. It has no empty words and no unnecessary words. All it contains are the right words: words of gratitude, words of hope, words of forgiveness and a request for deliverance or protection from all that stops us being the image of God in and for the world.
Finally, the second part of the reading reminds us of the importance of perseverance. Prayer is not simply something we do as a one-off, or on a Sunday by Sunday basis, as I have already suggested prayer should be instead the axis of our lives. And, when we pray we trust in the goodness of God.
So this week we are asking you all to pray the Lord's Prayer twice a day – we have even provided some prayer cards. As you do so, please allow yourselves to be guided by these four virtues: humility, intimacy, simplicity and perseverance, because it is these four that I suggest make the phrase, 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done,' a living reality, Amen.
Ascension Day, 2016
Well, I don't think I have ever before preached at just gone six in the morning! And, although I am happy to be here, I suggest we don't make a habit of meeting so early. As Sallyanne will tell you I am not a morning person; I can be a just a tad grumpy first thing.
But, I am really glad we are here. I think it is really important that we celebrate the Ascension and, for two reasons:
First, it reminds us of Jesus' real status as both fully human and divine. The God made flesh, becomes the one that goes to sit at the right hand of His Father. And in doing so reminds us – because we have a common Father – of our eventual destiny. This is good news indeed. The Ascension validates Jesus claims that we may also get to dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The Ascension also makes sense of the Resurrection. Without the Ascension it would be very hard to see the point of the Resurrection.
But, secondly the Ascension reminds us that the baton has now been passed on to us. The mission of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel, is now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our responsibility.
Jesus through his earthly life characterised for us the Kingdom of God; he showed that the kingdom is concerned above all else with with justice, peace, love and joy in the Holy Spirit.
He showed us through parables how to live the Gospel in the here and now.
For some living the Gospel, bringing something of the Kingdom of God, to 'earth as in heaven,' may mean doing something really big and significant; just like Desmond Tutu has done in leading the reconciliation process in South Africa, or Mother Theresa through her works of charity amongst some of the world's poorest people.
But, for most of us, it will simply mean being Christian, or as Christ, in the place we find ourselves in; this is the genius of the parish system.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this:
'One's task is not to turn the world upside down, but to do what is necessary at the given place with a due consideration of reality.'
And, if enough of us do this our all the individual acts of love will 'converge to form the mosaic of charity which can change the task of history.'
The Ascension reminds us to remember that our task, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to be the contemporary representatives of Christ, 'risen, ascended, glorified.'
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