First Sunday after Trinity: 2 Corinthians 4, 5-12 & Mark 2, 23-3,6
I once made a clay jar. I must have been six or seven. It wasn’t a particularly attractive jar, nor was it a great work of art. But, for some reason I was quite proud of my little jar. It became a venue for storing useful things; small change, paper clips, and so forth. Sadly, it never ended up in a museum or gallery!
St. Paul says that we, that’s you and me as people who profess the Christian faith, have this ‘treasure in clay jars,’ the purpose of which is to store the ‘extraordinary’ gifts that come from God. He also suggests that when we take out and use these gifts we will become light bearers and that ‘the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.’ It is an extraordinary thought, isn’t it, that the very life of Jesus ‘may be made visible in our mortal flesh.’ I don’t know how you feel about this: perhaps its something to mull over, or pray over, in the week ahead, for prayer is one of the treasures we have been given. In fact its more than a treasure its the very oxygen we breathe. Other treasures include Scripture, the Bible, and sharing in the sacraments of the church. These three, as I keep saying, are our treasures and nutrients.
Just one more thought, less we dismiss the notion of being light-bearers, or the idea that the very life of Jesus might be made ‘visible in our mortal flesh,’ as being a tad too fanciful. You have already this morning prayed for precisely this! Just consider the words of the Prayer of Preparation where we ask that under the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly magnify your Holy name, through Christ our Lord.’ The only way we can magnify God’s holy name is through our words and actions; our bodily functions in other words. Jesus after all was a real bodily being, a physical person, fully man; that’s the point of the incarnation. Our faith is expressed through mortal flesh.
As we let prayer, true prayer, imaginatively and creatively reading the bible and, sharing in the Eucharist shape our lives two things, paradoxically, begin to happen. First, we begin to die and then we begin to grow. St. Paul captures the essence of this paradox for as he writes: ‘So death is at work in us, but life in you.’ Yes, it is true that in order to grow we need first to die. But, the good news is that we need to die to the things that prevent us from growing into the freedom of Christ: fear, anxiety, resentment, hatred, the desire to hoard more and more material possessions, to be seen as a success and so forth. We really do need to die to these things in order to grow; in order to find real freedom and security and in order to find our deepest identity in Christ. To hold on to our fears, anxieties, resentments, and the need for things and status is truly to live life in the shallow end.
This is the mistake the Pharisees make. What they are seeking is a life governed by certainties, rules, regulations and protocol. The religion they offer is restrictive and life sapping, hence their resentment with Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath. The Pharisees haven’t learnt the art of dying in order to live. Although they have an extensive rule book there is no ‘treasure’ in their ‘clay jars.’ In fact they don’t even have a clay jar, and because they don’t have a clay jar in which to keep the deepest of spiritual treasures, they have no real freedom and liberty. They are stuck and the only resources they have available to them is their rules, restrictions and protocols. It as though they are governed entirely by the clip board rather than being guided by the Spirit and as such they can never know the unrestricted joy of living life in the deep end, guided by the Holy Spirit.
This Trinity – and please let’s call it Trinity – and never Ordinary Time, let us make sure we each and every day take the treasures out of our clay jars. Let us ask each and every day the Holy Spirit to guide us in prayer and reading the bible, and to be truly present to us in the Eucharist. If you do so let me make you one promise: you will die to all those things that prevent you from finding your deepest identity and you will grow day-by-day into both freedom and the visible likeness of Christ. We will become the sort of people who ‘perfectly magnify’ his ‘Holy name.’ And that, in a nutshell, is the entire rationale for the Christian faith.
Trinity Sunday: John 3, 1-17
The story of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is one of my favourite gospel stories. I can identify with Nicodemus in so many ways. Like him I first started asking faith questions under the cover of darkness. Like Nicodemus I would have preferred a world of certainties where things fit together in a neat and tidy and clearly understandable way. But that is not how faith works, for as we say in the Eucharistic prayer: ‘great is the mystery of faith.’
The Trinity is in some ways our greatest mystery, but it is also our greatest source of freedom and liberation. We need, as contemporary Christians, to make sure that the trinity is central to how we think, pray, and undertake various aspects of mission. We need like Nicodemus to allow ourselves to renewed, reborn even, by and in the Spirit.
Being reborn, or renewed, by the Spirit sounds, at least initially, to be a somewhat strange concept, so let me ask you to reflect on a question posed by Jean Vanier: ‘Isn’t this desire to be born again in many of us? Don’t we often want to start anew, to leave behind past hurts, habits and old ways that imprison us in the values of our society and prevent us from growing towards greater freedom.’
If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we like Nicodemus, will grow and change for the better. If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit we will grow, like Nicodemus, who we next encounter post resurrection, in fascination, intimacy and friendship with Jesus. If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit, again like Nicodemus, and I guess like me, we begin to become the sort of people whose faith moves from the cover of darkness into the glorious light of day. If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us we begin to understand that God the Father really is the source of our very being and that we were literally loved into life, and that we will be loved into, through and beyond death. We will also grow in our appreciation of, and care for, the environment or created order.
Nicodemus can, maybe should, be for us a role model for what it means to grow in faith towards an unshakeable trust in God as creator, redeemer and sustainer.
This Trinity season my invitation, or encouragement, is that you allow yourself to be renewed, refreshed, or even reborn, through the anointing and blessing of the Holy Spirit, so that you keep ‘growing towards greater freedom,’ Amen.
Pentecost: Acts 2, 1-21 & John 15, 26-27 & 16, 4-15
I love the story of Pentecost; it's dramatic, full of energy, excitement and vitality. It plays into our desire to enjoy and believe in the fantastical. It's wonderful drama. However, the challenge is to take the words out of the text and allow them to breathe into the here and now. Yes, we as a church community need to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit.
So what is the job of the Holy Spirit? One popular way of thinking about the Holy Spirit is as the sustaining form of God. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are equipped to keep telling the Christian story, salvation’s story. The Holy Spirit, if we are open to him, gives us the right words to say, in the right time, in the right way. The Holy Spirit is that impulse, or energy within us, that allows us to tell the Jesus story, in myriad different ways, or different tongues, to different people. And, just for a moment lets pause and consider this:
Right at the start of the gospels it is clear that Jesus has come for all people in all nations. Simeon makes this clear through the words of the Nunc Dimitus. Pentecost in all its multi-lingual vibrancy is the proof of this. Pentecost is the seal of God’s pledge that salvation’s story is the universal story. In the gospel reading we hear that the work of the Spirit is to lead us into all ‘truth.’ The greatest truth is the universality of the gospel.
As contemporary Christians we need to be open to this Pentecostal truth. And, the only way we can do this is by opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The way we do this is by prayer, and maybe in particular corporate prayer: ‘When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place’ and presumably they were praying, as they had earlier been instructed to do.
I suspect that they were praying in a spirit of openness to God, but I also suspect that they must have been ever so slightly anxious and scared. They had after all been through the most bizarre of sequential experiences; their Lord had been betrayed, tried and crucified, then he had been resurrected. In the period between the resurrection and ascension he appears to his disciples, feeds them, breathes on them, challenges them, and then disappears, again, from them. But the disciples despite all this hang on in there and keep saying their prayers. Pentecost is in some ways God’s way of answering their prayers. Pentecost is not a divine imposition. Its the fulfilment of a divine promise: ‘I will send you another advocate.’
Just like the early disciples we too can be recipients of the divine promise. We too can receive a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of such an anointing is to lead us into all ‘truth,’ and to help us to tell the universal and radically inclusive salvation story to all people in ways which they can understand and relate to.
Loving God, pour your Holy Spirit on us, your church. Lead us into all truth and equip us to tell salvation’s story to all who we encounter. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Saviour we pray, Amen.
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