Bible Readings and Reflection

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Bishop Gregory's Christmas Message

"GLORY to God in the highest, and PEACE on earth to those in whom God delights"

The opening words of this letter are a well known verse from the story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel according to St Luke. We are nearly all familiar with the story of the shepherds who are out on the hills minding their sheep when they are suddenly confronted by a choir of angels, and told about the birth of Jesus. The message is made quite plain in the words of the angels: the new birth is an occasion promising “Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on earth to those in whom God delights” (Luke 2.14 - an older but less accurate translation says “to men of goodwill”). These are words of consolation for us in these days of Covid and international tension. The message of Christmas is that God intends Peace for those in whom he delights, and since God loves each and every one of us, that message is for all who will receive it. The first thing to note is that the Christian faith teaches that each one of us is a unique and special creation in God’s eyes, of infinite worth, and the object of God’s delight. Yes, that means all of us. Nor is his gift of Peace a light thing. When the Bible speaks of Peace, it means not just the ending of conflict or the absence of noise and commotion, but of a richness of life and blessing, pressed down and running over. To know Peace in God’s terms is to know completeness and fullness of life. This may seem an optimistic and even foolish thing to say in the light of our circumstances. The Omicron variant poses a new threat to our lives, and just as we are getting ready for Christmas once again, a note of further uncertainty has been introduced. We may still be feeling bruised and even bereaved following the events of the last eighteen months. However, the point of Christmas for the Christian is that God has given us the gift of his Son in the birth of Jesus, giving the Word of God to be born in Bethlehem so that he might dwell among us and take upon him all the troubles and pain of the world. It is this message that God is on our side that teaches us that even in the midst of darkness we might find strength and hope and reassurance that there is an unconquerable element to life in God that even surpasses the boundaries of death. The teachers of the early Church used to say something like this: In Jesus, God has drawn close to us in order that we might draw close to him. The real invitation of Christmas therefore is to ask whether we will make space for God in our lives – to give glory to God in the highest – so that the space he makes for us in Jesus, the gift of eternal life and the hope of heaven, peace in all its fullness, may be grasped and embraced in our own lives. My prayer for you this Christmastide is that the gift of God’s peace may be real for you, and that in him you may find blessing and hope and love, so that we may join in with the message of the angels, and make their song our own. Happy Christmas!

Bishop Gregory


Joy: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-45

How do you prepare for Christmas? There are so many different aspects of Christmas nowadays it is easy to overlook one aspect. There are not just all the practical preparations to make for Christmas but also Spiritual preparations to make, and we are all here today as part of our spiritual preparation.

 

Our Gospel reading today is about two women who are also preparing in their own special ways. It is the story of two cousins, Elizabeth and Mary.

These cousins have several things in common,

·        Both of these cousins are in different stages of pregnancy

·        Both pregnancies were foretold by an angel

·        Both cousins are carrying sons.

 

Let’s take a moment to look at these two women in more detail,

Firstly, Elizabeth,

Elizabeth is married to Zechariah who is a priest in the temple in Jerusalem and Elizabeth is also from a priestly family. Elizabeth and Zechariah are old and were childless, which in biblical times was a sign of having done something to upset God, however we know from earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth is described as righteous in God’s sight.

The Angel Gabriel had visited Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth would become pregnant, as Zechariah didn’t believe the angel, Zechariah had been unable to speak since that time, and Zechariah would only regain the power of his speech after his son was named, according to the Angel’s instructions. Elizabeth had become pregnant and she had spent the first five months of her pregnancy by herself in preparation for the birth of her son. Elizabeth’s son is John the Baptist.

Now let’s look at Mary, Mary is Elizabeth’s cousin and while Elizabeth is old, Mary is very young, perhaps only about 14. Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. Mary lives in Nazareth and had very recently been visited by the Angel Gabriel who told her that she would be the mum of Jesus Christ. The Angel Gabriel also told Mary that Elizabeth was pregnant.

As soon as Mary is told about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she goes to visit Elizabeth, Mary does not wait until she starts to show, she goes as soon as she can.

The journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea may have taken three to five days, depending on the precise location of Elizabeth's home. More than one commentator has wondered why Mary "hurried" to Judea. Some have argued that Mary wanted to prevent neighbours at Nazareth from knowing about her pregnancy. But that doesn't sound like the Mary who said to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). The only clue given by Scripture is that Mary made haste out of obedience to the plan revealed to her by the angel, a plan which included the pregnancy of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36-37).

Mary was obedient to God’s plan for her, even though there were potential risks and problems.

The angel’s visit to Mary was not an everyday occurrence and her family and friends probably had difficulty understanding her story and experience but Elizabeth understood; How would we react if a family member or friend told you they had been visited by an Angel?

Now let’s look at the actual meeting under three headings

·        A joyful leap

·        No Jealously

·        A step of faith

A joyful Leap

The visit began with Mary's greeting Elizabeth. Mary could not have known of Elizabeth's status apart from God's revelation through the angel Gabriel. And Elizabeth was now, in turn, given a revelation of Mary's status, so that she could return Mary's greeting. This revelation is through the action of the child in her womb.

 

We see that John began his prophecy in the womb by jumping with gladness / or joy (Lk 1:41,44) – Filled with the Holy Spirit, John was leaping and kicking with joy because he knew the Messiah was present.

 

Through the action of the child within her womb, then, Elizabeth came to realize not only that Mary was pregnant but that Mary's child was the Messiah.

I am sure they wept together, laughed together, prayed together and encouraged one another during the three months they were together.

Scripture tells us that Elizabeth had no-one to talk to and as for Mary, she had no one to talk to because she was pregnant outside of marriage.

 

In this Advent season our hearts too should leap with joy at the thought of the baby in Bethlehem's manger. This morning we should feel John's joy and celebration that what the prophets had talked about was finally coming to plan. After all, Mary's baby is the Messiah, the Saviour, God's only begotten Son.

There is a leap for joy because in this Advent season we are reminded that all things are possible with God. Jesus’ birth is a sign that God can and does put aside the laws of nature, the natural order of things, in order to do His mighty will.

 

Secondly, there was no jealously

Zechariah was told that John his son was to be "great in the sight of the Lord" (Lk 1:15) and that he would go "before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17).

Similarly, Mary was told that her son

(Luke 1:32-33) " ... will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Two women, pregnant at the same time, with babies destined to do great things. But there was no rivalry, no sense of competition, no jealously about who had the best and greatest baby.

Notice how Elizabeth greeted Mary. She exclaimed in a loud voice,

(Luke 1:42) "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

According to Elizabeth, Mary's child is blessed. He is blessed because He is the Messiah, the Son of the Highest, a descendent of David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Lk 1:32-33).

According to Elizabeth, not only is the child within Mary's womb blessed, but God has given a huge, big blessing to Mary too. Mary is "blessed" among women. She has been specially blessed by God.  
In what way was Mary blessed? Elizabeth recognized, through the Spirit, that Mary has been blessed to be the God-bearer, to give birth to the Messiah, to be the vessel used by God so that the second person of the triune Godhead could take on human flesh.

Elizabeth recognized, through the Spirit, that Mary has been blessed by God to nurse and care for and teach the Messiah!

You need to realize how remarkable Elizabeth's words were. In that culture and at that time and place, it normally would have been appropriate for Mary to pay homage to the elder Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, through the Spirit, recognized that she was in the presence of the mother of the Messiah. So, she praised Mary and pronounced her blessed.

“Blessed, blessed, blessed,” says Elizabeth. Her words of affirmation, love and blessing will remain with Mary the rest of her life. They will echo in the silence as Mary ponders and treasures the words of the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. They will ring in her ears when Simeon declares that a sword will pierce her own soul. They will call her back to herself when her twelve-year-old son runs away to be in his father’s house. They will hold her broken heart at the cross. And they will sing with joy at the empty tomb. 

We see that Elizabeth, and John– through the Spirit – understood the greatness of God; they knew that God had done something great in Mary.

They knew that Mary's glory and blessing came not from anything she did or didn't do, but that her glory and blessing came from God Himself.

We also need to take note of what else Elizabeth exclaimed in a loud voice:

(Luke 1:43) But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Elizabeth praised Mary as "the mother of my Lord." Elizabeth – through the Spirit – recognized she was in the presence of someone higher and greater. In fact, she recognized that Mary's baby was the Messiah.

What God did for Elizabeth and Zechariah was an amazing, wondrous thing. Not only had He opened Elizabeth's womb but he allowed them to have a child in their old age. However, Elizabeth recognized that what God did for Mary was far greater than what He did for her.


Not only was there no jealously between the two mothers but there was no competition between their children either. The Bible makes clear that John "was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light" Who is Christ Jesus (Jn 1:8).

 

In response to questions by priests and Levites, John the Baptist said he was not the Christ nor was he Elijah (John 1:20-21). John the Baptist said that Jesus surpassed him (John 1:30); he said Jesus was more powerful; he said he was not worthy to untie the thongs of Jesus' sandals (Luke 3:16); he said Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire while he baptized with water (Luke 3:16). John the Baptist also said that he was to decrease while Jesus increased (John 3:30). In fact, the whole purpose of John's ministry was to testify to Jesus (John 1:7, 30-31).

The Christmas story is filled with talk of this joy.

The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that John's birth was reason for joy (Luke 1:14), because he was preparing the way for the Messiah. In her song Mary rejoiced in God her Saviour (Lk 1:47). The angels of Christmas Day told the shepherds they had "good news of great joy" about a Saviour (Lk 2:10).

Whenever we start to notice God’s amazing, transformative work, it fills us with joy– just as those shepherds were filled with awe when surrounded by angels. Joy bubbles up and spills all over and around us. Glories are streaming around us every day, if we’re willing to look for them

.
John experienced joy instead of jealousy or competition when he first came into the presence of Jesus. In this Christmas season it is good for us all to consider the question of whether we are like Elizabeth and her son, John. Do we have the same attitude that they have? Do we believe that in our life "He must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30)?

Thirdly, A step of faith

Look at how Elizabeth praises Mary's faith, her belief.

(Luke 1:45) "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"

What is it that Mary believed? The word which Mary accepted and believed out of faith was Gabriel's declaration about the conception by the Spirit and the virgin birth. Imagine – without any physical participation by a man Mary was going to conceive and give birth. Mary believed God would accomplish this. Mary believed the Creator Spirit was going to do this amazing work in her life. What amazing faith! No wonder Elizabeth pronounced Mary to be blessed.

Now, in contrast to Mary is Zechariah. Mary believed the word of the Lord.

She had faith in God and His promises. Zechariah, on the other hand, did not believe what Gabriel said to him. Zechariah, too, was promised a miracle child – even though Elizabeth was barren, even though they were past the age of child bearing. But Zechariah did not believe.

Remember how Gabriel had to respond to Zechariah? He said, "you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time" (Lk 1:20). As a sign of the Lord's displeasure at this lack of faith, Zechariah lost the ability to talk and to hear (Lk 1:20,62).

So he was not able to bless the people waiting in the Temple courtyard. And, when it was time for John to be named and circumcised, the assembled relatives and neighbours had to make signs to Zechariah to find out what he would like to name the child; he answered with a writing tablet (Lk 1:57-63). For nine months Zechariah was given ample opportunity to regret his lack of faith; for nine months he was unable to talk or to hear; for nine months he watched with amazement as his aged wife swelled with her pregnancy.

We aren't told if Elizabeth had the faith her husband did not. We aren't told if she responded in faith, like Mary, to the revelation of Gabriel.

Yet, she saw the difference between her husband, on the one hand, and her cousin, on the other hand. She saw her husband shut off in his own little world – unable to talk or to hear. She saw and heard her cousin talk about God and His wondrous and almighty ways. So Elizabeth blurted out,

(Luke 1:45) "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"


"Blessed," said Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognized that faith is the key to being blessed and happy. Elizabeth recognized faith as the key requirement for being a disciple and follower of the Messiah.

In His teaching, Jesus made two statements about His mother. The first one happened when Jesus was told His mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to see Him. Jesus replied with a word praising His earthly family:

(Luke 8:21) "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Another time Jesus was teaching and a woman in the crowd listening to Him cried out,

(Luke 11:27-28) "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." (28) Jesus replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

We already saw that Jesus included His own mother in this blessed group. According to Jesus, true discipleship is marked by obedience to the Word of God.

Elizabeth recognized that Mary had this kind of obedience and faith. So she pronounced Mary to be blessed, to be happy, to be fortunate.
Like Elizabeth, do you recognize that the key to following Jesus is faith and obedience?

This is not just something that Mary does. Throughout history, other people, have used their lives, including their money, time and talents to the service of God, and have been willing to do things which their culture would not expect of them, but it does not always have to be something so grand or obvious, we can all dedicate each and every day of our lives to God.

Conclusion
Again, the star of the story, the main actor at work in scripture, was the Lord God Almighty. It was His Spirit's prompting that sent Mary to Judea.

It was His Spirit that caused John the Baptist and Elizabeth to recognize the Messiah's presence.

 

It was His Spirit that gave Mary faith and obedience. I pray that in this Christmas season this same Spirit is at work in you and me. So that we may respond in joy. So that we live for the glory of Christ. So that our life is marked with faith and obedience.


Hope - Psalm 46:1-3; Matthew 12:17–21; Ephesians 1:18


As we look through the themes of Faith, hope, love and joy each week we know that these themes are deeply rooted in Scripture and it is very appropriate that we take some time this Advent season to reflect on these various themes.

The week we look at the theme of Hope.

This word hope is used a lot in our language. We might ask our children, “What do you hope for Christmas?” A counsellor might ask, “What do you hope to receive out of this relationship?” Our boss might ask us, “What do we hope to achieve during the next year?” We use it interchangeably with “wish”, “want” or “expect.” We use it so often that the word hope doesn’t mean all that much to us.

The New Testament use of the Greek word hope, elpis, has a much richer and deeper meaning derived from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there is not a neutral understanding of hope. Hope is the hope of good and the opposite of hope is fear. There is expectation in hope and hope is naturally directed towards God.

When man is in trouble and hopes that God will deliver and help him. Hope requires trust. Ultimately, we are encouraged to put our hope in God, our faith and trust that he will deliver us. As the psalmist writes:

1   God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2   Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3   though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Psalm 46:1)

The culmination of this hope and trust in God’s deliverance was found in the hope of the coming Messiah. The messiah was to be the anointed one, of the line of David. He was to come and deliver Israel and bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. He was to be Emmanuel – God with us. Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

From our gospel reading Jesus is the hope of the nations:

17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.

21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”  (Matthew 12:17–21)

The world tells us to put our hope and trust in our government, economy, technology, education, achievements, and humanity. The Bible however warns us from putting our trust in the false hopes and idols of the world. It saddens me to see the long lines of people waiting to get into the retail stores for Christmas bargains. Lines of worshipers bowing down at the temple of consumerism, buying things they don’t need with money they don’t have. It is easy to find ourselves putting our trust in false hopes.

You know that you are trusting a false hope if it promises to solve all of your problems. God on the other hand does not promise to solve all of our problems. He does not promise that you will never suffer again in this life. In fact, Scripture often tells us that we will have to endure trials and suffering in our faith.

Jesus, God himself faced ridicule, suffering, and crucifixion on our behalf. God does not promise an easy life. What God does promise is that he will be beside us through our struggles. He gives us hope for the future.

Secondly, you know that you are trusting a false hope if your hope does not rely upon God. If God is not a part of the equation, then you are trusting a false hope. Who are you looking to ultimately deliver you: technology, achievements, family, or the government? These are not bad things in themselves but they will not save you apart from God. Without God as a part of the equation, these will ultimately fail.

Third, it is a false hope if it does not involve relationship. When we look into our greatest hopes and desires, we see a need for relationship.

Things and ideas cannot provide a relationship.

God continually calls us into relationship with him. He sent his Son in order to be in relationship with us. All true hope comes from our need of relationship.

Lastly, in Paul’s letter, he is writing to Gentile Christians in Ephesus. This passage was written to assure Gentile believers, that when Christ comes again, they will receive the same spiritual inheritance as those Jews who had already believed in Christ.  Hope is at the heart of Paul’s concern for us. Everything Paul says is "...in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you." (Ephesians 1:18).

Here, Paul highlights the purpose of his prayer. He remembers the community in Christ and prays constantly “in order that God” to emphasis here lies on his hope that God will make known to the community God’s wisdom, riches, hope, and power.

The wisdom, etc. is for the community, to be worked out as the people live and love in relationship with one another and the surrounding world.

Peter adds his own thoughts about hope and tells us that in Jesus Christ we have been given a living hope, not a dead or false hope, but a living hope. This is what God offers to us. In the catacombs of Rome where early Christians were buried, they have found various early Christian symbols.  One of the first Christian symbols of hope was the anchor. This makes sense because Jesus’ first disciples were fisherman: Peter and Andrew and James and John who obviously used anchors within their occupations. Also, Jesus taught and performed many miracles around or on the Sea of Galilee, but the symbol goes beyond these references. It was a symbol that Jesus is our living anchor.

The early Christians when facing persecution and suffering knew that Jesus was the one, they could rely upon to see them through the storms of life. Jesus is the one that we can trust in our lives. He is our living hope.

This second candle represents a living hope because a living hope begins with Christmas, with a little child in a manger, a vulnerable, helpless little baby conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to Mary and Joseph. It is here that hope began and hope like a snowball grows. This small child grew in stature and wisdom and hope grew. He amazed others with his teachings and hope grew. He performed miraculous signs and wonders and hope grew. He gathered the broken and lost and hope grew. He suffered and sacrificed himself upon a cross and hope grew. On the third day, he was raised from the dead, appeared before the disciples, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father and hope grew eternal.

And one day, he shall come again to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. This is our living hope.

So, put your hope in the living hope of God, Jesus Christ. Let us not put our trust and faith in the dying hopes of the world, for they are shadows that will only disappoint. In this manger, we celebrate the birth of our hope. As the Christmas carol tells us:

O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant
Oh come ye O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him born the King of angels;
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.

Let us come to Christ and live-in hope. Amen.


The Bishop's Pastoral Letter (November)

We have recently been celebrating the season of the Saints. This begins on 1st November, when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, and continues through to the celebration of All the Saints of Wales on 8th. It is a good reminder that we are all, every single follower of Jesus, called to be saints. The word “saint” comes from the Latin, “sanctus”, meaning “holy”, and there is a tendency for us to use the word to imply that a saint is someone extraordinary. “She’s been a saint,” we might say, “to have put up with him for all these years.” There is both truth and falsehood in this. The truth is that most of the disciples of Jesus recognised in our Calendar as Saints are examples of lives of “heroic virtue” – that’s how they get into our calendar. However, it overlooks a profound truth about the Christian faith: that to be a saint is a gift. In the Book of Revelation, the saints are described as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7.14), while in Paul’s letters, the saints are simply the Christians of any place. This is because those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord are already bought by his sacrifice on the Cross, and awarded the status of the righteousness of Christ. Holiness is a gift to be received, and not a prize to be striven for. It is given at our adoption as children of God in baptism, by which we are spiritually and symbolically buried and resurrected with Jesus. We don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it: Christ has won our sanctification. I sometimes think that we can take this too much for granted. “Herein is God’s love,” wrote John, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.10) However, the fact that God’s love for us is so profound, so embracing and so accepting, doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted. It is meant to change us forever. This is a question which Paul tackles in his Letter to the Romans, a masterclass on how God is at work in the world in Jesus. In the first five chapters of the letter, Paul argues as strongly as he can for God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus – it is given, not earned. In Chapter 6, however, he has to address an obvious question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Should be just accept God’s love saves us, and not care how we respond and live? Not at all, says Paul. That’s not how it is meant to work. God’s love bought us in order to win us into a life of holiness, so now we must let the power of the Spirit govern our lives, and grow into wholeness and holiness and become like him. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is the spiritual worship that you can offer. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you can test out what God’s will for you is, good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12.2) Christians therefore live in a “now and not yet” situation. God’s love accepts us as we are, but God’s love should also drive us to be transformed, to live into a fullness of life according to his will. Christianity isn’t just about letting God plant his seeds of grace in us, but it is also about allowing the gardener to prune what is unholy from our lives, and to bring about the growth of what is holy instead. There is no laziness in Christianity: grace is gift, but also a summons; it is free, but it calls for commitment. We’re about to go into the season of Advent, and the whole thing is expressed in one of the central ideas of Advent. We ask God to stir us up, so that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light – that we might be transformed by God’s gift of love to  become all that God wishes for us to become: saints in word and deed.

John 18

There is a well-known story about Queen Elizabeth II when she was a young girl. One day she was wandering around one of the royal estates when a stranger asked her ‘Who are you?’ “Oh, I’m no one’, she replied, ‘but my father is the King.’

Knowing the truth of who we are and where we belong can be empowering. Today we celebrate the festival of Christ the King, and the truth of who we are when we belong to him.

We are going to reflect upon three ways this morning using our gospel reading by focusing on

1.   a kingdom without a king

2.   The kingdom with a king

3.   Characteristics of the kingdom

Firstly, a kingdom without a King

Most of us will never have met, or even seen a king or a queen in real life but, if asked, I imagine we would describe kingship of this world to be about majesty and riches or maybe power and authority. Maybe we might describe kingship from a different source. For you and I and every child who was old enough to hear a bedtime story knows about Kings and Queens. Kings and Queens who were noble and ruled their people with wisdom and might or Kings and Queens who were wicked and had no consideration for the needs of their own people.

Or maybe in our imagine we yearn for the presence of royalty in our lives. Whether we like it or not, there is something in us that long for the wise king or queen born of a long line to be relate to us.

The ancient world knew more about kings than we modern do. People knew about what kings did. Kings ruled people according to their own wishes and whims. They could promote one person and demote another. They were all powerful.

People knew how kings became kings too. Often the crown would pass from father to son, or to some other close relative. From time to time there would be a revolution. The way to the crown, for anyone not in the direct family line was through violence.

Here from our Gospel reading we read about what a kingdom without a king looks like. We read that these Jews were extremely religious because instead of having faith in God their king they instead simply picked and choose what laws to obey and what laws to disobey.

In other words, they held the authority or so they thought. The Jews led Jesus to Pilate’s house, the Praetorium but would not enter themselves because they did not wish to defile themselves by entering into a home of a gentile. Think with me about a religion without faith that says they would rather plot murder because it suited their needs while at the same time not go into Pilate’s mansion because they would defile themselves and not take part or continue to take part in the Passover celebration. That seems to be very twisted. Murder is ok that wouldn’t defile them but stepping into Pilate’s house would.

Secondly, a kingdom with a King

What kind of king is Jesus? While Pilate and Jesus walk back inside of the mansion leaving the Jews outside. It is here that Jesus is put on trial. On one hand Pilate, the governor, summons Jesus before him, a vulnerable rabbi standing in chains.

As Pilate faces Jesus someone beforehand must have hinted about why Jesus was there. Maybe the chief priests or the messagers or even the soldiers who handed him over talked about him claiming to be king. Pilate doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the odd ways in which the Jews organised their lives but he does know what kings are, what kingdoms are, where they come from and how they behave. He comes out with it and asks “Are you the King of the Jews?”

The question for me is a crucial one. Jesus’ life or death hangs on the answer to this question. What’s important to note here is that Jesus now begins to ask the questions of Pilate. Pilate discovers, as many have discovered before Jesus that when you ask him a question the answer is likely to be another question. Jesus is in fact interrogating Pilate.

Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?

In other words, Jesus is getting at is this – If Pilate is asking this on his own then he has in mind a political king who could be a threat to him and Roman rule. However, if he’s asking because the Jews had said that Jesus was claiming to be a king, then he would have in mind the king of the Jews.

We know from John’s gospel that Jesus is the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, the King from the line of David. Jesus cannot simply say yes or no. He is a King but not like Pilate was thinking.

‘My Kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here’.

Jesus’ answer is both incriminating and deeply revealing. His kingdom doesn’t come from this world. Jesus is talking about the world as it is. The world is fallen, broken, not living up to the dream. Jesus is denying that his kingdom has a this-worldly origin or quality.

God intended peace but the world is a violent place. The world is full of greed, cruelty, hurt, but Jesus says his kingdom isn’t like any other kingdom. Its source is in God. He is not denying that it has a this-worldly destination because that is why he was sent, and will send his followers into the world. His kingdom doesn’t come from this world, but it is for this world.

In particular as Jesus points out, if his kingdom were of the normal type, his followers would fight to stop him being handed over. They nearly did but Jesus stopped them and restrained them. Peter needed to learn the lesson Jesus was teaching Pilate and it would take nothing less than the resurrection to get it through to him. Jesus is indeed claiming to be a king, even though he isn’t the sort of king that Herod the great was or even Caesar.

Thirdly, the characteristics of the kingdom

Within the conversation with Pilate. Jesus reveals characteristics of his kingship and kingdom.

1.   His Kingship is about meekness and humility – He came to serve, not to be served

2.   His Kingship is about love

3.   His Kingship is not about violence but instead built upon peace

His Kingship is not about the kind of power or authority that this world understands. His kingship is actually what we long for, deep inside of us.

Jesus talked about his kingdom and by this point Pilate still doesn’t get it. He can only see things from a this-worldly perspective. As far as he knows, the only place you get truth is out of a sword. His world of armies and weapons and power and authority doesn’t compute.

As Christians we cannot view things like the world does. We must have a godly perspective on the world not a worldly one. Ultimately, for Pilate, it comes to truth, his truth against Jesus’ truth, my power against your weakness, my cross to hang your naked body on.

So you’re a king? “You say so,” Jesus replies. “You say I’m a king. For this I was born,”.

For Jesus, truth is not something to be manipulated and twisted like the world does but He came to reveal truth. Jesus even prayed that God’s truth would sanctify us or make us holy and set us apart from the world.

The truth that says that everyone who belongs to the truth hears his voice. Our work is discerning Jesus’ voice, the voice of the King. When we’re able to do that, it changes everything.

How long does it take for babies to recognise the voice of different people? When my daughter was aged 4, I was in a pantomime and my daughter went to watch me perform. Every time I sang or spoke, she became more attentive.

She had tuned into my voice. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is something that we learn to do. We recognize voices that we listen to regularly. Do we listen to God’s voice often enough to recognize it?

I wandered alone along the beach sometimes and as I took in the sights and sounds around me – the clouds floating across the sky, the waves crashing against the shore, the seagulls calling high above,

I really sensed God’s presence deep within my soul. I could feel His Love all around. I was filled with a deep peace and joy and I wanted to worship Him there and then. This is hearing the voice of God.

This is opening our hearts through prayer - to hear God’s voice is by sensing the voice of Love calling to the very depths of our hearts.

When we stop, and listen for the voice of the King, it pulls our hearts up to heaven, and roots them in His Kingdom. The truth, pure and simple, is that God is Love and God is speaking to you in love right now. God’s invitation to us is to listen attentively, to listen devoutly, and to know the truth of His Love.

On this day of joy as we celebrate Christ the King,

We call Jesus’ King not as the world understands it but because he’s the one who brings acceptance, mercy, healing, forgiveness and justice.

We call Jesus King because we believe that in following him, we bring about His Kingdom to ourselves, in others, and to those who need to know that God wants to know them.

We call Jesus King because as one man dies others would go free and so we testify to the truth and those who belong to the truth hear the sound of His voice.

Pilate didn’t see it at the time. Even cunning Caiaphas probably didn’t appreciate what Jesus was doing but for John the gospel writer he wants us to see it. This is what the truth is come and follow Jesus – worship him, serve him and testify to that truth by living by his example in love, hope, peace and joy with all people.

Amen.

 

Acts 16:16-34 & John 17:20-26  - Rev Chris Spencer

This morning I’m going to talk about unity. The type of unity that we find in God, with God and through God. Both our readings talk about unity but express it in different ways.

Let’s turn towards the story of Paul and Silas. They are travelling in Philippi and we hear that they are on the way to the place of prayer. The first mention of unity that we hear is that Paul and Silas are on the way to pray with other Christians and with God.

They were more or less on their way when they encounter a woman possessed by a spirit. They commanded it to leave her in the name of Jesus, which it did. They were in unity with Jesus, to cast out the spirit from the woman.

We don’t know what happened afterwards, but we see that Paul and Silas operate in unity with the authority of Jesus to free her.

For their troubles, they end up being taken, beaten and stripped by the local authorities and eventually imprisoned.

Paul and Silas however sing praises to God and show that they are in unity with Jesus who went through his own experience of trial and punishment.

Later that night, Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God and there was an earthquake which shook loose their chains and burst open the prison. Just picture that moment and it reminds me of Jesus’ own story. Where Jesus died, the temple shook, the curtain was torn in two and the chains of death were loosened for all of us. Jesus burst open the tomb to show he had conquered death and was alive again.

Now we could say that this point in Paul and Silas’ story ties up with Jesus’ story as a reminder to us that Jesus brings us all together in unity in so many different ways if we just spend a moment to think about them.

But their story doesn’t end there. Turning now to our Gospel reading, the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father. It provides the backdrop for what happens next with Paul and Silas and points to exactly what Jesus wants for us here today.

Jesus prays for all his believers. That’s all believers, not just the ones he was living with while he was alive on the earth. All believers. That’s you and me.

Imagine some great figures of the past, Shakespeare, George Washington, or people you respect and admire. Now imagine that historians have just found a letter from that great person but the letter is talking about you… How would you feel?

That is how you should feel as you hear these words

‘I’m not simply praying for them. I’m praying too, for the people who will come to believe in me because of their word.’

Jesus is talking about you, me, all the Christians down the road, the Christians who are being persecuted in the Middle East, the ones who meet in the underground churches in China, the ones who have been put to death for their faith in the centuries leading to today. Everyone.

Jesus prays for all believers, but he also prays for the work of his disciples. In this there we have another way of showing unity. We are unified with the disciples and believers from the very first meeting of Jesus right through history to today. But not only are we in unity with them, we are unified in prayer with Jesus who also prays for us.

Jesus prays that the world is community with itself just as he is in community with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are created to be in unity, with each other and our unity with God.

We are placed where we are, with the people we live and work and worship with, with the skills and talents we have, with our quirks and our strange ways.

We are carefully place to be here by the God who knows us and loves us and wants us to be living in unity with him and with each other. But why?

The simple answer is so that the world knows that God loves it and them and us. He works through us and around us, in unity with us, to make his love known in the world.

Jesus also prayed that the world is unity with itself and with God, just as he and the Holy Spirit are in unity with the Father. The three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist and live in a continually ebbing and flowing way, where there is no separation between them and no distinction between them. The three persons are one being.

If we understand this then Jesus wants us to exist in that way with God. We are then not just simply surrounded by God, or supported by God but God is within us as we are within God. There is a continual ebb and flow of being with God.

We might think of God as an external being to ourselves but he isn’t. Not if we understand that we exist in unity with him and we accept that he is within us.

It is a bit like driving. As a passenger you see a particular view of the road. The responsibilities for the journey are different as a passenger than they are as the driver. Not better, not harder, not easier, just different. And it’s only when we become the driver that we get a deeper appreciation of what the other viewpoint is.

Those who are in the caring professions – different being a patient on the receiving end of care from that to dispense it. Teachers different being a pupil in a classroom form being stood at the front delivering a lesson.

Anything where we were once taking one view and then we move to another view helps us to see that viewing God as outside of us to God being within us. We then know that he is there to help us in our difficulties, or to turn to when times are hard.

We turn then back to poor old Paul and Silas, stuck in prison, but with loosened chains and ruined brickwork. It would be easy for me to say to you ‘see, God was with them in that darkest place, the middle of the night fears of what’s going to happen next, but that is selling God short.

God of course was there with them in that dark place, but because he was inside them, not simply as their comfort blanket as we perhaps like to think he was.

So, what was the outcome of that place – we turn to the jailer. He was petrified that he had lost the prisoners, that they had escaped, he was so fearful his first reaction was to kill himself and plunged right down to the bottom of despair. Yet something of God’s love was at work because he immediately asked to be baptised after hearing Paul and Silas’ words about being saved through Jesus Christ.

Paul, Silas and the jailer who are all at rock bottom are unified in their fear and darkness and they were unified in baptism with each other and with God and the wider Christian community to. All unified together.

What I find fascinating about this reading is that the jailer’s first response was to offer hospitality. Food was given and drink supplied as Paul and Silas joined in the feast. A man who went from the brink of death to being baptised and throwing a feast for honoured guests. These honoured guests as it happens were now fugitives who were no doubt on the run from the authorities and so the jailer was risking his very life and those of his household to entertain Paul and Silas.

What does this teach us about our unity? We are going to celebrate holy communion shortly this morning and that is a way of showing that we are indeed in unity with each other because we are celebrating at the same time, but with the wider church across the world because we are all unified in Christ. Everyone is welcome to the Lord’s table as we are in unity with the one who creates and sustains us. It’s what Jesus himself prayed for. Amen.


Reformation Day 31st October- Stephen Nicols

A single event on a single day changed the world. It was October 31, 1517. Brother Martin, a monk and a scholar, had struggled for years with his church, the church in Rome. He had been greatly disturbed by an unprecedented indulgence sale. The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s meet the cast.

First, there is the young bishop—too young by church laws—Albert of Mainz. Not only was he bishop over two bishoprics, he desired an additional archbishopric over Mainz. This, too, was against church laws. So Albert appealed to the pope in Rome, Leo X. From the De Medici family, Leo X greedily allowed his tastes to exceed his financial resources. Enter the artists and sculptors, Raphael and Michelangelo.

When Albert of Mainz appealed for a papal dispensation, Leo X was ready to deal. Albert, with the papal blessing, would sell indulgences for past, present, and future sins. All of this sickened the monk Martin Luther. Can we buy our way into heaven? Luther had to speak out.

But why October 31? November 1 held a special place in the church calendar as All Saints’ Day. On November 1, 1517, a massive exhibit of newly acquired relics would be on display at Wittenberg, Luther’s home city. Pilgrims would come from all over, genuflect before the relics, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years off time in purgatory. Luther’s soul grew even more vexed. None of this seemed right.

Martin Luther, a scholar, took quill in hand, dipped it in his inkwell and penned his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517. These were intended to spark a debate, to stir some soul-searching among his fellow brothers in the church. The Ninety-Five Theses sparked far more than a debate. The Ninety-Five Theses also revealed the church was far beyond rehabilitation. It needed a reformation. The church—and the world—would never be the same.

One of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of tradition. Mere tradition often brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God. It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism. Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”? Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and many other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only supreme authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.

So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do.


Sermon:  Exodus 33:12-23 & John 17:1-5

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We look at how Jesus prayed in John chapter 17 as a model for us how we can pray. John 17 is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus and Jesus prayed this prayer after the last supper the night before he was crucified. A priest is someone who acts as an intermediary between God and people and so as Jesus prays, we learn how to go before God on behalf of ourselves and others.

If you knew you, we going to die tomorrow, what would you pray for? For a longer life? For more time with those you love? When Jesus prayed this prayer, he knew he was going to die tomorrow.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come…

The hour has come. The hour of his passion, his trial, his crucifixion, his rejection, his execution.

Recently I watched the film Braveheart. Braveheart is a story of William Wallace, who rallies the Scottish against their English oppressors. At the end of the film, he’s been betrayed and is awaiting his execution in an English prison when his love interest comes to him and gives him a sedative to drink so that his death will be easier. She makes him drink it, kisses him goodbye, and when she leaves, he spits it out. He wants to face his trial fully aware so that he won’t betray Scotland in a moment of weakness. Jesus could pray here for a sedative, “Father, make it hurt less. Father, make it go fast, Father, save me.” But instead, he prays

 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (NIV®)

Jesus prays for glory for himself so that he can glorify his Father. Does this remind you of any other prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (NIV®)

To “hallow” something means to make it holy. Here in John 17 and Matthew 6 we see 2 examples of Jesus praying and, in both examples, he focuses on honouring and glorifying his Father.

So, when we pray, we can begin with glory.

What is glory? What is Jesus praying for? Glory means to honour or praise. It’s recognizing the worth or character of something. To glorify something is to reveal its honour. The glory is God’s presence revealed.

Jesus prays, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’ he is praying to reveal the honour of the Son so that the Son may reveal the honour of the Father.

From our Old Testament reading Exodus Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the people of Israel got worried and made a golden calf to worship. Because of this, God nearly destroys the whole Israelite people but Moses intercedes for the people just like Jesus intercedes for us, and God relents. He promises to send an angel with them to the promised land, but he won’t go with them. Everyone breaks into mourning and Moses asks once more for God’s presence to go with them.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (NIV®)

Moses isn’t satisfied with God’s answer, he wants a sign, he needs to see God for himself to know that God will not abandon him and so he asks  “Now show me your glory.” (NIV®)

Moses asks for God to reveal his glory. God reveals his character. Good. Merciful. Compassionate. Don’t you want to see God’s glory?

Have you ever wanted to see something because you knew it was greater in person than in pictures? I never saw the ocean until I was about 16 years old. I saw when in Peru the Pacific Ocean. All at once I was surrounded by the body of water I had ever seen. The ocean was huge! I couldn’t see the end of it! Isn’t the ocean glorious? Do you think my interest in the ocean was only in seeing it or reading about it in books or in experiencing it? I didn’t just want to look at it and then carry on. I wanted to touch the water, to smell the ocean to know if this thing was everything, I’d ever heard it to be. When we pray “God, show me your glory” we’re praying for God to let us dip our toes in the shoreline waves of his infinitely good present.

God show me your glory. Splash me with your ocean. Soak me in your presence. The Fathers says, “Have you seen my son?” Glory is God’s presence revealed in Jesus Christ.

Have you ever wanted to see God’s glory? Look at Jesus

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth. (NIV®)

Jesus reveals his Father’s glory. God’s presence is in Jesus. God’s goodness, his mercy, and compassion are all in Christ Jesus. In a few months’ time we will enter into Christmas. There’s something glorious about Christmas, the lights, snow, trees, decorations, gifts, smiles, laughter, food. People giving and receiving gifts and of course celebrating God’s glory breaking into this world in the form of a tiny baby.

When we pray, we can start just like Jesus starts his prayer. We can pray for honour and glorify Jesus and the Father. “Father be glorified. Jesus, would you be glorified. Would my words and thoughts not only honour you but would they reveal your presence to this world? Show me your presence through Christ Jesus. Amen.” When we start by focusing on glorifying God and experiencing his glory, it turns our prayers from being about ourselves and being towards God.

When we pray this way, we’re asking God to lead us into the ocean of his glory. But how do we know we don’t drown? How do we know we won’t be crushed by the waves?

When we pray, we begin with glory and we can pray for eternal life. We come humbly before Jesus Christ, confessing our sins and asking him to give us life.

Eternal life is a gift and is not something we can earn by doing good. It’s not a badge we wear or a promotion or an award. Eternal life is a gift.

 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (NIV®)

To experience God’s glory, we need the gift of eternal life, which we can’t have through our own works.

Jesus says he only gives this gift to those his Father gave him. So, it’s like Jesus is re-gifting a gift his Father gave him. What is the gift of eternal life?

Eternal life is the gift of knowing the father and the Son. Eternal life is a relationship.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (NIV®)

Eternal life is knowing the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ himself. Do you want to experience glory? Then you have to know the Father and Jesus. John the writer is explaining to us the intimate relationship between Father and Son. It’s like saying I know my wife or I know my children. Do you only have intellectual understanding of them? Or do we know their fears. Their joys, what they love, what makes them laugh? Do you know Jesus? Does Jesus know you? Do you tell your Father in heaven your fears, your joys, what you love?

So, when we pray, we can begin with glory, we can pray for eternal life and so how can we close our prayers?

We can close in praise. The right response to glory is praise. The right response to God’s goodness revealed in Christ is worship. That’s want we do.

 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (NIV®)

Jesus says he has finished the work of his Father gave him to do. What’s his work? It’s a life lived in obedience to the Father – teaching the word of God to his disciples, healing the blind, rebuking the hard-hearted. Jesus is about to also include his final work the cross. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are his final works. He will die, rise again and ascend into heaven and sit down in glory.

Back to the film of Braveheart the final words William Wallace yells out before he is executed is “Freedom”! When Jesus died, he finished his work to give us freedom. Are you free? Are you experiencing his finished work?

We can pray this way because of the finished work of Jesus. When we pray: we can begin with glory because Jesus stepped down out of glory to reveal God’s glorious presence to us. We can pray for eternal life because Jesus scarified his life for us.

We can have a relationship with our heavenly Father and we can close in praise because right now Jesus sits with His Father at the throne in heaven, completely victorious over sin and death. So, I finish with these words

Father, show us your glory!


THE BANQUET AT THE END OF TIME

A Pastoral Letter for the Teulu Asaph from the bishop: October 2021

One of my very favourite poems is by George Herbert, the seventeenth century Anglican theologian and minister.  Entitled “Love (III)”, it is for me an interpretation of the very heart of the Gospel – the Good News that we as Christians are called upon to proclaim.

Jesus himself spoke about the Kingdom of God as a banquet, a great party, which God would hold at the end of this world, and which would inaugurate the next.  In Herbert’s poem, Love (God himself) invites us to this heavenly feast.

However, as set out in Scripture, there is a problem, what theologians name our inherent “sinfulness”.  In other words, a flaw at the heart of our being makes every single one of us less than perfect, unqualified for heaven.  The subject of the poem – the “I” – knows the problem:  he has marred the divine image in his life and he is “guilty of dust and sin”, so that shame (what we might call repentance) will not let him enter the feast.

Yet, where the Bible identifies the problem, the Bible also reveals a solution:  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3.16). In the poem, Love takes on the sin and shame of the world: “Who bore the blame?”  It is a reference to God’s sacrifice of himself in Jesus upon the cross, where God takes on himself all the pain, fault and cost of human failure  (Colossians 2.13,14), and pays the price of salvation, the price of entry into the feast.  To pray this poem, and make it our own, is to be a Christian.

The Church’s central purpose is to live into this promise, and to invite others to live into it as well.  God longs for us to attend an eternal feast that none of us are qualified to enter, but by his love and grace, by his sacrifice, the way is made open, if we will but accept that the price is paid.  It is this exchange which is at the heart of the Gospel, the good news of salvation: it is what salvation means, and it is reflected throughout the New Testament as a description of God’s action in Jesus.  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4.10) “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31).  What greater invitation could there be?

As we come out of lockdown, and enter again into our mission, which is the purpose for which God sends us into the world, let us remember that the proclamation of reconciliation through the Cross is the heart of everything we believe and do.  This is the Gospel of the Lord, and throwing the doors of our hearts wide open to Jesus is the one action, above all else, to which we are called.


Sermon:  Exodus 33:12-23 & John 16:1-15


As we come into chapter 16, the last chapter of this farewell discourse, we find the direction of changing from that of teaching to that of prediction. Jesus here tells his disciples what will soon happen. One way of breaking this scripture is by looking at it in two parts, What Jesus has said and what the Spirit will say.

WHAT JESUS SAID

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from failing away”. Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his soon departure. He is ensuring that they will not be surprised about what is to come. He has warned them that they will be persecuted for his name’s sake, and that the world will hate them.

Now he prepares them for the fact that ‘they will put you out of the synagogues.

Not only does Jesus mean this literally that they will be outcasts from the Jewish religion, but that their reputations will suffer. They will become margallized from their community.

While it is the Romans who will persecute the church in later years, at first it would be the Jews. Jesus warns “indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” And that is exactly what happens in the case of Saul, later to become Paul.

Jesus tells his disciples all of these warnings at the right time because he says “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” Jesus gives these warnings about his departure and the persecutions ahead until he was about to leave. Jesus speaks that more is to come through the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

WHAT THE SPIRIT WILL SAY

The disciples can heard Jesus when he taught but the text actually says that the Holy Spirit “will speak”.

But this is not an audible speech but rather, it is the Spirit working in the hearts and minds of the disciples to give them faith and say the words of God.

The text explains the works of the Holy Spirit in three ways. These regard sin, righteousness and judgment.

Let’s look at SIN

The works of the Holy Spirit is the convicting the world of sin. Many people believe they are ‘just fine’. They will say ‘I’m not as bad as this person.’ They just do not know how bad they are. For all of us are sinners, and sin is against God himself, holy and righteousness. The Holy Spirit works in people so that they are convicted of the sin. It is a bit like sometimes the light comes in through the window in a strong piercing beam and you thought the room you were in was clean. But in the light beam you see thousands of particles of dust floating around. The work of the Spirit is like the light beam, making you aware of the dust in the air which is the sin in your soul. The Spirit works to convict you not only of a particular sin, but by our very nature of being a sinful person. Jesus says “They do not believe in me.” Sin become then a barrier before us and God and so before a person comes to God we need to say sorry first.

RIGHTEOUSNESS

The Holy Spirit convicts us to seek out God’s forgiveness or his righteousness or our right understanding with God. Righteousness is not something that we can possess. We all need to be made right and so we all need a saviour to but it right. The Holy Spirit convicts our sin and of the need for righteousness which needs to judgment.

JUDGMENT

Jesus speaks of something that is now in the past to us. The Spirit works to overcome our past failures, our past sins, our boundaries before God and through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross we can be forgiven. Sin and death has lost its grip over us.

We are to be convicted that we are now set free, by the grace of God.

So, the Holy Spirit works to convict: our sin, righteousness and judgment and acts as our guide into all truth.

The text says “The Spirit leads me into all truth” this doesn’t mean you don’t have to study for a test, or that the big decisions in life regarding jobs, marriage, spending money are made for you.

The truth is the revelation of God in his word. Jesus teaches his disciples but there is more that they need to know. The Spirit inspires the disciples, speaks truth through them which was committed into writing the Scriptures about Jesus Christ.

All of God’s word is true and, in this life, all the truth that we can know is from God’s word. The scriptures are complete. They provide all things necessary for God’s own glory. The Spirit speaks in our hearts and minds through God’s word because the words of Jesus are not just for those disciples then but for us to. As Christ died for our sins, the Holy Spirit gives us faith to bring us back to the glory of God.

Jesus speaks and the Spirit speaks but the question for us this week is do we listen?

Do we listen to Jesus Christ call for us to read his father’s word? Do we read the bible, listen with understanding God’s word and accept this truth? Do we listen to the Spirit who convicts us of sinning and do we come to God for his forgiveness?

Let’s pray…

Faithful God, thank you that your son Jesus Christ died for our sins so we can be forgiven. Thank you for the truth of your word, but Lord helps us to read your word everyday and as we listen helps us to hear your Son and Spirit at work in our lives and those around us. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Reflection:  Psalm 69:1-13 & John 15:18-27


When you were a child did you ever play ball games with your friends? If could be football or catch or simply throwing a ball against a wall. Anyone who has done this or played a game which uses a single piece of sporting equipment, has probably experienced the childish moment where the person whose ball it is picks up the ball because it isn’t going their way and takes it home. That moment when someone selfishly decides that, because they aren’t getting their way then no one can be able to play either. It has been years since that happened to me.

I came across a new evangelism tool being rolled out called Talking Jesus. It is a series of videos, followed by a group discussion, designed to give people the tools to feel confident enough to discuss their faith with others. It’s a great idea, very similar to the Alpha Course, and has the potential to equip Christians to share their faith.

This like many other ideas help us to talk about our faith in our world, and Jesus too is preparing his disciples to live in the world who remain faithful. But he also addresses to them that there are people who hate us too. There are people who want Christianity consigned to the history books. There are those who think it has no place in our society. But here’s the thing; Jesus told us this would be the case. He told us that the world would hate us for following him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

What should come as a surprise is how some Christians and parts of the Church choose to react to this. We heard Jesus in John’s Gospel talking about the hatred and persecution his followers could expect to encounter, but what he doesn’t tell us is that we should throw our toys out of the pram when we come up against any resistance or opposition. He doesn’t tell us that we should try to impose His teachings on everybody else and that we should cry about being persecuted when everybody else won’t accept that.

I say this because it feels that Christians are in a definite minority in this country, and what I mean is that people who follow and worship Christ as opposed to those who simply identify as Christian. There are laws passed, workplace rules enacted, and social norms widely accepted which all go against the Law of God. We see greed, hatred, prejudice and immoral behaviour all around us, woven into the fabric of our society, and we should absolutely take a stand against it.

However, the thing we may be getting wrong isn’t whether or not to make a stand, but how we make those stands and what issues we choose to stand against. For example, there is a lot of publicity generated about Christians who are disciplined at work, or even fired, for either sharing their faith or for refusing to carry out basic responsibilities of their job because it goes against their beliefs. Christian media, Church leaders and various newspapers pile in, all shouting about the erosion of faith in this country.

Very often, though, when we look at the cases, we find that there is an awful lot more to these cases than headlines and soundbites present to us. A teacher was recently fired, apparently just for sharing her faith. Pressure groups such as Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre got the story into papers, TV and radio, presenting it as another way Christians are being persecuted in the UK. However, in reality, the teacher involved had told pupils they were going to Hell for not being Christians, made derogatory comments about pupils’ dress and consistently preached at classes despite being an English teacher, not an RE one.

If we worry that we are ridiculed by society, maybe we are making a rod for our own back here. We are called by Christ to live in truth; when we simply react to half heard stories or one-sided headlines, when we complain because society isn’t exactly how we want it to be, we remove ourselves from truth and, rather than living in Christ, we live in a world of our own making and with our own values. We can bemoan the fact that the world isn’t how we want it to be all we want, but simply stomping our feet and saying things that isn’t true, is just counter-productive.

So, if this isn’t the way to go, then what is. Jesus tells us plainly here. In verse 21 He says, “But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who has sent me.”

If the world truly does hate us, then Jesus is clear that it is because they don’t know God the Father. This is not a reason for us to throw our hands up and ask “what’s the point?”, but it’s an invitation to go out into the world and show the father to it. Not to beat people with religious talk, not to try to force everyone into following God’s Law, but to speak in truth and love, and to demonstrate God’s love for all in every interaction we have.

That is why we need to learn how to share our faith in an effective way. Rather, we need to be able to share our faith by our actions, never being afraid to let people know whose name we act in, and never being afraid to talk about Him when the time is right. But always, in a way which gives Him glory and shows others love.

And yes. It still does sound quite scary. But Jesus tells us about how we are not alone in this,
The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father.

I will send him to you from the father, and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning.”

We cannot hope to act in God’s name or speak in God’s name if we do not possess God’s Spirit within us. And He offers this to us. We always need to remember that it is by the Spirit, not by our own efforts, that we will show the Father to the world.

Some people will not want to know. Many will reject what God is doing and what we are saying in His name. But that has always and will always be the case and, while we should never give up, we should learn to accept that opposition to Christ will always exist.
But some people will start to listen. Some people will open themselves up to God’s truth. But this can only happen if we stop focusing on how the world makes us feel and start focusing more on Him.

Jesus didn’t go out into the world and complain that the Jewish leaders were trying to kill him, or that he wasn’t being listened to by everyone, or that his followers were being marginalised, or that he was chased out of some towns.

No, he found people in every situation he could find; people in authority, people with no authority, the educated and the uneducated, the tax collector, adulteress, widow, fisherman, soldier, rabbi and all other walks of life. He found these people where they were and he showed them love, accepted them, told them the truth and left it for them to respond as they wished.

This is how he calls us to be as well. Not to throw our toys out of the pram when the world won’t conform to our standards, but to love others and demonstrate the hope that comes from living in Christ. It isn’t something to complain about, but something to be rejoiced about for all eternity. Amen.

 

Sermon:  Psalm 69:1-13 & John 15:18-27


Expectations are a very powerful thing, aren’t they? And we all have them. We may not even realize that we have expectations, but we certainly do. We expect that life in general, and certain aspects of life in particular, will go a certain way. It’s not those expectations are bad in and of themselves, but I think you would agree that they can have a devastating effect upon us if they are false.

Recently I have met up with a few couples who want to get married and we talk about all sorts of things. But one of the issues is about expectations. “What do you expect marriage to be like?”, or “what do you expect from your future spouse?”, is the question. If the answer sounds like it is based off a scene from a Disney film rather than the scriptures, I know that some serious conversations are needed. False expectations concerning marriage inevitably lead to disappointment.

I am here thinking of those instances where expectations are too high, but I suppose it is also possible for expectations to be too low. A bride or groom might assume that marriage will be so difficult that they in fact set themselves up for failure. Either way, the point it that expectations are powerful. When they fail to square with the reality of things, they lead to disappointment and failure. For this reason, it is important for us to help foster realistic exceptions – expectations that square with reality – in the people that we have influence over.

This is exactly what Jesus was doing with his disciples in the hours leading up to his betrayal and eventual crucifixion. He was preparing them for his departure.

He encouraged their hearts with the word that he was leaving them for a good reason: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

He comforted them with the promise that he would not leave them alone and helpless: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (John 14:16–18, ESV)

And he also instructed them concerning the way to an abundant and fruitful life “Abide in me, and I in you. (John 15:4–5, ESV)

So you see, Jesus is preparing his disciples to live in this world until he returns. These are words of preparation. And here he prepares us by addressing our expectations.

How will it go for us in this world as we live between Jesus Christs first and second comings? What exactly should we expect? To expect the wrong things will inevitably lead to disappointment and despair, and so Christ equips us with proper expectations as we look together at three questions.

Q1: How will it go, then, for the followers of Christ as we live in this world awaiting the Lord’s return?

A: The simple answer is this: As it was for Jesus, so will it be for us. 

And how was it for Jesus in this world? Though some believed in him, the vast majority rejected him.

Look at verse 18 and see how Jesus prepared his disciples: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” 

Verse 20: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18, 20, ESV)

Two things are to be noticed concerning the way that the world responded to Jesus Christ.

 

First of all, the world hated Jesus Christ.  The crucifixion was the ultimate expression of this hatred, but it was not the only expression of it. The whole of Jesus’ life and ministry were marked by conflict with the world. He was despised and rejected from beginning to end by the world – that is, by those not given to him by the Father. Jesus emphasized this with his disciples in order to prepare them for life in this world. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”, he said. Expect it. Do not let the persecution take you by surprise.

But notice, secondly, that there were some who did receive Jesus’ word. They were the ones given to Jesus by the Father. When they heard Jesus’ word, they received it. And there is a promise here in this passage that the same thing will continue after Jesus’ departure. Verse 20 begins by warning, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But it ends with this encouragement: “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

I take all of this to mean that the same pattern will occur Christ was hated by the world while on earth – his followers will be hated by the world too. But some did believe in Christ while he was on earth – and there will also be some who will believe upon the word of Christ spoken by his people after his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

And so we are to be optimistically pessimistic concerning the world. On the one hand, we should expect to experience (to one degree or another) resistance, hostility, persecution, and hatred. But on the other hand, we ought to expect victory. The gospel will go forth. The kingdom of God will advance. The word of Christ will “not return …empty, but it shall… succeed in the thing for which [he] sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)

I’m sure there are some who are thinking, I don’t know if I like all of this negative talk concerning the hostility of the world towards Christians. Perhaps you’re thinking, I have friends who are non-Christians. They do not hate me, nor are they hostile towards me. In fact, they are really very nice people!

Let me say two things concerning this.

First of all, I think there is again some confusion over the word world. If we demand that “world” mean every individual person on the planet without exception then we have Jesus saying that every individual person on the earth hated him and will hate you if you are a Christian. It is far better to recognize that the word “world” is consistently used in John to refer to this place in which we live in a more general way. It refers to all of the peoples of this earth, Jew and gentile alike.

It also carries with it moral implications – this world is in darkness, and is against God, and the things of God. So, it is true, the world – the way of the world – is hostile to God and the things of God. And Christians, as long as they live in this place, should expect to face a degree of hostility and hatred. But that is different from saying that every non-Christian hate and is hostile toward every Christians.

Secondly, we should also recognize that there are different levels of hatred, and different manifestation of it. It may be that they simply hate the gospel of Christ or the way it has been presented to them. It maybe that they are not wanting to repent and turn to Christ.

It could all number of reasons, so when we hear Jesus warn us that the world will hate his disciples, do not take this to mean that every individual who is not in Christ will respond with all out hatred and hostility.

Persecution should not take us by surprise. Hatred and opposition should not catch us off guard. Though the gospel will advance, and though the kingdom of God will grow.

Q2: The second question, then, is why does the world hate Christ and those who belong to him?

A: The answer: The world hates Christ and those who belong to him because they are not of this world. 

In verse 19 where Jesus says to his followers, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19, ESV)

First, it is important to remember that Christ is not of this world. This has already been said in John’s gospel. “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23, ESV) Jesus’ origins were heavenly.

He came to us from the Father. He belonged, then, to a different order of things. He did not belong to this world, nor to the systems, or way, of this world.

Second, it is important to remember that you, if you are in Christ, are not of this world. Those who believe in Christ believe in him because they have been born of God (John 1:12-13). In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NET)

And throughout John we encounter this truth, that Jesus has chosen some out of this world to belong to him. That theme is here in John 15. See verse 16 where Jesus speaks to his disciples saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16, ESV) And notice again verse 19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19, ESV)

Those who believe upon Christ believe upon him because Christ has graciously chosen them and called them. But notice that they have been chosen out of the world. 

Two things are implied here. One, when we hear that those who belong to Christ were chosen and called out of the world it reminds us that we were no different from the world before Christ graciously intervened. In other words, Christians are not Christians because they were the cream of the crop. No, all were of the world and Christ graciously chose us out of the world. Two, when we hear that those who belong to Christ were chosen and called out of the world, does it not remind us that Christians no longer belong to this world – to its systems and ways. We, like Christ, belong to another order of things. We have been chosen out of the world and belong to it no longer.

This is why the world hates Christ and those who belong to him.

The world loves its own people. The world has great fondness for those who think and live as they do.

The world, which lives in darkness, is irritated by the light. When Christ or his followers confront the world concerning their sin – either through words or by refusing to join in the world turns at it. Consider also that the gospel which brings life to those who believe.

That, is what verse 21-25 are getting at. When Jesus came, and as he presented himself to the world, the works and the words that he spoke force people to a decision concerning him as the Christ. In other words, when Christ came, he spoke the final world concerning God’s love for the world and when this final word was spoken it also prompted men and women to give their final response – yes or no – concerning him as the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Saviour.

You see, the same thing happens today. When we share the gospel with others it is for them to choose how they respond in one way or another. They have heard God’s word through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are indeed prompted to respond.

It is no wonder that the world hates Christ and those who belong to him. We are not of this world. We do not belong to it – the kingdom of heaven is our true to home; we have been raised with Christ and are seated with him in the heavenly places; we are pilgrims on this earth, having been born from above – and as a result we do not live according to customs of this world. We do not walk in the same way.

We think, and speak, and live in a way that is different from the world – or at least we should. The world loves its own. If we were of the world, the world would love us.

But because we are not of the world, the world to one degree or another, is trouble by us.

Q3: The third question that comes to mind is if this is all true, how then can a Christian possibly stand in this world in the face of such hostility?

A: The answer: The Christian will stand with the help of the Spirit, with an ever-increasing love for the Father, and the Christ whom he sent. 

In verse 26 Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26–27, ESV)

This is very significant. It is a reminder that we are united to, and in the service of, the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He, in all his power and glory, stands with those who are his as we live in this world, though we be not of it. The Holy Spirit is our Helper.

He is sent by Jesus God’s own Son, proceeding from the Father, in order to bear witness concerning Jesus Christ.

We are not alone. Christ did not leave us as orphans – helpless and vulnerable. No, though it is true that we live in a hostile environment, we serve the Lord of lords, and King of kings, who has richly supplied us with all that we need, and supports us in every way, so that his purposes might prevail.

What do you expect as you walk with Christ in this world? It is not right to expect hostility from every person in the world who is not a Christian. We should not withdraw out of the world. But we should not be surprised when the world is hostile towards us. We are to be in the world, but not of it.

Are you willing to suffer as a follower of Christ? I find that many Christians are tempted to go the way of the world – to think, and talk, and walk but that is not the way of Christ nor his people. We need to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully, and to live according to our Father’s will.  Amen.


Sermon: Psalm 98 & John 15:9-17

You may remember a few years ago a British romantic comedy called Love Actually. It opened with the scenes of a busy airport passenger area and a voiceover from one of the characters saying that whenever he gets gloomy about the state of the world, he thinks about the arrivals terminal at Heathrow Airport and the uncomplicated delight you see on the faces of friends and family as they find each other and reconnect. Then he goes on to say that all the known parting messages by people who died on 9/11 were messages of love, not hate. And at the end, the film closes with another scene of airport greetings.

 

I would bet we’ve all glimpsed those moments in airports—the teary hugs and farewells, the ecstatic greetings even with flowers and balloons. There is something about parting and about coming back together that focuses us on what matters most.

It’s often a time when we say things, we’ve left unsaid. And especially if we’re saying good-bye, we often utter what’s on our mind, what we most want someone we love to hold onto as we part.

The lessons for these weeks come from the last urgent words Jesus speaks to his disciples before he went to the cross. They are his farewell words, what the scholars call the “Farewell Discourses.” They are intense, packed with advice. In fact, they often sound repetitive, as if Jesus needs to keep circling around the same words and ideas so they will stick in his followers’ ears.

Last week and this he keeps talking about abiding. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” he said in last week’s passage, “abide in me as I abide in you.” This week he’s at it again. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my life. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.”

 

Then, like a worried mother at the airport pouring out her last urgent words of advice before her son our daughter steps on a plane for two months away, or like a professor giving his last lecture and trying to sum up what he has wanted to say over a lifetime, in these crucial moments for Jesus, the words come tumbling out:

Love one another as I have loved you.
I do not call you servants any longer; but I have called you friends.
You did not choose me but I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last….
[And then, again,] I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another

But beneath all the words pouring out of Jesus’ heart, there was really one word, and that word expressed the reason for his whole life. It’s love, actually. For Jesus, love is the reason God made the world, love is the way we are made to live, love is what worship and life are made to show us, love is why Jesus came to us, love is what God will never stop trying to draw us into embracing, love is what we are meant to abide in all our days.

This love isn’t an individual decision to act a certain way in a particular situation, although that’s always where love will take us. “Abide in my love,” Jesus keeps saying. Being a Christian entails a willingness to dwell in, to enter into the outpouring stream of divine love flowing endlessly through the world like waves surging around us.

“God is love,” Jesus says, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” That’s the sentence that finally opened again the door of faith for me again after years of questioning. As part of my searching, I had been slowly reading the New Testament straight through, night after night. And one night I came on this passage, and all of a sudden talk about God that for so long had seemed remote and abstract became concrete and real to me.

To love, I saw, is literally to experience God. God is the energy of existence, the energy of communion, the secret unity that holds everything together in one unity and that moves through atoms and molecules and rivers and mountains and people and the forces of history.

So, when I love, when I move out of myself to care for another, I am stepping into the flow of God’s love, I became united with the power of life moving through the universe. And when I don’t love, I cut myself off from God and those around me.

I sometimes wonder if the word love is even recoverable. It’s used for so many different things. I love chocolate ice cream, I love that new car, I love baseball. Any minister will tell you that much of what couples often bring to the altar at a wedding is the strong sense of feeling in love. That’s the natural place for a marriage to begin, but unless their love grows deeper the marriage probably won’t survive. The love we speak of in Christian marriage speaks of isn’t about feelings. It’s an act of will, a commitment, to care for the other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer over a lifetime.” And it’s that promise, that commitment, that will provide a safe, strong harbour of love and devotion as feelings come and go.

 

I have to say that for all the charm of the movie Love Actually, I don’t remember seeing much love in it.

It seemed more about physical attraction and the complex ways people keep “falling in love.”

 

You see, love is changing nappies and doing the dishes, it’s living with the ups and downs of life with pre-teenagers, and the ups and downs of parents too, for that matter. Love is speaking honestly to someone who has hurt us. It’s telling a friend she is drinking too much. It’s putting a career on hold because our family needs us. Love is making sure that values deeper than the bottom line drive our business decisions.

Love is the heart of it all. It’s what finally matters for every human being, Christian or not. Because when we love God is in us and we are in God, whether we believe in God or not. Coming to church doesn’t save our souls. But it shows us the things that do—love, forgiveness, compassion and it enables us to receive Christ’s energy and Spirit, which make those things possible

Love for all others, even the difficult ones, is a harder calling, but maybe that makes it easier to focus on. Jesus called us into community that’s going to take wise, emotional, spiritual and creative work.

“The more I think about it,
the more I feel there’s nothing more artistic than to love people.” Vincent Van Gogh

And yet, in spite of all this sustaining love we trip up. We are to ‘love one another’ in the way Jesus loved us. It’s strange to be commanded to love? Maybe it’s the radical nature of this love that makes a commandment necessary. The Oxford Dictionary says the word command means mandate, authority, control, instruction, decree, direction. We wouldn’t find ourselves saying,

“I command you to love that person.” “As I have loved you.” Not as duty dictates or as you might have figured out for yourself, but as Christ loved you. And the love of Christ is far richer than a love that comes from duty. The great gift of love comes first, making discipleship possible. Jesus then called his disciples friends. The gospel of John tells us friendship is the highest form of love.

Often Jesus’ chooses images or contrasts with which to challenge his disciples and all who hear his words. In this passage John puts things very clearly. The command to love is unavoidable.

What love means will often seen mysterious. Love itself, the love of God, is given without reserve and without control in the offering of Jesus’ life to death and beyond. This is not a love which we recognise in ourselves. But we should not focus on our inadequacy, but on the possibility that it is within us. The important thing is the ability to love at all. That we are able to give of ourselves, that we are able to ask ourselves what is the loving thing to do, is a clue which points to the image of God within us.

Although we are bad at loving, the fact remains possible. If love is possible, everything is possible. It is this possibility that opens our eyes and minds to the image of the fruit that lasts.

How often have we though what a bizarre thing to say because we know that fruit doesn’t last. As everyone who has ever been to the supermarket or the greengrocers to buy a range of healthy fruit, we take it home and arrange it carefully in our fruit bowl and then we spend the next several days watching it rot and not looking its best.

If it lasts, it might be for a week or because something is wrong with it. Fruit that lasts, isn’t quite what we want. Last week Jesus presented us with the image of the vine and the branches and the insistence of Jesus that apart from me you can do nothing.

The fruit which the branches, which the disciples produce, is not something which they have brought into being themselves, but something which stems from the creative power which is the love of God. The outpouring of that love into our lives is what we as Christians call grace.

We hear today the text that follows directly from that the grace from God enables the Father to love us, so I have loved you. To remain in his love if we keep his commandments. What is the commandment? To love one another, as I have loved you.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,” Jesus said.

And he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Fruit is not simply profound, it is productive. Jesus talks not of some miraculous fruit which doesn’t behave the way fruit ought to behave, but of fruit doing what fruit ought to do. He is concerned with the ongoing creativity which comes from the life cycle in which the fruit of a plant bears the seeds if its reproduction. The seed of human fulfilment is the love of God and nothing else. The love by which we abide, by which we remain in Christ and in the Father, is our motivation, our point of being alive. Our existence is the fulfilment which is only to be found in God himself – the desire and ability to love is the gift of God by which we are drawn towards that fulfilment.

So, this is the fruit which will not rot. The fruit which lasts, which reproduces, is love. Love initiates new relationships, it identifies new possibilities, it opens new horizons for all who give and receive it. It is the fullest expression of human life. If we wish to live, we must try to love in all that we do, with all we encounter, we must have this simple question what is the loving thing to do? That’s the centre, the heart of Christianity, the point of it all. It’s love, actually. Amen.