Sermon: The Sixth Sunday of Easter (A) – 25th May 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Acts17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-19; 1 Peter 3: 8-22; John 14: 15-21

Our Parish Mission “Fully Alive: Fully Human” commences in just three weeks on Trinity Sunday. One of the most difficult questions for non-fundamentalist Christians, which I believe is “how shall we do mission and evangelism in a pluralistic age?” For the most part, we happily embrace religious pluralism and spiritual diversity but how then are we to promote the value of Christian faith as we experience it?

While most of us lack the missionary zeal of Paul in Athens, we may find his experience of the Areopagus quite familiar. Still, like Paul we look for a point of contact with seekers as well as persons from other religious faiths. Today’s readings call us to wrestle with the reality of Christian proclamation in our time and where we might find a point of contact between our Christian beliefs and the hopes and searching our family and friends.

Today, we need to recover a reason to share the good news, not just for others but also for our own vitality. Paul’s approach to the Athenians is two-sided. He agrees that there is truth in their quest. Then he asserts that Christ is what they are truly seeking. He does not exactly say they are not “lost”, nor do we. Still, he calls them to experience something more profound: the God of all peoples, who is beyond human control, yet embodied in the Risen Christ.

Paul’s words say, perhaps, more than he intended.  Indeed, despite the evangelical and fundamentalist critique of there being many god’s being as heretical, Paul comes close to supporting such a position. Indeed, his use of non-Christian philosophical sayings to bolster the Christian message further under girds the possibility of global revelation. Paul affirms that God is “not far from each one of us” and, then, quoting Seneca a Greek philosopher, he describes God as the One in whom “we live, move, and have our being”. Even bolder, he continues his dialogue with Greek philosophy and Seneca, “for we too are God’s offspring”. That is, despite humanity’s God-forgetfulness and alienation, we live in a divine environment. Our sin and brokenness do not disguise our original wholeness as God’s children, nor do they create an insurmountable chasm between God and us.

Still, Paul believes the gospel must be proclaimed. Perhaps, he remembers another passage passed down among the apostles, and later inscribed in John’s gospel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Though we are always connected with God, we may be unaware of our divine heritage.  We may forget our true identity and the source of inspiration and growth. When we are consciously connected with God, we bear fruit and live abundantly. We can confidently share the good news as a means of helping others, particularly our families and friends, “find” themselves as God’s beloved children, the recipients of gift and grace.

John’s gospel speaks of the Divine Advocate, the inner Spirit of truth. Though this truth is accessible to all, only those who seek the truth will know God’s truth for themselves and the world.  Only those who seek God’s truth will experience the Spirit consciously in their lives. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Yet, this treasure may remain buried apart from the awakening word of a loving community or friend.

The passage from John opens to us two concepts, both of which must eventually be joined in our personal and our congregational faith: the path of spiritual discipline and practice and the path of public proclamation. To use the words of Thomas Merton, we need to practice contemplation in a world of action. Our faith must be a faith of action. We are to be God’s ambassadors.

John’s Gospel tells us that God’s Spirit always calls in “sighs too deep for words” we need to train ourselves to listen. We need to practice awakening to God’s presence and listening for God’s purpose for our personal and communal lives. This is what we hope will be the result of “fully Alive: Fully Human”.

God speaks to humanity in many and various ways. God has revealed God’s self to the world over the eons in many and various ways and continues to so in our age. We meet God usually in the most unexpected occurrences and places. We must be alert.

In the burning bush God revealed to Moses his plan for Moses to be God’s agent in the salvation of the captive people of Israel.

Isaiah was participating in the Temple liturgy when, he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him. Amos was tending his sheep and his trees when God spoke to him.

Elijah thinking that the whole world was against him, meet with God in the most unexpected way, in the sound of sheer silence.

The Psalmist met with God in the beauty of creation. “I lift up my eyes to the hills from where my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Paul, full of zeal to destroy the fledgling church, was unexpectedly confronted with the Son of God through a blazing light and a booming voice.

Thomas met God in the evidence of the resurrection. He said ‘My Lord and my God!’

We are all different in how we discover God and the impact of God’s will affects each of our lives differently. Whether God is revealed to us in a fire, or in worship in church, walking along a road or in silence; each of our special revelations is important to us and our experience is helpful to others.

The contingent movement in faith once we have heard God speak is often more difficult for most of us. How shall we share our faith to seekers and non-Christians? This, like the spiritual disciplines, takes practice. We need to be reminded of the God moments in our lives, the moments when God became more than a word or when God made a way when there was no way. From these God moments we can discern the gospel we will proclaim. We do not speak a truth from above, but we can speak of a living truth grounded in our own lives that do not have all the questions, but are informed by our experience and faith, and this personal and experienced truth will speak to our families, friends and neighbours.

We need to live and breathe a gospel that reflects Christian wisdom and experience from the perspective of a broad and inclusive faith. Our faith is inclusive not exclusive. Our faith is based upon the example of Jesus who met with sinners of all sorts and loved them.

With the example of Paul speaking in the Areopagus and John understanding, there is an understanding that can be broken down into a number of spiritual affirmations upon which we can build a way to speak of our faith to others.

God lives in all things, and in my life.
We are all children of God.
We can experience God in our life.
We can experience God’s wisdom and abundance in every situation.
Christ reveals God to us.
Christ constantly gives us the wisdom we need to flourish and serve.

Yes, we dwell in the modern Areopagus and are ourselves Athenians in our quests for an inclusive faith. In our continual searching we need to let our light shine; to speak the truth of faith, as we know it, to connect that truth with the experiences of the people outside of the Church. This is achieved by using the example of our own experiences of God in our lives. This is real benefit for the people with which we come into contact in our daily living.  That is how we can validly speak of faith in both word and deed.

God is “not far from each one of us”. The dynamic, loving and inclusive God is in our midst. When we promote this understanding then it will be heard in the Areopagus’ of today.[1]

 

 

 

[1] This sermon is based upon the work of Bruce Epperly found at www.processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2005-05-01/6th-sunday-easter

 

Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A) – 18th May 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60; Psalm 31: 1-5, 17-18;  1 Peter 2: 11-25; John 14: 1-14

When you think of home, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a building. Perhaps you think of home as a shelter from the storm, a place of refuge. Perhaps when you hear the word “home”, you think more of the hopes and dreams of the people who inhabit a home, a place where people build and share a life together. A place where families share the hopes, hurts, the joys and sorrows of life. Perhaps when you hear the word “home” you think of a place of solace and comfort a place where you feel safe and whole.

Some say home is where the heart is. Others say home is where you hang your hat. The American poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Somehow, someway, home has a special place in the human heart. It seems as though we are all longing for a place to call home. Whenever we feel lonely or abandoned, we want to go home. Whenever we are filled with doubt or despair, we want to go home. Whenever we feel cut off or lost, we want to go home. I want to go home. I want to feel at home. It’s a phrase that expresses the deepest longings of the human heart.

St. Augustine gave famous expression to this longing when he wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”. Somehow our restless hearts are always looking for a place to rest, a place to find true and abiding peace, a place to call home. Maybe we feel like if we only had the perfect job in the perfect community, then finally we wouldn’t feel so restless. Maybe we feel like if we could meet that perfect someone, that perfect spouse or partner, then finally we would be ready to settle down. Maybe we feel like if we can just get the children educated then finally we can rest.

And yet even when we land our dream job, and find our soul mate, and raise our children, somehow the human heart is still restless, still looking for a place to find true and genuine peace. Somehow, we are all still longing for a place to truly call our home.

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” In the good times and the bad times, we are all longing for a place called home.

In our gospel reading today, we hear words that speak directly to the longing of the human heart for a home. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”

The Gospel reading is part of the central section of the Gospel of John that follows Jesus’ public ministry and precedes his passion. After an account of the last supper and foot washing, John presents Jesus’ farewell discourse, followed by his high priestly prayer. The lengthy farewell discourse focuses on topics relevant to the disciples after Jesus departure. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. They must have been broken-hearted, but Jesus assures them that even though their relationship is changing, it is not ending. Even though he will no longer be with them in the flesh, they will remain connected. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, where they will remain united to him forever, “so that where I am, there you may be also”.

Our true home is with God, and Jesus, who comes from their very bosom of God, is preparing a place for his disciples in God’s home, in God’s heart. Our true home, ultimately, is not a place, but a relationship, a relationship in the very heart of God, made possible by Christ, eternal in the heavens. Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.

Here’s the surprise thing. Even though the fullness of this relationship remains in our future, even now we can know the reality of this relationship. Even now we can experience a foretaste of this eternal home. When we do the works that Christ commands us to do, when we love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, then God’s love will dwell in us, then God’s love will make a home in us. When the brokenhearted are comforted, then God will make a home with us. When people lay down their lives for one another, then God will make a home with us. When all of God’s children are invited to God’s table to share in his body and blood, then God will make a home with us.

In her memoir, “Traveling Mercies”, Anne Lamott writes about why she stays so close to her church. She says, I have stayed so close to mine – because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, when I hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.”

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”[1]

 

[1] This sermon prepared using the work of the Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano found at www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw and material found at www.processandfaith.org.