Sermon: Trinity Sunday, 22nd May 2016

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Fr Martin Davies, Saint Alban’s Epping 2016

Some months ago when Father Ross asked if I’d preach at S Alban’s on Sunday 22 May, I didn’t realise it would be Trinity Sunday.  I’m never quite sure what to say in preaching about the Holy Trinity.  And in many ways I’d rather begin by saying nothing, for a sermon about the Trinity is a sermon about God.  When we get over our compulsion to do a lot of talking and explaining about God – and even to set doctrinal tests – we come to realise that our first and best response before God is simply to stand in wonder and awe.  Or, as the Orthodox put it, to stand with the mind in the heart, before God.

When I was young, on Trinity Sunday we would sing the Athanasian Creed in procession around the church.  Creeds are a bit like policy statements.  They contain – in summarised form – what the Church believes about God who creates, redeems and gives us life; God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Of course, there is much more that we could and do say about God, but in the context of worship, just as all liturgy’s component parts are a summary of much more, so too a credal form points to something much greater.  What we have here is, at the very least, a window into the vision of God.  At best, the window may be enlarged into a doorway, through which we enter to partake very fully of that vision.

When the controversial theologian David Jenkins became bishop of Durham over thirty years ago, you may remember there was a fire in York Minster shortly after his consecration.  Some were quick to see the fire as an expression of God’s displeasure at Bishop Jenkins’ theological views.  However, long before he became a focus of controversy and a much quoted, partly-quoted and mis-quoted theologian, David Jenkins said that failure of vision lies at the root of our problems.  He described this as a failure of vision

of the unlimited resources of energy and love to which the believer has access, when the [triune] life of God is felt as power.

When we talk about power, especially in an age when power is frequently used to control and bully people, we need to be clear about what we mean by power.  The sort of power which David Jenkins was referring to was an understanding of

the Trinity [as] a symbol for pilgrims who know no limits to their hopes of endurance, discovery and enjoyment.

That, it seems to me is what God is about – or who God [is] For Us, as the title of a book on the Trinity by American theologian Catherine LaCugna so well catches it.

Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel warns against faith being replaced by creed.  He said, religion is an answer to ultimate questions, and the moment we loose sight of ultimate questions is when religion becomes irrelevant and its crisis sets in.  The task of religion is not necessarily to have all the answers, but certainly to discover or rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer.

In our glimpse through the window of worship and our entry through the door into a fuller participation in the vision of God, we may gain a practical and practising insight into the living mystery which is the creating, redeeming and sanctifying God among us now.

Actions speak louder than words.  The words which we profess must have some way of showing themselves in our lives.  Our vision of God, and our resulting human action, are inseparable.  Prayer and action go together.  A rediscovery of the necessary unity between contemplation and action, the mystical and the prophetic, is almost certainly the central need of modern Western Christianity.  We need a vision of God which resources us for action in the world, not one which keeps us immune from the world.

On this feast of the Holy Trinity, we recall that the creating, redeeming and life-giving power of God are not static.  They are active.  The creative, redeeming and sanctifying power of God which we know in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are still accessible to us now.  All that is required, is that we consent to enter into this life of God.  And this is made all the easier, because God is already reaching out to welcome us.

The Trinity is a symbol for pilgrims who know no limits to their hopes of endurance, discovery and enjoyment.  We are called to share in God’s creativity; in God’s enduring.  Every aspect of God’s creation endures, and we can share in creating that durability for our lives, our ministries, and our faith community.  We make discoveries of ourselves through our life in God.  We are not yet complete as God’s creation until the day of our final dying, when we enter into the fullness of the inheritance prepared for us.  The discoveries we make along the way, personally and as a faith community, prepare us for our fullest discovery of God, and eventually beyond the limitations of time and space.

Despite my initial reluctance to say anything about God, on this feast of the Holy Trinity, there is something we can say, without tangling ourselves up in doctrinal puzzles over which some may wish to run a heresy check.  What we can say about God – from the standpoint of the lived experience of faith – is how we know God the Trinity through Holiness, Humility and Hospitality.

By holiness I don’t mean some other-worldly piety which is unrelated to ordinary human experience.  Holiness is inextricably linked to our creation by God in God’s image and likeness, and to our place within the whole of God’s creation.  All that God created is good, and our response to that goodness in creation is one of reverence toward each other and to the earth itself.  It is becoming more and more evident that reverence for humanity and for the earth itself is the central need of our time, with vast consequences whenever this is disregarded.  Our response to God’s holiness is to respond to all that God offers us in the work of restoring our broken likeness to God, reassured that despite our seemingly endless capacity to get it wrong, we cannot erase the image of God is us, whose creation we are.

Humility is another way in which and by which we know God and participate in God’s life.  Even more than that: humility is a feature of God – of God who became human; became one of us.  Jesus told us that he is the way, the truth and the life.  We discover the truth of ourselves through humility.  By humility I don’t mean the putting-ourselves-down kind of false humility.  I mean that humility is living in the truth of who God created us to be; as beings created in the image and likeness of God, and of not living as if we are either greater or less than that.

And hospitality: the third way I am suggesting through which we participate in the life of God; God the Holy Trinity.  Saint Benedict says that we are to welcome those who come among us as if they were Christ himself.  Hospitality flows on from humility.  If we have a true sense of who we are – rather than either an inflated sense or an undervalued sense – we will be open to love and to grace received from God, and we will be open to giving love to others and to being gracious in our welcome of others.  Hospitality simply means: there is room in my life for you; there is room in this church for you; there is room in this society for you; there is room in this place for you.

In the world of time, and in this meeting of time with the vision of the eternal, may we come to know God; creating, redeeming, giving life.  May we participate in God’s creation, redemption and bringing to fullness.  May we commit ourselves to life in God.  May we rejoice in the life into which we were baptised; the life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Sermon: Trinity Sunday, St Aidan’s, 22nd May 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 22nd May 2016

Rev. Paul Weaver

“APPRECIATING THE TRINITY”

(Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)

When I first looked at the Gospel reading for today, from John 16, I thought that they had got it wrong. This was surely a reading for Pentecost: it’s all about the Holy Spirit! Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who guides us into all truth, the Spirit who explains things to come, the Spirit who glorifies Jesus and teaches the message of Jesus

However, I then looked a bit more closely and realized that in this passage there is not only a focus on the Holy Spirit: there is also focus on Jesus and on God the Father. So it is a passage for Trinity Sunday.

Similarly I looked at our reading from Romans 5. It speaks of how through faith in Jesus we have peace with God. It spoke of our hope in Jesus Christ, but also the positive attitude we can take even when things are tough, because God is at work, bringing good out of suffering.

And once again I saw that the passage speaks of God the Father, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit given to us, through whom we open up to the wonderful love of God.

But do these passages explain the Trinity to us: the teaching that there is one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do these passages seek to make clear the doctrine of the Trinity? And the answer is “Not really!” In fact there is no passage in scripture which really seeks to expound the doctrine of the Trinity!

You won’t actually find the word “Trinity” in the scriptures. The term was not used until late in the second century. Trinity: tri-unity, three who are one. The term brings together the idea that not only is there one God who is the Father: there is Jesus who is God the Son, and there is the Holy Spirit who is God.

There is only one God, but he has made himself known to us in three ways: as God the Father, the Creator of everything; as God the Son, Jesus, who is God coming amongst us, living a truly human life, experiencing what it is to be human, living and dying and rising again for us; and there is God the Holy Spirit, God within us, God amongst us, God strengthening and guiding and equipping us as we seek to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

We are familiar with this idea that there are three persons in one God. That is the meaning of the Trinity. But, familiar though it is, we have to say that it is very hard to understand! Of course, if we could actually understand everything about God, he would hardly be God!

And even now, there is a significant difference between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the way we speak about the Trinity. When we say the Creed, we say that the Holy Sprit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but the Orthodox version of the Creed says more simply that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It seems a very technical point of doctrine, but it expresses what was a major issue in the early centuries of the church: an issue linked with major divisions in the church.

Now we need doctrine. We need to be able to put together the teaching of the scriptures in an organized and logical way. And the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to do that. It picks up different aspects of the teaching of the scriptures about God – about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – puts them together, and helps us to see the way they relate to one another. And we would miss out on something crucial if the teachers of earlier eras had not done that for us. We would be terribly confused if Christian teachers had not made clear the truth that Jesus was not only a man: he was truly God. And we would miss out on something vital if we did not understand that the Holy Spirit is actually God himself, at work in us!

And we would be very mixed up indeed if we took those truths about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to mean that there are in fact three Gods. That is actually what Mohammed accused Christians of believing: he thought that Christians believed in three Gods, although he seems to have thought that those three Gods were the Father, Jesus and Mary!

His insistence on the unity of God was in contrast to his misunderstanding of Christian teaching. Christians in fact agree on his insistence that God is one: but the unity of God to which we hold is a deeper kind of unity. The Trinity really sums up the teaching of the Scripture that there is only one true God, but that he has made himself known to us in three ways: as Father, as Son and as the Holy Spirit.

As I said, we can’t turn to a specific book or chapter of the Bible and say: that’s it! There’s the explanation of the Trinity! For the Bible is not a doctrinal encyclopedia. It’s not a Dictionary of Theology. You can go to a Christian Bookshop and buy a Dictionary of Theology, but it won’t be a Bible. The Bible is a collection of books of many different styles: law and history and poetry and parables and wise sayings and prophecy and letters and – yes – doctrine! It has a message with many different sides, and brings us its message from many different angles. It certainly presents us with doctrinal material, but it is not fundamentally a book of doctrine.

The purpose of the Bible is not so much to teach the doctrine of God – or of Jesus or the Holy Spirit – but to introduce us to God! Its real aim is not that we know about God so much as that we know God.

Someone may find out my age and what I look like and something about my character and my history, my interests or my work: they may know lots about me – but that is not the same as knowing me! They may not even have met me. Learning about me may well deepen a person’s knowledge of me, but it is not the same as knowing me.

Learning about God – and understanding more of the doctrine of the Trinity – is very helpful, but God wants us to know him. He is the God who is our Creator: we owe our very being to him, and we have him to thank for the wonder and beauty and the usefulness of the world. And he is the God who humbled himself to enter his creation and to become one of us, the God who in Jesus shared our humanity with its suffering and death, who in Jesus bridged the gap between our sinful lives and his holiness and sinlessness. And he is God the Holy Spirit who enters our very being, and lives within us, enabling us to live as Jesus’ followers, sharing personally in our lives day by day.

But to me, the most wonderful thing about the teaching of God as Trinity is that it tells us that relationship is at the very heart of God. And therefore when John in his first letter tells us that God is love, he is not just giving a beautiful description of God: he is expressing something that is fundamental to the very reality of God.

God is love. When we think of God the Creator, we see the wonder of creation, and above all his love in actually creating human beings in his image: people who are able to know of him, and actually to enter relationship with him. We think not only of the eternal Father of Jesus, but of the almighty one who wants us to know him as our heavenly Father.

When we think of God the eternal Son, we are reminded of the depth of the love of God, reaching out and entering our human existence in the person of Jesus and rescuing us from the destructiveness of sin.

When we think of God the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that God is always with us, in good times and tough times, when we get it right and when we get it wrong. We learn that we can always look to him for help and guidance and strength as we seek to follow Christ: for he is never far from us.

If the God who is love reaches out to us in his love, how are we to respond?

We accept his love as we trust in Jesus Christ, God the Son who is our Saviour. We return his love by seeking to live as people who love God, who want to honour him and serve him in our daily lives. And we share his love, showing his love to the people we meet, and reaching out in practical love to those whom we can graciously help.

The God who is Trinity is the God who is Love. May we accept his love. May we humbly serve and love him. And may we show his love in our lives, loving our neighbour as God has loved us. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

 

 

Sermon: Seventh Sunday of Easter, 8th May 2016

St.Alban’s Epping, 8th May 2016

“LOVE AND UNITY”

Rev. Paul Weaver

(Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21; John 17:20-26)

Why didn’t God answer Jesus’ prayer?

We know that when we pray we don’t always get the answers we seek. But surely Jesus, the perfect Son of God, fully in tune with his Father’s purposes: surely Jesus would get an answer. And yet when we read Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel this morning, we have to say that it doesn’t seem as if his prayer for the unity of the church was granted.

We look at the church today and see umpteen different denominations, not to mention all those independent churches. We are only too familiar with squabbles within our own denomination. It is not so long ago that Catholics and Protestants were literally at each others’ throats. And the story goes on. What happened to that unity for which Jesus prayed?

This prayer comes from the end of John’s account of Jesus’ deep teaching to his disciples the night before his crucifixion. He had talked about his coming death, his resurrection and his return to the Father. He had washed their feet and called them to humble service. He had told them about the Holy Spirit, who would be their Helper, Strengthener and Guide, but he had also warned them of the rejection and the challenges they would face. He had urged them to hold fast to him, and promised that he would hold fast to them. And he had spoken of his love for them, and commanded them to show that love to one another.

What Jesus shared that night with his small band of followers had been relevant and important, and yet it left them frightened and confused. To face all that the future held, they would certainly need God’s help. And so Jesus prayed. In John Chapter 17, he prayed that God would glorify him through his death and the blessings it would bring to many, and by restoring him to his heavenly glory. He prayed for his followers, that God would help them hold on to his truth, and protect them from the evil one. He also prayed that even in the midst of difficulties and challenges, they would have joy, and that they would be kept in unity. Unity.

Which leads us to the last part of this wonderful prayer: the words which formed our Gospel this morning. Here Jesus focuses not only on his apostles, but on all who would come to believe in him through their witness. This was a prayer for Christian believers through the ages, right through to today. We and the church of today are included in this prayer.

And what is this prayer? “That they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me.”

Jesus prays for the unity of his church, just as this week, Christians everywhere join in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In this week, we rejoice in the Ascension of the Lord Jesus who reigns at his Father’s side, and we look forward to celebrating next week the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: both vital matters of which Jesus spoke to his disciples that Thursday night at the Last Supper. And this week too, we and our church neighbours join with Jesus in his prayer for the unity of his church.

In the New Testament, the church is viewed in terms of people, certainly not buildings, and not really as institutions like the denominations with which we are so familiar – these came much later. Generally when the New Testament refers to “church”, it is thinking of a congregation, the Christian community in a particular place, especially as it gathers in the name of Jesus Christ. But in some parts of the scriptures, we see a reminder that the church is not just a local congregation: any congregation is also part of something bigger, in fact the community of all Christian believers, perhaps in a particular area; and beyond that, the worldwide community of Christians, wherever they may be. And ultimately the church of today points to the eternal gathering of Christ’s followers in the new Jerusalem, the new creation.

So what about that prayer of Jesus for the unity of his church? “May they be one, that the world may believe”, he prays. And we certainly know that the divisions and squabbles within the church are amongst the things that are constantly thrown up by people as reasons not to take the Christian faith seriously.

Church disunity is a reason why people do not believe. Jesus’ concern was a very realistic concern, and yet God has not done very much about it, or so it seems. How often do we hear of the divisions in the Anglican Church? How many times have Anglican of strong views sought to resolve ecclesiastical and even theological differences in the courts of the land, rather than seek to work through them in a spirit of goodwill! Judges have expressed their surprise and even disgust that they are asked to rule on these church matters which should not be their concern. But it keeps on happening. And it becomes another black mark against the church, and ultimately against the Gospel, which points to the love and forgiveness of God.

Why then, to come back to our original question, did God not answer Jesus’ prayer for unity? I want to suggest that not only has he answered the prayer, but that the answer is “Yes”. I want to suggest that God has given unity to his people; that he is giving unity to his people; and that ultimately he will give perfect unity to his church.

Even now, God has given a fundamental unity to his church. There is a real sense in which the church is one by its very nature. As Paul tells the Ephesians, the church is “one body, empowered by one Spirit, with one shared hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”.

As Christians, we are all one family: no matter what our race or colour or tradition or denomination or personality or strengths or weaknesses; we are one family no matter how we approach our faith, no matter what our theological approach or our insights or our blind spots. And a family is still a family despite its squabbling or disagreement or even estrangement: indeed every human family has its struggles and problems, just like each of us! No matter what tensions or differences there may be, we who are many are one body in Christ. There is a fundamental unity given from the start by God himself, even if it is often not effectively on display.

Now if that was the only way in which the unity of the church could be identified, it would be a very limited thing, a unity in theory only. Perhaps it would be like the exhibit in the zoo with the sign “Co-existence”. Inside that cage was a lion and some lambs. Visitors to the zoo were surprised and impressed. “How do you do it? How do you get those lambs to co-exist with the lion?” they asked the zookeeper. “It’s really quite easy”, he replied. “All I have to do is to add a few fresh lambs each day.” Sometimes the church can be and has been a bit like that!

That is certainly a very limited idea of co-existence or unity. Is the unity of the church any less limited? Is God actually working to deepen the unity of his church? Yes, and in fact there have always been signs of the unity of the church. In the early days, learning to come to terms with the admission of people from all nations and classes to the family. Working through issues of doctrine, and seeking to reach a common mind. Recognizing the failures of the church, and challenging them or seeking to overcome them. Churches from different places and traditions working together in witness and service. Christians acknowledging and supporting each other in prayer and giving and in practical help.

Many of the great social advances over the centuries have come from Christians, often from different churches, working together for the common good. Many effective Christian mission and service organizations have involved people coming together across denominational boundaries. And over the past century or more, we have seen the positive advances of the modern ecumenical movement. We rightly are disturbed by our failures to truly express our unity in Christ, but there are positive signs as well. And in our own area, we rejoice in the fellowship of our Epping Covenant churches, and our shared services and activities.

But as I indicated, church unity must first be expressed in a practical way, right where we are, and in the relationships of the local congregation: as we gather to worship and serve and care for one another, and bear witness to the love of God in Christ. Of course, we can be thankful for the degree of unity and love in our parish life here at St.Alban’s: but at times we can fail to work in harmony; we may ignore those needs that we could help to fulfil; we can argue instead of listen to each other; we can reject people instead of seeking to understand them; we can fail to apologize or forgive. But let us be thankful for the many positive sides of our life together, which demonstrate that the Spirit of unity is indeed at work amongst God’s people here at St.Alban’s. And let us keep seeking to deepen that unity.

And the greatest thing is that God will complete his plan to bring his church, and indeed bring creation itself, to its final unity in Christ. The church’s unity unity now is impaired, incomplete, just as our lives are imperfect and our love is flawed. We have a long way to go. But God’s purpose will come to its fulfilment; and in the new creation we shall reach our ultimate loving unity in Christ.

Meanwhile, we all have a part to play as God works out the answer to that prayer of Jesus. Let us be open to ways we can lovingly play our part in the life of our own church, and especially let us be aware of those who need encouragement and fellowship that we can offer. And let us continue to encourage the ecumenical journey of the church as we gather for worship and fellowship with Christians from other church here in Epping and beyond.

It may not be our task to change denominational structures, but it is our task to love one another. And love is central to the practical expression of the unity of the church. Let us seek to be ready to play our part in God’s plan to draw all his people together as one family, in true and godly unity and love. Amen.                                                                        Paul Weaver

Sermon: St Aidan’s, Sixth Sunday of Easter, 1st May 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 1st May 2016

 Rev. Paul Weaver

“THE NEW JERUSALEM”

(Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14,22-22:5; John 14:23-29)

A legal firm had flowers sent to an associate who had just opened a new office. There was a mix-up at the florist, and the label on the lawyer’s flowers said: “Deepest sympathy on your loss”. When the florist discovered the mistake, he let our a very embarrassed gasp: “That means that the flowers that went to the funeral said: ‘Congratulations on your new location’”.

The Bible speaks of the hope of a new location for Christ’s people beyond death: perhaps better to say a renewed location. The message of Christ’s resurrection is that death is not the end. In fact, it will be the beginning of the major act, of which this life on earth is but the prelude. It will be the fullness of eternity itself.

But what sort of eternity will it be? The closing chapters of the Book of Revelation give a powerful picture of the hope which awaits Christ’s people, Christ’s church, in the world to come. We have heard of Paul’s depiction of the church, the family of Christ’s people, as the bride of Christ, and Jesus’ picture of the kingdom of God as a wonderful wedding banquet, with joy and fellowship and fullness.

The Book of Revelation was written when there was active persecution of Christians, and the book seeks to encourage Christians to maintain their faith and their faithfulness to Christ. God is still working his purposes out, and the victory will be his. It will be worth it!

Part of John’s purpose then is to point people to their ultimate hope in Christ. And in the opening of Chapter 21, which we heard last week, he speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, and describes a new creation where God is at home with his people, and where there is no more death or sorrow or pain. In verse 9, just before the start of today’s reading, an angel says to John: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb”. The Lamb of course is Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the bride is his church. But something unexpected happens. Instead of showing a beautiful bride, the angel shows John a city: the holy city, the new Jerusalem. This city is the hope, in a sense the goal, of Christ’s people.

It’s interesting that it is a city, for often in the Bible the city is so often a place which is alien to God’s purposes: a centre of rebellion. Think of Babel with its tower of defiance and arrogance: the city which became the city of Babylon, the invader and conqueror of God’s people.

In the Book of Revelation itself, Babylon is a codename for Rome, the headquarters of persecution of Christ’s followers, but at another level it depicts godless human society. Babylon is indeed pictured as a depraved whore, disgusting and ripe for judgement – a real contrast to the pure Bride of Christ.

Another city in the Bible, Jerusalem itself, is so often in the scriptures presented as rebelling against God’s commands and God’s purposes. And of course Jerusalem is the location of the killing of the perfect Son of God.

But now we see the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And in John’s picture of the new Jerusalem, we find echoes of other parts of the Bible. Especially we find reminders of the opening chapters of Genesis, with their tragic story of Paradise Lost, now transformed into Paradise Regained. We also find the promises of prophetic books like Isaiah and Ezekiel fulfilled in a wonderful way. Here is the culmination of the Bible’s account of human history. Here is the climax of godly human aspiration. Here is the goal of God’s loving purposes, and it is something we are able to share in through God’s grace in Christ.

But what of this new Jerusalem? John presents a very strange picture: a cubic city, 2400 km long and 2400 km wide and 2400 km high! Now 2400 km is about the distance between Melbourne and Cairns. That makes the city unimaginably large, and when you try to think about the height, you can’t even begin to imagine it.

What is John trying to tell us as he describes this new Jerusalem, this eternal city of God? Clearly John is using human language to try to give us an impression of something which is beyond human experience to describe. And I should point out that our reading omits some verses which add to that picture

Firstly he tells us that it is a great city: huge in size, with great walls and gates. There is room for all who would be there. There is entry for all God’s people. As Jesus puts, it, there are many rooms in his Father’s house. There is security for all its citizens. Yes, the new Jerusalem is a great city.

Then John depicts it as a city of life. Death, we are told, shall be no more.. Instead the tree of life, to which the way was barred after the sin of the Garden of Eden, the tree of life is there: always providing fruit in wonderful variety, and bringing healing to the divided nations of the world.

Eternal life is God’s gift to all Christian believers: we have it now, but our experience of that gift is limited, incomplete. But in the new Jerusalem we shall experience that life in all its fullness. It is a city of life.

But the city is also a city of glory. The gold and pearls and precious stones speak of that glory and wonder. And it is a city of light which needs no sun or moon, for God himself is the source of light, and Jesus the light of the world is there.

But why is it a cube, of all shapes? I think the answer is that there is another cubic space of great significance in the Bible: the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem, the Most Holy Place, the place where the Lord “located” himself is a unique way. The Holy of Holies was closed to almost all people: only a particular priest could enter, and then only under very particular circumstances. The Holy of Holies indicated that God was with his people in Jerusalem and Israel; and yet it also emphasized God’s holiness, his separation from his people.

But now we have a new Holy of Holies. God is truly present with his people, and not at all cut off from them. There is no separation, no wall, no barrier: we shall see him face to face. Hence there is no need for a temple in the new Jerusalem.

No doubt we shall be in awe, but we shall also be in love. There will be no fear, no terror of the holy omnipotent God: instead there will be joy in his presence.

And there will be joy in the presence and the loving fellowship of God’s people. Like us, they will be brought to perfection, free of those faults and rough edges which so often get in the way of good relationships. We sometimes hear people say: “If such and such a person is going to be in

heaven, I’m not sure that I want to be there.” The good news is that they all will have come to full maturity, which means that they will be sensitive to others; their love and their goodness will have been perfected so that they don’t irritate or hurt others. And we too will have matured so that we don’t get irritated by people, or cause that irritation to others either! The new Jerusalem will be a place of love: of love for God and for one another; of fellowship in God and in one another; of joy in God and in one another. It will never be a bore, for in eternity the frustration and limitation of time will no longer be a reality. No wonder Jesus uses that wonderful picture of a banquet to describe the hope of his followers. It is a joyous prospect.

And for whom is this hope? In the verses just ahead of today’s reading we are told. The Lord on his throne says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” The thirsty are the ones who come to God in their need, seeking God’s help and seeking his life. Faith is the key, as we depend on God’s mercy and love in Christ.

And who are those who conquer? It is those who live out their faith: who remain faithful to Christ, despite all the temptations and pressures that life brings. Those who trust in Christ and truly seek to live as his followers, imperfect though we still are, receive the wonderful eternal promises of God and these wonderful blessings described in the Book of Revelation.

At its best, a city is a place of people and life. Our hope is not nothingness, nor absorption into something bigger: it is completion, fulfilment, perfection in the setting of wonderful fellowship and worship. The new Jerusalem is God’s gift to all who trust and seek to follow Christ. It is where the blessings of God come to their climax. So, as John encourages us to do, let us hang in there even when it is hard: let us keep trusting and following Jesus our Saviour, the giver of life in all its fullness. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

Sermon: St Aidan’s, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 17th April 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 17th April 2016

“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD”

Rev. Paul Weaver

(Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30)

When I want to read some scripture to a dying patient, or to a recently bereaved family, what passage do I most often turn to? When I am asked to choose a passage to be read at a funeral service, what do I often choose? When I need to replace leaflets provided by the Bible Society to give to hospital patients and their families, and others who come into the chapel, what am I most likely to have run out of?

You’ve probably already worked it out! It is the 23rd Psalm, one of the best-known and most loved of all pieces of scripture. “The Shepherd Psalm”, as it is called on the Bible Society leaflet.

When I was a child I could never understand the first line of that great hymn based on the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not want.”

If the Lord’s my shepherd, I used to wonder, why wouldn’t I want him?

Later on, of course, I discovered the point. Firstly that there are two statements in that first line. “The Lord’s my shepherd” is the first statement. “I’ll not want” is the second. Nowadays when I sing the hymn, I consciously make a short gap in that very small space between the two halves of that first line, to remind myself of the message of those words.

And then of course, I learned that “want” referred to being in want, lacking the things I need. In fact in the Good News Bible, that first verse is translated: “The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.” That’s not a bad way of putting it.

It is not surprising that the Psalm is so popular. It is full of beautiful pictures, images of peace and comfort, and it brings a message of help and strength and hope. It brings us a picture of a God who is caring and loving, a God who can be our shepherd.

Today the image of a shepherd doesn’t connect the way it used to. The stockman with huge numbers of animals is much more the reality than the shepherd who can actually count his animals, and may even have names for them all. The stockman doesn’t walk with his sheep: he will be on a horse or a motorbike or in a 4-wheel drive, or perhaps even in a helicopter. Somehow I don’t think “the Lord is my stockman” conveys the same image! The shepherd knew his sheep: there was a real relationship, and the sheep recognized his voice. Quite a difference from the stockman in outback Australia! If God is our shepherd, he knows us, he understands us, he cares for us.

And how does he care for us? Remember that translation of the first verse: “I have everything I need.”  Need is a very important part of the idea. I might have many things that I want, but don’t really need. I might want a life of good health, full of delightful experiences, and free from problems and illness and sadness. But desirable as these things might be, we can live a positive and meaningful life without them, and indeed many people have done so.

There might be people in our lives, loved ones, close ones, whom we believe we could never do without. We feel we need them, we may indeed depend on them. But life doesn’t shelter us from pain and loss and bereavement, and we can learn to live positively without the presence and help of the one on whom we depended. Indeed, aren’t there people we know who have triumphed over circumstances of difficulty or sorrow? Isn’t what we often need the strength and grace and wisdom and support to keep going in difficult times? Can’t we also say that it is often in the times of struggle, rather than in times of sunshine and ease, that we grow and develop as people?

Now I’m not saying that the Lord wants us all to have miserable lives so that we can become better people. The Lord is a shepherd, not a tyrannical manipulator or torturer.

So what does this Psalm tell us that the Lord does for us? It tells us that he is our provider, our guide, our protector, and our companion.

The Lord is our provider.  As a shepherd makes sure that his sheep have access to grass and water, so God provides in different ways for us and our needs. Some time ago I discovered the importance of still waters for sheep. Apparently they have a natural fear of fast flowing water, and so the shepherd will sometimes have to dig a trench out of a running stream where the water can come but the flow is stopped. Then the sheep will feel safe to drink from it. The shepherd knows what the sheep need, and he provides for those needs.

In the same way, God knows and understands our needs. If we have food and clothes and somewhere to stay, if we have the necessities of life, we can see God providing for us. It might not be caviar and French champagne – if that is your thing! – and we may not live in luxury. But the Lord gives us day by day our daily bread, the things we actually need. He is our provider.

The Lord is our guide. As the shepherd leads his sheep to their pastures, so the Lord shows us the way through life: principles to live by, understanding of the right things to do. He gives direction and purpose for life.

In the scriptures and in the life of the church we find guidance: not necessarily every detail, not in a way that saves us the need of thinking things through. But we have the way to live, the principles that will help us make good decisions. The Lord guides us through life.

The Lord is our protector. The Psalmist knows that even when his enemies are round about him, he is still secure in the presence of the Lord.

Of course we will still have to face the realities of life as they come to us. But there is a basic security we can have in the midst of our difficulties as we hold our trust in the Lord our protector.

And the Lord is our companion. Even when we are passing through the darkest valley, even when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is there with us. Sometimes it is hard to see that the Lord is there with us. But he is with us in the dark times, when it is hard to see him. The opening part of the Psalm tells us that the Lord is with us when life is good: when the grass is green and the stream flows gently. But he is still there when things are tough.

The challenges are different. When all is well, it is easy to forget him, and fail to realize our need of him. When things are tough, it is hard to feel that he is there, and easy to believe that he has left us.

In fact, the Lord is with us, his sheep, in all kinds of circumstances. He never gives up, never lets us down, even when things get tough.

The Psalmist ends his hymn of faith by expressing his conviction that God’s goodness and mercy will follow him all the days of his life. But he seems to go even further. He believes that he will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. I’m not exactly sure what he meant when he wrote those words: in those days, there was no clear concept of resurrection as we have it in the New Testament. But our Psalmist is certainly convinced that God will be with him, blessing him with his presence for ever. God’s promises to his people are eternal.

In our readings this morning, we are reminded of those eternal dimensions. Tabitha in our reading from Acts was raised to life for only a limited additional period, and yet that miracle pointed beyond itself to the gift of life which is truly eternal.

And the saints caught up in worship before the heavenly throne in our reading from Revelation will hunger and thirst no more; they will find shelter and protection; their tears will be wiped away. Truly they will experience the care of the Good Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd. It is traditionally understood that David wrote this Psalm. In doing so, he was making a big jump. It was one thing to acknowledge the Lord as the Shepherd of Israel, his chosen people. It was another thing to individualize it and personalize it: thinking of the Lord as my shepherd. However that is who he is, as we trust in him

But the shepherd of Israel did an extraordinary thing. He became one of us in the person of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep. He knows his sheep and they know him. He leads his sheep through life and stays with them, with us, through the tough times. He gives his sheep eternal life: he gives us hope for eternity

As we trust and follow the Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, we shall indeed receive those things we need most of all. We shall have his presence, his help, even when life is tough. And his promise is that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Fifth Sunday of Easter, 17th April 2016 – Evensong

EVENSONG ST ALBAN’S EPPING SUNDAY 24TH APRIL 2016

5th Sunday of Easter

Dr Ruth Shatford

Revelation 3:1-13;  Psalm 107:1-3, 10-16;  Acts 12:1-17

On the eve of another Anzac Day, Fr Ross has spoken this morning about the impact of war on our service people and we will have our brief commemoration at the end of this service.  Last year at this same service I preached on Anzac Day and so tonight I would like to go with the readings which indicate rather an emphasis on the continuation of the season of Easter and the ongoing life of the infant church.

The main focus seems to be on the reading from the Acts of the Apostles where there are accounts of the persecution of the Jerusalem church.  “It was about this time,  (that is about 43 or 44 AD,) King Herod arrested some who belonged in the church, intending to persecute them.”   This Herod, grandson of the Herod who had the baby boys slaughtered at the time of Jesus’ birth, and nephew of Herod Antipas who executed John the Baptist, was held responsible by Rome for keeping peace and order in his territories.  So he pursued good relations with Rome, but also sought the favour of the Jews, recognising they were always a hard people to govern.  He did his best to make them happy, even going so far as to attend the temple on high festival days and to participate in worship ceremonies, representing himself as a believer in the God of Israel.  To arrest Christians not really with the intention, not of trying them for some alleged crime, but for the purpose of persecuting them, shows how he was prepared to flout the justice system and use it for his own ends. His first act here was to have James slain.  Probably Herod hoped this would make other church members frightened into silence and inactivity.  The Jewish leaders were delighted that he had moved against the church and loudly praised Herod for doing so.  Their approval was just want Herod wanted and it probably encouraged him to step up his persecution and to single out Peter as his next target.  He had the wit or perhaps cunning, not to move against Peter during the high feast days, but clearly intended to put on a show trial once the sacred days of the Passover were over and he could then summarily execute Peter too.  We remember that the sensitivities of chief priests who had not wanted Jesus dealt with during the Passover, in case the people should riot.

It seems an extraordinarily heavy-handed way that Herod had Peter guarded.  Sixteen men in shifts around the clock, with Peter chained between two even to sleep.  We understand that there was no real charge laid against Peter nor was there anything that signalled he was dangerous or violent or even an escapist who needed such close guarding.  Probably Herod remembered or had been warned about the earlier episode, when Peter had been arrested.  Back in Chapter 5, we read that when the Sanhedrin had arrested the apostles a few years before, and put them into prison, they simply disappeared from the locked prison during the night and the authorities still regarded that as an unsolved mystery.  Herod could not afford to look so foolish this time!  It is rather ironic that such heavy guarding was the recipe for looking even more foolish.

Why had these Jews turned against James and then Peter?  Why did the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea turn against their fellow Jews who became Christians?  Several years earlier, after Stephen’s death, the Hebraic Jewish Christians were apparently not persecuted or suppressed.   The apostles at that stage were respected, because they remained observant Jews.  In fact, when they were seen to be associated with miracles, the people rather held them in awe as God’s instruments for good.

It is thought that one reason the people now turned against them was Peter’s evangelising work.  He taught among the despised Samaritans.  Perhaps worse still, he associated with the Gentile Cornelius and baptised him without additionally requiring him to live as a Jew.  So the word got around quickly that Peter was eating with uncircumcised men and no doubt this was a scandal for the Jewish converts to Christianity, seeing other new Christians not respecting the Torah and committing a grave offence against the customs of the community.  Because the Jews were making an issue of it, Peter’s actions had the potential to cause riots and stir up serious political problems for Herod, whose policy was to support the majority and ruthlessly suppress any minorities that became divisive and disruptive.

So Peter, on the feast of the Passover, when the Jews celebrated their release from captivity in Egypt, was languishing in captivity in Jerusalem!  The irony does not elude us!  Meanwhile the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  Here as elsewhere in Acts, Luke points out that prayer is central to the life of the church.  The intention of Herod is clear – the goal is to eliminate the leaders of the church and to persecute believers who accept non-Jews.  The church has no weapons against the forces arrayed against it.  All the church can do is to call on God and depend on God to rescue Peter and save the church.

We note in the narrative that Peter is sleeping in these quite frightening and cramped physical conditions with chains attaching him to two soldiers.  I wonder what enabled him to sleep… was his confidence in God such that he could switch off as it were and leave all in God’s hands?  I wonder if he recalled the earlier words of Jesus to him that he would live to old age.  The interesting part of the narrative now begins and I understand the commentator who describes it as almost a slapstick story!  Have you ever heard a command less pious and religious-sounding than “Quick.  Get up.” and then “Put on your clothes and your sandals.” from the angel who appeared.   So earthed, taken together with the thump on the side.  The bit about putting on his cloak sounds more like a mother to a child on a cold night, than what we might imagine an angel would say.

With his chains then falling off, getting past the guards without incident and the city gate opening as if by itself, no wonder Peter felt as if he was in a daze or a dream.  Once they had got a block into the city, the angel left him suddenly.  It is interesting to see the way Peter then comes to his senses and says “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”.  He then seems to realise he has to take responsibility for himself and what he does, so heads off to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where we are told many believers were gathered together praying.  We sometimes see people get very excited and lose their wit and common sense for a bit and perhaps this is the most slapstick bit of the story.  The servant girl, recognising Peter’s voice at the door, did not immediately open up for him to come in, but left him standing there while she rushed back in and told everyone that Peter was there, only to be accused of being mad.  When she insisted that it was Peter, they said it must be his angel and it seems to have taken some time before they opened up to the insistent knocking and admitted him.   I would love to know the thoughts running through Peter’s head as she stood waiting to be let in.  The relatively abrupt ending to the story is very unsatisfying.  Peter, not surprisingly, had to shoosh the house full of people to describe how God had brought him out of the prison and safely to them.  Then he instructed them to tell James, his brother, and the other brethren about it and Peter left.  We have no idea where he went or why.  He seems to have been committed to getting the church onto its feet in the faith and moving on to spread the good news.  He may at this time have gone into hiding but who knows?  There is some evidence further down the track that at some stage, Peter went to Rome.  Perhaps this is when he went to Antioch in Syria, or as he seems to have been known to the Jewish-Gentile church in Corinth, perhaps he went there.  Not much point in speculating.  But we do know that he did not simply try to take refuge in the house of Mary, but went forth from there virtually straight away.

So what do we learn from this incident?

Poor Rhoda was accused of being out of her mind when she effectively told the gathered community a piece of news that was tantamount to saying that their prayers had been answered.  We know that they were intently at prayer and we can only think that the focus would have been the release and safety of Peter and the good of their fledgling church.  When that release and safety came, they were slow to recognise the God had indeed specifically and generously answered their prayers.  Our faith and credulity are stretched too when what is happening seems to tax our earthed view of reality.

Apart from the interesting and encouraging story of Peter’s release, why have the lectionary compilers chosen the letters to two of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation to accompany it?  I found that a bit of a puzzle, but perhaps it helps us apply the Peter story to our situation rather more than we could otherwise have done.  The words to the church of Sardis are very salutary.  She has a good reputation, but that appears to have been without foundation.  Everyone regarded her as a flourishing, active, successful Church – except Christ himself.  She is accused of failure to complete what she should be, to confess.  What does this mean?  John says that she feels secure and complacent, that she is unthinking so is untroubled by persecution or heresy, and so has slipped into setting herself the task of avoiding hardship, by pursuing a policy based on convenience and circumspection, rather than whole-hearted zeal.  The experience of the church of Sardis will be like the citadel of the city – never taken by assault, and thought to be impregnable, but more than once, captured by stealth.   Once, a soldier dropped his helmet over the parapet and scrambled down a large crack in the spur the city was built on to retrieve it.  He climbed back up to safety, but was watched by the enemy who realised they could enter the city by this same means.  They did so at night and found not a guard or watchman on duty and so were able to take the citadel.  One commentator describes the city at one point as revealing a melancholy contrast between her past splendour and her present decay.  In some ways the church at Sardis is seen as being like the city itself.  A wise Greek visiting the city saw amid the luxury and magnificence that demonstrated its wealth, the seeds of softness and degeneration.   John says to the church the words given him from Jesus:  “Wake up!  Strengthen what remains, and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”    So, with Sardis, Christ has in his hands, both the unaware church in its need and the life-giving spirit.  If Sardis becomes aware of the reality of what it is like, Christ can revive it from the creeping death it is unwittingly facing.  Very sobering words.

And the church of Philadelphia…  where the words sound stern, its tone is not designed to find fault, but to face facts.  A testing time is approaching a church which has no great strength to meet it.  The city had experienced the tremors associated with a great earthquake nearby in the year 17AD that destroyed ten towns and it faced the fear of continuing, frequent tremors for many years.  Most people actually lived outdoors at this period because of the fear of collapsing houses or further falling masonry in the semi ruins.  The church faces both opposition and opportunity, and Christ’s intention is for it to overcome the one and to grasp the other.  In Revelation, John frequently adds his voice to that of the other apostolic writers in teaching that the privileges and promises given to Israel in the Old Testament, have now been inherited by the Christian Church.  As Isaiah had said, the gates are open that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.  The doorkeeper’s authority is transferred to the apostolic church with a strong urging to make disciples who will enter the gates.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, …you shut the kingdom of heaven against men;   for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter, to go in.”  The Jews, and others, are to “learn that I have loved you.”  The church at Philadelphia is encouraged as it obeys his word because he has first set his love upon them.  The final result of his loving care is that this church of “little power” will be established as an immovable pillar in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem.  The tradition with pillars is interesting.  When a priest died after a life of faithful service, he was honoured with the erection of a new pillar in the temple where he had served, with his name and his father’s name inscribed on it as a lasting honour.  I guess it was a bit like adding the Christian name and surname of our clergy on the honour board over the door.  God makes this tender promise to those who are painfully aware of weakness and insecurity, that they will belong and be honoured forever.  Until they and we reach that destination, he calls them and us to endurance and to service.  They are called on again to take heart.

In our own church community, it is certainly a time when we are in focussed and consistent prayer for God to direct us to the person of his choice to be our new rector. May I ask you to include in your prayers the request that God will remove any blinkers that we have on that would prevent us from recognising when our prayers are being answered or indeed have been answered.  We need to be open to being surprised by God as Peter’s community were.  We need to pray in faith and go forward in expectation.

From the Revelation reading, we need to take heed, as we prepare a strategic plan, and as we look for a rector who will lead us in our tradition and style, to remember to be watchful, not thinking in a self-satisfied way that we are as the reading says “complete”.  Sardis was reminded of its first hearing of the gospel and told to remember that and turn back.  The urging is towards whole-hearted zeal and not to self-satisfaction or complacency.  The reminder is given of our inheritance in Christ and the obligation this brings to us in service and worship in our faith community.

I feel that apart from being buoyed up as a nominator by the prayers of individual parishioners and the gatherings in the prayer circle, we have been drawn together to reflect and perhaps articulate what we sometimes take for granted in this congregation, where we have been so well served in ministry.  May these readings tonight remind us to be alert for when God does answer our prayers, alert for perhaps unexpected ways in which God answers and may they remind us too to continue faithful and zealous in service to the God, whose word we seek to obey, who first set his love upon us.

 

Dr Ruth Shatford

Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter, 17th April 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Series C

St Albans, Epping

17th April, 2016

Rev. Ross Weaver

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23;

Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-3

I have noticed over the years how the emphasis of Anzac Day has changed. When I was a child Anzac Day was a day for the service men and women of Australia. It was their day, a day of remembrance. But it seems to me that these days the emphasis has changed so that now it is a day for all Australians. It’s a day for all of us to celebrate our country and those who have fought to defend it. It is something that everyone can be involved in. In recent times children have been allowed to march wearing the medals of their fathers or their grandfathers. I doubt that would have been allowed when I was a child. Children didn’t have a place in the celebrations back then. But today, the invitation is for everyone to be involved and anyone is welcome to be part of the celebration. Also, there is today the sense of a sacred trust that we must pass on to the next generation an understanding of Anzac Day, an understanding of what Australia has achieved in its own defence. So it is frowned upon on if people don’t give the day some respect, some acknowledgement of the importance of the celebration.

But what we read in today’s reading this celebration of the Jews is similar to our Anzac Day. Here was Israel celebrating the feast of the Dedication. What was that? Just over 150 years beforehand Israel has been invaded. The tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes, who claimed to be the very revelation of God, had raided the Temple had desecrated it,and had performed his own sacrifices as well as killing and stealing from as many in the population as he could. Antiochus might have spelt the ruin of the nation of Israel. It was a disaster.

But amazingly, Israel recovered under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus. Judas managed to scratch together an army. Under his very able leadership he drove Antiochus out of Israel and Judas set himself up as their new king. Once Israel had recovered and restored their Temple a special ceremony was conducted to cleanse the Temple and re-dedicate it to the worship of Israel’s God. So each year, in December, they remembered these great events in what they called the feast of Dedication. It was a time to remember a great victory. It was a time of great nationalism as well as a religious ceremony not unlike Lent where people re-dedicated themselves before God. It was a time of year when Israel thought about its own future under Roman rule, where people wondered whether God would do it again, whether God would raise up a new leader, a new messiah who would rid the country of the pollution of these Romans, where Israel would truly be the Holy Land once more.

So we come forward a little over 150 years later and here was Jesus walking through the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of the Dedication. And the one question the Judeans had for Jesus was, “Could he be the Messiah that all Israel was looking for, that great leader who could win back their country, who could restore Israel as God’s land once again? Jesus had been critical of the Pharisees and their piety. Naturally, he was asked the question – what right did he have to criticise these religious leaders. The Jews had seen the miracles Jesus had performed and they wondered who Jesus might be. For much of John’s gospel the question is asked repeatedly regarding Jesus’ identity. Was he a new messiah? If he was, what kind of Messiah was he? Was he going to fight any battles? Was he going to attack the Romans?

Back in chapter 8 we see the same arguments. In the end Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. The people wondered how that were possible when Jesus was less than 50 years old so how could he know Abraham? Then Jesus replied with those words, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This was a very Jewish way of invoking the name of God himself. It was an indirect way of claiming to be equal with God. The Jews understood exactly what Jesus meant and they responded by picking up stones to stone him for such blasphemy.

And these questions about Jesus and his identity are just as relevant today. Who is this Jesus? What was he teaching? What was his main message? What was Jesus’ missions? Many churches are re-thinking their fundamental beliefs. Even the Pope has been involved in this process. But one sad side of this process has been the rise of churches who believe their teaching is better than the other churches. The Pope has said that no matter what church you come from, the fundamental issue is one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Saviour. The Pope is emphasizing our unity, what we share in common. But these other churches are not interested in unity. They emphasize difference. They want to be seen as separate and distinctive from all the rest. So if you go along to Hillsong and listen to Brian Huston it won’t be long before he will start to criticise other churches pointing out how Hillsong is better than anyone else. It has been a common theme in his preaching over many years.

But we see the same approach in our Anglican Churches. The previous Archbishop used to encourage people to attend a “Bible-believing” church, or a church that was “Christ-centered”. Here, he was speaking about Anglican churches implying that there were some Anglican churches in Sydney that were not Bible-believing and not Christ-centered. But when you think about it, the idea is nonsense. What Anglican church in Sydney does not have the Bible at the centre of its liturgy. What Anglican church is not “Christ-centered’? Sadly, it leads to the idea that there is a two-tier Anglican church in Sydney, the best and the rest. It is the John West theology of church membership. It is because of the churches I have rejected that makes the one I attend the best. This is nonsense if not heresy.

There is also different approaches in Sydney to how one understands Jesus. These Bible-believing churches generally attempt to understand Christ through the reading of Paul’s letters. The advantage of Paul’s letters is that they often address the pastoral concerns of the day and so they are easy to apply to the pastoral issues of today. But sadly, there is a methodological problem here in that we can’t assume the pastoral issues of two thousand year ago are the same as the issues of today. So wrong assumptions are easily made. Many people have also tried to systematize Paul’s theology and pastoral teaching where no real system actually exists and attempts to systematize have been a failure.

The other approach is to learn about Jesus by reading the gospels. This is a much harder task because so many issues Jesus addressed don’t have a direct relevance to us today. He preached to a very different culture to the one we inhabit. But ironically, all this leaves us asking the same questions about Jesus that we read about in today’s gospel reading. The Jews had seen amazing miracles. They couldn’t believe their own eyes. They were so stunning they could not be ignored. They had heard Jesus’ radical teaching. His views about God were very different from what the Pharisees believed. Constantly people asked if Jesus really were from God or was he an agent of the devil. These are difficult questions. There are no easy answers. But this is where John the gospel writer leads us. He confronts us with this Jesus and he demands we think about him. John is the one who confronts us with the empty tomb demanding we come to some conclusion about the resurrection.

There are no easy answers. Trying to contain the glory of Jesus in mere words is an impossible task. But thinking about Jesus, meditating upon him, thinking about him and his ministry to each of us in never a waste of our time. This is the challenge John lays before us.