Sunday 8 May 2022
Another reflection on hearing the voice of God,
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
The voice I most long to hear is my mother's voice. I love when I dream and hear and know her voice so clearly. I love talking with her in those dreams and am so thankful for those dreams that feel so real. Sometimes I am apologising for any hurt I have caused her and she is always forgiving. I acknowledge though for others their mother’s voice may not bring with it good memories.
How do we hear the voice of God? For some they set aside daily times for prayer and find a quiet place, a quiet room without distractions. They need time away from the world and the distractions. While I find quietness and stillness helpful, I also need to be mindful, going into a quiet room for example, that I am not trying to make contact with a God who lives outside this world, in a heaven far away, but with a God who is present at all times in the world around me, a God who is one with us, within us, around us; a God who is present in creation, in what God has created and is communicating himself or herself to us through all things. God is in all things and all things are in God.
Dara Molloy in his book Reimagining the Divine has a poem about when he first went to live as a hermit on an island off the West coast of Ireland. It shows how he changed from strict set aside times of prayer to an attentiveness in all moments of the day. Read Prayer by Dara Molloy (pages 223-224). Prayer for him was something he did but now prayer is simply being. This says something to us about listening for God in every moment and having an attentiveness to seemingly unimportant things because God may not just be waiting for us to become quiet in our room or only early in the morning or when we come to church once a week but is communicating with us through all things.
At the moment politicians are calling out to us to hear them, to trust them to follow them to the polling station and to vote for them. How do we know who to vote for? Perhaps we have prayed about that. Perhaps we have sought God’s guidance. Perhaps we are waiting for God to tell us who to vote for, to give us a clear sign. In my experience the voice of God is not heard in some clear answer to my requests but rather more like a whispering on the wind, something that comes to me that surprises me, challenges me, extends me, opens me to the possibility that the God I seek is much bigger and more wonderful than I could imagine, but this voice always speaks in tones that are loving and kind, and most times the voice is not heard in words but in loving caring actions.
To know the voice of God I think knowing our own voice helps. Being still with ourselves and going beyond the voices within of anger, of self-loathing, self-pity, hatred, unforgiveness, bitterness, untruths, lies, to a place of acceptance of oneself, of one’s circumstances, one’s age, of who one is; and in the stillness and acceptance of that place perhaps we may hear more clearly the voice of the one we name as God, the one Jesus likens himself to, the God who like a shepherd knows their sheep and whose voice the sheep hear and trust and follow. This is the voice we seek and perhaps the voice that may be speaking through us.
,Sunday 20 February 2022
But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
As we listen to the news, we hear of autocratic leaders around the world threatening to invade other nations, intimidating smaller nations by massing thousands of troops and weapons on their borders, flying into the air space or sailing into the territorial waters of other nations without permission. As we listen to the news, we hear of people all over the world questioning the future of democracy and whether what we call democracy is really just the rich getting their way and those who get justice are those who can pay for it and those who get health care are those who can afford it. “Why God?” We ask.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “I say to you who listen.” or as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Let those of you who have ears hear.” Or as Eugene Peterson translates it, ‘To you who are ready for the truth.’ Jesus speaks to those who want to hear, who want to understand, who want to follow Jesus, who seek a peaceful and just and equitable way in the world, who seek the way of God.
We who hear these words today have an advantage over those who first heard these words. Alongside these words we hold the story of the cross. When you have an eye test the optometrist places different strength lenses in front of each eye to see what strength lenses you need in your glasses to optimise your sight so you can see clearly, whether close up to read or to see things in the distance. As followers of Jesus when we look at the world, we look through the lens of the cross. As we read passages such as this that make little sense to our thinking we see things very differently when we put on the lens of the cross. In the cross we see that Jesus is the one who truly loves his enemies. Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do, Jesus does it. Jesus leads the way. Jesus takes the way of the cross.
Michael Hardin says, in relation to this passage, that- The cross of Jesus shatters worldviews. The shattering comes in the act of reconciliation, even as he was dying, seeking forgiveness. If you understand this, then you understand the Gospel and are being transformed by it.
What Jesus says seems almost impossible: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you. Jesus’ words tell us what God is like. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us the extent of God’s love, and the vast difference between what we think love is and God’s love.
When we see nations threatening to go to war, intimidating others, and ask why does God allow this, as if God were somehow in control of the actions of all people, we have to be reminded of the cross. Jesus turns the other check, these leaders do not. At a time when the whole world is struggling with a worldwide plague and the threat of total environmental destruction it is not God who is doing these things but people who are threatening the survival of the world. It is people who refuse to turn the other cheek. It is people who refuse to love their enemies. It is people who refuse to be reconciled. Jesus came to save not to condemn and destroy. This is the way of salvation. Our salvation is not simply believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It is taking up our cross, following Jesus’ example. By doing the opposite of what comes naturally to us, by doing the unexpected, we find the salvation Jesus offers the world. Our enemies are not Russia or China or Al Qaeda or ISIS but the principalities and powers behind them moving them in ways that are contrary to the ways of Jesus. Our battle ground is the cross. Our challenge is to lay down our lives at the foot of the cross, to love, to pray, to forgive, to bless, to do good in the face of evil.
Psalm 37 offers us comfort and encouragement today - Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, trust in the Lord, and do good; take delight in the Lord, commit your way to the Lord. Trust in God, be still before the Lord and wait patiently for God, take refuge in God.
In ten days’ time we will begin Lent, the journey towards the cross. Our eyes must always focus on the cross and see life through the cross, for the journey to the cross brings with it the hope of resurrection, the hope of salvation for the world, hope for the future of the earth, the leaving aside of the ways of violence and the taking up of the way of love, the way of Christ.
Reflection Sunday 13 February 2022
Luke 6:17-26 Good news for people who are poor
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Is our gospel really good news for people who are poor?
Forty five years ago, Ron Sider published his book ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’. At first he had great difficulty in getting a Christian Publishing house to publish it as they thought it was too radical. Some called him a Marxist, others called him a new ager, a communist and others said his book was one of the most dangerous books of the decade. In response, many leading and wealthy Tv Evangelists went into overdrive promoting their gospel of prosperity.
The Gospel was originally very much good news for the poor and spread amongst the poorest in the world but eventually as the church became richer those in leadership began to defend their wealth and their lifestyles.
For many Christians the beatitudes are the most important teaching of Jesus and a guide by which they try to live their lives, for others the beatitudes are a stumbling block on which their faith comes crashing down. They find it conflicts too much with the life they want to live.
How can we make the gospel good news again for people who are poor?
From our reading today we hear that Jesus had no trouble in attracting people to himself. The crowds of people who followed him had great needs. Luke 6:18,19 says - They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Jesus healed the people in their bodies and brought peace to their minds and taught their spirits. For those who would hear that day Jesus taught them about blessings and warnings.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
Jesus expressed the view that the world was not right. Jesus’ words spoke directly to the longings of people who were poor and downtrodden, those who were constantly hungry for whom food was scarce, those who wept because of their lot in life and Jesus said consider it a blessing when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you because of me the son of man.
In taking the title ‘The Son of man’ (which I always translate as ‘the true human’), Jesus was not just saying he was the perfect example of a human being whom we all should take as our model but that in following him and believing in him and trusting in him, true humanity was to be found and enjoyed by all, a humanity where there is no disparity between those who are poor and those who are rich. Our shared humanity in Christ means an equitable sharing of all the resources of the world for the good of all: access for all to food and water, to health and education, to clean air and to live on one’s land, the weakest and poorest are all included and valued and cherished. This was not a pronunciation of blessings or curses upon individuals but on all humanity. Jesus was the new Israel, through believing and trusting in Jesus, people were born by the Spirit into one body, a new humanity, a new people, a new life shared by all.
Jesus’ message is challenging. The Gospels weren’t written to tell us about the faith of people who encountered Jesus, they were written to challenge the faith of us the readers who are to ask, “where do I stand?” (Francis Maloney quoted in Theosony p.144 by Noirin Ni Riain) The gospel is an invitation from Jesus to his hearers to move to a new level of understanding… to the level of the holy (Thomas Brodie quoted in Theosony p.45 by Noirin Ni Riain) or in other words to the level of the Kingdom of God. The challenge for us as hearers of the gospel is to distinguish between hearing the gospel through the level of our cultures and through the level of the kingdom of God.
Listen carefully with open ears to the words of Jesus. Listen for the sacred word that really is good news for all humanity.
Reflection Sunday 6 February 2022
Please slowly read Luke 5:1-11 a few times pausing on words that stand out. Then read aloud the direct words spoken between Jesus and Peter. These words are highlighted in bold print italics. In hearing the words read slowly aloud we may engage more closely and intentionally with what hear and perhaps may hear something that we may not gather by just reading in our mind.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The last time I preached on this passage I focused on God calling us out into deep water to evangelise, to make connections beyond Sunday services and church buildings. This time I am calling attention to the spoken words between Jesus and Peter. What do these words reveal to us? An important thing to remember when reading Scripture is that we are not just trying to understand, for example in this instance, the depth of truth contained in the words spoken between Jesus and Peter, but what God is speaking to us in our situation, in our time.
In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, it is when Jesus speaks directly to Peter that things get interesting, they move to another level and Peter realises the depth of which he is suddenly in with God. I imagine Peter is comfortable watching Jesus at a distance and even when Jesus asks to get into the boat Peter is happy to help, but when Jesus asks Peter to put out into deep water then the encounter becomes much more personal, more challenging.
I am putting the emphasis here on our ears hearing the words spoken between them rather than on what Peter and the others with him saw with their eyes, which was nets beginning to break and boats filled with fish and beginning to sink. We are often looking for proof of God’s existence, or evidence of God’s presence. When Peter witnessed the enormous catch of fish and the boat beginning to sink under him, his attention went from what he was seeing to Jesus. Beyond the obvious, the enormous catch of fish, Peter became aware of whose presence he was in. The ordinary everyday activity was infused with the presence of God – the extraordinary in the ordinary. If we witness something good happening, we tend to think God is at work here. If something not so good or bad is happening, we tend to think God is absent. We forget that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is always here, within and around us. God is always present, God is always at work, whether we classify something as ordinary or extraordinary. Rather than pointing to occurrences as evidence of God, or reciting doctrines of right belief to support our faith in situations when things may not look so good; our ears are to be open, seeking, listening for what God is speaking to us at all times.
In evangelical circles emphasis is put on a person responding to a ‘Gospel Presentation’ by acknowledging one’s sin, believing that Jesus died on the cross for one’s sins, accepting Jesus as one’s saviour and committing one’s life to Christ. I am not disagreeing with this; however, we may settle for believing about someone rather than accepting the actual person of Jesus and that we are relating to a living God in our daily lives. We can settle for keeping God at a distance rather than engaging with a God within us and around us in every situation, every day. John Bennington says, ‘Conversion can so easily become an armour against any further encounters with God, and our Christian faith a spiritual asylum where we hide from the frightening truth about ourselves, clinging on to the illusion that we are finally right with God … instead of risking (God) remaking us in (God’s) image (p.88 Culture, Class and Christian Beliefs).
eter’s response was to tell Jesus to go away from him because of his sinfulness, but Jesus would not leave him in that state and said, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." In other words, don’t stay in the safety and comfort and standards of your sin, follow me, listen to me, hear my words of life and with me bring people into an awareness of my kingdom, my life. Peter was afraid of the ‘I AM’ but the ‘I AM’ refused to be distant, the subject of a doctrine, a theology; the ‘I Am’ engaged Peter and asked Peter to come with him.
We do not just reflect on what Jesus said to Peter in this reading but ask what are you saying to me God in the situation I find myself in life, and as a congregation we ask what are you saying to us God in every situation we find ourselves in as a congregation.
It is the present moment which is most important in our relationship with God. Are we listening for God now? This is God’s moment. The ‘I AM’ can be known by us here and now in our every day lives and concrete situations not just in the stories of old or in a future life.
Reflection Sunday 30 January 2022
Does God take life?
4:30 But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
I have always wondered how Jesus walked through the people who were about to kill him and went on his way. I can imagine the men in the synagogue getting very angry with Jesus. Jesus came into the Synagogue filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but the men in the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ words with anger. They became filled with rage or perhaps filled with another spirit. They reacted greatly when Jesus said that no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown and gave the examples of the prophets Elijah and Elisha whose miracles were not done in Israel but among foreigners in neighbouring countries. In their rage the men forced Jesus out of the synagogue and out of the town and they led him to the brow of a hill with the intention to kill him. I presume they grabbed hold of Jesus and led up the hill. But how did he simply walk away? How could he have got away with so many around him?
In another incident in John chapter 8, John tells us that Jesus was teaching in the temple and clashing with the Pharisees, but no one arrested Jesus because his hour had not yet come. This suggests that God the Father was protecting Jesus, allowing no harm to come to him, until it was his ‘hour,’ his time to die on the cross.
Often Christians who are grieving the deaths of loved ones, console themselves by saying it must have been God’s time to take them. This is sometimes said when someone has died in tragic circumstances or when someone dies quite young. But can we really say it was God’s time, when for example someone dies in a car crash when an oncoming speeding car crosses the white line and ploughs into them? In our grief we sometimes clutch at hopes that may contradict. When Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). I imagine that God weeps with us in our grief when any person in the world dies; for everyone’s life is precious to God. The emphasis in the story of Lazarus is not on a God who takes life but one who restores life, one who affirms the life that is in Jesus and the life that is Jesus.
It seems to be that we get many of our beliefs about God controlling whether we live or die from the book of Job. Rather than giving us the answers to why there is suffering in the world and why good people suffer while the not so good seem to prosper, the book may be raising questions, the very same questions we are asking, the very same questions that seem to have no answers. Beware of reading the book of Job literally. It may be a work of fiction, a story about good and evil, and why suffering happens and whether God allows it. In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus seems to say that accidents happen. Accidents are not caused or allowed by God. People happen to be in the wrong place at the time. Perhaps when the tower of Siloam fell, it was the sin of poor workmanship or the sin of cutting corners that led to the tower falling. It was not their time nor God’s will.
In other parts of the Old Testament, the length of our life appointed by God is not set down to the very hour or day, but in years. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away Psalm 90:10). In Psalm 39:4 -5 David prays, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.” Perhaps we need to read these Old Testament passages in the light of the Word of life that Jesus brings.
Our lifetime is short, for some shorter than for others. Whether it is short or long, whether we live or we die, our life is always in God’s hands, our life is always part of God. (Nothing)… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). Whether our life on earth in our bodies is long or short, God’s will for us like God’s will for Jesus, is that we live life to the full, that we live in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit with the fullness of God’s life flowing in harmony with our life, as one. When we die it is not our life that leaves us but we who separate from our bodies. We are life, raised up into eternal life.
So, what ever we face may we remember than our life cannot be taken from God, for our life and God’s life flow as one in the Spirit.
Reflection Sunday 23 January 2022
Filled with the power of the Spirit
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…
We often refer to others as being full of themselves, full of ego, full of their own importance, full of shame, full of self-pity, full of bitterness, full of hatred and so on. What we may mean when we make these kinds of comments about people is that they are so full of something that they cannot see, or feel, or do anything else. It is as if they are blinded to all else because they are so full of something. They are so full of one thing that they have no capacity for anything else.
When Jesus returned to Galilee, Jesus was not full of his own importance. Jesus was not full of his own power. Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit. What is the power of the Spirit? How did Jesus become filled with the power of the Spirit? What might being filled with the power of the spirit mean? Can we be filled with the power of the Spirit? If we are filled with other things, how can we be filled with the spirit? If we were filled with the power of the Spirit instead of being filled with other things, what difference might it make?
To explore what being filled with the power of the Spirit may mean, perhaps we can look at where Jesus was before he returned to Galilee. Jesus was in the wilderness. In Luke 4:1-2 we read - Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the Devil. In the wilderness Jesus’ new fullness of the Spirit was tested and he came through the testing in such a way that the power of the Spirit filled him. Jesus entered the wilderness full of the Spirit and he returned from the wilderness filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism and the Devil tried to render Jesus powerless through the temptations. The power of the Spirit is unlike the power of this world. We do not earn it or work it up. It is what remains or arises when we refuse to choose the powers of this world which are often no more than forms of violence pretending to be the only option for us to take. Sometimes these choices are very difficult because they are presented to us as the lesser of two evils. The power of the Spirit comes by being aware of the powers of this world, by refusing to take and use the power of this world for ourselves. So often we are tempted to take a short cut, to step on someone’s toes, believing that the means justify the ends. We use violence to defeat violence. The danger is that we become a monster in order to defeat a monster.
The power of the Spirit It is not a power stronger than evil. It is a power that arises through weakness. Saint Paul was well aware of this mystery. Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 - but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[a] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
We often want power so we can get things done the way we think they should be done. Even in the church we have power struggles. For example, if we don’t like what our leaders are doing. We can think we can do better. We vote them out or create such a toxic atmosphere that they leave and we then fill the vacuum. We are full of our own power- full of ourselves. The church becomes filled with the powers of the world and there is no room for the power of the Spirit.
The Desert Mothers and Fathers, Christians who lived in the deserts of North Africa in the early centuries after Jesus, looked to Jesus’ wilderness experience as the source for their spiritual power. In turn the Celtic Christians of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, modelled themselves on the Desert Mothers and Fathers and the experience of Jesus in the wilderness. They turned their backs on the power of the church and the empire and sought spiritual power from the source of all life, from God alone. They spent much of their lives alone, amongst nature, contemplating, praying, listening for God. They learned that one could not rely on the power one had experienced in the past or simply amass power and carry it with them into whatever situations they would face in the future. The power of the Spirit filled them and continued to fill them in every moment when they chose not the powers of the world but to renounce them and rely alone on the Spirit. And in every moment of relinquishing power, they were filled with the Spirit’s power.
Filled with the power of the Spirit, Jesus went on to the Synagogue in Nazareth and tells us why being filled with the power of the Spirit is so important - "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Luke 4:18,19.
The Good News is just as important today and it is made manifest through the power of the Spirit.
Photo: Native Ginger and Rosella
Reflection Sunday 16 January 2022
Signs – BE AWARE - Spirit at work!
2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
The disciples saw the water turned into wine and believed. They saw and they believed. But in John 20:29b-31 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
John’s Gospel is often called the book of signs. Signs do not point to themselves they point beyond themselves in the direction one needs to go in order to get to the place one is seeking. In John these signs point to Jesus, and in believing in Jesus one may have life. These signs point to life, to where life can be found. These signs say, BE AWARE - Spirit at work!
In last week’s reading from John’s Gospel, we read how the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Did the Spirit convey the voice of God? Did the voice of God come on the breath of the Spirit?
The same word pnuema is used in the New Testament Greek for both wind and spirit and in the Old Testament the same Hebrew word Ruach is used for wind and Spirit. Just as sound is carried on the wind, the Spirit brings the word of life to us.
The wind makes no sound, but sounds are made as the wind passes through tree branches and around buildings and through windows. Without breath we would make no audible sound, there would be no voice, no way of communicating with words. As the breath flows from our lungs and passes out through our mouths, we form words and the breath carries the sound on which our thoughts are carried and come into being and are expressed and heard by others.
Many years ago in a theological study group, I discovered that in the act of speaking we formulate what we believe. Our spoken words give voice to what we were previously unable to understand. Our unbelief becomes our belief as the Spirit breathes in us and then out through us, illuminating the mind on the way, forming faith. The Spirit works within us bringing us to believe, taking the hidden Word within us and bringing it into being and to fruition, to life. I was reminded at the time of the verse - if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved Romans 10:9).
In the story of the water being changed into wine Jesus speaks the words and the transformation from water to wine takes place. The Spirit creates wine out of water. The Spirit brings about the transformation.
As we read the words of the text today, Be Aware of the Spirit at work. Be open to the work of the Spirit, to take the words we read and bring them alive within us transforming us from unbelief to belief, from death to life.
Wait and listen.
Notice the wind.
Notice your breath.
Notice the effect of your breath creating your voice.
May you be surprised by the Spirit.
Reflection Sunday 9 January 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:21-22…and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven,
Acts 8:17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
John tells the people that they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit and Fire.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was accompanied by words of love. "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." I like to think a window of love was opened in the skies, a portal between heaven and earth, a river of love flowing out into the world, a wind blowing with forgiving love, a fire of love, warming hearts, transforming lives. Unlike a devastating bush fire which destroys all before it, the fire of love enlivens all, it lifts up the broken hearted, it places people on their own two feet, no longer bound in sin, free to be who God created them to be, alive to all God’s goodness. The fire of love heals the sick, raises the dead, transforms the world.
I have always maintained that an experience of the Holy Spirit is an experience of love.
Luke tells us that a very surprising thing happened in Samaria not long after Stephen was stoned as a martyr and Paul began persecuting the church. The followers of Jesus were scattered and everywhere they went they proclaimed the good news. Philip went to a town in Samaria and the people believed what he said about Jesus. People were healed and great joy came to that town in Samaria. When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they got there, they found that the people had not received the Holy Spirit when they had been baptised and so they prayed that the people would receive the Holy Spirit. They laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles had received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
That was a great surprise. Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, but Samaria accepted the message that he was the Messiah, and its people were filled with the Spirit. Centuries of division were broken down with the coming of the Spirit. The fire of love had come to Samaria. It is the fire of love that can cross boundaries and tear down walls of division.
I find it fascinating, puzzling, the Samaritans had believed the message and been baptized in the name of Jesus, yet there was more to come. It is hard to explain what happened, yet it seems to me that we can believe in Jesus, be baptised yet it is when the Spirit comes that something happens. The Spirit it seems fills us with love and sends us out to others in love. No longer is it a matter of private belief or a matter of right and wrong, good and evil, but the Spirit drives us to others in love.
Many times I have spoken of my experience of the Holy Spirit in Ireland. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a movement of the Spirt which brought Catholics and Protestants together. As the fire of love spread, Catholics and Protestants, separated for centuries discovered a love coming upon them, a fire of love within, and a wind of love that sent them across to the other side, where they discovered a strange love for the enemy, where hatred and bitterness was melted away in the heat of God’s love.
Who knows what surprises lie in store for us in 2022. I think that one of the most surprising things in the life of a Christian is the experience of the Holy Spirit. For me the defining mark of the Spirit in our lives is a baptism of love. The Spirit is a fire of love that burns within us. Of course, we are not always loving and kind, but within us, is a fire of love, sometimes waiting for us to stoke it and sometimes it overwhelms us, surprises us, reminds us that God is love.
Pray that you receive the Spirit, the fire of love within your heart. Pray that our congregation would receive the Spirit, the fire of love, consuming all our divisions, all our bitterness and creating here a place of welcome and love for all people.
May you be surprised by the Spirit. May you be baptised in love.
Reflection Sunday 5 December 2021
The Way of the Lord
This morning we are going to baptise a child into the family and faith of Christ and in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today is a good day to have a baptism during our worship service because the Gospel reading is about baptism. What is baptism? Why do we baptise people?
In my preparation for today, I read that there are a number of types of baptism mentioned in the New Testament: among them are the baptism of John, the baptism of Jesus, the baptism of Moses, baptism in water, baptism in fire, baptism in the Holy Spirit, baptism in suffering and baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jewish people at the time of Jesus were very familiar with baptism. People would symbolically wash away their sins in a pool or river in preparation for the coming Messiah. Luke tells us that the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
The word that came to John from God when he was out in the wilderness was one of urgency: the Messianic age was at hand, it was here, get ready, be ready, prepare the way of the Lord. Baptism was a public sign for all to see, it was an enacted message, one in which one participated but which also spoke to others, it was a way of communicating that something required the response of all the people. The difference between when John was baptising and when Jesus’ disciples began baptising was that John was saying get ready the Messiah is coming, whereas the disciples said the Messiah has come, change your way, join the way of Jesus Christ.
Baptism today is also a public event, an enacted message in which we participate and which acts as a witness to others. It is saying that we and our children renounce the ways of the world, ways that are destructive and destroy, that hurt and harm, and we embrace the grace of God who welcomes us all in love, who freely forgives, and who is changing all things, whose way is a way of peace and justice.
The early Christians described themselves as followers of the way, the way of Jesus, of walking in the way: in the way of truth and the way of life and the way of love and of forgiveness. In Jesus, God has revealed to us the way of life, a light to our path, a companion on the road.
Today, we will baptise ... in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is not a magic formula, that transfers us instantaneously from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light but it is a wonderful description of the God whose way we are on: God calls us his/her child, Jesus calls us his sister or brother and the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. We no longer live but the fulness of God lives within us.
Reflection Sunday 7 November 2021 Clemton Park
Let’s imagine that we are there at the Temple in Jerusalem with Jesus and his disciples watching all that is going on. We are not participating, just looking on and Jesus brings some things to our awareness, things that we just had not noticed before. There are a lot of cattle, sheep, goats wandering around, tether to ropes and there are wooden cages full of doves stacked against a wall. It is looks like and sounds like and smells like an animal saleyard. Lots of money is being exchanged. Everything is expensive and smoke billows continually upwards from the temple altar. It smells like the biggest barbeque ever. Then Jesus has a conversation with a scribe and you become aware that religion is about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and loving one’s neighbour is much more important than all these sacrifices.
Then your attention is drawn to the scribes walking around in long robes, with everyone bowing and greeting them with respect. You see that when they sit they always have the most important seats at the table. They draw attention to themselves as they pray, and they pray for hours, pacing up and down, rocking backwards and forwards. Jesus says, “beware of the scribes, they like to be seen, and respected and say long prayers but is it all a cover, a sham, they pretend to be holy, but they are exploiting the pilgrims and exploit widows by taking their houses from the.
Then you hear the sound of large amounts of coins tumbling down the sides of the large offering bowl. Wow, you think, what a generous person that is giving all that money to the Temple and then a woman comes up and you hear nothing as she throws in a couple of very small coper coins. Again Jesus draws your attention to what is really going on. Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." And you realise that she has been far more generous that the rich person whose money made such a noise. Or maybe it is not about generosity. Maybe she is totally committed to loving God whereas the others only appear to be.
Looks can be deceptive. Sometimes we just don’t see what is really going on. Imagine now that you are sitting on the stage with Jesus this morning watching what is going on. What do you see? What do you hear? What does Jesus draw your attention to? What do you become aware of?
In worship, God is seeking us to worship with the totality of our being, to orient ourselves fully towards God in body, heart, mind and soul. How does our worship compare?
When we gather for worship are we fully here? Our bodies may be here but where are our minds? Where are our hearts? Where are our souls? Sometimes our minds are so full of our own worries and plans and the future that we do not bring ourselves fully to God’s presence. When we have young children or are busy preparing for a service, providing morning tea or preparing Holy Communion, organising the choir etc., we do not have time before the service to prepare our hearts, minds and souls to worship God together. But let’s not let that put us off.
When we gather in worship, it is important to bring our whole being into God’s presence, for above all in corporate worship, we want to listen for God’s voice together. We want to hear the Spirit speak to us. Sometimes our worship is just words after words, saying all the right things, but without listening in return. Praying is not really about saying long prayers, but it is about communing with God, waiting, listening, being open, humble, willing to respond.
The Lord’s supper reminds us of the cost it has taken for God to commune with us. We celebrate Christ’s body and blood, the giving of his life that we might enter life in all its fulness. This is a very special time for us together communing with God. As we gather around the table today let us seek God’s life in all its fullness and let us give ourselves fully to God in body, heart, mind and soul, so that our worship is in spirit and in truth. In John 4:23,24 Jesus says, “But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship him. God is Spirit, and God’s worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
To worship in truth is to be aware of our falsehood and pretence, to put it aside and to be honest with God and with one another. To worship in Spirit is to open ourselves to the flow of the Spirit from God. The Spirit whispers the word of life in our ears. The Spirit carries the word of God to our hearts.
So, worship involves opening our hearts to God’s Spirit, that we might receive the word of life. God’s living Word Christ. We cannot do anything to influence the Spirit just like we cannot make the wind blow in certain directions, we can but wait for the Spirit to blow on us: the Holy Spirit connecting with our spirit. Come, Holy Spirit.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation