Saturday, 25 June 2011

Mirroring the Spirit

Genesis 22 v 1-14
Matthew 10 v 40-42

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Our Old Testament reading – the almost sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, is always a very difficult passage to preach on, so, although I left it in the readings this morning, I’m going to just let it sit there – as an ancient story.
And give thanks for the gospel.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s OK to wriggle out of hard tasks and give ourselves a break.
Today, I’m going to take the easier road – and go with the gospel.
The gospel that, for me at least, speaks more clearly into our lives today and to which we can relate more easily right now.
Especially in these weeks after Pentecost.
When we still have our Pentecost rainbow gracing the sanctuary, naming our hopes and dreams and something of our vision for this parish and for this community.
Let me read to you this morning’s gospel from The Message version of the Bible:
We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."

The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.

What an affirmation – the smallest act of giving or receiving makes us true apprentices.
A gospel of hospitality and service.
A gospel that affirms that each of us has it in us to be God’s messenger.
We are equipped.
And sent.

This reading comes hot on the heels of Jesus sending out his disciples.
Jesus is still outlining what’s what – the important things in the service of the kingdom.

But, just for a moment, I want to take you back to the way the gospel writer tells us of Jesus commissioning the disciples – the passage leading up to today’s teaching.
A passage that has become my favourite passage in the gospels and that I use often to encourage others in mission.
It starts at the end of Matthew 9, and continues on into Matthew 10, from which today’s reading comes.
This is the story of Jesus sending out his disciples:

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!"
The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives…
Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
   "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

It is with that same charge that Jesus commissions us, his disciples of today.
With the charge to travel light, remembering that WE are the equipment.
That, in God, we have all that is needed to go and care.
In God, we have the power to kick out the evil spirits and tenderly care for hurt and bruised lives.
Dare we believe that today?
Dare we believe that, right now, right here in this neighbourhood, we can make a difference to folk who are lost and confused, we can bring health to the sick, convince people that the kingdom is here.
That it’s not just some high flying notion.
And it’s not about being overly dramatic.
Rather, it’s about living generously with all that we have been given, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make a difference right here where we are.
Dare we believe that?
And, supposing we dare, do we welcome that kind of power – power that will change lives, power that will love our community into health and wholeness, into a different, just way of being?
Is that the kind of power we would welcome.
Are those the kind of changes that we look forward to in our community?

I’ve spent some time this week, praying through our Pentecost hopes and dreams that we posted on our rainbow of hope.
Hopes and dreams that we can be a community of love in action, a community that wants to be welcoming, affirming and accepting.
A community that longs for peace.
A community that radiates warmth and extends hospitality.
In the words of this morning’s gospel, a community that offers a cup of cold water – and receives the gifts of God as gifts of grace – undeserved but freely given.
Those are our hopes and dreams.
But isn’t it more than a little bit scary to have those hopes and dreams fulfilled?
How would we cope with seeing our prayers – for that’s what hopes and dreams are – how would we cope with seeing our prayers answered?
How would we cope with witnessing the power of God being revealed?
And how would we cope with being the instruments of God right were we are?
While it is natural to long for all the things we have written on our rainbow – seeing those hopes and dreams brought to fruition – the changes that would mean in our lives still brings an element of fear.
Being successful in the mission of God, however longed for, is scary.
Harnessing the power of the Holy Spirit is a risky and a scary business.
As soon as we take seriously all that is promised to us through the spirit, we have to surrender control.
and, like all things in which we feel ourselves losing control, there is more than an element of fear for us.

Some time ago, I learned an interesting thing about rainbows.
Often, in this part of the world, we see double rainbows – always a beautiful sight.
The thing is, when we see a double rainbow, it is, in fact, only one rainbow – the second rainbow is a reflection of the first.
If you look at the picture, you’ll see that, in the second rainbow, the colours are reversed – a mirror image of the original rainbow.
What an image for us here in Castlehill, buoyed up by all the gifts of the Holy spirit.
As we surrender control to the power of the Holy Spirit, surrendering our fear as we do so.
As we embrace the gifts that the Spirit brings.
As we allow the colour and vibrancy of the Holy spirit to infect us, here and in our weekday lives, we become double rainbow blessings.
We reflect the image of God.
We, too, radiate vibrancy and hope, excitement and passion.
How cool is that?
What if we could radiate a mirror image of the colourful gifts of the Spirit of God?
Just imagine what a transformation we would see in this place and in the community we are called, together, to serve.

And our gospel assures us that by giving, we will not lose out. Jesus said:
. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."

So what makes us afraid?
What holds us back?
What keeps us from seeing that community transformation that God promises to us if we join God in the work of the harvest?
What prevents us – you and I – from giving that cool cup of water?
What prevents us performing the smallest acts of hospitality, small acts that make a massive difference in the Kingdom of God.
Small acts that heap rainbows of blessing on us and on the community we serve.
That is the question that we take with us to ponder in the days ahead.
What prevents us being used by the Spirit of God?
Once we are able to answer that question, we may be able to remove the barriers we put up.
We may be able to relinquish our fear.
We may even be daring enough to take those small steps – to offer a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty.
May God be glorified in all our small steps and may God’s spirit be unleashed as we participate in the mission to which God calls us rejoicing that the smallest act of giving or receiving makes us true apprentices.
Thanks be to God

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Mystery

Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13 v 11-13
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Today is Trinity Sunday. The first Sunday in what we call Ordinary time – that’s why I’m wearing my green stole.
We’ve moved through the season of Easter, celebrated Pentecost last week ,and, today, Trinity Sunday sees us move, once again, into Ordinary Time.
About half of the year, in the church, is Ordinary Time.
Ordinary just refers to the Ordinal by which Sundays were numbered.
It doesn’t mean that Sundays in this season are humdrum or straightforward or that worship gets boring– God forbid.
Always there is something new and exciting and mysterious to discover.
The idea of the Trinity – God as Three in One is one of those mysteries of the faith that Theologians have wrestled with for centuries.
I’m not going to add to that today but wanted to reflect just for a moment on the threefold nature of this space in which we gather in fellowship with each other week by week in the presence of God.
With the symbols of our worship surrounding us.
The font – reminding us of our baptism, baptism that calls us into God’s service.
We move from the font to the table.
We ask parents to promise when their child is baptised that they will tell them of their baptism so that, in time, they will make their own response in faith and love and share in Christ’s communion,
In communion we are nourished by the spiritual food that God offers us – the body of Christ broken for us, the blood of Christ shed for us.
And, sustained by that spiritual food, we move through this worship space in which we have shared and been fed and we go into all the world.
The font, the table, the world.
 A threefold calling for us to serve and follow the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And, in the words of the apostle Paul:
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The comforter?

Last night as I drove confidently to a friend's house, I was reminded of the number of times just after we moved to this part of the world that I got lost and used the church steeple to guide me home. It was a strange and very disconcerting feeling to live and work in an area I didn't know. Everything was new and unfamiliar. A different landscape. With my head filled with thoughts of Pentecost in preparation for Sunday worship, it struck me that a move out of our comfort zones is often called for in the journey of faith.
We pray: "Come, Holy Spirit" when really, the unpredictability that the Spirit brings is the last thing we want.
For Jesus' disciples that first Pentecost, the landscape changed and they were thrust into new and unfamiliar territory accompanied by God's Spirit. They followed that Spirit and were led in ways they could never have imagined. Life was extremely uncomfortable at times but they were never alone.
Dare we continue to pray: "Come, Holy Spirit"?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Something to stand on

Readings: Acts 1 v1-14

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Those accounts of Jesus’ ascension into heaven,
where we read of Jesus being “caught up in a cloud”
stirred something in me this week.
We live in a part of the world where we see a fair bit of clouds.
But not just the all too familiar rain clouds.
We see all sorts of patterns  and formations of clouds, some of them unique to our position in this part of the world.
I don’t know as much as I should about the why’s of the particular clouds we see but I am fascinated by them. I love to imagine pictures in the clouds or, quite simply, just admire the intricate patterns woven in the sky.
And as I read this passage from Acts about Jesus ascending into a cloud, other cloud images from the bible came into my head:
Many important biblical events seemed to happen under
cover of clouds:

When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, cloud covered
the mountain and the “devouring fire of God” was witnessed by the Israelites far below.

In the wilderness, often, when God appeared to Moses in a tent of meeting, a pillar of cloud covered the entrance to the tent.

When Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top, in the presence of some of his disciples, a cloud obscured Jesus and the disciples with him from the folk waiting below.

A voice from the cloud said: This is my son – listen to him.

Reminiscent of Jesus baptism when its not so much a cloud
that is manifest but an opening of the Heavens with doves
appearing and a voice saying: This is my own dear son, with
whom I am pleased.

Moments of mystery and moments of clarity.

Brightness and obscurity.
Moments of significance somehow too bright to be witnessed except under cover of cloud.

And so to today’s Ascension accounts.

As the disciples watched, Jesus was taken up to heaven
and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus had spent quite some time teaching his disciples,
getting them ready for this moment when he must leave
them. He spoke of it before his death and after his resurrection.
Jesus took pains to prepare them as best he could for what lay ahead.

He’d warned the disciples that he couldn’t remain with them but
had promised them that they would not be alone – that
he would send his Spirit.

And next Sunday, that is what we will celebrate –
Pentecost, the coming of God’s Spirit.

But, first of all, let’s celebrate the ascension of our Lord.
Let’s imagine the perspective of Jesus disciples as they saw their Lord disappear into the clouds.
How must they have felt?
How do you feel on those days when your life seems overshadowed by clouds?
Is that a familiar place for you?
Is it  a comforting place or a disturbing place?

“Being caught up in the clouds” can bring joy – it can
also bring terror.

The joy of anticipation.
Or the terror of unknowing.

Are the clouds that inhabit our lives a shadow?
Or do they signal a passage to a brighter place?
What was going on in the hearts and minds of the disciples as they saw Jesus being taken from them – again!
And is it any wonder that they stood and stared?
Until they were challenged to get on with their lives.
A timely intervention.

And maybe the words spoken to the disciples as they continued
to watch the sky are also timely words for us today:

“Why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This
Jesus who was taken from you into heaven will come back
in the same way you saw him go.”

Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?

Words for all of us today.
When we’re left wondering.
When we’re frightened.
When we want to be sure.

It is so tempting when we’re in a place of uncertainty, to simply do nothing.
Sometimes it seems the safest option.
And so we stand and look into the sky.
Looking for divine inspiration or assurance or something
that will convince us.
We want certainties, not risk.
And what Jesus reveals again and again is that God’s
kingdom is a kingdom of risks.
A kingdom that cries out for risk takers.
For only those willing to take risks can daringly follow the
one who rides the clouds.

Why are you standing there looking into the sky?
When its time to act.

Following Jesus compels folk to take risks, to throw away
the rules and the need to conform -and be different.
Because at the heart of faith is the willingness to trust
the one who came to make all things new, the one who was
taken up in the clouds and who will return the same way.
The one who gives us freedom to do a new thing, to try a
new way.

To leave our tradition behind and risk living our lives in the
clouds, transformed by the presence of God in our

Faith encourages us to soar with the risen Christ, to ride
the thermals.
One of my favourite books was written by Richard Bach in
the 70s, called Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book about a very
independent bird, who dared to question what was being
taught and told to him by the elders passing on the
tradition by which they had always lived.

But Jonathan Livingston Seagull was an individual who didn't just want to spend his days searching for food and hanging out doing what was
expected of him like all the other birds - he was different.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull dared to dream.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull spent his days learning to fly – to fly faster and better than any other gull in the flock.

And he learned from all of his searching and trying that he
could in fact do anything.
If he wanted it badly enough, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
would go for it – he would take a risk – and he would
accomplish what he had set out to do.

Of course, this made him unpopular with the rest of the
Movers and shakers, those who are innovative, are often
Folk who won’t conform are often shunned.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was cast out from the flock.
Yet he knew a different way of life to which none of the
others would ever aspire.

Shouldn’t there be – might there be - a freedom and a daring like that for us in the church?
An unwillingness to settle for what has “aye been”.
The imagination to do things differently - Even if it upsets folk.
Our calling is to take risks, to take hold of the power that
our ascended Lord promised us before leaving.

One of my favourite quotes from Jonathan Livingston Seagull is this:

"When you come to the edge of all the light you have
known, and are about to step out into darkness, Faith is
knowing one of two things will happen There will be
something to stand on, or you will be taught to fly."

Something to stand on or being taught to fly.

The ascension of our Lord was a time of moving on, of
passing on the baton to us his followers.
Not so we would stand around wondering what we would do
with it.
But so that we would take faith to the ends of the earth.
That great commission  - Go to people everywhere and make disciples – that great commission demands innovation, involves taking
risks and encourages us to soar.
It involves all of us moving on in our faith.
From the safety of where we are at – to risking the
To soar with the ascended Christ – caught up in the clouds,
transformed by mystery and possibility.
Finding new ground on which to stand or being taught to fly.

Let me share with you a meditation I wrote for Ascension:

He left them to it
and went back to the Father
Gave them the great commission
and then took off
as only Jesus could
took off
in a cloud of glory
leaving the disciples
wallowing in a cloud of confusion
and today
millennia on
it seems we're still
surrounded by clouds
covered in confusion
not sure of what's next
And so, once more
Christ commissions us
into all the world
make disciples
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
no contingency
and I
are it.
and make disciples.
We've been tagged.

Let’s be willing to learn to fly – for the glory of God. Amen