Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Holy and blessed Trinity

The Prophet Isaiah finds himself in the awesome presence of God and he can only fall to his knees admitting his unworthiness, but God is not content to leave him there - God touches him, via an angel, and  in response Isaiah declares “Here I am send me” Isaiah 6.1-8

For me the passage is about majesty, the majesty of God, and service- the service of the prophet- and so it is speaks to us about our discipleship yours and mine.  We see Isaiah with all his faults, in the midst of feelings of unworthiness, on his knees in his shame and guilt over come with feelings of loss and abandonment but then, by the Grace of God, he like us must respond to the question that God asks each one of us – Whom shall I send? by answering “Hear I am send me”

 Over the last month, as part of the 75th Anniversary of VE day, there has been a great deal of remembering of those who in their generation responded to the call “Whom shall I send” when it came to these islands own moment of peril in the 20th Century.

On Saturday with the anniversary of D Day, we will remember again those who responded to the call “Whom shall I send” by setting out in their dinghies , their sailing ships, indeed an armada of  700 “little ships” to pick up the stranded troops of the British ensuring that they would serve another day in freeing the world of the evil of Nazi Germany.

I the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry…….whom shall I send? 
Here I am lord, it is I lord, I will go Lord if you lead me…
( Servant king Dan Shuttle) 

In an another popular modern hymn called the Servant King written by Graham Kendrick the chorus rings out " This is our God the Servant King, he calls us now to follow him.....   "The Servant King" is our understanding of God that we have to share as distinctive to others who believe in God and distinctive within a world were many strive to be gods and servants are treated with contempt.

Today as we remember and celebrate our understanding of God as Father Son and Holy Spirit, , we remember that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not a heavenly Tyrant – a distant individual, ruling in splendid isolation but God who has come among us as one of us to bear our burden and bring us peace. 

This is at the heart of what Jesus tells Nicodemus in the darkness of his night in our gospel:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ V16-17

The doctrine of the Trinity takes us to the opening pages of the Bible, deep into the time before time and we see that before there was anything to rule, the Father, Son and Spirit existed and they existed in relationship with one another. 

Their life is a life of caring, sharing, give and take, back and forth.  Before God’s life was a life of majesty over the creation, God’s life was a life of service among the Persons.  The Father pours His love and life into the Son in the power of the Spirit. 

The Son offers up His love and life in the power of the Spirit.  The very essence of God’s Majesty is service.  God’s life is a life of mutual self-giving.

The servant-heart of God is a glimpse of something holy.  Because of Trinity: Majesty and service belong together.

Now imagine if this were not the case.  Imagine if God were just a solitary individual. Think of him there “in the beginning”, with no-one and nothing besides him, just his own thoughts for company.  Such a god could not be a god of service.  There’s no-one and nothing for this god to serve.  There’s no caring or sharing.  This god would be defined by supremacy, by power, by pre-existence but not by love.

But not with Trinity.  With Trinity: service is supreme.  With Trinity: self-giving is ultimate reality.  With Trinity: God is love, the love that exists between the three persons of the God head – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It if from this relationship of love that creation is created for the Trinity exists as a dynamo creating the power of love that is found woven in to the very fabric of creation and our own existence as his children.

And this love, indeed any love cannot be kept to itself.  In the beginning of Johns gospel we see that the God of love wanted to share.  John writes:
Through the Word all things were made.

This is where we’ve come from.  From the overflowing life of the Father, through the Word – the Lord Jesus – in the power of the Spirit, the world was born.  It was as if the Father, Son and Spirit had said “This thing is too good to keep to ourselves.”  And so a world is made, that we might share in their love.

And so here we find the meaning of life – in the Trinity – in relationship and love of God and one another. God the Holy Trinity make you strong in truth and peace, guard you and save you and bring you to that heavenly city where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. AMEN

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Unless the eye catch fire - Feast of Pentecost

Unless the eye catch fire,

The God will not be seen.

Unless the ear catch fire

The God will not be heard.

Unless the tongue catch fire

The God will not be named.

Unless the heart catch fire,

The God will not be loved.

Unless the mind catch fire,

The God will not be known.     William Blake

Central to our relationship with God, is the desire to catch something of that flame of life, the Spirit itself. This is what we are here to catch with ear and tongue with our hearts and minds this morning in our Pentecost celebration.

On the first Pentecost the Spirit descended in tongues of fire. Elsewhere the Spirit is described as a dove, a breath or wind. Each description catches a particular sense of that Spirit of God which underlies everything and, what St Paul speaks of as awaiting its birth in the lives and actions of humanity – the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains writes St Paul, ready for the moment when the fruits of that Spirit can be set to work. Romans 8.22

It is the Spirit deep within the heart of humanity made in God’s image, which enables us to pray and to engage with God himself. And, as we have been reminded time and again in the letters of St John red in these last weeks of Easter, God is love and through his spirit we are able to encounter, engage and live in that Love.

At times the Holy Spirit is like a fire, like love that is a burning passion enflaming us with a sense of God’s loving presence, a fire that purifies us from the death of self love and selfishness.

At times it is like a wind that blows where it will – we know its power and presence even though it cannot be seen. Like the winds that blow across the Sahara molding and giving form to the landscape of blown particles of sand.

At times it is just like breath, a thing so small, faint natural and almost unnoticed – yet essential for life. Like a softly spoken word “I love you” that can change our reality for ever .

At times we picture it as a dove – a sign of hope and promise landing in our midst as it did in the story of Noah when the dove brought a leaf in its beak showing the flood was ended.

Today we celebrate the gift of that Spirit of God, promised by the Risen and Ascended Lord.

But we should not see the Spirit just as an extra boost, something we call upon to help us do what we want. It is rather the very presence of God deep within his creation and therefore deep within our communities and indeed deep within each one of us. The invitation of Pentecost is to open ourselves to that presence and embrace his presence.

Yet if we do this, let us be aware of what it is we are letting ourselves in for. This is a Spirit that will not just support our ambitions for the Church or for our world or for ourselves. This is the Spirit of God which will lead us in his ways, to fulfill his will for his church, his world and us his people.

In his book, A World to Love, author George Knowles tells about a party of explorers who found themselves perplexed by something they found in a remote  African jungle. In a clearing, they discovered 35 carefully laid fires that had never  been lit. They had the appearance of 35 little tepees, with dry leaves surrounded by small, dry twigs and, finally, larger pieces of wood arranged in a good Boy Scout  fashion.

Who built the fires? Why had not even one been lit? The mystery cleared up  when the explorers saw dozens of chimpanzees watching from the trees. The  chimps had watched campers and copied the art of fire building. But they had no fire.

Many people say the same kind of thing is true of the Church today. We
have been trained in fire building, but we have no fire. If we are going to reach people today with the Christian message, faith must involve the head and the heart.

The gift of the Spirit bequeathed to us by the Risen and Ascended Christ offers us not just extra support, but leads to a radical change. We are  placing ourselves in the hands of the one who created us, and who invites us to choose to live our lives in his way rather than ours.

But this Spirit cannot be controlled, it shapes changes and defines us - not the other way round. We are the clay not the potter to borrow an image from the Prophets of Old.

The feast of Pentecost is an invitation to live in God’s grace. It is something we wrestle with every day, abandoning ourselves to God, following the path that he has for us. But a stronger passion for control, especially when we loose faith or allow our selfish desire to dominate our choices, works against this invitation to live by God’s grace.

Part of the story of that first Pentecost is the gathering of  nationalities Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia,  and all the rest who heard the first disciples speaking of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

They were surprised that each heard in their own language – but what they heard was human speech, human imagination set on fire, inspired by that Spirit of God  and they were united in responding to God’s love.

We are called as followers of Christ to allow the love of Christ to become real in the lives of this broken world. It is to enable those imprisoned by violence, oppression, need or greed, to find that Spirit of God’s love deep within themselves bringing  freedom from their captivity. It is to enable those who are blinded by their power, their success and their comfort in this world, to have their eyes open to the needs of all around, to change and be changed, to live differently.

It is to find the Spirit of the living God breathing new life into the dry bones of our society and our world, that all may have life, and have it abundantly; life that is both here and now, and lasts into eternity.

So we must catch the fire of the Spirit to live each day.

Unless the eye catch fire,
 God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
 God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
 God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
 God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
 God will not be known.

May this Pentecost enflame our eyes, ears, tongues, hearts and minds, that God and his love may be seen and heard, named and loved, and known by all his children in every part of his world.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

St Matthias our Patron - 14th May

Almost nothing is known of St Matthias. Perhaps he is most important because his election as an apostle shows the way the that Church would continue to choose its pastors and guides, by bringing forward members as the Spirit led.

Our Patron Saint’s name is the Greek form of Mattathias, Hebrew Mattithiah, signifying "gift of Yahweh." The late mediaeval
Golden Legend says “Matthias in Hebrew is as much to say as given to our Lord, or a gift of our Lord, or else humble or little.” St Matthias is certainly humble in terms of personal fame! He is not mentioned in the Gospels, but according to Acts 1.21 was one of the disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John to the Ascension. Indeed the lack of definite information has led some people to identify him with this or that little-known figure, including Nathaniel, Barnabas, and even Zacchaeus.

St Matthias is only mentioned in the New Testament in
Acts 1.21-26, when he was one of the two disciples selected as candidates to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left by Judas. After prayer lots were cast and Matthias was chosen.

Where the canonical sources fail us, legends and church traditions more than make up for. 
A number of sources tell of him preaching the gospel to the "cannibals of Ethiopia"

A different tradition was that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded with an axe. This tradition gained the most popularity in the Western Church. There we learn that Matthias was a native of Bethlehem, where he was trained in the Law and the Prophets. After he had been elected to join the apostles, he preached in Jerusalem and worked miracles of healing in the name of Jesus. For this he was accused before the high priest but refused to answer, saying, “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life”. Offered a chance to repent, Matthias said “God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found, and become an apostate” (was he perhaps thinking of Judas whom he had replaced?).

He returned to preaching by word and example, converting many, until finally his enemies got two false witnesses to accuse him, and the false witnesses cast the first stones against him. Matthias “prayed that the stones might be buried that the false witnesses had cast upon him, for to bear witness against them that stoned him,” and in the end they beheaded him with an axe, in the Roman manner. He died commending his spirit to God.

Finally we should note a tradition that St Matthias died of old age. Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) said that “Matthias, who was one of the seventy, was numbered along with the eleven apostles, and preached in Jerusalem, and fell asleep and was buried there.”

These stories have no historical value, although the words “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life” are well worth remembering. It is very likely that he never went to the country we call Ethiopia.

The concern of the Apostles to complete the number is interesting; for the institution of Twelve Apostles was not maintained in the Church. There is no account of a further election when St James the brother of John was executed (Acts 12:2). So maybe Matthias is unique in this regard and that is why has had captured the imagination of many throughout the ages.

The choice between Barsabbas and Matthias was made by casting lots, not ballots: voting by ballot was not a Jewish custom; the method of discerning the Lord’s will in the Old Testament was by lot. Moreover a ballot would not harmonize with their prayer “show which of these two thou hast chosen”. What they did was to give each candidate a tablet, bearing his name, to place in the urn; and that which fell out, on the urn being shaken, determined which was successful.

This is the only known occasion on which the early Church used lots to ascertain God’s will; it is not stated by what method of choice was used when the Twelve told the brethren to “pick out from among you” the seven to assist in the service(Acts 6.3-5).

So what do we take away from the recounting of some interesting if not rather unreliable traditions concerning St Matthias our patron?

I would suggest two things.
firstly his name:  the meaning of Matthias name is
“given to our Lord, or a gift of our Lord, or else humble or little.”

We are certainty little in number here this morning and I would hope that even though we are small our contribution to the life of the community through our hall and in this church where over the years people come to mourn their loved ones, celebrate new life granted to them and their families and of course to celebrate the love that binds two people together in marriage is of greater significance.

Let me encourage you this morning to think of yourselves as given our Lord and as such a gift for the world we are called to serve and in which we witness to that Lord who calls us as he called our Patron Matthias and join with him in the this ministry and apostleship” of the church which is ours to share in through our baptism.

We do this at a time in the world where it is Christians who are the most persecuted of all the faith communities in the world. Every 11 minutes a man or a woman or a child is put to death simply for being that “gift of our Lord”

The second are the words attributed to him at his martyrdom: Matthias is recorded in saying that  “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life”. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in faith who are treated as criminal, for our brothers and sisters who like our Patron Matthias have left this life to enter their glory by the violent had of another, and let us pray that God will spare us and indeed all his Church from such a fate but that should we ever be faced with such choices that others have to make every day let us take heart from our Patron's own words when face with such a choice:
“God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found, and become an apostate” 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

I call you friends

I wonder what you can remember of the excitement or maybe interpretation in the first moment that you realized that Jesus Christ was making a demand on your life?

I wonder if you are at a stage in your life right now when you are looking ahead and realizing that your relationship with Jesus Christ is taking you in to new and uncharted waters, that maybe Jesus is calling you to something new in your life, something disturbing or something you would rather not have to deal with?

In our Gospel reading taken from what are called Jesus’ “farewell discourses” in John, we hear Jesus speak of “friendship” as the new relationship he has created with his followers. The Greek word he uses here for friend is philos, meaning someone who loves.

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

And so God’s friendship also has something to do with transparency, authenticity, what we might call plain, direct speech as opposed to flattery or holding back.

A way to think about this is that Jesus is God’s “plain speech to us,” the Word coming to us in our own language, in fact in our own flesh, the Word revealing to us and uniting us to the heart of God’s very self.

As we continue to celebrate Easter, marking that celebration with the renewal of our baptismal vows.
As we reflect on what our calling and vocation as Christians in this world might mean in every day language, what it might call us to do with our lives.
As we work together as the body of Christ in these communities of Hendon and Colindale showing forth not just in our words and prayers but by our actions too the love of Christ that we find to be true at the heart of our lives….

I want to remind you that all of us are the enactment of God’s outpouring of life and God’s transparent, authentic and direct speech, that has  already come to us in Christ Jesus.

When we think of Vocation, when we look back on the lives of some of the saints or those whose lives inspire us I guess it is a truth that for them their calling, their vocation is at one and the same time like the kiss of a lover that entices and woes us and like the bite of wild animal that draws blood and caused pain.

On Thursday we recalled those whose calling was to stand against an evil in this world that took life, crushed freedom and threatened the future that has been our lives. We gave thanks for Victory day in Europe on a day that we also when to the polls as a nation to cast our vote. We were able to stand together as a nation at the voting booth on Thursday; because of those who stood together in the face of evil, who gave their blood, who embrace pain and because they cherished life answered the call to give their lives for that love.

When we hear the words of our gospel this morning we see a clear understanding in the mind of John the author of the gospel of the extremes that can be a mark of our calling as friends of Christ.

The first of these is extreme, for it’s the idea that a friend is one who would be willing to give their life for their friend. Put another way, if I am friend to you, your welfare, your hopes and dreams, your very life is so important to me that I am willing for my blood, both the symbol of and reality of my life, to be shed for you.

But in Jesus, of course, the idea of befriending becomes the enactment of befriending. For Jesus doesn’t just talk about things—he is them; he does them.  We thought about this last week with the notion of love, God is love and love is from God. And so the very pattern of Jesus’ life enacts this idea. Jesus lays down his life for his friends and in doing so, shows his disciples and you and me what loving and befriending another will mean: the freely given outpouring of life for the sake of the other.

But the Gospel of John doesn’t stop there. For right along with this notion of friendship and sacrifice comes a second one.

v 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you.

Jesus is Lord yes but in this new understanding and relationship that is created by his love we become friends with our Lord, no longer do I call you servants but friend.

Notice the distinction Jesus drew between being a servant and being a friend. It’s not the privilege of the servant to understand his master’s business. It’s just for him to do what he’s told. No questions. No reasons. Just “Very good, sir. If you say so, sir.”
To make it plain that he did not want such blind obedience, Jesus reminded the disciples that he had told them all he could about his Father’s business. This would make it possible for them to give him what he really wanted—the free cooperation of understanding friends.

The bible does give us examples of those who at the same time as being leaders and examples for us are also called God’s friends
 Abraham, Moses and even Job is finally called a friend of God.

Once again it is here that we see a new pattern of vocation, of calling in Christ. blind obedience to a law, loyalty to the God who like a Judge will be merciless in pronouncing judgment when we betray that loyalty
are no longer adequate, sufficient or comprehensive in the light of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.

So today we do not just remember the past:
The times when we have responded to the call of Christ in our lives.
The times when faced with a decision we have sought direction for our lives from Jesus.
The times when we have felt the support and encouragement of our friends in Christ that have meant we have kept on going in the face of obstacles and setback, disappointments and regrets.

Today is about deciding whether or not we will say “yes” to the continuing life of Christ that is within us. The life of Christ that calls us into a friendship that will change our way of being.

Today is about deciding whether we will say “yes” to the continuing life and vocation that is ours in Christ.  A yes which can be relied upon to ask us to pour out our lives for the sake of the Church and the world at a time when we face so many dangers and troubles.