Monday, September 29, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St Michael

You will see greater things than these. 

And he said to him,
‘Very truly, I tell you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus says, very truly, what comes after is something very important.
It is normally something prophetic,
something he is going to do,
or something that is going to happen top him.

These very truly I tell you statements usually end a discussion.
They are the final say on what has gone before.

Today’s ends chapter one of John’s Gospel.
We have had the prologue, the wonderful almost creedlike introduction.
We have heard about Jesus’ baptism.
We have seen how Jesus called the first disciples:
What are you looking for?
Come and see.

Nathanael makes the proclamation of Jesus divinity, based on Jesus seemingly clairvoyant ability.

‘Where did you come to know me?’
Jesus answered,
‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
You will see greater things than these.

Look out.

you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man

This phrase “angels of God ascending and descending” is unusual.
It occurs only in one other place in all the scriptures, Genesis chapter 28.
Jesus is using this strange phrase to tell us something. The passage it comes from is helpful.

Genesis chapter 28 tells us the story of Jacob

Jacob has left Beer Sheba, and is on his way to Haran.
He lays down for the night. He takes a stone and uses it for a pillow.
He has a dream.

there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven;
and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

God speaks to him in the dream, promising him the land where he is forever,

I am with you and will keep you wherever you go

Jacob wakes up and says:
‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’
‘How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The idea of angels ascending and descending is one of a gate of heaven, or heaven being opened.
It is a place where there is no division between us and God,
where communication, contact are open.
The angels are Gods messengers, they are also the symbols of holiness and divinity.
It is they who show us that this gate is open, that heaven is opened.
They are the markers of such an event.

Why would Jesus use this same image to express what is about to occur.

Notice in Jacob’s dream, the angels are ascending and descending on a ladder.
When Jesus tells us, it on him.

Jesus is the ladder that the angels will ascend and descend upon.
For Jacob, it was the stone on which he lay his head, the place was the gate of heaven.

Jesus tells us that he is that gate:

As he will say in chapter 10,
I am the gate.
Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The angels of god will ascend and descend upon him, not a ladder.
He is the link between heaven and earth.
He is the way the things of heaven will now come down to earth.
He is also the way the things of earth are shown in heaven.

Where with Jacob, this reality was in a place,
and was made sacred by his anointing the stone with oil, making an altar,
Jesus is saying that he is supercedes this.

By using this phrase, the angels of God ascending and descending,
Jesus is telling Nathanael, that he is the way to know of God.

Those same words can still have the same effect today.
To people who do not know Jesus Christ, but who know of the presence of angels in their lives.

To a world that is more comfortable speaking about angels than it is about the Son of Man,
these words of Jesus are a reminder.
To a church that is afraid of speaking about other beliefs,
these words are a reminder.

These words tell us that angels work with Jesus and us.
Angels are not outside of our faith, they are a part of it.

They tell those who don’t know Christ, that the angels they speak with most certainly do,
and in fact are doing his work.

It is my belief that as Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth,
angels are the bridge between the world and the church,
a middle ground, a meeting place to speak with such people.

But for today, we celebrate Michael and All Angels.
We celebrate their being with us, and we worship God with them, as we say every week:
“with angels and archangels, we worship you Father, in songs of never ending praise”

And as our collect for today says:

as your holy angels stand before you in heaven,
so at your command
they may help and defend us here on earth.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

To follow Jesus, we are to deny ourselves, and take up our cross.
As God goes to such extreme lengths to find us, 
we are to go to the same extreme lengths not to lose anyone.

These issues, denial of self and not losing relationships, 
with others and with God, come together in one thing: 

Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive.
How many times?
What are the limits?
Give me a law and a judgement that I can work with.
I get this forgiving thing, it’s radical, this can change the world.
But there has to be a point where we stop. 
Tell me boss, where is that point.
What is the point where I can revert to the old way.
Where is the point where it becomes allowable for me to start paying back.

As many as seven times?

That is quite a bit of forgiving.
Seven times someone sins against you and you should forgive them.
Peter thinks that seems a reasonable amount.

Not so.

Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Lets not get carried away with the number.
Jesus answer tells us that the idea of a number of times isn’t the point.
But it does recall Cain and Abel, Genesis 4.  
Lamech, Cain’s descendent exclaims that after he has killed a man, 
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
    truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

These  numbers are being used to show something, 
the actual numerical value is not important.

Lamech is talking about unlimited revenge.
Jesus is speaking about unlimited forgiveness.

To quote Dr Moulton:
“Jesus pointedly sets against the natural man’s craving for seventy sevenfold revenge, the spiritual man’s ambition to exercise the privilege of seventy seven fold forgiveness.”

Jesus then tells us a Kingdom parable.

A slave owes a king a ridiculous amount of money. 
The amount is astronomical. He can’t pay the king the money, the king orders him and his family and all his possessions to be sold.

“Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”
And out of pity for him,
the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 

The slave is given his freedom and all his debt is forgiven.

He goes out and find a fellow slave who owes him a much smaller amount, 
grabs him by the throat and demands his money.
“Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 
The fellow slave uses the same words.

No go. He is thrown into jail.

Other slaves see this and go and tell the king who then says to him:

I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured
until he should pay his entire debt. 
And here comes the sting in the tale:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you,
if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Forgiving is not always easy.

If we are people of unforgiveness, we can’t expect God to be forgiving to us.
This same God who will search us out when we are lost 
and rejoice when he does, 
will not be rejoicing if we do not show the same love and forgiveness to others.

We are to forgive as we are forgiven:
The Lord’s prayer in which we ask God to 
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

When we hold on to anger, 
thoughts of revenge, 
of putting people in their place, 
of seeking power over others, 
of asserting our dominance, 
we are acting out of place not of forgiveness 
but of selfishness, ego, power, and ultimately darkness.

Forgiveness is not easy. 
I don’t think it supposed to be. 

I dare say all of us have some part of hearts that is refusing to let go of some hurt or slight that has been done to us.

Some part of our hearts that can’t let go of some resentment 
or anger toward another person.
Yet, we work our way around it, justifying to ourselves why we still hold on to it.

A lack of forgiveness can destroy friendships, marriages, and parishes.
Jesus tells us it can also destroy our relationship with God.

Jesus tells us that we face the same trial the unforgiving servant went through  

if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Jesus is calling us to be people of forgiveness. 
There will be times we get it wrong and don’t forgive when we should.
We always get another chance.
The idea here is that we become forgiving. 
That forgiveness is part of our whole being.
From the heart. 

We can think of it as a sort of purification: 
When we don’t forgive, we keep our hearts impure. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Maybe this is what Jesus means when he speaks about how we will be punished if we don’t forgive.
Jesus is saying that it is impossible to have a complete relationship with God 
if we can’t forgive.
Jesus is saying if our relationships with each other are darkened by a lack of forgiveness, 
our relationship with God will suffer in the same way.

So when Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive, 
Jesus turns it on him by using a ridiculous amount of times.

He is saying that as God’s forgiveness in unlimited, so too should ours.
He is saying as we have been forgiven, so too should we forgive others.
From our hearts.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Jesus calls us to follow him
and he gives us some of the instructions about how we can do that.
Deny ourselves of ourselves and be prepared to sacrifice.

He then tells us about the other side of the deal.
We do our bit, and he does his.

If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray,
does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 

Of course we are the sheep Jesus is speaking of.
Those who have denied themselves, and taken up their cross and followed him.

But sometimes we get it wrong.
We fall into sin, or to get it closer, we miss the mark.
We get it wrong.
We fall into ways of being that aren’t about loving God or our neighbour.
We fall into ways that aren’t about denying ourselves or carrying our crosses.
We start to see power as something to use and abuse
and we start to see some as ‘the other.’
We fall into the ways of the world and leave behind the ways of the kingdom.

We become the sheep that has gone astray.

does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 

We may lose our way, but God does not want to lose us.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

None of this is to say that we can do what ever we want and everything be fine.

We can get great comfort from all this.

Even when we get it wrong,
God will come after us, give us clip around the ear,
then give us a big hug.

And if he finds it, truly I tell you,
he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 

God rejoices in finding us.
Like the prodigal son, he rejoices, in the one who was lost being found.

God will go to extreme lengths to find those who are lost,
and I can speak from my own experience that he searched long and hard.
I was lost and was found, and I thank him everyday for not giving up.

So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Then Jesus explains to us how we should sort out our differences.
This can seem somewhat jarring after the beauty of the shepherd image.

He outlines a three step process.
If member of the church sins against you, the first step is to sort it out one on one.
Don’t involve anyone else, the two of you sort it out.
Most problems will be sorted out at this point.

However if that doesn’t work,
take someone else from the church with you as a witness.
This is basic mediation.
By taking someone else along,
both sides of the story are heard by someone not involved.
This should sort out most issues,
and only needs to be used in those that aren’t sorted out one on one.

Now if it doesn’t get sorted with mediation, it becomes a big deal.
The whole church gets involved.

Can you imagine the seriousness of the issue if it gets to this point?
We are dealing with issues of abuse, theft, serious stuff.
This is not for a personal slight or difference of opinion.
This is serious.

It is made even more serious that in the event of the person not listening to even the church:
let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector
They are to be removed from the church.
This is no small thing. This not to be done lightly.

The seriousness of this is made clearer when we think back to the lengths that God will go to find one that has gone astray.

If God goes to such lengths, are we not also to avoid losing someone?

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

That should let us know how serious it would be to removed someone from the church.
If we loose someone from the church, we loose them from heaven.
By excluding someone from the church, we exclude them from God.

That is definitely not something we should ever be comfortable in doing,
and it really makes the seriousness of what we do here real.
For where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.’
Jesus tells us of his presence where two or more are together.
He is with us when we gather.
If we exclude someone, we effectively take them out of God’s presence.

The image Jesus gave us of the shepherd who will go to any length to find the lost should be enough to tell us of how important we are to God.
Here Jesus reminds us of the importance of not losing anyone.
He is telling us the lengths we should go to not lose anyone from the church.

The shepherd rejoices in finding what went astray.
We too should rejoice in not losing anyone.