Weekly Online Sermon
A former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Secretary-General of the World Trade Organization, Mike Moore, once wrote in his autobiography, “It is wrong to be right too soon.” He was referring to a human tendency to be resistant to new ideas, especially ideas that might lead to change. Whilst it does help everyday coping, it can also seriously get in the way of long-term learning and growth. Opinions can just sit there, day after day, year after year, never overwritten, never challenged, never updated.
Trinity Sunday, is a time to reflect upon the nature, the character, and the challenge of the Trinity. Something unique to the Christian faith, often misunderstood, even by Christians, as we seek to grasp that which is beyond reach, to comprehend that which is above all a mystery – using words and images to try to understand, but knowing that if we take them too literally, they will obscure all understanding.
Luke’s main point in Acts is not the special effects or even the drama of the gift of tongues, but spiritual transformation. Far from being someone who they could only experience as a memory, Jesus, the spirit of Jesus, came alive to them, in that moment, vividly, overwhelmingly. For the heart of Pentecost for us is not some rather strange past events, it is not just an odd story about something that once happened long ago. What is significant, of prime importance for us, is that Pentecost takes place within our own hearts – that change that comes upon us.
Today, In John’s Gospel, we encounter a Jesus rather different from the Jesus depicted in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. Here is John writing around AD 100, almost seventy years after Jesus died, informed by who Jesus had been, but now also deeply influenced by what he had become for the members of the church at the end of the first century. What are we to make of this Jesus, and the Jesus of the previous Gospels, and the Jesus we might encounter today. To pick up on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, does the act of observation change that which is being observed?
Today we reflect upon the nature of love, that the narrative, the essential story of the Bible is that of humanity wrestling with our darker side, which sometimes prevails, for a while, but that we are always called back to a pilgrimage towards forgiveness, compassion and love. The gift of God is love and the commandment of God is love – they are one and the same.
Today we reflect upon the tension between the care and attention that we rightly need to expend on ourselves and our church community, the internal spiritual work that is required, the tending and pruning of the vine as it were – contrasted with the work that we should do beyond the boundaries of the church, outside the vineyard, where there is suffering and enormous need. To what extent should the church look within, but also look around us – at the cares and sufferings of the world. And also to reflect both on what we have to teach the world, and what the world has to teach us.
Today we reflect upon what is means to be a shepherd, in the sense of caring for and defending those entrusted to one’s care. Not that we are seen as mindless sheep, but as fellow travellers and pilgrims along a path that is long and difficult, strewn with obstacles; a journey that will change us, if we are prepared to be changed.
Today we reflect upon resurrection, its meaning and significance in the time of Jesus and in our own time. We look at the different between old thoughts and new thinking, and we consider what new life might look like today, for the way we live and our sense of self.
Despite the epithet ‘doubting Thomas’, he was in reality prolific and heroic, a towering man of faith. He went on to be the only apostle to preach the faith far beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. He reminds us that sometimes it is the struggle with faith, it is in the moments of anguish and questioning when our faith, paradoxically is often at it strongest. We can see our own doubts, great or small, not as objects of shame, to be hidden and suppressed behind the mask, but as spurs to our spiritual growth and rebirth.
We gather as a Diocese to celebrate the new life and new hope of Easter. Our church buildings must remain closed but we still have each other, we can come together like this, we can pray for each other, talk to each other and hold each other in our thoughts and our hearts, we can continue to be the church together and to hope for better days to come – as surely they will.
After all the message of Easter is renewed life and new hope.
The Passion is almost over but not yet, Jesus is almost risen, but not yet. The Easter fire is lit outside the church as evening falls, a flame to light the Paschal Candle – a tradition credited to St Patrick. We start this service with the church unlit, illuminated only by the light of the Paschal Candle coming into our midst, slowly revealing its presence among us, symbolising the realisation, only gradually dawning upon the disciples, that Christ is the light of the world.
God does not insist on payment of a debt. Whereas we may equate crime with punishment, and our hearts scream out for vengeance, the heart of God offers forgiveness, acceptance and healing. God is surely above the anger, retribution and violence of the world that we have fashioned for ourselves. Rather he attacks the very source of wrong doing, in the corruption of the human heart and begins the healing there.
The Office of Tenebrae took place in ancient times during the Great Triduum, the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday which brings Holy Week to an end. At the climax of the Office is the recitation of part of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. The recitation is accompanied by the gradual extinguishing of the 15 Tenebrae candles which represents the overwhelming sense of darkness, defeat and desolation felt by the disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion.
We celebrate Palm Sunday – a story of triumph, but a triumph that foreshadows terrible suffering to come. As we live through these difficult days, we might take time to reflect on how the Holy Week journey now speaks to us in new and different ways: of joy and sadness, of hope and despair, laughter and tears, life and death, so often intermingled, the one interwoven with the other, inseparable and indivisible. So it is with life, so too with our journey of faith over the next few days.
Today is traditionally known as Passion Sunday, although that it is not as exciting or as racy as it sounds. But it is a time to think very carefully about the kind of God that we say we believe in, and what that says about us, our own priorities and prejudices. Supposedly we worship what we esteem, what we value, what we hold to be the highest, the most holy and the finest – or do we? Passion Sunday is a good time to ask that question.
Today as we keep Mothering Sunday, we are challenged to reflect upon not only the bond between a mother and a child but the extent to which the self-sacrifice, the pain and the devotion that mothers must go through in order to bring a new life into the world, gives them some greater insight into the respect, compassion and reverence with which we should all seek to treat one another. A mother knows what new life costs, they might also teach us something about the value and the sanctity of life.