Saturday, June 25, 2022

Sunday 3 July 2022 - Ordinary 14

 Possible Theme: Gospel for a New Creation


Sentence:      Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God (Isaiah 41:10)

Collect:          God, you are working still,
                      breaking down and building up;
                      open our eyes to discern your hands
                      so that we may take our place
                      as labourers together with you
                      in the power of the Spirit
                      through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Readings: (related)

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-9
Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Comments:

Isaiah 66:10-14

At the end of the great book of Isaiah, Jerusalem  is envisioned as the mother city of God's new world. That new world begins to come into being as the mission of God through Jesus Christ spreads throughout the world, an anticipation of which is found in the story of the sending out of the seventy (Luke 10).

Psalm 66:1-9

Here is a psalm which gives thanks and stiffens the backbone. In thanking God for God's awesomeness there is a particular recall of the Exodus (v. 6). Verses 8-12 speak of a new test (vss. 10-12). Israel needs God to again bring them through. The psalmist is confident that God will do it. God will bring 'us out to a spacious place' (v. 12).

Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16

This is our last week in Galatians. Paul's theological 'yell' is coming to an end. That yell has been a cry of the heart against the diminishment of the unique gospel of Jesus Christ: there is no other gospel, there is not a gospel with additions added on. In this chapter Paul largely continues the work of chapter five: how does a Christian live as a grace-filled person, freed from the law, freed to live in total freedom in Christ?

Christ has set the Christian free yet we saw in chapter five that this freedom is not freedom to licentiousness but freedom 'through love become slaves to one another' (5:13). In 6:2 Paul states this irrevocable law of Christian freedom in this way:

'Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ'.

('The law of Christ' is an unusual phrase. See also 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Romans 8:2. Could Paul also be picking up tradition which found its way into Johannine writings in respect of Christ's 'new commandment' to 'love one another'?).

The verses in Galatians 6:1-6 each offer practical instruction to the Christian seeking to live a life worthy of the gospel.

Galatians 6:7-9 takes us back to Paul's theme of life in the Spirit (5:16-26), striking a note of encouragement to those who may have become weary of doing good. Verse 10 then completes both sections, 6:1-6 and 6:7-9.

Galatians 6:11-18 then completes the letter with some standard conclusion features,

'See what large letters I make ...' (v. 11) and

'May the grace of our Lord Jesus ...' (v. 18).

But in between these verses, Paul has one last go at making his case about the uniqueness of the gospel:

'May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!'

Paul, in other words, steadfastly denies that the gospel is 'cross plus circumcision'. Only the cross saves. And what a salvation it is: 'a new creation' is inaugurated through Christ's death on the cross.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The lectionary lets us down with the verses omitted here! Terrifying though judgement is, these omitted words are the words of Jesus. At the very least they should be included to underline the point of the verses which are appointed, that the mission of Jesus is vital and decisive for humanity. The decisiveness of the mission is captured in verse 16:

'Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.'

With this verse in mind we might re-read 10:1-11 and read 10:12-15: the disciples on mission speak for God. They are the Lord's labourers. When rejected it is God himself who is rejected. When accepted, it is the Lord who is accepted. The kingdom of God is indeed 'near' people when the disciples are present (v. 9).

Verses 17-20 are challenging - a commentary might be well consulted. But the seventy disciples are assured by the Lord that their well-being is in his heart.

There are many things a preacher could stop and pause to reflect on through these verses.

Consider:

v.3: what does it mean to be lambs among wolves?

v.4: is it practical to take nothing with us on the road?

v. 2: why are there few labourers for the plentiful harvest?

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Sunday 26 June 2022 - Ordinary 13

Possible Themes:
- Cost of discipleship (if focusing on OT/Gospel)
- True freedom (if focusing on Epistle)

Sentence:             You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence (Psalm 16:11) 

Collect:                  Lord Jesus, wherever you go
                               We will follow you.
                               Use us to light the world,
                               Through the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Readings ("related"):    

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16            
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Comments:

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Elisha follows Elijah

The relationship of this passage to the gospel reading is enigmatic. Straightforward is the calling of a disciple (Elisha) by a master (Elijah), with the twist that Elisha will succeed Elijah. In the gospel, would be disciples come to the master Jesus and, ultimately, it is disciples who will succeed Jesus in in his work on earth. Less straightforward is the character of the parallel between Elisha wanting to return to his parents before following Elijah and the would be disciples in the gospel wishing to undertake domestic tasks before following Jesus: does Elisha actually return to his parents, or not? Is Elijah's reply, 'Go back again ...' (v. 20) a way of saying to Elisha, either follow me or do not bother?

What is clear, however, is that Elisha does follow Elijah and does so after finishing with his old way of life. He burns the yoke of his oxen in order to cook up the oxen for food which he distributes to the people. Sometimes our discipleship necessarily involves a complete break with the past.

Psalm 16 "In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy"

Just as there is a group of psalms called 'lament psalms' and another group called 'psalms of ascent', there ought to be a group of psalms called the 'lovely psalms'. If there were, then this would be first or second in loveliness! Alternatively, perhaps we could have a group of "psalms of joy."

David sets out the blessing of knowing the Lord, trusting the Lord, keeping close to the Lord and praying to the Lord. Life turns out well for David but he says it with brilliant poetry:

'The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; 
I have a goodly heritage' (v. 6). 

He would have said the same if he had been a Kiwi.

But it is not just that life is generally pleasant for David and that he is glad about the material comforts of that life. David feels secure and protected by God (vss. 1, 5, 7-8, 9-10).

The summary of this blessed state is the climax of the psalm. Summing up many parts of the New Testament which speak of blessing, it should be the profession of every Christian:

'In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore' (v. 11).

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Like many Pauline passages 'there is a lot here'.

We could, for instance, embark on a sermon series (as many have done before us) on 'the fruit of the Spirit', one sermon for each of 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control' (v. 22-23).

We could (and should) pause on the phrase 'Live by the Spirit' (v. 16; cf. 18, 25) since that phrase sums up the Christian life. Here I want to mention three matters in the passage in particular but do so in full acknowledgment that many matters here are worth paying great attention to.

(1) Christian freedom (v. 1). 'For freedom Christ has set us free.' This acclamation  challenges us. Do we live in freedom as Christians? Alternatively, are there ways in which as Christians we live without freedom because we are bound by things which should not and need not bind us?

In part, Galatians is a letter in which Paul rails against all so-called Christians (not just certain Jewish Christians of his day) who add rules and regulations to the gospel of Christ. Here Paul does not rail against such opponents of true Christianity but appeals to true Christians who may be tempted to constrain the freedom Christ has set them free for (5:2-12 provides a specific case study). Many Christians (including this writer) find great comfort in following rules and regulations, sometimes even in creating them. Do we need to reconsider these rules and regulations so that we experience the full depths of the freedom for which Christ has set us free?

(2) Christian behaviour (v. 13-25). The appeal for freedom to be lived out creates a dilemma for Christians. What is the nature of this Christ-ordered freedom? Is it freedom from every rule and from regulation of all kinds so that I am free to do absolutely anything, even things which are sinful? Paul's clear answer is 'No.'

'For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not let use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another' (v. 13).

Christian freedom, Paul seems to be saying, is a freedom to do anything but (or, BUT) exercising that freedom in self-indulgent living is to choose death (see vss. 14-15, 16-21). So freedom for Christians ought to be constrained in the direction of life. To choose life rather than death as an expression of our freedom means choosing to love one another, 'through love become slaves to one another.' Christian freedom involves a paradox: we are truly free of unnecessary rules and regulations when we becomes slaves to one another.

Although Paul then changes themes from freedom/slavery to life in the Spirit (vss. 16-25), he is still pursuing the question of Christian freedom and the potential to understand that as freedom to indulge. From the perspective of life in the Spirit the answer is the same as before. Christian freedom is not being exercised when we 'gratify the desires of the flesh' (v. 16) - such indulgence leads to Christian death or loss of godly inheritance (v.21). Further, it works against the work of the Spirit of God within us. Christ has set us free AND given us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works to constrain the exercise of our freedom in the direction of goodness, particularly love for others. Indulgence works against that direction.

(3) Christian power (vss. 16-25). Rippling through the same verses that bring us Paul's concern about how we exercise Christian freedom is Paul's concern that we understand the nature of divine power in Christians. If our behaviour as Christians is to be oriented in the direction Christ wishes us to follow, we need spiritual power to live well. Where does this come from? Earlier in the letter Paul has denied that that power exists in the law of Moses. Now he takes up an observation made in 3:2 about where the Spirit of God has come from. The power to live a godly life is first the power of the Spirit of God living within us.

So, Paul says, paraphrased in these words, 'Live by the Spirit which God in Christ has given you (and not by the law which cannot give the power to live well).'

For the sake of clarity Paul spells out what this living by the Spirit looks like. 

First: what it does not look like (fornication, impurity, licentiousness ..., vss. 19-21; and, 'conceited, competing against one another, envying one another, v. 26). 

Secondly: what it does look like (love, joy, peace ... vss. 22-23; but we could add 6:1-10 to the picture).

In the course of all of this Paul makes another point about Christian power. If "live by the Spirit" is one general injunction, another is implied in these words,

'And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires' (v. 24).

That is, those who live by the Spirit in the freedom of Christ have died to sin.

A crucified 'flesh' (human nature) is dead. The dead do not exercise any freedom to sin! 

Paul doesn't say it, but later commenters have observed with witty seriousness, once crucified, our flesh should not be resurrected.

Luke 9:51-62

There are two parts to this gospel passage. The first part, 9:51-56 tells the story of the beginning of Jesus' intentional journey towards Jerusalem and death. Scholars call the whole section 9:51-19:28 the 'Travel Narrative'. This journey will be an actual journey from village to village (so in these verses) as well as a journey in discipleship since many of Jesus' most famous teachings are taught in this section, as well as much loved parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

In 9:51-56 we find that Jesus' journey is not universally welcomed, a village of Samaritans in particular rejecting him, perhaps because of his Jerusalem-centric intention. (Samaritans did not honour Jerusalem as their preferred centre of worship, see John 4).

This opposition is a sign of what is to come, including rejection in Jerusalem itself. James and John gallantly offer to help Jesus out by reigning down judgmental fire on the Samaritan village. Jesus' rejection of that offer is in keeping with his merciful character on display in Luke's Gospel.

Thus the journey is off to a challenging start on a number of counts and this sets the background for the next incident, vss. 57-62, in which the theme of discipleship is addressed by way of three dialogues with would be or 'wannabe' disciples (with shades of our "related" Old Testament reading, commented on above).

In summary, a disciple is wholly committed to Jesus, without entanglements and compromising other commitments.

But the detail of the three conversations is worth pondering.

each would be disciple understands what all disciples should understand: a disciple is a follower of Jesus. The first and the third each say, 'I will follow you.' The second engages with Jesus directly calling him, 'Follow me.'

the first would be disciple has a deep understanding of discipleship. 'I will follow you wherever you go' (v. 57). Yet Jesus does not accept this. Why not? His enigmatic response seems to say to him (and to us as readers), 'Do you understand that where I go there is no security, no comforts, no prospects except the prospect (implied by the use of 'Son of Man') of suffering?' The would be disciple has - in reality - reckoned with only some, not all the cost of discipleship.

the second and the third would be disciples appear to be similar in procrastination, even though their reasons are slightly different. Jesus lacks sympathy for their (quite reasonable) appeals to family obligation. Discipleship is more important than the previously most important of human obligations, to family, and more urgent than any other pressing task. It requires focus on the task at hand, 'Proclaim the kingdom of God', with complete concentration and no backwards look to pre-discipleship life (v. 62).

Finally, we might note here, looking back to the 1 Kings passage and the call for Elisha to follow Elijah, that Luke presents Jesus here as one who is greater than Elijah: Jesus has more disciples and asks of them a greater commitment than is asked of Elisha. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Sunday 19 June 2022 - Te Pouhere Sunday or Ordinary 12

 TE POUHERE SUNDAY

Sentence: Galatians 3:28

Readings:
Isaiah 42:10-20
Psalm: it is recommended that a suitable psalm be chosen by those planning a celebration for this day.
2 Corinthians 5:14-19 or Acts 10:34-43
John 15:9-17 or Matt 7:24-29 or Luke 6:46-49 or John 17:6-26

[A colleague calls our church, "The Church of Or," which is, unfortunately, rather underlined by this set of readings!].

Resources are available to assist preaching on this Sunday by going to the General Synod website www.anglican.org.nz then choosing Lectionary, then Te Pouhere Sunday and downloading a PDF file.

Slightly quicker could be to go to www.anglican.org.nz/Resources/Lectionary-and-Worship 

The purpose of this Sunday is to celebrate and to reflect on our life as a Three Tikanga Church.

That is, to reflect on what it means to be church in which we aspire constitutionally to share power, to restrain dominance by one culture over other cultures, and to work on justice in respect of resources and history.

My sermon notes from 2022 may, or may not be useful to you and your reflections:

"Te Pouhere Sunday 19 June 2022 – Geraldine

Readings: Isaiah 42:10-20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-19; John 15:9-17

Solution: peace, harmony, communion via reconciliation

Problem: we are divided, different and diverse.

Observation: often Christians rise to the challenge of working to overcome differences within one shared culture (tribe, language, nationality, race) but find it is another level of challenge to “love one another” across significant human boundaries, especially boundaries of race and of culture.

Within the life of the church, have we ever noticed how it is relatively easy to find harmony within the Anglican church, and almost impossible between, say, Anglicans and Methodists or Presbyterians and Catholics.

Now, our church, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia:

For a long time, most of us, mostly being NZ Europeans or Pakeha, thought we were doing pretty well on the church unity and harmony measures of passages such as are our scriptures today.

But we weren’t so good at asking whether the Maori members of our church felt the same way.

And when, in the spirit of the 1970s and 80s, with a new look at the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi, we began to really listen to Maori concerns with a view to doing something about them, we found we hadn’t being doing so well.

For example: Maori for years and years had wanted a bishop. Ratana. Relented. 1928. But then only as a suffragan, and no vote at General Synod. And, Simkin of Auckland … Finally, in 1978 the Bishop of Aotearoa became a full voting member of our General Synod and a bishop equal in status to the bishops of the dioceses.

Further collective soul searching took place.

How could we shift, to take up language from Isaiah, from “For a long time I held my peace” to “Sing to the Lord a new song”?

How could we be one united church with a true share in power and resources for Maori as well as for Pakeha?

How could any new way of formal relationship be aligned with (for example) our NT readings this morning, speaking of love for one another and a ministry of reconciliation?

So, we settled on an arrangement in 1990 (with the inclusion of the Diocese of Polynesia) in which Te Pouhere, a new constitution, would bind us together as one church in Christ, yet living in Three Tikanga or cultural streams.

The reality of the challenge of working together across the boundaries which race and culture make for human beings was recognised; yet the aspiration of finding ways to avoid one race or culture dominating in times of being together: General Synod, committees to determine sharing of our resources, was given full flight.

Veto powers to ensure no abuse of power, no overlooking the voices or needs of our weaker partners.

How is it going? A mixed bag but better than pre Te Pouhere. Work to be done, especially re resources.

Here’s the rub. Effectively, in the language of today’s political concerns, we have had 30 years of co-governance between Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika.

It can and does work. It is a way to ensure justice matters in decision-making.

For Aotearoa New Zealand, we must ask the question, How just is the way we live, in our cities and in our rural districts, in our housing provision and schools and healthcare? Who is shouldering the burden of the change climate change is bringing to our way of life? Searching questions; the answers must involve the voices of Maori and Pakeha, of long settled Kiwis and new migrants, of property owners and those feeling despair at ever owning property.

As Christians, we are committed to the ministry of reconciliation: between God and humanity, between one another!"

There are no further comments on the readings for Te Pouhere Sunday; there are comments below for this Sunday if treated as 12th Sunday in ordinary time.

ORDINARY 12

Theme                  Who is Jesus?   

Sentence             O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. (Psalm 63:2)

Collect                  Jesus, we believe you; all we heard is true.
                                You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;
We confess the truth about you,
                                And ask that through the power of your Spirit,
                                We may boldly proclaim you through all the world. Amen.

Readings (related):

                       Isaiah 65:1-9
                       Psalm 22:19-28                                
                       Galatians 3:23-29
                       Luke 8:26-39

Comments:

Isaiah 65:1-9

This reading makes sense when we hear the gospel as well because it includes a complaint from God about the rebelliousness of his people, including their eating 'swine's flesh' (vs. 4) which was forbidden for Jews/Israelites. Later in the gospel reading a swineherd will feature which is destroyed.

In its own right the reading is both a complaint against the unholy behaviour of God's people and a forecast that a remnant of 'Jacob' (i.e. the northern kingdom of Israel) and 'Judah' (i.e. southern kingdom of Israel) will yet inherit a new or renewed land (vss. 8-9)

The language is strong in its pictures. To give just one example: the actions of rebellious Israel are 'a smoke in my nostrils' (vs. 5).

Psalm 22:19-28

This psalm, also related to the gospel reading, is often read in conjunction with Jesus' own suffering on the cross. Here a section is read which relates to one who is oppressed and then delivered by God with the result that God is praised by the one who is delivered (vss. 22-28). This fits the circumstances of the man called Legion in the gospel reading.

Note that, in conjunction with Luke's overall project through his Gospel and through Acts, to tell the story of the kingdom of God spreading from Jerusalem to Rome, vs. 28 of the Psalm reading is a presupposition of the Lukan project:

"For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations."

Galatians 3:23-29

Paul's argument about the gospel in relation to the law reaches an apex in these verses. At this apex Paul both looks back on the course of the argument, offers a summary of it and looks forward to the consequences of the gospel replacing the law.

His summary: there was an era in which 'the law' played a decisive role in the life of Israel (as guard, as disciplinarian) but that era is now over with the coming of Christ, so that justification comes by faith, and comes for 'all' (i.e. Jews and Gentiles).

His forward looking vision: a new people of God is being created through Christ, in which those who are baptized into Christ are all accounted as Abraham's offspring and heirs of the promise made to Abraham. These offspring are one people (for all of you are one in Christ Jesus), no longer divided by race (no longer Jew or Greek), class (no longer slave or free), gender (no longer male and female).

This new people of God are a special people. Just as the people of God known as Israel were distinguished by mark of entry into Israel (male circumcision) and by lifestyle (obedience to the law), so Christians are distinguished by entry into God's kingdom (baptism, vs. 27) and by lifestyle ('clothed yourselves with Christ', vs. 27).

Arguably, as the church of God in the 21st century engages with issues of gender, race, sexuality and class, we can say that the full implications of Paul's vision of the consequences of the new era coming are not yet fully explored and are still being worked out in the life of the church.


Luke 8:26-39

To our ears this may seem the strangest of gospel stories, perhaps the more so because Luke tells it to us. Our favourite Lukan stories of Jesus likely do not include this one. So our challenge is both not to ignore it and to press for the purpose of Luke as he includes it in his gospel. 

One way to take up the challenge is to step back from the story and look at the stories preceding and succeeding it. Before this story we have the stilling of the storm (8:22-25) and after it we have the healing of Jairus's daughter and the woman with haemorrhages (8:40-56). In each case Jesus displays his power and authority: over the forces of nature, over the forces of death and illness (and an associated social exclusion). We could go further back and note Jesus' authority to forgive sins (7:36-50) and further forward to note Jesus giving 'power and authority' to the disciples 'over all demons and to cure diseases' (9:1-2).

Thus today's story is part of a sequence in which Luke presents the power and authority of Jesus over forces which inhibit human flourishing, both forces working against physical life (e.g. illness), spiritual life (e.g. guilt, demons), and social life (e.g. social exclusion, as experienced by the sinful woman (7:36-50), Legion (this story), and the woman with haemorrhages (8:43-48)). In summary terms: no force of nature, the devil, sickness or human behaviour can resist the power of Jesus. The kingdom of God, that is the effective ruling power of God over life, is being inaugurated through the work of Jesus.

Some details within the story of the deliverance of the demons from the man called Legion are helpful to explain:

- the country of the Gerasenes (v. 26) was largely inhabited by Gentiles; Gentiles ate pork (forbidden to Jews) and thus 'a large herd of swine' (v. 32) was unsurprisingly nearby to the place where the encounter takes place.

- conversely, the forbiddenness of pork to Jews means that the loss of the herd would register to some readers of Luke as inconsequential and to others as disturbing, as it was to the people of the Gerasenes who saw not only a display of spiritual power but the loss of livelihood (v. 37)

- Legion as a name is drawn from Roman military life (a legion was a force of many soldiers). A very, very subtle implication of the story is that Luke, in presenting Jesus as a man of power and authority in the context of the Roman empire, hints that Jesus' power is greater than that of the Emperor, the chief commander of all military legions.

- deliverance of demons is a common occurrence in the ministry of Jesus but in many parts of the world today it is not a common occurrence, so questions arise because of this difference. One answer given from our modern perspective is that this man was psychotically disturbed. This answer is not necessarily incompatible with the traditional answer that demons exist and can inhabit places and people. Another answer is that Jesus coming into the world provoked the fury of demons opposed to the kingdom and thus we see in the gospels an intensive demonic presence which is at variance with our day.

At the end of the story a very interesting comparison can be made. Jesus commands the man, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." But Luke reports that what the man actually did was to go away "proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him" (vs. 39). This does not mean that the man has suddenly become a Trinitarian orthodox Christian who believes that Jesus is God! But it does mean that Luke is comfortable presenting Jesus to the world through his gospel as one who is identified as God. Of such seeds will the later fruit of Trinitarian belief grow.

As an application of the story we might note that Jesus calls people to follow him and to proclaim the gospel, but some are asked to go to the rest of the world, and others, as here, are asked to stay at home.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Sunday 12 June 2022 - Trinity Sunday

 Theme                  God is Three and God is One     


Sentence             You O Lord reign for ever; your throne endures from generation to generation.. (Lamentations 5:19) [NZPB, p. 606].

Collect                  God of unchangeable power,
                                You have revealed yourself,
                                To us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit;.
                                Keep us firm in this faith
                                May we know his strength
                                That we may praise and bless your holy name;
                                For you are one God now and for ever. Amen. [NZPB, 606].
                                               
Readings          Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
                         Psalm 8
                         Romans 5:1-5
                         John 16:12-15

Comments

Introduction

Many years ago I was told of a clergy colleague whose sermon for Trinity Sunday consisted of just six words. I have no idea whether this was just an idea or an actual preached sermon. The six words were:

"Brothers and sisters, it's a mystery."

God as Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life or Three Persons in One Being is indeed 'a mystery.'

But the mystery of the Triune God of Christian belief and worship should not be the mystery of mathematics (how can God be three yet one?) nor of illustrations (is a triangle a good image for explaining the Trinity?). It should be the mystery of love. God is love, we are told, twice in 1 John 4. 

What does this mean? The answer, the creeds and the doctrines of faith tell us, is not that God is the concept of love but that God is the dynamic of love, Three Persons in One Being, a community of love in which the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Father (etc) and in that love there is no division of will nor of status. United in love, Father Son and Spirit work as One to create, redeem and sustain life. 

Determined by love to love what that Unity has created, Father Son and Spirit take up three distinct roles so that creation, redemption and sustenance of life take place. In this understanding creation is itself a fruit of the love which is God for that Love seeks to love more rather than less: Father Son and Spirit create a world to love (John 3:16) and in that love draw all people to God that fellowship between Father Son and Spirit might be enlarged to include creatures, specifically being drawn into the fellowship of the Three in One through identity in Christ the Son as the body of Christ. (Key biblical passages on this understanding are John 13-17, 1 John 1-4, Revelation 1-22).

As Trinitarian Christians we are called to bear witness to the Love which is God and to the God who is love.

Note for clarity: when I wrote above, "Father, Son and Spirit take up three distinct roles so that creation, redemption and sustenance of life take place," I am talking about Father, Son and Spirit working together, in unity, on those three matters. Unfortunately, some modern reference to the Trinity in terms of "Creator, Redeemer and Give of life" (or similar) creates an impression that the Father only creates, the Son only redeems, and the Spirit only gives life. Not at all.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

From a Trinitarian perspective, this passage from the Old Testament is important because it presents the wisdom of God as a personification that is, wisdom is presented in these verses in a personal way, as an agent or assistant of God in the acts of creation.

In doing this a seed is planted in ancient theological thinking which grew to include the possibility that not only the 'wisdom' of God, but also 'the word' of God could be personified.

When that conceptualization was bound together with reflection on the role of angels, as personal messengers of God sent by God into the world to converse with people, sometimes in a form of such impressiveness that recipients of angelic visitations believed they were in the presence of God, the foundation was laid for a new development.

That new development was the recognition by the first Christian theologians (especially John the Evangelist) that the wisdom/word of God was not only able to be written about in terms of personification, the wisdom/word of God had come into the world in a human person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, "the Word made flesh".
                         
Psalm 8

This psalm can be read in various ways (e.g. as a pearl of praise of great price, one which has justly received the musical attention of very fine composers) but here we read it in Trinitarian perspective as an address to God about the ordering of the world and the place of humanity in it. Above all is God, within the glory of God we find ourselves inhabiting a marvellous world in which it is amazing that God has remembered us, ordered as we are to a rank below the angels (8:5). Yet God has not just remembered us, God has crowned us with glory and honour and given us dominion over creation (8:5-6). 

Thus when we consider God as Trinity we are considering God as God, utterly distinct in rank, status and glory from his creation and from us as his creatures yet also as God who in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God has bridged the distinction, becoming one with us.
                         
Romans 5:1-5

Writing these five verses, Paul has not set out to tell us about God as Trinity but, on this Sunday, he does handily write about God's work in salvation including the roles of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God has sent the Lord Jesus Christ to 'justify' us (through his sacrificial death on the cross, as elucidated in Romans 1-4). As justified sinners we have access to the grace of God (5:2); the grace of God is God's love 'poured into our hearts' (5:5). How does this love reach us as an experience of life rather than a concept in our minds? It is 'through the Holy Spirit' (5:5). Thus the dynamic action of God Father Son and Holy Spirit as the God of our salvation is expressed in this passage, a dynamic action which is 'for us' (further on 'us', 'for us, 'for our sakes' see, among many Pauline texts, Romans 4:23-25).

The giving of the Holy Spirit to us (5:5) means that God's love does more than flow into us (say, like water from a lake, through a pipe, into a bucket). God himself comes to live in us and bind our lives to the life of God itself (so, in an important way, in the image above, we are like both the bucket receiving water from a pipe and like a bucket dipped into the lake itself). Thus Paul can write in 5:2 of 'our hope of sharing the glory of God.' As members of the body of Christ we share in God's life in Christ.

[Much much more can be said about preaching from this passage, especially from the opening verse 5:1. These thought here are specifically geared for Trinity Sunday].
                         
John 16:12-15

In some ways this is a frustratingly short passage from John when the fullness of revelation about the Holy Spirit is given across several Johannine passages (including John 14:25-31; 15:26-27; 16:4b-11).

Nevertheless a vital truth is taught. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. In one way, of course this is true: we would not expect God's Spirit to lie to us. In another way, this is unexpected in the sense that the Spirit of truth 'will guide you [Jesus' disciples] into all the truth' (16:13). Jesus has many things to say but they cannot be said now (16:12). Not to worry because the Spirit of Truth (also known in this gospel as the Advocate / Counsellor / Helper / Paraclete) will guide us to what we need to know from Jesus.

In this sense, as we find sometimes elsewhere in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is trustworthy as faithful servant of Jesus and his mission. Through the Holy Spirit we meet the risen Lord Jesus and from the Holy Spirit we learn what Jesus wishes to teach us.

Does this mean that the Holy Spirit will teach us new information or new insight into what we already know from Jesus?

Some scholarly debate occurs about this. John's Gospel itself may provide a clue and the epistles another clue. In the former we find new insight into what we already know about Jesus from the earlier gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the latter we find the meaning of the events of Jesus' life being drawn out for us: Christ died on the cross for our salvation. Christ rose from the dead in order that we too may rise with Christ to glory.

We see that the passage rounds off, in 16:15 with talk of God the Father. Jesus has, says, and does nothing except what belongs to, comes from and is directed by the Father. By implication the Spirit of Truth declares only what God the Father has revealed to God the Son.

In this way the unity of God is expressed. The diversity of the Godhead is experienced as we meet God in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John, writing these words down, may not have had the advantage we have of knowing how to talk about God as 'Three in One' but he knew that God was One yet experienced as Three Persons working in profound unity.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Sunday 5 June 2022 - Pentecost

Theme             Come, Holy Spirit!            


Sentence         The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5) [NZPB, p. 604]

Collect            Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Your blessed anointing from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Overcome with eternal light
the dullness of our blinded sight. Amen [Adapted].         

Readings                                              
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17
                          John 14: 8-17, 25-27

The most important point to any sermon on Pentecost Sunday is to draw out the meaning of Pentecost which is that God is present and active in the world today through the Holy Spirit.

As an event in history Pentecost is important, e.g. the birthday of the church, but Pentecost is a celebration of the present work of God, not of the past, because the gift of the Spirit for the life of the church is an always contemporary gift, not an historical impartation, and the church which loses the Spirit is no longer the church.

Acts 2:1-21

Luke tells the story of the day in which Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit coming with power was fulfilled. In turn this coming fulfilled an ancient prophecy in Joel. 

The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone (not just the apostles; on both women and men). They speak in other tongues, in languages which the multitude of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the world could understand: 'our own native language' (2:8).  The import of this language fluency is that the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus to give power to his followers to they could be 'my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth' (1:8). Jesus makes good that promise: his followers will be able to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth because through supernatural gift they have the ability to testify to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit both comes  on the gathered disciples (2:3) and fills them (2:4) meaning that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is overwhelming and complete: no aspect of life is untouched when God's Spirit comes into our lives.

Yet not all observers experience the same phenomenon as those receiving the Holy Spirit: 'others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine".' (2:12).

This accusation prompts an apologetic response at the beginning of Peter's sermon (2:14-16). No one is drunk, it is only 9 am in the morning, and let me remind you what the prophet Joel said! This is that, Peter argues.

This bold, courageous preaching Peter is a severe contrast to the Peter who denied his master three times. The most important outcome of the Holy Spirit working powerfully in our lives is that we are empowered to witness boldly for Jesus Christ.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Just one note here, pertaining to Pentecost. In verse 30 we read, 'When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.'

In the original creation the Spirit of God hovered over the deep. Here the psalmist acknowledges the continuing role of God through the Spirit in sustaining and caring for life.

Romans 8:14-17

Apart from empowering us to be witnesses for Jesus to all the world, and sustaining the life of creation, what does the Spirit do? What are other dimensions of 'the work of the Holy Spirit'?

Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in order to 'lead' their lives makes us 'children of God' who are free from the 'fear' of those who are slaves (to sin and its power).

As children we may call on God as 'Father' indeed as the intimate and affectionate father presumed in the use of the Aramaic 'Abba'. Wonderfully the work of the Holy Spirit is intimate and detailed within our lives: we are not merely made children of God by the Spirit, the Spirit works within us inspiring us to cry out in prayer to our Abba God.

But what are children in normal life but potential heirs to the benefactions of their parents. So in the divine life, Paul reminds his readers that as children of God we are 'heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ'. What that heirloom consists of is the theme of 8:18-23: the glory about to be revealed to us, the redemption of our bodies, in sum, the fulfillment of creation. 

Back to the last verse of our passage today: we are heirs, Paul says, 'if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.' The Holy Spirit within our lives is not a 'Get Out of Jail" card which instantly releases us from all trials and troubles, let alone some kind of shield which prevents trauma coming our way. In this life we can expect trouble but the Holy Spirit at work in us will lead us through them to a better place, the life of glory shared with Christ himself in the fullness of God's presence.

John 14:8-17, 25-27

Focusing on the Holy Spirit in these speeches of Jesus, we learn important facts about the Holy Spirit. 

Before we get to the facts, let's note what the Holy Spirit is called - depending on translation - 
- Advocate
- Comforter
- Paraclete
- Helper
- Counsellor. 

Paraclete is a transliteration of the original Greek and literally is 'the one called alongside'. English terms such as Advocate or Comforter or Helper or Counsellor properly draw out an aspect of the meaning of Paraclete, but none do complete justice to its meaning. It could be helpful to think of the Holy Spirit as the one who comes alongside us to be and do all of the following: to help, to counsel, to advocate, and to comfort (both to encourage, support and give strength to).

What are these facts from Jesus himself about the Holy Spirit as Paraclete?

14:16 with us 'forever'
14:17 the Spirit is the 'Spirit of truth' (this relates to our task as witnesses)
14:17 rejected by the world
14:17 we know the Holy Spirit because we experience the Holy Spirit 'abiding' with us and in us
14:26 the Holy Spirit will teach us 'everything and remind [us] of all that [Jesus has] said to [us]'
14:27 through the Holy Spirit comes the peace of Christ.

In other words, the Holy Spirit is the means by which Jesus remains in the world, abiding in the lives of his followers, continually bringing to their minds what he has taught, thus enabling and empowering us to be the kinds of followers he asks us to be. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday 29 May 2022 - Easter/Pascha 7 (or Ascension transferred)

First I give the readings for Ascension Day, with Comments
Then I give the readings etc for the Sunday after Ascension also know as the 7th Sunday after Easter.
This post takes no view on whether Ascension Day should be celebrated on Ascension Day or transferred.

ASCENSION DAY
Theme                  Christ risen, ascended and glorified        

Sentence             Lift up your heads you gates! Lift yourselves up you everlasting doors! That the king of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7) [NZPB, p. 601]

Collect                  Eternal God,
                                By raising Jesus from the dead
                                You proclaimed his victory,
                                And by his ascension
                                You declared him king.
                                Lift up your hearts to heaven
                                That we may live and reign with him. Amen [NZPB, p. 601]          

Readings         Acts 1:1-11
                          Psalm 47                                     
    Ephesians 1:15-23
                             Luke 24:44-53

Comments:

Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53

I do not think this need be brought into a sermon, but it is fascinating to see how Luke deals with the last event in Jesus' physical presence on earth in his two texts, the ending of the gospel and the beginning of Acts. There are similarities and there are differences.

In 'big picture' (or 'big theme') terms, each passage conveys two messages: the gospel mission of Jesus must now spread throughout the world, but first new empowerment through the Holy Spirit must come upon the disciples.

The 'event' in each passage is the departure, depicted physically as an 'ascent', of Jesus from the disciples. Never again, save in episodic visionary experiences will they see their Lord again.

Where does Jesus go to? Both texts answer "heaven". Later, Peter, in his Pentecost Day sermon will add "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33). Obviously the physical talk of upwards travel to a place beyond the observable world of earth-and-space both assumes and contributes to an understanding that "heaven" is above us. It also offers a physical image to match the increase in glory and honour implicit in the idea that Jesus is now 'exalted' to the right hand of God (i.e. seated on a throne on the right side of the divine throne).

Ascension then is a celebration of both departure and exaltation, of the physical loss of Jesus to his followers and of the triumphant gain of Jesus exalted to glory in the realm of heaven. With exaltation the victory won in the resurrection, the defeat of the power of death as the last enemy against humanity is completed. With departure the door is open to a new history of God being present among God's people, God the Holy Spirit will dwell among them.

Yet this event is also about us. The departure of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come in power is integrated with the great commission. We misunderstand Ascension and its importance if we think of it as (say) a postscript to the life of Jesus, or a snapshot of the glory of the exalted Jesus. Ascension is also the beginning of a new era in our history, the time when we are responsible for the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ. Luke in both texts is keenly alert to this point. If (as some scholars of Luke's writings have supposed) Jesus has come in the middle of history, then we are now in its last period. That this is so, according to Luke, is underlined in Acts 1:11. Jesus has departed, but he will return.

Psalm 47

This is a fitting song of praise to God on this festive occasion.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Obviously verse 20 in this passage links the text to the theme of 'exaltation' which is an important aspect of the theology of Ascension.

The passage is part of a long introduction to the epistle in which Paul sets out a profound set of insights into salvation, Christ, Christ's relationship to those who believe in him, and the great purpose of God being worked out through history - all given in the context of prayer and thanksgiving for his readers.

There is a sermon in every verse of this passage! 

Further theological reflection on Ascension and its significance may be found at Psephizo.

Sunday After Ascension = Pascha 7

Theme(s): God's power at work / Church in mission / Unity for sake of the gospel

Sentence: "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

Collect: Easter 5:1

Holy God, you feed us
with earthly and with spiritual food.
Deathless, unalterable, you have chosen us,
sinful as we are,
to hear your word and to proclaim your truth.
Alleluia! Make us salt of the earth;
make us yeast in the loaf. Amen.

Readings:

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26 

Comments:

Acts 16:16-34

We continue reading through Acts (though, bear in mind, next Sunday is Pentecost, and we will switch back to Acts 2 and the coming of the Spirit who drives the apostolic mission forward through Acts 16).

Here Paul and is band, including the narrating author Luke, continue their work in Philippi and run into trouble. Casting out a demon from a fortune-telling slave-girl is one thing, facing her profit driven owners is another and Paul and Silas find themselves in the presence of a lynch mob. Flogged and thrown into jail they do the only thing they can do while constrained by stocks: sing hymns to God.

Such singing: the earth shakes, chains are broken, the jailer wakes to a reality which is a nightmare and thinks killing himself is the simplest way to escape impending doom. But peace rules: no prisoner has actually escaped and the nightmare turns to vision for the jailer. He has been saved from death, can he be saved by God?

Paul assures him he can. To the jailer's brilliant question, "What must I do to be saved?" Paule replies with words echoing down the centuries of gospel ministry, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, you will be saved, you and your household."

The following verses tell us of remarkable transformation as the jailer hears the gospel ("the word of the Lord"), responds with ministry to their needs ("washed their wounds"), and is baptized with his household. The pattern here has been followed through the centuries: response to the gospel proclaimed, teaching in the faith, baptism.

Psalm 97

In these verses we have the earth responding to the Lord (cf. the earthquake in the Acts reading), the bowing down of the gods before the Lord (cf. the pagan jailer seeking salvation in the Acts reading) and the Lord guarding the lives of his faithful and rescuing them from the hand of the wicked (cf. the release of Paul and Silas from the jail in the Acts reading).

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

It is a pity that verses are missed out in this reading. The discomfort those verses provide are part of the reading as it was written and we damage the integrity of the reading, if not the integrity of ourselves as readers by omitting these challenging, confrontational verses. (They are also, as I saw observed on Twitter recently, somewhat ironical re the lectionary and its excision of verses to make for worship readings of "appropriate" content and length!)

But the verses we are prescribed to read speak of our Lord who is Lord of time and Lord through time. The Lord Jesus is beginning and end and will come again. What occurs in time, our lives and thus the flow of history through time, is under his Lordship and to Jesus as Lord we are all accountable: "my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work" (12).

Yet the Lord is gracious: the one who is coming in judgment also says to those who will be judged, "Come". The elapse of time between the beginning and the end is time for responding to that invitation, "Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift" (17).

John 17:20-26

We could read this passage simply as a lesson in ecumenicity in the body of Christ ("that they may become completely one", v. 23) but it is worth asking first, Why this reading on this Sunday after Ascension and before Pentecost? To what "Ascension" and "Pentecost" themes does the reading speak?

Putting the question like that, I do not see an easy answer! But here goes:

First, as Jesus ascends to the Father and as the Spirit is about to descend to birth the church, the vision and plan is for one united church. There is only one ascended Lord of the church and only one indwelling Spirit of God. The Johannine Jesus prays for the unity of the church not that disparate fragments of a divided church might be somehow moulded into one body but because the church is intended to be one, to remain one and to be renewed as one body of Christ.

Secondly, the ascended Jesus departs from his disciples and thus to the disciples Jesus hands over his mission (that for which God "sent" him, with "sent"/"send" being a fundamental conception of God's work through Christ in John's Gospel). Jesus prays for unity not for its own sake but "so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (v. 23, see also v. 21).

In other words, between Ascension Day and Pentecost we are invited via this reading to reflect on who we are as church and what our task is the continuing mission of Christ. To get a bit technical, ecclesiology meets missiology on this Sunday and via this reading.