Thursday, 16 June 2011


Mark 4:35-41
A sermon for mid-week Holy Communion

‘We’re all in the same boat’ – I like that expression because it helps us feel like we’re not alone in whatever we’re going through. In our Bible reading we see in Jesus a God who is present, a God who is there in the boat with his people. God doesn’t allow problems to happen to us and then keep his distance. He’s right there in the boat with us; he’s in the middle of the problem with us; he’s in the middle of our struggles alongside us.

On the boat in the storm, Jesus wanted his disciples to look deep inside and check where their faith was. He wasn't accusing them of not having faith, he was asking WHERE their faith was. Every now and then we leave our faith in a cupboard or under the carpet somewhere, or perhaps we leave our faith in church when we go back home or out into the world, and we try and go about our daily tasks, or even through major crises, in our own strength and with our own vision of how things should go. From time to time we hide our faith, not only from others, but also from ourselves! But we need to keep returning and trusting God especially when things are stormy or scary. God can use the storms in our lives to teach us how to live our lives with faith and trust in HIM.

The painting is Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Notice there are 14 people in the boat. There should only be 13 (12 disciples plus Jesus). Some believe that Rembrandt included himself on the boat, but it could be that he intended to include the viewer (you or me). Where would you be in the painting? Up to the left of the painting is a place of chaos, and down towards Jesus is a place of calm. Where do you think you live most of your daily life? If you think you live in chaos, are you able to picture yourself moving from the place of chaos (on the left) to the place of peace in front of Jesus (on the right)?

I think that fear is one of the main reasons we don’t trust Jesus as much as we probably want to trust him. But what is stronger than fear? Scripture gives us the answer: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Jesus sleeping on the storm-tossed sea reveals that the disciple’s faith had been replaced by fear. They feared for their lives even though their Lord was with them in the boat. Jesus is asleep at first, but the irony is that the disciples are revealed as asleep to Christ while he was present with them in their hour of need. The Lord is always present with us. And in our time of testing he asks us the same question he asked the disciples here: Why are you afraid? Where is your faith? Great unexpected storms arise at times in our life, threatening to overwhelm us. Every time we meet with trouble, the Lord is there with the same reassuring message: “I am with you, do not be afraid”.

What does it mean to "trust" Jesus? Trusting Jesus means no longer relying on yourself for any kind of salvation, but relying on Christ alone. When we trust that Jesus died for our sins, and we trust that our sins are forgiven, and we totally rely on his promise that he’s with us by his Spirit, then we are blessed. The Bible says in 2 Cor. 5 that when we really trust in Christ, a new life begins -- "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" As a follower of Christ, a person has to rely upon Jesus in all areas of their life, not just for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus said in John’s gospel that he is the Teacher. And he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and guide them into all truth. God teaches us his ways and his truth. In terms of values and behaviour, when we listen, he points out the stuff in our thinking and behaviour that's not right, he shows us what the right thing is, and gives us the strength to do it. This is one of the ways God shows his love for us – by helping us when we come to him and trust in him. He is the One who knows all truth, and He wants us to build our lives on His truth.

By trusting Christ as our Teacher, through Scripture and Prayer, he shows us how to live, and will guide us in praying. When we learn what He wants from us, and endeavour to do those things, we know can rely on His strength and power through the Holy Spirit.

So being a Christian is based on trusting Jesus. God doesn’t promise a life without storms, but he has promised to be with us in the middle of the storms. The disciples were experienced fishermen, so this wasn’t the first time they had faced a storm on the sea. But this storm was so powerful that they panicked. But the disciples had underestimated the power of Jesus. Once they turned to him, Jesus immediately calmed the storm. God wants to be the calmer of our storms as well. Do we underestimate his power? We have two options when we face hard times: we can panic and worry, assuming that God doesn’t care, or we can turn to Jesus and rely on him and trust that he is with us no matter what. Amen.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost sermon for Choral Evensong

Joel 2:21-end; Luke 24:44-end

How about that weather today? We can’t put away our winter wardrobe just yet! I come from California where the weather is generally predictable. And that makes it easy to figure out what you’re going to wear during any given season. Here in England the weather is a popular topic of conversation because it’s so variable, and many days will contain something from each of the four seasons, and so trying to decide what to wear each day can be a tricky business!

Of course it depends somewhat on what the day will involve. During the week, for someone working in a bank, a suit is definitely in order. If you’re employed at a fitness centre, it could be shorts and t-shirt. And if it’s Sunday and you’re a minister, you might put on one of these... [my cassock and surplice]. Or maybe if you can sing well, you might be dressed as one of these lovely people [gestures towards the choir].

Clothing has several purposes. It identifies, protects, and helps us control our body temperature and our level of modesty. It can be an expression of fashion and personality, or vocation. To be ‘clothed’ is to be covered in some way. Ever since Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves, it has been important for humankind to be clothed.

In our reading this evening from Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, Jesus is talking to his disciples, and he says that after his ascension, he will send them what his Father has promised; that they will be ‘clothed with power from on high’. We know what it means to be ‘clothed’ in the ordinary sense, so what does this mean to be ‘clothed with power from on high’?

Well, the power that Jesus speaks of is, of course, the Holy Spirit - the same Spirit of God that was present at the creation of the heavens and the earth; the same Spirit that filled many of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament period - the patriarchs, judges, prophets and kings. It’s the same Spirit that inspires wisdom, discernment and prophecy. It’s the same Spirit that was involved in the Incarnation of the Son of God. And it’s the same Spirit that enables the transformation of our hearts and our minds - the Spirit that confirms our faith - and the Spirit that empowers our mission.

What is this Spirit? As one of the Trinity of persons in the One God, the Spirit is the way that God lives in us. The Spirit gives us strength; the strength we need to follow Christ along the way that leads to life in all its fullness. The Spirit enables us to have fellowship with one another in the unity of Christ – fellowship with all believers, whatever their background or origin; whatever their denomination or position, whatever their social status or race – all believers are united in the body of Christ by the Spirit.

The Spirit also is active outside the Church, and we can’t always say where or with whom that is happening, but we can say that the Spirit always acts as a means of pointing people to the good news of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s mission in the world is always bound up with energising the Kingdom of God and the new creation. And the Spirit is not a prisoner of the church. The Spirit can work with anyone: a mysterious, sovereign wind, the Spirit blows wherever the Spirit wills, and we’re not in control.

But the Spirit has a momentum and a direction into which those of us who call Jesus ‘Lord’ are called. The Spirit equips the church for mission and often goes on ahead, always to glorify Jesus Christ, of whom the whole of Scripture speaks. The text in our Luke 24 passage tells us that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. At that point, the New Testament hadn’t even been written – so it’s the Old Testament Jesus is referring to when he says, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’. Jesus confirms that the Old Testament points to himself as the Christ. The Scriptures and the Spirit all point to Christ.

If you were in church this morning you will have heard the story of the day of Pentecost from Acts 2:1-21 where the disciples are metaphorically blown away by the wind of the Spirit. And our first reading this evening from the prophet Joel is quoted in that Acts passage by the Apostle Peter, who explains to the crowd that what Joel prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, was now coming to pass with the pouring out of the Lord’s Spirit on all people, and for all people.

Jesus Christ is truly a gift to all people, in all places, at all times. He’s the source of hope, life and light for all, and cannot be reserved for a particular grouping, tribe, church or community. It’s not one-size fits all, it’s One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism as Paul says in Ephesians 4. We are called to be brothers and sisters in Christ, reconciled with God by his death and resurrection, and united in him by his ever-flowing Spirit.

We all know when we’re clothed and when we are not. And just as we wouldn’t go anywhere without our clothing, so as Christians we should not go anywhere without the Holy Spirit covering us. God doesn’t expect us to grow in Christ-likeness on our own, or to grow the church on our own, or to promote his kingdom on our own. God wants us to put on the clothing that he makes freely available to us – the Holy Spirit. How do we do this? Well, first we have to be naked. We have to discard our own clothing of pride and self-sufficiency, and with prayer, in humility, we must come to God and ask for the clothing of the Spirit. Prayer is essential if we are to submit to God in all our weakness and ask to be filled and clothed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit for the life of discipleship and mission.

I leave you with a prayer based on that which Paul prayed for the church of Ephesus; a prayer that summarizes the vast and limitless power of God that is open to all believers. Being adopted children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God, we have the same access to this unlimited power through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray:

Father God, out of your glorious riches, clothe us, we pray, with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that, being rooted and established in love, we may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ; that we might know this love that surpasses knowledge; and that we would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Father, you are able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us: to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (based on Ephesians 3:16-21)