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Sermon by Karen Fong - Lent 2

Office Manager

Lent 2 – They Mystery of Sin, Suffering and Hope

Luke 13:31- end, Genesis 15:1-12, 17,18, Philippians 3:17-4:1

The Mystery of Sin, Suffering and Hope is the subject I have been given for today’s talk on this second Sunday of Lent.  Unfortunately, it is too  appropriate a title this Sunday as we mourn our Muslim brothers and sisters in Christchurch who were doing what we are doing right now, gathering as a community to worship God in a house of worship when they were violently and brutally murdered en masse because they were “different” – they believed in what some consider a different God, they  looked different and they came from a different place.  At moments like this, we cry out and say Why Lord? How do we approach this mystery of sin, suffering and hope in the world we live in?

 

First off, let’s go back to the beginning when God created the world.  Over and over, in Genesis chap 1, the word “good” is used to describe how God perceived what he has made.  It is all good. Then God makes people in his own image in the male and female image of God and he puts them in the middle of all this creation commanding them to care for creation, to manage it, lovingly use it and creatively order it.   People were place in the midst of this dynamic, changing and vibrant environment charged with 3 choices – 1. the divine responsibility of doing something with it in harmony with God or 2. to use it for their own purposes or 3.  Doing nothing with it was a choice as well.   Eating the fruit was much more than Adam and Eve simply disobeying God. They were throwing off the whole deal.   They were placed in the middle of a web of interactions and relationships with the world God has made.  It was one.  So when one part falls out of harmony, everything starts to crumble.  The bible starts off with unlimited potential, unbelievable promise and possibility and then splintering, fracturing and chaos.  The greatest truth of the story of Adam and Eve isn’t that it happened but that it happens.  We all make choices to live outside of how God created us to live.  We have all come up short.

 

Sin is more than breaking God’s law or disobeying God or making God angry.  While those may sound accurate, they don’t tell the whole story.  Now, for a definition.  The theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr puts it like this:  Sin is culpable disturbance of shalom.  Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, wholeness, health and blessing.  Shalom is the harmony God intends for the world. Shalom is how God wants things to be.  Shalom is peace with yourself. With your neighbour, with the earth, with God.  Disturbance.  Things aren’t how they’re supposed to be.  From environmental degradation to domestic violence, from separation of migrant children from their families to massacres of tribes or people groups – such as the horror of those in the mosques in New Zealand; from corporate greed to the petty little ways we disrespect each other – the world isn’t everything it could be.  Culpable is any way we have contributed to the disturbance of shalom we see all around us.  Sin is anything we do to disrupt the peace and harmony God desires for the world.  When sin is understood primarily in terms of breaking or violating or disobeying, there’s no larger context to place it in.  Because it limits sin to whatever you did or didn’t do and then there’s God’s anger or wrath or displeasure with you.  But when you place it in the larger context of the good, the peace, the shalom that we all want for the world, then it starts to make way more sense.

 

Despite our sin in that first Garden, God did not give up on creation but continued to be actively at work within it, bringing it back to how he originally intended it to be.   And he started this restoration project way before Jesus.  At the centre of this in the Hebrew scriptures is this man Abraham.  In our old testament reading, we hear that familiar story of God’s covenant with Abraham – God promises this old childless man that he would have descendants as countless as the stars in the sky.  God’s calling to Abraham was to be the father of a new kind of tribe in the world, one that shows the world the redeeming love of God.   

 

Contrary to how many of us are taught, in the bible we are not primarily identified as sinners, but as saints.  The words “saints” is a translation of the Greek word “hagios”, which means “holy or set apart ones”.  Those who are “in Christ”.  Not because of what we have done but because of what God has done.  There is nothing we can do and there is nothing we ever could have done to earn God’s favour.  We already have it.  This is important: your primary identity, your true self, is found in who you are in Christ, not in the ways you have disrupted shalom.  In the bible people are taught first who they are, because the more you know about who you are, the more, you’ll know what to do.  That is why some sermons are soul destroying.  Sermons which quote lots of bible verses but then teach you that your identity is found in your sin.  It is not.  It is found in Christ who has taken care of your sins.  In the gospel reading today, Jesus is warned by the religious leaders who were puppets of their Roman overlords that he should shut up and get out or he will be killed.  Because Jesus came and taught and called disciples and healed and preached and confronted the injustice and indifference of the religious, military and economic machines of his day.  He threatened the security of the empire.  He was dangerous.  But Jesus didn’t leave.  He says to the pharisees “Go and tell that fox, Herod, I ain’t leaving this place.  I will keep on driving out demons and healing people and on the third day, I will reach my goal”.  His mission was to continue with God’s plan of restoration of the world that he created.  His mission was to subvert the culture of the day.  His mission was to restore shalom.   He was willing to die instead of resorting to violence.  This was a new way to be in the world. 

 

The first Christians insisted that when we became Christians, a profound change occurs in our fundamental identity, in who we are at the core of our being.  In identifying ourselves with Jesus’ death on the cross, something within us dies.  As Paul says in the book of Colossians “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  So this old nature of mine – the one constantly pulling me down and causing me to live in ways I wasn’t created to live has died.  And not only did that old person die, but I have been given a new nature.  The goal that Christ reaches on the third day is not just his own resurrection but ours through his.   I have this new life.  This new identity that has been given to me. I have taken on the identity of Christ.  So what does this mean for the Christian life?  To begin, Christians are people learning who they are in Christ.  We are being taught our new identity.  I heard a teacher say that if people were taught about who they are, they wouldn’t have to be told what to do.  It would come naturally.  When we see religious communities spending most of their time trying to convince people not to sin, we are seeing a community that has missed the point.  The point isn’t sin management.  The point is who we are now. 

 

When Jesus died on the cross, he died for everybody.  Everybody. Everywhere, ever tribe, every nation every tongue.   People who don’t believe in God, people who are opposed to God.  People who do violent evil things.  Everybody’s sin on the cross with Jesus.  So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation is true for everybody.  God is re-telling each of our stories in Jesus.  Our choice is to live in this new reality or to cling to a reality of our own making.  It is our choice everyday about the reality we are going to live in. 

 

When we live in harmony with God’s intentions for us, we bring heaven to earth.  When we live out of sync with how God created us to live, we bring hell on earth.  Hell is happening in Christchurch now and hell happens amongst us and around us.  Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter, they are all hell on earth.  For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping the world but making it a better place, here and now.  The goal for JC is to get heaven here. 

When God chose Abraham to be the father of all nations, it wasn’t so that he could feel good about himself but it was to use him as a vessel to bless others.  God chooses people to be used to bless other people.  The point is that person serving others making their lives better.   Jesus came to serve.  In his topsy truvy world the first becomes last and the last becomes first.  The best and greatest and most important are the ones who humble themselves, set their needs and desires aside and selflessly serve other.  So what is a group of people living like this called?  That’s the church.  The church doesn’t exist for itself.  It exists to serve the world.  It is not ultimately about the church.  It’s about all the people God wants to bless through the church.  When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart.  Often the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith.  So there is an agenda.  And when there is an agenda, it isn’t really love, is it.  We have to rediscover love.  Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do.  I love talking to people about Jesus and my faith.  But I have learnt that when I toss out my agenda, I end up learning more about God than I could have imagined. 

 

But let’s not kid ourselves that following this path of Jesus means that all our problems go away and that we always have a cheery smile and sing “Shine Jesus Shine” 24/7.  Just as we learn to love, we all learn how to suffer.  Not to avoid it but to feel the full force of it.  Following Jesus may bring on problems you never imagined.   Suffering is a place where clichés don’t work and words often fail.  As a community, we have experienced some of what Christchurch is experiencing not so very long ago with Grenfell.  It isn’t fun, it isn’t pretty but in the pain and confusion, God is there.  In our suffering together, we find out we are not alone.  And we can get through it.

 

Ultimately our gift to the world is to bring hope.  Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refusing to acknowledge how things are.  But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is.  Hope that comes from not going around suffering but from going through it.  Rob Bell the writer and theologian says that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.  By this he means that we need to reclaim and affirm that when God made the world, God said it was good and it still is.  Food and music and art and friends, strangers and stories and wine shared together celebrates that God has given us life.  Food is the basis of life and comes from the earth and the earth is from God.  The church has to lead the world in affirming and more importantly enjoying the goodness of creation.  This is our home and our home is good. The bible ends not with our being teleported somewhere else but with God coming here.  What did Jesus do most besides teaching and healing.  He ate long meals.  As Christians our duty is to master the art of the long meal.  When we gather around the table here later, we acknowledge that this is an altar that is it holy.   But we need to also remember that when we gather round the tables at home or in a restaurant  for long meals with each other, it is also time spent with God and that table too is holy.  So the mystery of sin, suffering and hope will always continue to be a mystery but every now and then when we sit round a table and share a long meal in the midst of sin and suffering and celebrate that the world is good, that it is very good, that there is shalom in the world, we take a step of shining a light into that mystery.

Sermon By Fr Larry Galon: Trinity 5

Office Manager

Sermon By Fr Larry Galon

Sunday July 16th Trinity 5

The Parable of the Sower

Today I want to go over one of Jesus most famous teachings.  The parable of the sower, which is included in the three gospels. Jesus told this parable for several purposes.

 But first, it will help us to understand the parable if we know the context.  Jesus was coming into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, but also was becoming extremely popular because of miraculous healings he performed.  In Matthew 13, we can read about this particular day.  Jesus was healing the demon-possessed and the sick while the Pharisees and teachers of the law sat around looking for reasons to criticize Him.  He was so busy that day that his own family could not get into the house where he was to meet them.  Eventually, Jesus went out by the lake, sat in a boat just offshore, and told the parable of the sower.

Jesus told a parable to get the crowd to consider their own hearts.  He didn’t want them to just come and observe what he was doing or to only seek miraculous signs, but to really consider the implications of what he was saying and doing. Jesus correctly describes the hearts of people in the crowd. He knew that most of their hearts were hardened and insensitive, so that even as they saw miracles and heard the good news, they did not benefit.  To those who received Jesus’ words, God would cause the word to bear much fruit in their lives.  But to those who did not seriously consider and accept the word of God, they would receive nothing. Nothing. So how does this parable apply to us?  Let’s consider each type of soil and see if it describes us.

Seed on the path

Jesus describes ground that has not been ploughed up and is hard.  When the seed falls on it, it cannot penetrate the surface.  Jesus said that, in order for God’s word to have effect, we have to let it “sink in.” We have to carefully consider the message so that as we have to decide to accept God’s word and see how it will change us we may be in for a big surprise!  But first, we have to make a conscious decision to accept God’s word in order for it to have any effect.  If we decide to leave God’s word on the table for later, Satan will snatch it away.

So what makes people’s hearts hard toward the gospel?  Why are some people’s hearts like the path so that they don’t even consider the message? There could be millions of excuses for us to not truly consider the message of the kingdom.  Maybe we feel we are too young, or too old, too busy, too rich or not the right ethnicity.  Whatever our excuse—Jesus wants us to hear today.  “He who has ears, let him hear.”  Make sure your heart is ploughed and ready for the message.   

Seed on rocky soil

This second type of soil is shallow so that the word is received joyfully, but does not mature within.  When trouble comes they will fall away because they do not have the roots to draw spiritual sustenance from God. 

One thing I noticed was that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this trouble refers to persecution because of faith.  Sometimes I think we might have stronger faith if we experienced more persecution. Early Christians were persecuted, yet they stood and held on to their faith. Their roots must be deep, because the faith did not shake under persecution.  How many of us would be able to withstand such persecution?

So how do we grow roots?  Where do we get our training to living out God’s word? I am very lucky to stand before you today and see how beautifully St. John’s congregation is formed, with the diversity that we have. By the support that I see from our different communities; and the ecumenism which we joyfully share during the times of distress such as the time we are now in caring for victims of Grenfell Tower. We build physical muscles by exercise.  In the same way, we need to exercise our spiritual muscles by praying to God to be with us.

Seed on thorny soil

The third type of soil has thorns planted alongside the good seed.  Those thorns grow larger until they eventually choke the good plant.  Jesus says these thorns are worldly concerns and pleasures.

See how Jesus includes what we consider good things! Worldly pleasures are deceiving, and we need to be careful about being tricked.  We should set our hearts on heavenly things not on earthly and temporal things. Often this type of seed is referred to the following saying:

•        Love your husband or wife, but remember the one who joined you together for this life and who will welcome you both back into heaven.

•        Pay attention to your children and teach them with your life example, but remember they are entrusted to you by God, who is their eternal Father.

•        Please enjoy your job and do your best, because God made us to work and be productive, but remember your boss is God and your real job is being a fisher of men.

 In the same way, sometimes we get so focused on this world that we forget about eternity. So how can we clear thorns out of our heart?  First, get rid of things in your life that make you unfruitful.  If some are concerns choking your spiritual life, maybe you ought to consider leaving that thing aside in order to become fruitful in God’s kingdom. 

 Seed on good soil

v. 23  “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

This person considers the message, then puts their hand to the plough without looking back.  They overcome each of the obstacles that made others stumble:

1)     They considered the message carefully, understood it, and said “Yes.”

2)     They grew deep roots by practicing the word and carrying it to its logical conclusion in their life.

3)     They were not deceived by worldly pleasures, nor did they become so caught up with other concerns that they were unfruitful.

Luke writes in his gospel this: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” 

Brothers and sisters, I hope you are not thinking of reasons why you cannot be this last type of soil. All of us can be good soil!  First, we need to consider God’s message squarely; don’t put it on the shelf, because the devil will steal it away. We should realize what the consequences will be.  Then make a decision to accept it.  We need to work this out in our everyday life.  We should make sure to grow deep spiritual roots so we can be mature. Watch out for thorns that grow up to choke our spiritual life.  O God, Clear our heart of thorns. -

 

Sermon by Ludo Claude Easter 4, May 7th 2017

Office Manager

Our sheepish ways

 

Deciding can be hard. Making the right decision harder. Choosing a path that is uncertain harder still.  We cannot always know what lies ahead of us and often we first must decide about whom or what we trust. The early Christian community faced the same dilemma. Luke, in the second chapter of Acts, tells us of the possibility that acts of love can bring around us: wonders, signs, sharing our wealth and giving to the needy. Luke’s point is not so much about what we ought to do, but rather what we can do if we put our trust in God and act in love: the impossible becomes possible. 

 

But the most important aspect of passage about the early Church, the ekklesia, who had freshly received the Holy Spirit, was that ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (v. 42). They could hear God more clearly through prayer and communion, they could hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Saint Peter in his first letter exhorts his readers to expect tribulations. Making the right choices, following Christ, can be hard, because we can endure suffering unjustly as a result. Like Christ, we do not suffer for the sake of suffering; suffering is never a requirement of loving, but acting in love can cause us to suffer: ‘if you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.’ (vv. 20-21). But ultimately, we are to trust God, despite suffering.

 

 It is that trust in God the psalmist talks about: it is not saying that our lives will be a walk in the park. Rather, it is a declaration of faith in God: he will provide for my needs, show me favour, will protect me, bring me to places of safety and abundance, and be of comfort in challenging times. ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.’ (v. 6).

 

Like the early Christian community, we are reminded that the work of the Holy Spirit calls us to devote ourselves to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We are not sheepish in that we simply do what we are told, as if it was always easy to know what is right and what is wrong. In fact, we often live in uncertainty, making spiritual discernment an even more crucial part of our lives.

 

As a personal example, my time with the community of St Anselm in Lambeth Palace has taught me to reflect more deeply on the choices I face. I learned to take time to discern, to pray, and to be alone with God. I also learned to take time to be in communion with others in the community, and to support each other in our choices. I went on a few retreats to work through some spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. They helped be more aware of God and deal with what prevented me from praying. I was able to reconcile with my past, discern and respond to God’s calling. I was willing to reconcile with my past: an absentee father and a mother who suffered depression since my birth. These two facts are not necessarily mutually exclusively. I forgave my late father and welcomed him as a prodigal father, and I prayed to become more fully one of God’s sons. I also came to discern God’s calling to become a compassionate banker, helping the many disadvantaged. I have now taken steps to work in Impact Investing in Africa, and after an internship in the industry, I will leave for Oxford in September to pursue an MBA to gain the tools I need to do just that.

 

Ignatian spirituality affirms and confirms our human potential and is dedicated to the ongoing, day-in-day-out struggle between good and evil. We are not lambs to the slaughter because our acts of love by forgiving sins, healing the sick, giving hope to the poor, to those socially and economically outcast can truly bring about joy and bring about the Kingdom of God. Each one of us must ask himself or herself how he or she can make better decisions, what it means to trust God in times of uncertainty, and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ and take part in the communion of life and hope it embodies. When was the last time we paused to read the Bible or meditate in silence? When was the last time we went on a spiritual retreat? When was the last time we went for confession? When was the last time we took time to reconcile with a brother, a sister or a total stranger simply to say: “the peace of the Lord be with you”? When was the last time…? 

 

More than wooly thoughts and sheepish participation, our daily decisions matter. We see this sharply in France today, and we will be making our own decisions in this country on June 8th. But our spiritual lives matter equally; or else we might never learn to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing and we might be left out of the green pastures promised to us. It is that voice that we learn to recognize and that leads us in our daily decisions; we know him and he knows us, calling each one of us by name. And only by following him that we enter his Church, in communion with him. Through prayer and reflection, we learn to discern between voices, and recognize those of strangers. The sheep, at least in the Gospel, are not stupid; they know when not to follow thieves and bandits and in whom to trust to be saved and find pasture.   The Christian life is one lived daily, through praise, words and acts, seeking to follow divine will. It is one rooted in prayer and devotion, in study, in service to others, and in communion with them.

 

For us Christians, the invitation by Jesus to take up our crosses and follow him is not an easy undertaking. Just as Christ faced a world of cruelty, injustice, and the abuse of power and authority, so too we face as Christians a life of hardship and sacrifices. We must be willing to die to follow Christ, dying to self. It is a call to absolute surrender. As Jesus told us in Luke’s gospel: ‘for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?’ (Luke 9: 24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is great: Christian life is also one of true joy and deep sharing with one another. When we live the Christian life fully, then Christ becomes for us truly the good shepherd, and like those early images, carries us on his shoulders. Thanks be to God for our sheepish ways. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

First Sunday after Trinity

tobi iyanda

Revd Bello Mahilum                                                                                                        

29th May 2016                                   

 

Paul Vallely, a visiting professor in Publics Ethics at the University of Chester, wrote an article in the Church Times dated 20th May 2016. He described David Cameroon's gaffe, where he was overheard telling the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury that Nigeria and Afghanistan were both "fantastically corrupt" on the eve of the British Government's anti-corruption summit. He further says, that one of the great myths about corruption is that it is something that foreigners do in far-off places. But much of the money from foreign corruption ends up in British banks, facilitated by City accountants, and is used to buy swanky mansions through Mayfair estate agents, who ask no questions about the provenance of the cash, which continually inflates property prices.

 The gospel narrative from Luke this Sunday may have some different resonance in the person of a Roman centurion. He was not a corrupt person but someone who was able to form a strong bond of relationship with the Jewish community, through being a benefactor who helped build their synagogue. In other words, a man of integrity and honour who was well-liked and loved by the community.

Let's try to get to know further who is this Roman centurion is in the time of Jesus as described in Luke. The Centurion belonged to the militia of Herod Antipas. He was probably one of the God-fearers, non-Jews who were attracted to Judaism because of its monotheism and ethical teachings.

Let me ask you this question. Did Jesus have a face to face encounter with the centurion or the servant? No is the answer. The plot of the story begins with a request from the centurion whose slave 'whom he valued highly and who was ill and close to death'. The scene that follows gives a message about one man's faith and another's healing. Through Jesus' long distance encounter with the centurion, Luke addresses both soteriological and Christological questions. How does one become part of the people of God? Further, who is Jesus, and what does God intend to accomplish through him? The Christian message found a vibrant response among such Gentiles, for according to Luke, they could belong fully to the people of God by faith in Jesus together with obedience to the ethical requirements of the law of God.

Please don't forget the appearance of communal voices: they are the Jewish Elders and friends of the centurion. They are not merely a chorus intended to deliver a message while two of the central characters (Centurion and slave) bide their time offstage. The community itself is a central part of the message.

There's one issue that confronts us directly, which we have to deal with head on. This is the offensive notion that two of the central characters in this story are a slave and his master. When the Centurion states that his is a "slave whom he valued highly" we are unsure if it is meant to be a practical comment on the value of his property as a social status might implyor a gentler notion of a compassionate, heartfelt plea on behalf of a servant of strong character whom the soldier admires. Regardless, while this relationship may rightly stir us against the social injustice represented here, we ought not to lose sight of the notion that the Centurion is speaking on behalf of one who has no voice in society. When our faith is enacted on behalf of another, it celebrates our web of human connectedness, especially in times of illness and tragedy. This is an imperative of faith living in the world.

The sense of being connected begins when the Jewish leaders testify to the soldier's worthiness by lifting up how he has been accountable to the larger community. Luke says, "he has loved our people; he has built our synagogue." Both of these are expressions of affection and care offered by a military officer who is under no obligation but does so out of some deep connectedness to the people. Love and commitment become the central tenets of accountability to the community.

Let us ask ourselves this question. Why do we call out to others for help in moments of desperate need? Sometimes it is the simple burden of every life that urges us to call out to another. When we finally do reach out, too often we do so with a sense of shame or failure that our faith is not strong enough to go it alone. Indeed, the roots of one's faith are embedded deeply within the individual heart. But a lived faith must recognise itself as part of the world. We require the larger community, especially the community of faith, to speak with us and for us - to name what is just and hold us accountable. It is this faith that helps us to encounter the joys, challenges, and tragedies of life and reconcile the unpredictable nature of each with the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Finally, the centurion's faith reveals itself: "Only speak the word, and my servant will be healed." As we remember the healing of this person we thank God for the connectedness of the community of faith which can speak for us when we need it and for all who have no voice in society. 

Trinity Sunday

tobi iyanda

SERMON BY FR LARRY GALON TRINITY SUNDAY 2016

The Holy Trinity, The Triune God, The One God in Three Persons and many other names allow us to celebrate today the full encyclopaedia of Christian belief, beginning at Pentecost. At Pentecost, the Apostles were shocked because according to the Book of Acts "Everyone speaks their native languages as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit" and the most intriguing thing is that everybody understood each other, not because they were linguists but because the Holy Spirit was at work in that place. And I believe that this Parish has the same quality. Our attendance every Sunday comes from a very diverse community and society, and we understand the same language. We are from different places, different races, different background of belief yet we all understand this language. This language is the Words of the Eucharist or I'd rather call it the Language in the Age of Spirit. The Language in the Age of Spirit is the institution of the Eucharist.

When I shared this idea with a member of my Filipino congregation he asked me what about the Bible, is it a part of the language of the Age of Spirit? The answer is yes, it is. That is why it is used in the institution of the Eucharist. The invocation of the Holy Trinity, readings from the Bible, the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and the Great Commissioning at the end of the Celebration.  All the words used in the Eucharist always refers to the Holy Bible.

Today the Church celebrates the Holy Trinity. It is not as obviously dramatic and exciting as Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost, but it is the summary and the climax of the Church year as we turn to ordinary time in our church cycle of calendar. So we celebrate the action of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and now we put them all into today, the celebration of the Most Holy Trinity.
If we talked about it in traditional terms in English the first two persons use the male pronoun -  the Father and the Son. In Greek the word spirit, pneuma is neuter, but in Hebrew Ruach in feminine, so there is no reason why we cannot refer to the Spirit as a Mother, or a Daughter, but this language tends to jar a bit. It is more difficult to find it in the Christian tradition, and we would still have the problem of attributing gender to God. For this reason, many denominations today prefer to speak of Creator God, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit and another is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. I mention this because Christian traditional language also has its limitations.

So there are two points that I want to look at as we celebrate the Holy Trinity.

First, The Social Trinity, the life of a social God.

 A Jewish traditional dance is an illustration, where everybody clutches arms together and dances in a circle as they sing " Heven u shalom aleichem "or "Gods peace be with you". In the Philippines, we commonly use this as one of our fellowship energiser dances, which means that the persons or the modes of God weave in and out of each other in a blissful dynamic circle.  The social God offers us a model for human community, an interwoven community. If God was a solitary God, so to speak, it would be too much like the rule of a benevolent dictatorship and if it was binary, just the two persons, the Father and the Son, this suggests a mutual pre-occupation of one with the other like human lovers, who only have eyes for each other. But three for society. Moreover, it is a society of equals, for the persons in Trinity are equal. So Christian communities should also be communities of equality, of mutuality and of joyful sharing in the Christian Fellowship. The Trinity portrays a communal relationship of the Triune God, as Paul says " If one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers". When the Son suffers, so the Father and the Holy Spirit suffers. The common being of Holy Trinity embodies the relationship of our Christian family. So if we are persecuted because of our faith, God suffers with us, yet if we can encourage believers to be more vibrant and zealous in Christian work and ministry, God rejoices with us.

Secondly, the Holy Trinity is an inclusive society


God is often described as being completely different and unique from us. But for Christians this is only half of the story. In John chapter 17, Jesus prays his High Priestly prayers, he prays that those who LOVE HIM may be ONE with HIM, just HE is ONE with the FATHER. In so doing, the unity of love within the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, includes us in a blessed circle. This reminds me of one of the sermon of Fr. William about the orthodox icon, named theosis, which means the way that human beings may be transformed so as to share the very nature of God. Perhaps one of the letters of The New Testament comes true when it says "becoming partakers of divine nature of God".  This means that the church becomes the vessel of God’s interrelatedness to His creation, male or female, rich or poor, coloured or white, and any other status-quo in our society.  Yes, we know that there are boundaries and limitations to every Christian community, but we are encouraged to welcome everybody as we are all welcomed by God to share in his glory that is to be revealed. The church should be marked out by a series of welcome mats and not by a brick wall.  We should always use these words " welcome to Saint John's", But after two years I noticed that our door caption did not say welcome to St. John's but rather it says, "Behold I make all things new". Maybe this is one of the reasons why St. John Parish attracts us, this church becomes a vessel of our interrelatedness to each other and of God. Let us encourage our communities to become models of the society of God, let us be inclusive as the all- loving and wonderful God at the same time as we participate in the suffering of the world from which God has nowhere to hide but only within his creation.

Finally, as we baptise Jayden today, we remember that every baptism in the Christian Church is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the social Trinity, and the ultimately inclusive society.
Let us pray.
O sacred and profound Trinity! Thou art a depth in which all our thoughts are drowned. How great is thy wisdom; how beautiful thy plan for the world. Draw us into your life that we may become sharers in your nature, and come at last to the fullness of your life.
Amen.

Easter 6

tobi iyanda

St. John the Evangelist Church Notting Hill                                       17 April 2016

Revd Bello Mahilum

Pilgrim's Progress is one of the greatest books by John Bunyan.  It is one of the most translated books outside the Bible. Bunyan gives a beautiful climactic moment when the pilgrim arrives at the hill where his bag is going to fall off - the burden. You see, he was looking for a celestial city. But he got a shock. You never get to the celestial city without going through Calvary. One can never go to the celestial city without going to the cross. So the burden falls off. And here's what he says: I saw three shining ones: the angel of dawn, the angel of day break and the angel of dusk. It's an allegory. The angel of dawn says, "thy sins be forgiven thee". The angel of day break takes the new robe and the sandals and puts it on him. The angel of dusk gives a scroll and put a mark on the forehead to move on towards the celestial city. The first, the spiritual, the second, the physical and the third is the scroll, the intellectual to guide him all the way to the celestial city. God is complete in what he gave you and me. God forgives you. He robes you. He guides you towards the celestial city. What a brilliant allegorical description: the angel of dawn, the angel of day break and the angel of dusk. To guide you, to give you the wisdom, to lead you to his eternal presence. This is not the end of my sermon yet.

 

We have heard in our first reading from the Acts, the story of Tabitha, who was raised by Peter from the dead. She was described as devoted to good works and acts of charity. The community in Joppa lost one of its pillars. They stood together, using all the tools and spiritual resources available to them - weeping together, hoping together and celebrating together. The emphasis of this text is not on return from death, but upon a community honing all its spiritual strength and resources passionately upon life and wholeness. Let's us ask ourselves this question. Do we have those marks of a healing community in today's individualistic culture?

 

 

Today's vision from the Revelation to John clearly lets us know that pain and suffering will be part of any Christian life. Suffering has always been part of the Christian story, and we are not immune. The question is what is the Christian message that amidst sufferings, in the end, we will be victorious?  For John, ultimate Christian victory comes in death. This claim is extraordinary to hear during the days of Eastertide when we proclaim again and again exactly what the death of Christ means for Christians. Dying and rising with Christ is how we become victors. Joining the great multitude in John's vision, we too recognise our shepherd in "the Lamb at the centre of the throne" who will guide us to springs of living water, where "God will wipe every tear from" our eyes.

 

 

The setting of our gospel this Sunday is the Festival of Dedication. This festival commemorated the rededication of the temple by the Maccabeans in 164 BCE, after its desecration by Antiochus IV, when he erected therein an image of Zeus. This feast, best known by its Hebrew term Hanukka (which means "dedication"), is of course still celebrated in Jewish communities.

 

We can picture how Jesus was fully engaged with his own people talking with them about what was their deepest concern in life. It is not surprising that the Jews demanded an answer from their question to him. "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly". Were the parables they used to hear from Jesus too cryptic that mere human comprehension is beyond their grasp? In response, Jesus says, "the works I do in my Father's name testify to me". However, some Jews who do not "believe" the testimony of Jesus's works, "because you do not belong to my sheep".

 

It is worth noticing how Jesus plays with words to the Jews that his works constitute public evidence that he bears the mantle of the Messiah. The imagery of the shepherd is a powerful messianic image in Israel's collective memory. John portrays Jesus as the good shepherd, the authentic bearer of God's caring authority. When Jesus says to his critics "You do not belong to my sheep," he implies that they are wicked. They cannot see the truth of his testimony because they follow the wicked shepherd, wicked leaders.

 

Jesus says that the sheep of his fold hear his voice. It is the unity of hearing and doing that binds the sheep of Jesus' fold to him. In that unity, the disciples' relationship to Jesus is similar to Jesus' relationship to the Father. Jesus rewards their faithfulness with "eternal life." The disciples of Jesus' flock will be immortal because of their dedication to Jesus. Jesus says, "No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  It is an image of salvation under the protective hands of Jesus.

 

As long as we live, the pilgrim who is each one of us who lives in a broken world but can still strive towards healing and wholeness. We might be beaten but not broken. Suffering and pain are an integral part of our dying and rising with Jesus. Finally, Jesus the "Good Shepherd" will take us by the hand leading us into God's eternal presence forever, like Bunyan’s pilgrim.

6th Sunday of Easter - Sermon by The Rev's Soon-Han Choi

Office Manager

10th May 2015

John 15. 9-7 & John 6. 1-6                                                     

 The Rev’d Soon-Han Choi

 

Jesus said,

You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know that 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.”

When Skype was first introduced, we were amazed at what the technology could do, and, at the same time we were so pleased to be able to, overcome the distances between us, and not only speak to each other, but actually see the faces of our friends, so far away. 

When I was working with Bishop Michael Marshall, he used to go to America frequently.  I taught him how to use Skype so that we might connect with each other and continue to share what was happening in our ministries,  albeit, thousands of miles apart.

Today’s Gospel was the one of the last instructions Jesus gave, before his crucifixion. Out of His love, he was teaching His disciples how to use that original ‘Skype’ – how to be connected with Him and to continue the intimate relationship with Him, beyond physical separation. The Skype Jesus gave His disciples and has given us, His disciples and learners today, was and is and will be “Love each other” – that’s the ‘password’ to God’s ‘skype!’

Jesus has given us this commandment, which sums up all the other commandments. 

First of all, just as Skype offers to us today the ability to connect more closely with our loved ones who are not physically with us, so all the commandments of God provide us with the means of connecting to and deepening the love we share with God our Father . The commandments were made for us and we weren’t made for the commandments. That would mean we become servants to the commandments, rather than the commandments helping us to remain in the love of Jesus. The commandments are for our benefit and blessing. If we try to keep the commandments with this new perspective, we begin to know why Jesus asks us to love each other.

While I was exploring the ordained ministry, I was working at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall. The working conditions were excellent, wonderfully located and within walking distance of where I lived: also my colleagues were so friendly, except for one, who really was a football hooligan. He used that “F” word throughout his day-to-day speech and made all sorts of unpleasant and aggressive remarks to me, even nationalistic remarks, saying “Why are you here from Korea – you should go home”.  Frankly I thought “It would be truly heavenly if he were not there!”

I was surprised and disappointed with myself that, as a Christian, exploring ordination, I was entertaining such thoughts in my heart. I had to face the challenging commandment of Jesus: “Love your neighbour; Love your enemy and Love each other.”

At first, I tried hard to keep the commandment, to prove to myself, ‘’I’m a good Christian,’’ little realising where that attitude would lead me.  Nevertheless, I decided I had to do something practical. I found an empty storage room and decided to pray 15 minutes during my break time, daily – a prayer that the football hooligan would change.  I prayed for around three months nearly every day for him. He did not change: he was the same.  My prayer didn’t work.

I thought “I’m spending this precious break-time not for myself, but for that colleague, and congratulating myself on my Christian virtue!”

Of course I was completely oblivious to what Jesus is doing all the time, for us all – eternally praying for us – (not a mere 3 months)!!   I was a bit upset that God didn’t answer my prayer. Nevertheless, I kept on praying for another three months. One day I saw that God answered my prayer. He was changed, but not according to what I expected. My football hooligan colleague was still speaking the same language and behaving in just the same way. BUT, God had changed MY attitude to him.  The Football hooligan became my friend, because I saw him in a new light – he was rather a damaged man, overly excited by football, but a loving husband, who actually cared for his family. The change God had brought about was in me.  That foul language he used and the rough behaviour didn’t hurt me at all anymore, and I was able to listen and talk with him as a friend. The working place did become heavenly.

Isaiah describes the Kingdom of God in this way. “In that day, the wolf and the lamb will live together; the calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion. A little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes, without harm. Nothing will hurt.”

Secondly, the commandment of Jesus shows His commitment and faithfulness to us first. So, when Jesus says “Love one another as I have loved you,’’ we need to realise that his love for us is unconditional: he will never divorce us, and therefore teaches us not to divorce or write off anyone, however unlovable they may be. That is his character implied in his commandment to us, to be like him.

So we keep His commandments on the basis of this simple truth that Jesus has loved us first, so his love ought to be shared through our participation in loving one another, as He loves us.  When this love is shared with others, the presence of Jesus is tangible among us and within us: it’s as though ‘God’s Skype’ is active and working among us, and is the way Jesus teaches us, as in today’s Gospel,  “to remain in his Love.” 

He is showing how the kingdom of God is established among us and within us when we keep the commandment, “to love one another as He loves us.” Otherwise we turn the commandment to love into Christian ideal, beyond our reach, slavishly striving to keep the commandment, proving to ourselves that we are better Christians than others.  No, that commandment is for you and me, for OUR benefit and blessing.  It’s the best way to have a wonderful, intimate communion with Jesus, in God’s heavenly Skype of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon by Fr Larry Galon

Office Manager

Sermon by Fr Larry Galon, Assistant Priest and Filipino Chaplain

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made"
"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. He came unto his own, but they did not receive him, but unto them who received he has given the privilege to become sons of God"

These words contain the central themes of the Gospel of John. Through them we can easily understand why John wrote his Gospel. There are only a few accounts or events where John actually portrays himself as one of the Disciples of Christ. Nevertheless our Gospel today tells us that he followed Jesus and his presence did not win the approval of Peter, when he said, “Lord, what shall this man do"?  It seems to me that John the Evangelist is too silent in words, (for there were only several words that concern him) but he was very passionate to the Lord. He was the one who leaned on his breast at supper. He stayed with Jesus when the disciples were running. He was at the cross with Mary, not fearing his own death if discovered by Roman soldiers, and he was the one whom the Lord promised not to see death by the sword or persecution. 

During my younger days, before I studied the scriptures, I used to think that John the Baptist and John the Evangelist were the same, but they're not. So today allow me to give my personal understanding of the two, and how John the Baptist can help us understand John the Evangelist. The fore-runner, John the Baptist, was the son of a priest, Zachariah.  When it was Zachariah’s turn to offer incense in the temple, he was told  "fear not Zacharias, your prayers have been heard, your barren wife will give birth to a son and you shall name him John"; but because of his unbelief he became dumb. John spend his days in the wilderness, eating only locust and honey. People often called him demon possessed, yet the word of the Lord came to him to proclaim the message of repentance and baptism upon all Israel. They asked “What shall we do? He said unto them, He that has two coats, let him give to him who has none, he who has meat, let him do likewise. There was a chaos during the birth and ministry of John the baptizer, and as we know, His head was placed in a platter as a prize for the dancing woman Salome.

John the Evangelist, or the post-runner, as I call him, was different. He was a silent follower and prolific believer of Jesus. He alone had the clear understanding of the word “new creation". He said “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and earth passed away and the sea was no more. I saw a new city coming down from God out of heaven". (Revelation 21). He was the living testimony of Jesus life and ministry. The three writers of the gospel somehow do not recognize John's presence. He was not popular, even Peter asked Jesus “what about him"? But his silence brought forth the concrete manifestation of faith through his writings. He carefully described the future glory of believers after the great tribulation. The gathering of all nations whose robe was washed by the blood of the Lamb. 

John the Evangelist is a man of Vision, and the Patron of this Parish.  I believe this is what we all need and what this parish is all about today. We have a lot of things to be proud of and I believe that it did not just come from those who spearhead this job - it’s from Gods inspiration and through your encouragement. If our patron saint was here with us today, he would be very proud for what this church has become. 

Let me share my experience when I was invited to bless a fishing boat. I spent three hours waiting for the captain to collect me but he did not arrive. Later on one of my parishioners informed me that they were waiting for me to come. I felt annoyed that my time was being wasted. I rented a tricycle (it’s a motor cycle with extra side carrier for the passengers) and went to the beach.  There I saw the small boat sea, at sea, as the captain was already fishing because a shoal of fish had gathered in one place.  To make the story short, I was not able to do the blessing. I came home tired, stressed and angry. After two days, I was woken up early one morning by some people calling my name, and to my surprise it was the captain of the fishing boat with his men smiling at me carrying big boxes filled with fish. After a few greetings they put down the box, telling me that it’s my share. “But I was not able to bless the boat"  “Yes father, he said “ but your presence and seeing you at the beach on that day was enough for us".  

The presence of this church is enough for us to remind us of the blessings of God brought to us.  This is a place where people are able to bless one another through the ministry of our Patron, St John the Evangelist.  All can share in this   - strangers and residents, visitors and friends, white and coloured people, we are all the fruits of the faithful vision of Saint John the Evangelist.

As we celebrate the Feast Day of our Patron Saint, may God bless this parish and all who work for it, to the glory of God.