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Visiting Preachers

Sermon Michael and All Angels by Grant Bolton-Debbage

tobi iyanda

I would like to preach today on these words: ‘This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of Heaven!’

 

A well-known expression which is often thrown around is 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone.' We as Christians can often forget the vision we have been given and yet we live in an age where we need to have it at the forefront of our minds.  How difficult that can be, however, when the news we are offered daily is far from positive. We are told how people are being oppressed and discarded by fellow men and women. How divisions are deepened and with no clear way out of it all. At the same time Jesus tells us of the great things we will see. How Angels will descend and ascend upon the son of man. Somehow, it's difficult to gather the worldly reality with the heavenly hope!

Psychologists suggest that we see what we want to see. Expectations can shape perceptions. I suppose that stereotypes are a fine example of how we place projections on others and as such fail to see what really stands before us.

As children of God who know our identity as being exactly that, we are called to enjoy that identity. We are called to recognise who we are, what we are and where we are.

We are called to recognise a place where angels are constantly descending and ascending according to our needs and the will of God. None of us go through this life alone. We have each other, we have almighty God Himself made known to us in Christ Jesus and His Holy Spirit and we have guardian angels to watch over us and those for whom we care. 

The prophets through the biblical texts as well as the prophets of our time had and have great vision. So great that it enables them to witness to the pain of life but point in the direction of the joy. 

Martin Luther King Jr, Pope Francis and many others show great examples of a faith which facilitates the vision. The vision which we all have as Christians which enables coming Kingdom of God to grow!

The Kingdom of God. It's here amongst us, in this place. 

A place where we believe in a God who can transform a rag and a rock into the triumph of the boy shepherd David. A God who will take away our mistakes and turn it into mercy. A God who will take a cup of wine and a piece of bread and turn it into the food of life.

When we realise that and when that vision of the true order burns in our hearts, we too can shout out loud and shout out proud with Jacob that This place is certainly none other than the House of God and this is the gate of Heaven! 

It is with these expectations that our perception of the reality of God will shift so that despite the terror that often surrounds us, we are assured that it doesn’t have the final word and so with the songwriter we too can sing, despite it all, I feel like going on, even in the trials of life, I feel like going on.

 

Amen

 

Robin Greenwood

tobi iyanda

SERMON, ST JOHN’S, NOTTING HILL JUNE 12th 2016

 

In Today’s Gospel we were witnesses to Jesus being invited to explain the Good News of the Kingdom at a dinner party, given by a high profile religious leader. We know the story well. Imagine a central group of invited guests and around them a small crowd of onlookers. Dramatically there emerges a woman. In a short space of time she would break several taboos. As “a sinner” she came with a bad reputation. The unnamed woman arrived having spent a small fortune on a jar of extremely expensive perfumed oil.

She starts to weep profusely; she took the liberty of touching the religious teacher; she had the gall to kiss and anoint with oil Jesus’ feet, drying them with her long hair.

 

The response of the Pharisee was to doubt the authenticity of Jesus. How could he permit this scandalous behaviour?

Where’s his intuition about this woman? Surely he’s no prophet! Jesus then reveals his unique and troublesome authority, exousia, given to him by God, explaining what no one else could see: this woman had more faith than all those who were criticizing her. Understanding Jesus’ message, she claimed the undeserved gift of God’s forgiveness and blessing. She was blessed in recognizing that God doesn’t love us for being good; rather, because God is good, God loves us. Receiving this led to her deep penitence and willingness to risk everything in showing her gratitude to God for the gift of God’s friendship.

 

The Gospel passage further reminds us that this is just one illustration of the healing offered by Jesus, travelling with disciples and companions. The Gospel writer invites us into that same space with desperate people, recognizing they were low on their own resources, prepared to let God be God, taking the risk of believing that in Jesus they could find wholeness, peace, healing and joy, receiving what mattered most in the whole world.

 

Thank you for inviting me to spend this weekend with you, focusing on how, if we allow it, God blesses us beyond mere prosperity or physical health, so that in turn we become a blessing. I am aware of the multifaceted blessings you already enjoy, celebrate and pit to work in your lives. This contrasts with so many churches living in anxiety and pathos in a difficult time for faith across Western Europe and North America. Strategies for church growth leadership and mission action planning all have a place;

but on their own they can become a mere survival mechanism or even a way of bowing out with dignity.

 

What can we learn from the woman in the gospel passage? She was honest that she couldn’t find life in its fullness anywhere else. She had made many bad judgements in the past; now she throws caution to the wind, placing herself at Jesus’ feet in penitence, relief and expectancy.

 

Our culture prizes self-sufficiency, individualism and self-help. Jesus offers us a contrary identity – together and as separate people – as God’s beloved, daughters and Sons, called by name and loved. Jesus desires to “abduct” [a term much used by Coleridge] us, so that we allow ourselves

– in body, mind and spirit - to let ourselves be impoverished until we choose at our deepest place to live out of God’s blessing. That is to let ourselves hear God “speaking well” of us, “benedictus” – words of blessing

and inviting us to live out of God’s Word rather than some negative word coming from our head, from our family or our society. St John in his gospel constantly repeats the message: live in God’s Word about yourselves.  You may well be good sinners but as God’s creation you are very good and God delights in you. Believe that whne you look in the mirror each day!

 

To have the humility to be “abducted” – against your better judgment - by God’s incessant love, as described in Psalm 139, “with love everlasting you besiege me/us”, to have this humility is the beginning of wisdom. There’s a word we get from Old French: “dismantling”. We use it of old unreliable edifices that need to be pulled down for everyone’s safety, or of organizations that no longer serve their purpose. Literally, it means to remove the defensive battlements from a castle, so that it becomes a home, or to remove our cloak or outer garment. To be dismantled by God is to become vulnerable, real, present to God, to the world, to others and to our deepest selves, where God dwells.

 

The comprehensive scriptural notion of being blessed to become a blessing – as we see in the lives of Abraham, Mary or Paul – is rooted in this surrendering of our selves, our anxiety, our independence, our desire to keep up appearances or to succeed in our own strength. It’s to make worship and praise central to living, believing in God’s reliability and invitation. To say “Amen”, “Yes” to all that Jesus shows us of God. Blessing is about non-necessity, overflow, abundance, gift, glory but also challenge. Anyone in scripture who dares to receive a blessing sets out on a demanding road. It’s no coincidence that when we’re blessed in the liturgy that it’s in the sign of the cross – God’s promise to be with us through the mess and danger – God with us on the cross, to the point of knowing the Good Friday cry of dereliction within the very life of God, as the Son cried to the Father: “my God why have you forsaken me?” But also the amazing presence of the self-starting God who outdistances and bypasses rejection, failure, suffering, agony, death or tomb.

 

As we have briefly explored and I hope you will continue to do, I believe that when as “church” we have simple conversation, being as open and present to one another as we can - rather than proving ourselves right in mere “discussion”, then through us God can change the world.

That’s why we are “church”, seeking to be agents of the search for justice and peace, the coming Beatitude of all creation. To live in blessing is for the health of our society.

It’s also to change the prevailing despair that there is no hope for our cosmos – the Late Great Planet earth view of history. The Risen Christ who blesses the disciples (that’s us) through the gift of the Holy Spirit to do even greater works, changes the view that we are all doomed - everything is hopeless and it’s not worth trying anymore.

Blessing is a challenge to aimless and futile lifestyles. In this we can learn from many new and radical forms of church that integrate a contemplative deep engagement with God’s life with a world-engaging, suffering-embracing practical companionship with God’s action.

 

Which is where we came in. When we read the gospels we see Jesus walking the lanes of Galilee – purposively inviting us to join in. We have recognized God acting in Jesus

to heal the woman who disrupted the dinner party. Nothing else mattered to her. She had run out of her own resources. I believe God needs us to rediscover confidence and joy through dismantling our cleverness, self-sufficiency and capability. Now is the time to recognize the potential of living out of blessing. The blessing that flows among us when we appreciate and listen and care for one another.

 

Dismantling old habits of “coming to church”, instead we are called to become church – as an enacted verb not a static noun; no longer as observers but as disciples who trust God’s promises and to surrender to Jesus as our host in worship, prayer, and mission; walking with a sense of abundance and joy as a source of blessing to all we meet on the road.       AMEN

Ascension Day 2015 by Bishop Michael Colclough

Office Manager

Ascension Day 2015

Sermon by Bishop Michael Colclough

"Why are you men from Galilee standing looking into the sky?” – an important reminder that the Ascension is not to be understood literally as if Jesus floated up into space on his way to “heaven”. Where is “heaven”? It is above Jerusalem? Is it in the whole sky encircling the earth? I like the story of the old woman of Cork in Ireland who, when asked where heaven is, said, “It’s about twelve inches above my head”.

The gospels don’t present a picture of Jesus being tied down to places.  Rather, Jesus is the itinerant teacher and healer of God’s Kingdom and relationship is key to this ministry.  So we hear Jesus saying in St John’s Gospel: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the father is in me?” and, a little later to His disciples, “Abide in me as I abide in you”.

So Heaven shouldn’t be thought of, pictured, as a place but as a relationship with God,  the God who is everywhere. Heaven talks of your, my, our relationship with God: heaven talks of a goal still to be achieved but a way of living and believing that started at our baptism.

As the people of God we are called to be a pilgrim people: we journey together and, though for each one of us there will be that personal encounter with the God who loves us (in the old days we called it judgement!), our life in heaven  will be communal.  Heaven is not a personal escape into a region of selfish freedom: it involves you and me - along with  "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven".

For me, John Bunyan wrote one of the most powerful and triumphal pictures of this company of heaven at the end of his great book, 'The Pilgrim's Progress':

"Now I saw in my Dream, that these two men (Christian and his brother) went in a gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold.  There was also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harp to praise with all, and the crowns in token of honour: Then I heard in my Dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy; and that it was said unto them, Enter ye into the joy of your Lord."

Yes, Heaven is the fullness of joy: but before we enter into the fullness of Jesus’ glory and joy, there is work to be done.  Again, I like the story of the rather forward cherub who witnessed Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.  “What’s going to happen on earth now you are back here?” the cherub asked. “I have left friends to continue my work”, said Jesus.  “What if they let you down?” persisted the cherub.  “If they let me down”, said Jesus, “I have made no other provision”.  When Jesus left his disciples, he made it clear that He wanted them to carry on the work He had begun. He said that they could do the same things He did and even greater. So before leaving them, he told his disciples to go back to Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

That experience of Pentecost, being “clothed with power from on high”, would be their baptism when they became filled with the very Spirit of Jesus. But before Jesus left them, His disciples ask Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Even at this late moment, they still don’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and work. They still do not understand what kind of Messiah he is.

Jesus will not simply restore the Kingdom of Israel, Jesus establishes a completely new Kingdom. This kingdom will not be a political force or a military power. Rather, it will be:

An eternal and universal kingdom,

a kingdom of truth and life,

a kingdom of holiness and grace,

a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

This is their mission – and ours: the mission to carry the kingdom message of Jesus to the whole world.

The account of the ascension then tells us that, as Jesus spoke, He was covered by a cloud.  Again, relationship because the cloud symbolises the enveloping presence of God. Jesus could no longer be seen as He was wrapped in the all-embracing presence of his Father, and as Jesus disappeared from their sight, the disciples naturally continued to gaze upwards into the sky. It was then that two men wearing white clothes stood beside them and said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here  looking into the sky?  This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The disciples have a new lesson to learn: they have to go back to Jerusalem. There, through the outpouring of the Spirit, they will begin to understand and grow in understanding. If they want to find Jesus, they will find him in the Christian community, in prayer and the breaking of bread.  They will find Him in the people they mix with every day of their lives.

Every time they receive the love of a brother, it is the presence of Jesus. Every time they share their love with a brother or sister, they are making Jesus present to that person. They – and we – are to be Jesus in this world.

We are to be the visible presence of Jesus: a great vocation and challenge for all of us.  It raises questions: when people see me, do they see Jesus? When people see me, do they want to know Jesus? When people see me, do they want to join our Christian community, share our life, and take the Gospel as the foundation of their life? That is the challenge of the Ascension.

Today we gather here not only to thank God  for something that happened a long time ago; we are also here to remind ourselves that when Jesus left us he gave us a very important mission. That mission was and is to continue his loving and redeeming presence in the world.  St. Theresa of Avila, puts it so well:

Christ has no other hands but your hands to do his work today;

no other feet but your feet to guide folk on his way;

            no other lips but your lips

            to tell folk why he died;

            no other love but your love;

            to win folk to his side.

And, remember: Jesus has made no other provision. Amen.