Tag Archives: Christ

Chasing the Rabbit

 

A thought for General Assembly Week…..

There once was an elderly Christian gentleman who had a reputation for godliness, devotion, and faithfulness.

Once a newly ordained Elder visited him with his Communion Card, and, during their conversation, got round to discuss the decline in membership of the Church.

“Why is it” asked the younger man, “that so many people when they join the Kirk are so full of enthusiasm, then, after a few years, they effectively give up. They don’t have that initial zeal anymore.

The old fellow smiled. He said, “One day, a wee while ago, I was sitting in my garden on a lovely summer evening – my faithful dog by my side.

“Suddenly a large rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after it. He chased the rabbit across the lawn, through the hedge, down the lane. – and with unbridled passion.

“Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking along the road, up stony embankments and through thickets and thorns!

“Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the chase, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the pursuit. Only my dog continued to hotly chase after that rabbit.”

“In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.”

He sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand. What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”

The old chap answered,

“you failed to ask the obvious question.

“Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase?

“And the answer to that question is that they had not Seen the rabbit.

“Unless you see the prey, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”

And perhaps that’s why so many – not all – are dropping out. They no longer keep their eye on the prize.

Not the prize of heaven, but the prize of the one who will get us there :Jesus Christ.

He is and always will be the only focus.

As St Paul wrote:

“I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me……I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Sermon – the Third of Easter, Year C

image

Raphael – “Miraculous Draft of Fishes”

 

John 21 verses 1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”

21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

THE SIGN OF THE FISH

I’m off on holiday – yes AGAIN! – next Saturday: to Rhodes this time.

Usually, I just throw an assortment of mismatched clothes in a suitcase about an hour before I leave. But the one constant that I take is a pair of Nike sneakers…. you know: the trainers with the “swoosh” symbol.

It’s a logo that is recognised world-wide – a sort of tick shaped emblem.

Actually, it is supposed to represent the wing from the legendary statue of the Greek goddess of victory, who was called Nike (not “Nyk” as many folk pronounce it)

It is supposed to bring to mind victory on today’s so-called “battlefields” like gyms, and running tracks.

The most I’ll be running next week will likely be a bath! So out of condition – but I like my red Nikes.

Nike’s legendary Swoosh logo is probably one of the most recognisable in the sports industry, enabling us to see swift movement in its simple design.

That’s the way with so many signs and symbols these days – simple but effective.

Think of a golden “M” shaped arch – you don’t have to guess for even a couple of seconds to work out that one.

A three pointed star in a circle – Mercedes Benz

An apple with a bite out of it – iPhones, iPads, iPods…. and I (sic) don’t know what else.

However, the most famous and instantly recognisable symbol of all is ……. the Cross.

Although the Cross is displayed in endless varieties – plain, crucifix, Celtic, wooden, metal, palm (as we often have in church on Palm Sunday), as jewelry, tattoos, atop church spires ….. it is immediately recognisable as a symbol of Christianity.

Yet, when the Church began, it would have been more likely that our forebears in the Faith would have been recognised by fellow believers through the sign of the FISH.

Sorry to return to talking about holidays again, but a few years ago, my late wife and I spent an amazing few hours at the wonderful site at Ephesus.

{Incidentally, there is there an ancient piece of graffito scratched into a rock with the Greek name “Nike”

The tour guide asked if anyone knew who Nike was, and an American in our group answered “Say, isn’t “he” (!) the god of sportswear?”}

Anyhow, in many other places, in the ancient walls and pavements, there are etched into the stone tiny simple cross shapes, as well as more elaborate chiselled almost Maltese-style ones.

But …. as common were engravings of the word ICHTHUS – the Greek for “fish”

For the early Church the fish logo was very prominent indeed. It appeared frequently in the early Christian world up until the end of the fourth century.

It would be logical at this point to explain why the fish symbol was important, but I’m going to put it to one side just now, and come back to it later.

I want us to think about this instead just now:

Have you noticed how many times there are references to fish in the Gospels?

Right at the beginning of the story, we find Jesus among fishermen, and from them he selects his first disciples…… to be “fishers of men”

When Christ wants to feed the crowd in the desert – through Andrew, a fisherman, of course – he finds a boy with five loaves and two fishes.

And the fish, along with bread, was associated with communion in the early days of the Faith.

(The symbol can be seen in the Sacraments Chapel of the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Because of the story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, the fish also symbolized the Eucharist.)

When Christ tells his disciples to have some trust in the Heavenly Father, he asks them, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”

In addition, in Mediterranean countries, the fish was seen as the symbol of good luck, and it still is in some New Year customs.

Christ, of course, ushered in a New Age – would not the fish be an appropriate sign for what he represented?

image
Let’s now look at our Resurrection narrative for this Sunday. It’s about fish and fishing.

Here are the disciples back to the old business – fishing. They’ve been out all night and have caught nothing. On the shore is someone whom they don’t recognise. He instructs them to cast out the net again starboard-side. And there follows an incredible catch.

Jesus, then, takes bread and fish, and – sacramentally? – feeds them.

Is it any wonder that the fish became an emblem of faith for these first believers?

Before we take this any further, let’s ask if the sign of the fish can speak to us in this day and age.

How about this? Perhaps it’s indicative of the sheer earthiness and practicality of the Gospel.

Fish was a vital part of the economy of Christ’s society. Jesus didn’t go down to the lakeside to find as his followers some romantic sportsmen. He went right into the heart of the community – right to the centre of local industry. He walked straight into the practicalities of life.

After the highs of Easter Day, we’re back to normality now; back to the everyday stuff of normal life.

But…. Christ is STILL with us – with us in all the experiences of life.

He’s with us in the hungry who need to be fed, with the homeless who need shelter, the sick and the marginalised who need our compassion. “as you did it for the least of these my brethren” he says, “you did it unto me”
Let’s think of this too – the fish represents vitality. Have you ever watched a trout, for example, darting from stone to stone in a rippling stream?

It’s so alive – in its natural environment. Could that not be an image of the Christian living in the grace of God?

New Christians were plunged into the waters of baptism, and they began to see their life from then on as one sustained and supported by this symbol of God’s grace.

{note: the Latin word for a baptismal font is “piscina” – literally a fish pond. Converts to the Faith were called “little fish” (Latin: “pisculi”)}

May we always live as if we are alive in God’s environment of love.

Now, to the main reason for Christianity and the symbol of the fish. Something, I guess, all of you have heard about before.

And, when I attended Church in February in Port of Spain in Trinidad, the minister preached for almost half an hour on the meaning and symbolism of the fish…… oh, dear – perhaps twenty minutes too long.

 

image

But, fear not! This is it in condensed form:

In Greek, the word for “fish” is ICHTHUS. – it can be an acronym – each Greek initial letter spells out the word – translated – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”

{Iesus Christos, Theou Uios Soter}

A powerful and secret symbol shared between believers – and a reminder of their Creed.

This is the faith by which Christ’s Church has lived for some two thousand years.

Yet Jesus is never referred to as “The Great Fisherman”; rather as “The Shepherd of the Sheep”

And in today’s passage the Book of Revelation, he is called the Lamb.

And Peter, the big fisherman, is charged (in the second part of today’s Gospel passage) to be a pastor, to feed the sheep.

Peter, like Paul (in today’s Scripture Reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles) is changed by Christ into a new man. Both are given a new task and a new opportunity.

This was only possible because of the Cross, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The fish may be a fascinating sign, but the Cross is a much more potent symbol.

It speaks to us of grace, of love, of sacrifice, of forgiveness.

It is not in the symbol of the fish we glory, but in the Cross of Christ – towering o’er the wrecks of time.

Do we believe enough to identify with Christ’s Cross – through what we believe and do and say?

So that those with whom we interact, will not need any secret sign or veiled clue as to whose we are and whom we serve and who we are ………

……. followers and disciples of the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lamb of God, and the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Strength

image

Leave a comment

April 4, 2016 · 20:34

Schrödinger

image.jpeg

Leave a comment

March 28, 2016 · 18:06

FRONT PAGE NEWS

CHRIST IS RISEN !!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!!.

 

go-ye-into-the-emmaus.jpg!Blog

 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – “Go ye into the Emmaus

Cleopas and his friend hadn’t read about it in that morning’s copy of the “Jerusalem Post”

 It hadn’t even made the “Evening Shalom” which had hit the streets mid-afternoon.

Oh, yes – there had been rumours – of course, there had been: weird bits of gossip floating about – stuff about empty tombs, wild talk about visions of angels… all very David Icke

 But the news hadn’t picked up on it.  Nothing in the papers.  Just more engravings of Herod and populist write-ups in the “Daily Star” and “the Daily Roman”

The resurrection never made the front pages, as it were. Had there been newspapers in Christ’s day, it would not have hit the headlines.

There wouldn’t even have been space for it tucked away amongst the small ads for donkeys, wine jars, and the like – somewhere near the end.

 It wasn’t in the news – not that it wasn’t news!  It was. and is, the greatest News of all, the Good News!

But It was so unexpected that these followers of Jesus were unprepared for it.

 The story was still of crucifixion and death and the events leading up to it from Palm Sunday to trial and arrest, then sentence followed by capital punishment – Roman style.

 So, here are Cleopas and his companion, who hadn’t read the news – it wasn’t in the news – wearily going home to their village.  For them, it was “Goodnight Vienna”

It was a bad news evening.

 The last full stop of the last sentence of the last chapter of the Jesus story had been written.

 The mark of a good journalist is to summarise or compress the whole point of a story into the first paragraph, even sometimes the first line.  The rest of the report may simply be filling.

 Sometimes, if it’s too long ,the editor will “cut it” – nowadays on a word processor by blocking off a section and pressing delete – in days of old, by literally using a pair of scissors to cut out the last couple of paragraphs.

 

 You can’t do this with novels, of course – you can’t excise the last page, especially of thrillers or whodunits.

I’m old enough to remember “Hancock’s Half Hour” first on the old steam radio and then on TV….. and I’m thinking just now about what happens when Tony Hancock (in his TV show) gets a murder mystery  (Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto)  from the library.

 

 

To his shock and horror he finds the last page torn out.  He and Sid James try to solve the whodunit, by tracking down people who had borrowed the book and even a visit to the author’s house with chaotic results.

 

But the Jesus story isn’t fiction.  If the gospel report had ended with Christ’s death and burial, the whole point is missed.

 

 Let me re-tell one of the best Easter stories I have ever come across:

The Franco-Prussian War  (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871), was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia

The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about six miles (10 km) west of Metz.

 

articulo52_clip_image012

 

On the eve of the battle, a group of French Infantrymen was sitting around a camp fire, smoking, drinking, anxious about the next day’s conflict.

Suddenly, out of the bushes came an old, stooped man carrying over his shoulder a bag.

 “Stop, who goes there?” one of the soldiers shouted, jumping to his feet

“Only a poor old bookseller”

“Books?  Pah! we’ve more on our mind than poxy books”

“No, sirs, these are good books – they will give you strength and courage as you face tomorrow”

One of the more “gallus” soldiers shouted over “Here, I’ll have one of your books”  and was handed a pamphlet form of one of the Gospels (probably Mark)

He took it, flicked through the pages and then, tearing out the last one, screwed it up, touched the flame from the campfire, and lit his pipe with it.  Much laughter all round …. apart from the old bookseller who retreated, sadly, whence he came.

The next day, the battle raged – with many casualties, including our “soldat” from the evening before.

Injured, he was carried off to a corner of the battle-field to await whatever medical help could be given.

Although, wounded, he wasn’t in too much pain and rummaging about in his kitbag for something to eat, he came across the little book which had been given to him the night before, and about which he’s completely forgotten.

With so much time to spare before help would arrive, he started to read it – reluctantly at first, but the with growing interest.  Here was this Jesus guy who obviously had great leadership skills – and he could relate to that.  And these disciples were like a sort of army – tough guys most of them.

Hey, and they’re challenging the powers-that-be.  This is good stuff. Marching now on Jerusalem for a showdown with these so and so’s in authority.  Come on, get them and sort them out!

But wait – it’s going wrong: arrested – no!  condemned to death – no way!  The disciples will come and rescue him, surely. 

The Cross – death ….. he turned the page (but, of course, there was no last page; he had torn it out the previous evening)

The End.

FINIS.

6a00d83452031069e20154360fbe25970c-450wi

 

He threw the little book away in disgust.

Now it happened that some while later, while in a field hospital, the same old bookseller came round the ward.

“Hey you!” shouted the soldier,” that was a terrible book you gave me – what drama, what enlightening stories, what a hero – and then… that’s it: anti-climax – he dies.”

And the old bookseller then explained what was written on that last missing wonderful and miraculous page.

Had the story ended with the death and burial, then it would have been a tragedy.

 

In his first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul theologises the situation for us:

“If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain”

 and, if that isn’t bad enough, he adds “You are still in your sins”

 and “All those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished”

 (1 Corinthians, 15 verse 17)

 

empty faith – faith  based on nothing

and no forgiveness

no promise of our living beyond the grave

 What a hopeless picture!

 

The kind of hopelessness experienced on that sluggish trudge to Emmaus.

 If the story had ended with Good Friday, then it’s inconceivable that the Church would ever have arisen on the back of a dead prophet or wise man or shaman

 And, if our imaginary newspaper editor had cut the story at death and burial, should there not have been an editorial somewhere denouncing this fraudulent and false teacher?

 An editorial denouncing a misguided fanatic?  And I can imagine the comments on the online edition of the newspaper:  “whew! what a weirdo!”  And from those in power: “WE won!”

And, you know – all the events which contributed to Christ’s death, all the events that enthral our pretend Jerusalem newspaper reader would always hit the headlines of life to the exclusion of any thing of value, beauty or truth.

 But, as we know, the story doesn’t end with the redacted last page:  “Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”

 the Good News of the Gospel, of  Easter, of all time is that He is alive.

THAT is the headline of all time!

And, you know, Cleopas didn’t have to read about it.  Nor did Mary Magdalene.  Nor Peter. Nor Thomas.   They didn’t have to.

They EXPERIENCED it for themselves.  They SAW their Risen Lord; they talked to him, walked with him, ate with him.

 He was real – not something dreamed up by some journo – REAL

 That’s the kind of news that they just couldn’t keep to themselves.

 Can we?

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

A Sermon for “Passion Sunday” (the old Lectionary)

Passion Sunday

A few years ago,the season of Lent had a slightly different structure than it does now.

Some of you will remember that this particular Sunday was known as “Passion Sunday” when we thought about and meditated upon the meaning and significance of Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

In the last few years, however, you will typically see that next Sunday – which was always known as “Palm Sunday” – is now labeled “Passion (Palm) Sunday, incorporating the Entry into Jerusalem and going beyond that triumphant day to consider the approach to Christ’s crucifixion.

Nevertheless, I’d like us today to take as our theme what would have been traditionally associated with the focus of the old “Passion Sunday” – the pain and suffering of Jesus.

But first let us pray:

Living God

As we approach the days leading up to your Son’s suffering and death, may our eyes today fix firmly upon his Cross and may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer

Amen
SERMON: “The laughter of Derision”

 

image

 

Mark’s Gospel records that the soldiers before his crucifixion mocked Jesus.

In the 17th and 18th verses of the 15th chapter: “They clothed him in purple”. (Purple being the colour associated with royalty, of course) “and made a crown of thorns” – a crown… but oh the irony – it would have certainly given them a “good laugh” – and this they “put on his head, and began to salute him: ‘Hail! The King of the Jews’”

What a jolly jape for them! What a laugh! This juvenile mickey-taking must have had them in stitches.

How cruel. How hurtful. Not clever; but condescendingly wicked.

I remember reading about a so-called tribute to that magnificently awful self-styled “poet and tragedian” the wonderfully bad bard of Dundee, William Topaz McGonagall. This particular accolade was written in 1891 by students from Glasgow University who talked of his splendid achievements, professing the hope that some of the inspiration of the great man would be passed on to them from afar.

It’s an acutely cruel piece of sarcasm.

 

image

As always when he was being made fun of, McGonagall missed the point entirely and was happy to accept apparent praise from such educated men.

So many others ridiculed this figure of fun, who really did think that he was making a serious contribution to literature.

But the last laugh is on him. He is still widely read and gives pleasure to thousands with his ill-constructed doggerel.

Others – not as naive as McGonagall – can be wounded and distressed by such verbal sneers and ridicule which can sting and maim and destroy.

Think of how children’s laughter can have its cruel elements. The strong pick on the weak – the poor laddie, the disabled girl, the slower pupil.

How children can gloat when they triumph over another child. How they laugh when they see something demolished or kicked out of shape.

Sadly, many adults haven’t outgrown this sadistic childish trait.

I guess all of you will know the story of “The Elephant Man” who lived at the end of the 19th century.

John Merrick was grotesquely deformed, his body and face distorted, his skin thick and pendulous, hanging in folds – resembling the hide of an elephant.

People flocked to see him at carnivals and sideshows, where he was billed as “Half a man; half an elephant”

Exhibited as a freak, an object of mocking disgust, Merrick was eventually freed from those wanting a cheap laugh.

He was, it was discovered, a gentle, highly intelligent, sensitive man with a romantic imagination. This makes his degradation at the hands of others all the worse.

An eminent surgeon of the day, Sir Frederick Treves, helped to rehabilitate him – even introducing him into high society…. he became a favourite of the then Princess of Wales (later to become Queen Alexandra).

 

image

 

How often the objects of our humiliation are, in reality, not weaker than us – but rise above our puerile insults and jibes, appearing stronger, more noble, better than us.

Supremely – how true of Jesus in the scenario we remember today.

The soldiers dressed him up with the Imperial purple, the Royal cloak, and on his head placed that other symbol of majesty, the crown….. though this crown was fashioned from twisted thorn leaves.

And they made a show of homage and obeisance as they pretended to worship him.

In reality, they were mocking the freak, taunting the weakened fool, humiliating the deluded weakling who misguidedly talked about the Kingdom.

Oh, the irony! They may have tried to make a caricature of Jesus as King, while the truth is that he is the King of Kings!

Beneath the jest, there was an eternal truth.

And Christ rose above it all. He may have been treated as a ribald crowd would a figure of fun, but he suffered them – and would suffer FOR them – and rode out his humiliation with dignity.

Through the centuries and continuing to this very day and this very hour, there has been many a burlesque of allegiance to Christ, near matching the mockery of the soldiers.

A crown has been put on his head, a crown of formal declaration, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

People have stood in reverence as those words have sounded out to the stirring words of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

But how many really mean it? How many are taking it lightly, half-heartedly, perhaps even with a tinge of mockery underpinning it?

On the spot where this mockery of Christ was supposed to have taken place, a church has been built. It’s name? “The Chapel of the Derision”

 

 

It’s a strange combination of words, isn’t it? Chapel; derision

But is it really so paradoxical? If there should be a church of Christ in which class and race lines are drawn, a church in which Christ’s teaching of self-sacrifice and humility and compassion is disregarded, would it not, in truth, be a chapel of derision?

There’s an old internet story – an urban legend – of an American pastor who transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service….only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food….NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation……..”We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek”….The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation…..The homeless man sitting in the back stood up…..and started walking down the aisle…..the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him….he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment….then he recited:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning…many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame…. he then said….Today I see a gathering of people……not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples…when will YOU decide to become disciples?

 

image

It’s not necessarily a factually true story, but isn’t it true of how many so-called Christians make a mockery of what we are called to do?

Today, on this Passion Sunday – or call it what you will – let us be glad (yes, “glad”)… even joyful and happy… a happiness shot through with love, adoration and praise, giving true homage to the one who could never be hurt by mockery, never wounded by cruel laughter, but who rose above it all.

We commemorate not a time of humiliation, but celebrate a time of victory.

So let us “bring forth the Royal diadem and crown him Lord of all”!

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Coming back….but not yet

image

Leave a comment

February 23, 2016 · 03:38

A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:1-13

 

 
duccio_di_buoninsegna_040

  Jesus Temptation on the Mount by Satan Duccio di Buoninsegna

 

 Tomorrow, I’m off to Glasgow.

 Now, that’s exciting…. sort of!

 But, more exciting, is where I’m going to at 7.00 the next morning, leaving from the airport.

 I’m travelling to Trinidad where I used to work, way back in the late 70s/early 80s.  I haven’t been back since August 1983.

 This time, I return as a tourist… or do I?  I think that it’s more as a pilgrim. Seeing sights and places that had a profound affect on me as a young Minister in my early 30s.

A pilgrim.

 I know that probably makes more sense when one thinks of a visit to the Holy Land, and the experience of visiting, for example, Bethlehem… the birthplace of Jesus.

Or it could be a journey to the Spanish city and shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

The “Way of Saint James” has been a leading Catholic pilgrimage route from the 9th century, and a particular friend went there just last year, saying what a spiritually moving experience it was.

Some people whom I know, have travelled to Graceland, the home of Elvis, not so much as tourists, but as pilgrims to a musical legend’s “shrine”.

My late wife, Helen, visited Pella in Greece, effectively to pay homage at the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

 

I think that there’s a subtle difference between being a holiday-maker, and someone who is a pilgrim.

A pilgrim is someone who travels to a place of great personal importance; a tourist is someone who travels for pleasure, typically just sightseeing.

Usually, the pilgrim experiences something deeper, more profound, enlightening, life-enhancing on his or her journey.

I think the key word is “experience” – personal experience.

I travel a lot, and have been lucky enough to visit Buddhist Temples in Shanghai and in Kandy in Sri Lanka.  I’ve been sprayed by the waters of Niagara Falls, and have enjoyed seeing the glories of historic Istanbul …. and so on.

I enjoyed these trips… but that’s what they were: trips, holidays, excursions, tours.  I’ve got the memories, and the photos, but, they didn’t change my life for good or ill.

 

But…..

…. as the great 20th century theologian put it:

“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.”  (Richard Niebuhr)

 


quote-pilgrims-are-persons-in-motion-passing-through-territories-not-their-own-seeking-something-h-richard-niebuhr-76-99-65

 

The tourist travels wanting the journey to be comfortable, safe, and, to a degree, familiar.

The pilgrim also sets out on a journey, but travels in search of something outside the cosy. At its core, pilgrimage is a journey into the unknown undertaken so that something new can happen.

 

Some years ago, I spent a wonderful time touring the amazing site of excavated Ephesus.

 

The tour-guide was excellent, but his pitch was aimed at the lowest common denominator

For example, at the entrance to the site are three pillars… “can anyone tell me what these are?”

Silence.

Me: “Corinthian, Doric and Ionic”

Later, a sign or symbol to Nike – “anyone know who Nike was?”

“God  of sneakers?”  (?????!!!!)

Me: “Goddess of Speed”

The sign of the fish – “Anyone?” 

Me: “ICHTHUS    etc”

By this time my better half was prodding me in the ribs and telling me to stop being such a show-off.

The Guide, now curious, asked if I’d been on this tour before – which I hadn’t

“So what do you do work at?”

“Clergyman”

“OK – we’re just about to reach the Amphitheatre where St. Paul preached – would you like to talk to the group about it?”

And I did – and it was one of the most moving experiences ever: to sit where the Apostle sat and to relate his story.  It was wonderful!

Ephesus 

That’s what I think I’m trying to get at…. the personal, intimate, enhancing experience.

 

I’m reading just now the autobiography of Richard Coles.

Now, I guess, that most of you won’t know who he is.  OK, he’s a broadcaster and writer, and a Church of England vicar.

But, in the 1980s, he was in a band – a very successful band with many hit records – named the Communards.

What a dissolute life he and Jimmy Somerville, the singer, lived: casual gay sex, drugs a plenty, and the louche rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the time.

 

 Coles

 

Then something happened. A life-changing and personally enriching experience.  This wanderer through life, began a pilgrimage that was to have a profound influence on his life – in a church. ……

It was in 1990 at St Alban’s Church of England Church in Holburn, London.  At a Communion Service.

He writes of the profound experience he went through, “It was if iron bands, constricting my chest, broke and fell away and I could breathe; and a shutter was flung open, and light flooded in and I could see.  And i wept and wept…..

……in the first rush of conversion it was all about feeling, feeling with an intensity that took me by surprise……

……I prayed so intensely that I had a sensation of colour and movement rather than words or pictures……

…..Back then my experience of the mystery of God was as vivid as anything I have ever experienced.”

 

In the Old Testament, Moses, led a dispirited group of Hebrew slaves from slavery to freedom.

In following God into the wilderness, they were changed – they were now sanctified by the Lord.  They were pilgrims who were heading to a Promised Land.

 Today’s reading from Deuteronomy recounts this story, and says that the descendents of those who were part of the great Exodus were also  to live their lives as pilgrims, never satisfied with what is familiar, but moving out into the unknown where God waits to meet them.

 

Someone has said that the central event of the New Testament is also a pilgrimage, and Jesus is the pilgrim.

“He journeys through life, through suffering and death, and returns home to God with Good Friday scars and Easter glory. He travels not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. Jesus returns home a changed person, because all of us return home with him.”

The story of his temptation emphasises that he’s a pilgrim.

A tourist doesn’t go into a desert for forty days to fast!. He trusts God enough to remain in a strange place, in strange circumstances, for a long time. He trusts God enough that the tempter’s seductive offers don’t interest him.

He leaves the wilderness a different person: he has been tested and found to be true.

Now he is strong enough and resolute enough to continue his pilgrimage into the unknown, even though suffering and death lie ahead.

He is ready to lead his people on their new and final Exodus

 

This season of Lent offers opportunities to follow Jesus on his journey. To follow the Saviour who was not afraid to live and die for us. He was not afraid to pass through strange places: his abandonment, crucifixion, death, and frightening his friends when he left the tomb.

Jesus did not try to evade transformation at the hands of God, and we are the heirs of his transformation.

Once the lone pilgrim, now Jesus is the pilgrimage path, the road we are asked to take–through Lent and through life.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

image

Leave a comment

November 11, 2015 · 02:22

Keep him out!

image

Leave a comment

November 3, 2015 · 19:35