Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sermon, Sun 13 August: 'Spirit of holiness'...wk49 WMRBW

Psalm 98;  John 14:15-29;  1 Cor. 15:20-28

Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, Amen.

The scene:
a wet and muddy field;
I’m very aware of the hole in my right shoe
and the increasingly damp sock that I’m wearing.
The midges are making me wonder
why they really needed to be included in God’s good creation.
And, I’m not alone in that thought –
some good Samaritan is sharing around their Avon ‘Skin so soft’…
Dotted about me are a cast of characters:
Luke Skywalker, an Obi-Wan Kenobi – or two,
a couple of Princess Leias,
several Chewbaccas, a Yoda,
and not forgetting R2D2 and C3PO.
There’s also a posse of Elvis’s,
some punk rockers,
and Batman’s Boy Wonder – Robin.
A whole assortment of heroes or such-like based on a sort of 70’s theme,
with a random Charlie Chaplin thrown in for good measure.

I have the horrible, agonizing job of having to judge the best costume:
a job guaranteed to make you popular with a teeny number of people,
while making you decidedly unpopular with the wider majority.
In discussion with my fellow judge, we make our decisions knowing that,
while some will be delighted, others will be disappointed.
It’s the fancy dress competition at Leadhills Gala Day – held yesterday.
And I’m always amused, and occasionally awestruck,
by the work that goes in to making the costumes for these kinds of events –
the sweat of brow, and creativity given to
how best to look like,
how to best be like
the particular character you’re trying to show to the world –
how to be your hero?
In this case, some of the props include light sabres, assorted wigs, masks,
and, for some, a lot of… fur.

But… how best, to be like Jesus?
The scene:
an upper room.
In the room, a table.
A meal has been eaten –
breadcrumbs are scattered among discarded dishes
and half-empty cups of wine.
A bucket of now-dirty water and damp towel
sit by a table-leg,
a sign of service given...
of humility shown.
Seated around the table are his friends –
and he is there, in the midst of them,
telling them that change is coming,
that things will be different,
that he … will be different…
that he will be going…
but that, even so,
they will not be left to fend for themselves;
they will not be abandoned,
not be orphans:
he is going in order that
he may live in them still,
live with them forever,
through the power of the Spirit –
the One he calls ‘Counsellor’,
the Spirit of truth,
the Holy Spirit.
He urges them, for love’s sake, to obey what he commands…
As the Father lives in Jesus,
so Jesus will live in them through the Spirit.
God will be all.
God will be all, in all.
Essentially: everything’s going to be alright.
In the words of the medieval mystic,
Julian of Norwich,
‘all shall be well, 
all shall be well,
and all manner of things…shall be well.’

But, not long after this point in that upper room,
things are going to look pretty bleak and hopeless indeed;
not well at all.
Their friend is arrested, crucified, and dies.
It probably feels to them that things are about as ‘not well’ as it gets, really.
They experience an agonising separation –
guilt and grief and desolation,
mingled with so many other emotions.
The dream is over, and death is the harsh reality.
They are stunned.
And then, everything changes.

Initially, there’s confusion.
Then the stirrings of hope.
Later, hope turns to joy.
could it be?
Yes, it could.
And then, …
they wait for the Spirit to come, just as he promised…
and when it does,
it’s as if they suddenly find their eyes
opening wide, and seeing things anew.
Their minds are also open:
to new ways of understanding
his words,
his actions,
his life…
the time he spent with them showing what God is like,
and, how to live in such a way as to best be like God.
But this is no fancy dress –
this is the real deal,
of what a life lived authentically as one of God’s people actually is.

‘Obey what I command,’ says Jesus:
it’s a command to love –
so simple.
So hard.
And yet, in loving, there comes both
and holiness…
Seeing God – the holiness – in all
brings about wholeness;
it’s about restoration:
nothing less than the restoration
of all creation,
of all created things.
It’s where balance and harmony and well-being
are the order of the day, rather than disorder.
It's where everyone, everything
is reconciled to their rightful and true purpose…
and I’m minded of our rightful and true purpose according the good old
Westminster Shorter Catechism:
What is the chief end of man?
Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. 
To shout with the joy of the psalmist;
to live into the peace given by God…

The Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit living within us –
helps to restore us, to put things right:
to reorient us to God,
reorient us to our true purpose:
to be reconciled and whole people of God,
and, as God’s holy people,
to live in our communities,
in our world,
as those who work, who strive,
to see restoration –
of people put right,
of reconciliation of neighbour to neighbour;
of reconciling people with planet –
the whole of creation.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world:
crumbs, the news this week confirms that -
we’ve got the leaders of two nations throwing threats at each other,
who potentially have an arsenal of nuclear weapons to throw as well…
elsewhere, the Ku Klux Klan have been openly marching in Virginia with lit torches,
spewing racism under the guise of patriotism:
I’m not sure about you, but I feel a weird deja-vu…
and find myself wondering how we’ve managed to go back to some
kind of nightmarish re-run of the Cold War and pre-Civil Rights.
We’ve troubles closer to home with the fall-out over what may, or may not, be
with Britain post-Brexit…
and there’s not much point rehearsing some of those arguments either side of the fence,
but merely to say how splintered we’ve become,
not how united.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world:
we are bombarded 24/7 with the news…
we are the people who know the good news –
if we really do believe that there’s more to Jesus
than just being a decent guy who had some nice, moral lessons to tell…
if we really do believe that there was more to Jesus than met the eye…
that, the words he spoke belonged to the Father who sent him…
sent him to show us how to live,
to show us of the restoring, reconciling  power of holiness,
to teach us what God looks like –
what the love of God looks like…
then, we have a job to do:
we need to share that good news –
to live it,
to love,
to be people about the work
of restoration,
of reconciliation,
of demonstrating that all shall indeed be well.
We are the good news people:
though there are fearful things afoot in the world,
we    need   not   fear –
we are not abandoned,
we are not orphaned;
for God has given us the Holy Spirit,
and bit by bit there will be restoration.

‘All shall be well’…
We know things aren’t well in the world,
but we dare to dream:
that in Jesus, God spoke;
we dare to dream:
that goodness is stronger than evil,
that love is stronger than hate;
we dare to dream:
that holiness, wholeness, will triumph
and that reconciliation and restoration
will be the order of the day;
we dare to dream:
that our songs of praise to God
will be revolutionary actions of change,
will be tools of liberation that will help throw off fear
and bring about healing and joy and freedom.
We dare to dream,
because Jesus showed us what that dream was,
and that, through the Holy Spirit,
we have the strength within us
to do the great work of restoration in partnership with God.
We dare to dream:
for we know, that in the end,
all shall be well,
for God will be all in all
and that we need not fear.

I love Bryan McClaren’s take on not living in fear. He says:
‘we won’t live in fear. 
We’ll keep standing strong with a steadfast immoveable determination, 
and we’ll keep excelling in God’s good work in our world. 
If we believe the universe moves towards purification, justice and peace, 
we’ll keep seeking to be pure, just and peaceable now. 
If we believe God is pure light and goodness, 
we’ll keep moving towards the light each day in this life.
Then, one day, when our time comes to close our eyes in death, 
we will trust ourselves to the loving Light in which we will awaken, purified, beloved, for ever. 
Until then, the Spirit leads us along in that arc towards restoration and healing. 
Like a mother in childbirth, groaning with pain and anticipation, the Spirit groans within us. 
She will not rest until 
all is made whole 
and all is made holy, 
and all is made well. 
Life will not be easy. …
(but) We will never be alone. 
…In the end 
all will be well.
That is all we know, and all we need to know.’

Let’s pray:
Holy God,
the psalmist calls us to sing your praises...
Lord, take our songs
and fill them with Your presence.
Let them bring a word of hope
to weary care-full hearts.
Take our songs
and fill them, Lord.
Fill them with Yourself.

Lord, take this place
and fill it with Your blessing.
Let it be a haven
where the poor in spirit sing.
Take this place
and fill it, Lord.
Fill it with Your praise.

Lord, take our lives
and fill them with Your praises.
Let us speak a word of peace -
the peace that Jesus gives to us.
Take our lives
and fill us Lord.
Fill us with your Spirit
this day, and every day,
we pray...amen.

Hymn 710 'I have a dream,' a man once said

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