Sunday 15th May 2022

Reading: 1John 2:1-14

Reflection

‘Getting to know you, getting to know all about you’, words from the song in the musical ‘The King and I’. The story of how the governess and the King of Siam get to know one another. John’s writings, be it the gospel or his letters, is centred exactly around that subject matter of how we get to know the Servant King who is Christ Jesus. As once again this morning John is speaking or writing in a fashion that would be readily understandable by those who were following this gnostic way of living. In a world where much thinking and talking centred around knowing things. They spoke a lot about knowing God, about being in God. This knowing God or abiding in God was rich in the importance of the ancient world’s understating of things that go beyond this material world. There is however a marked difference in the way the intellectual Greek world undertook this task and the ways in which people within this still fairly new Christian faith did. We spoke last week about how John used his senses of sight, touch and hearing to underscore his message that Jesus was fully human and divine. How the knowledge of those disciples and early church followers got to know Jesus and therefor know God through their very personal encounters with Jesus. Those to whom John is writing have different criteria for reaching their knowledge. I read the other day of a recorded account of a conversation the great Greek intellectual Socrates had with a young man. ‘How do you know that?’ he asked. ‘Do you know it, or are you guessing?’ added Socrates to which the young man replied, ‘I am guessing.’ ‘Very well, when we are done with guessing, and when we know, shall we talk about it then.’

There was no room in that ancient Greek world for guesswork. The Friday afternoon attitude of ‘if its near enough its good enough, that’ll do’ would simply never be acceptable to them. This ancient world thinking believed that knowledge could lead to God but it did nothing for the moral compass of the soul as it became no more than solution finding to a problem like any other academic subject. It led people nowhere in their understanding God. As time moved on so did some of this thinking and it led to the time prior to our New testament. Finding God had now moved to the emotional experience and the growth of mystery religions and the mystic megs of their day could be found all over the place. This movement would perform passion dramas that were designed to lead the spectator into some form of unity with the divine. They didn’t really alter the story line very often; Some god or other would suffer and die and rise again. There would be great instruction on how to experience this drama before being allowed to attend one of them. All manner of allusion and temptation, underhanded trickery to lure the person into an almost drug induced religious high as it attempted to lead people on an escape away from ordinary life. Living alongside all of this thinking was the Jewish way of knowing God through his revelation, through the created world of nature and his commandments, not too far removed from Christian ways. It was not human intellect that led them to know God but it came from God to his people to know him. Learning from human knowledge or exotic emotional experience was not the way for them. This was the world that John was addressing. His writing is to the young church. To know God, to experience God, is to know Christ and his love. No intellectual, academic train of thought can lead you there, it will not lead you to be able to say, ‘I know God’.

There are ethical and moral decisions that need to go with this understanding. No induced emotional façade can lead you there, it will not lead you to be able to say, ‘I am in God and God is in me.’ There are commandments and integrity that need to go with this understanding. John is uncompromising in his approach. It is not about getting to know about God it is about getting to know God and there is a very marked difference between these two things. Obedience to God is the way of knowing him. A relationship with Christ is the way of experiencing God fully. None of this rules out the need for intellectual effort and understanding, none of this means we ought not to become emotional in our service of Christ, our experience of God is indeed a highly charged, highly emotional part of our journey with him through this life. In verses five and six where John writes, ‘But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.’ There is a moral compass that needs to be set on a proper course.

Sunday 8th May 2022

Introduction to John’s letters

We spent a few months journeying through the Gospel of John so I thought it might be good for us to continue on by reading the three letters that he wrote and are contained within our scriptures. In his gospel John was dealing with the intellectual, non-believing, Greek world of his day as he wrote the purpose of his writing was this; ‘these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ Here in the letters he is addressing those who have come to faith. This new faith was about fifty or sixty years old and moving into second and third generation families of believers. There was this distortion of truths as John seen them growing, people were beginning to twist and distort the Apostles teaching to the first generation church. People have used words set to different meanings for a long time. Here in the letters of John we discover it has actually been happening since the close of the first century. Christianity was spreading across the known world of the first century. Naturally it came into contact with other religions, other philosophies and different cultural backgrounds were trying to absorb this new religion into their own faith systems. It should come as no surprise therefore that people were adapting and tweaking some of the gospel truths to suite their own agendas instead of changing their ways they began to set about trying to change the gospel message.

Questions about Jesus were being asked. Who he really was. How could he be God and die? From the Greek word Gnosis, a new cult arose called Gnosticism. This cult had to find explanations for all things. They were popular among those who counted themselves as the intellectual elite. As we journey through the letters we will revisit some of their thinking as John challenges them head on.

Fast forward to modern day: Tablet: a pill given by the doctor when you were ill – now an electronic machine for playing games and reading books. Sick: when somebody said that to you, you were unwell, or something was depraved – now it means something is totally brilliant. Born again: reference made by Jesus to being born of the Spirit – now a comeback of any kind of career. Possibly the most distorted one taken from the Bible would be: Christ: a title for Jesus the Messiah – now a common everyday word used as a curse. There is a pattern to his writing that flows through the letters. In our reading this morning we will see this with John using the word light. He will tell us the opposite of light being darkness and how we ought to walk in the light once we know what it means to do so. God will be the centre of all Christian life.

Reading: 1John 1:1-10

Reflection

John opens his first letter very much in the way he opens his gospel. Jesus was with God from the very beginning. To go further, Jesus was with God before the beginning as he was not created. God the Father has no beginning therefor the same is true of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in the gospel, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ Here in the letter John speaks of the life eternal being in Jesus. He challenges one of the first issues with Gnosticism which claimed as all material things were inherently evil then Jesus could not be human and divine as this makes God evil. Their thinking took them down some, let’s just call them, strange lines of enquiry. Jesus could not possibly be truly a human being and this makes him some sort of phantom. The appearance of God, they may agree, but he only looked human.

Others claimed God set himself upon Jesus at his baptism, journeyed in and through him for those three years but departed him before the crucifixion and death. John wastes no time at all as he says very clearly in the opening verses. ‘we have heard, we have seen, we have touched.’ Those witnesses have used their own senses to engage with Jesus and now he testifies that his own ears, eyes and hands have experienced Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. John uses the word fellowship to bring them together. He uses that pattern I spoke of earlier, defining light as God’s holiness, darkness is evil and sinfulness. If we are to be in this fellowship, we need to walk within the light.

The truth of what we say can be evidenced in the way our lives are lived out. To say I walk in the light is a folly if our actions deny this. Walking in the light brings us into fellowship with each other and with God it also sees the blood of Christ purifying us from sin. However hard we try we will never be completely free from sin and that is the point John is making. We may stumble and fall along the way but in the light of Christ and in his cleansing blood we do not remain fallen. We are not slaves to sin. Christ, not Satan is our master. As temptations come and go, as we yield or not, we seek the forgiveness of God through our repentance and in his mercy and grace we are continually cleansed and healed and set upright once more. God speaks to us about our sins, we should not close our ears to this. If we close God from our hearts, then we close him from our lives. If we close God from our lives, then we walk in the darkness of this world, continually stumbling and falling further away from Jesus and his ways.

Sunday 24th April 2022

Reading: John 21:15-23

A short reflection 3+3=FREE

The disciple John has shared so many moving moments with Jesus. Some of the most private thinking and emotion has been shared in the gospel narrative. He was blessed to be with the others on the mountain of transfiguration in that moment the revelation of the Messianic Jesus was revealed alongside the laws and the prophets, thus completing their own scriptures. He witnessed the raising power of Jesus as he brought the daughter of Jairus back to life. And then as the end drew ever closer he was there on that fateful night in the garden of Gethsemane. John witnessed the arrest, the trials and the execution and was among the first to learn of the resurrection. Throughout the gospel we witness the journey of John and his deepening faith. And here toward the end he writes of another disciple, Peter. It truly is amongst the most beautiful conversations you will read anywhere in any form of literature. The same question is asked three times. Painful for Peter as they recall his three times denial of Jesus. But by the end of this conversation Peter will come to be restored and empowered. 3+3=FREE.

Denial number one. ‘You are not one of his disciples, are you?’ ‘I am not.’ The first reinstatement. ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’ ‘Yes Lord’ then ‘Feed my lambs’ Denial number two. ‘You are not one of his disciples, are you?’ ‘I am not.’ The second reinstatement. ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’ ‘Yes Lord’ then ‘Take care of my sheep.’ Denial number three. ‘Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?’ Again Peter denied it and at that moment a cock began to crow. The third reinstatement. ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my sheep’ The reference to ‘these’ in that first reinstatement is Jesus asking Peter do you love me more than these other disciples. His actions had not attested to this in the denials. Peter knew he had failed his Lord. He had experienced that moment of weakness. From here we are taken on a short journey through this conversation as each reinstatement moves Peter and the people one stage further along life’s path. ‘Feed my lambs’; ‘Take care of my sheep.’; ‘Feed my sheep’ Peter had been forgiven and reinstated by Jesus. Those three instructions Peter received are meant for our ears too. Those who are new to the faith need to be fed by the truth of the gospel story which is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Treated as lambs until they grow and mature in faith and then it is the job of disciples to take care of these sheep. But there is still a need for the sheep to be fed. Not all disciples will be called to be leaders but all are called to care for and feed the sheep. The way the questions are asked of Peter highlights the most basic principle throughout all of this Gospel. From the coming of the word made flesh in chapter one to the rising on Easter Sunday and this reinstating of Peter in this final chapter. The question Jesus asks three times is, ‘do you love me?’ There we have it brothers and sisters in Christ. The gospel message is the message of love. ‘do you love me?’ ‘Follow me.’ The call was, is not, ‘receive me, or believe in me’ The call was and is, ‘do you love me?’ ‘Follow me.’

The Gospel of John – the journey

I am going to close this morning focusing on the journey we have been through in John’s gospel since January and like the gospel itself our end point is that we should know more about Jesus, his disciples, his enemies, his sayings than when we set out. Just as John writes about those who shared in the earthly ministry of Jesus having highs and lows, moments of great deep faith and times when faith waivered these are all things that communities of faith everywhere will experience on their journey. Let’s look at some of the things we have focused on during our journey.

The journey begins as Jesus calls the first of his disciples.

The first miracle or as John calls them signs of the Messiah.

The one who came that many may be saved.

Some of the most meaningful teaching ever heard.

Even at what feels like the end the journey will go on.

The man of prayer in constant touch with the Father.

The cheering crowds gathered, the other crowd waited their chance.

The bowl, the wine, the arrest, the betrayal by his own.

The death of innocence at the hands of evil.

The raising of innocence over the work of evil.

The final word John21:24&25.

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written

Sunday 17th April 2022

Reading: John 20:1-18

Reflection This is our first in person Easter Sunday Service since 2019. I would like us to simply enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company on this most beautiful day of our faith. My reflection is going to be a bit shorter than it normally is as we enjoy and celebrate Easter in the music and words of well-known hymns and the solo from Richard. I would like us to become absorbed in the moment of Easter day. To that end why don’t we take a moment, a moment to still ourselves, put our minds and thoughts and our busyness to one side, as we sit quietly before reflecting on Easter Sunday morning for those who were there. (Silence) Last week we looked at some of the disciples as the crowd entered the city. This morning we take that as our focus again, the ones who witnessed, first hand, the Risen Christ. When trauma enters our lives it can often result in emotion taking over logic, the heart begins to rule the head, if you like. John tells us there were some standing at the foot of the cross. There are those who would call them crazy, risking association with this enemy of the state. John tells us of others who claimed Jesus body for burial. There are those who would call them crazy, risking the wrath of those Jewish leaders who handed Jesus over. Then John tells us of those who approach the tomb. There are those who would call them crazy, crazy for getting up and coming to the tomb. Whatever craziness they may have been accused of, however much their hearts were ruling their heads, trauma had caused emotion to overtake logic and who could really blame them because their love for Jesus went beyond logic, it went beyond the head, he was their Lord. Then John tells us the tomb is empty. Peter had wept with bitter regret at denying his Lord. Imagine the emotions that were pumping through his body his heartbeat must have been pounding almost beyond limit. Imagine the craziness of his thoughts, with hope, regret, grief and fear as he ran to the tomb. Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple see it but they can’t fully understand it. Is it any wonder? They are crazy with emotion. Who among us would be able to witness such a thing and instantly recognise that everything had fallen into place just as we had been told. No body to grieve over, to be near, to help with the reality of the last week, allowing those events to sink in. Without the body to grieve over, there are tears of grief and loss. Let’s pause again before we hear those words. (pause) ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus also once stood by a tomb and wept, greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved when he saw the tears of Mary and Martha by the tomb of their brother Lazarus. Let’s pause again before we hear what is said next. (pause) ‘Mary’, and we pause again for Mary’s response. (pause) ‘I have seen the Lord!’ As she told the disciples all that Jesus had said to her. In our journey through life there are many times for weeping, today is a day to be filled with tears of joy. Today is a day of great emotion for all who believe. Today we revisit those ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus as we hear his words echoing throughout this Easter morning: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. I ended last week by asking if Palm Sunday was, ‘the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?’ The beginning of something new that only Easter can deliver. Easter Sunday is the beginning of the never ending, we can release the past into the past as we embrace the present moment we simply enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company on this most beautiful day of our faith. From that tomb with the stone rolled away, with strips of linen left lying, to those words, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Suddenly everything has changed forever. Hope has been reborn, the joy of life has returned. The risen Christ has delivered a new beginning, a new chapter that would never come to an end. New life for all who believe, life that is for all eternity. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Hallelujah!

Sunday 10th April 2022

Reading: John 12:12-19

Reflection

We have journeyed through the Gospel of John and as we approach this Holy Week so too, in a couple of weeks’ time, we approach the ending of the Gospel. I would like to do something different this Palm Sunday. Instead of concentrating fully on the entering of the great city of Jerusalem I want us to use some of the knowledge we have learned about those disciples of Jesus who journeyed with him and are there during this week. Of course we cannot ignore the procession and the crowds but in many ways the crowds are the easy ones to see in the story. The other three gospels give more detail about the crowds who gather. Both Matthew and Mark write eleven verses to cover the event. Luke writes half that again as he pens sixteen verses. John on the other hand writes seven verses. The details of the crowd’s chants are consistent as each gospel writer has included details important to them and their gospel narrative. We all know of situations in life when it is the crowd, whether it’s a cheering, happy one, or an angry baying for blood one, who are visible and nobody is left in any doubt about their feelings. But I want to look at those who have been following Jesus closely over his three-year ministry.

When others have come and gone.

When others have despised and rejected him.

When others have come to him to get want they want from him and then standoff at a distance not wishing to become associated with him in public. I want to look behind the clamouring crowds. I want to look and see if we can sense the emotion away from the limelight. As Jesus moves into the city his closest friends are there too. These disciples have spent time with Jesus, getting to know him just as we spoke about last week, this has grown into friendship. More than the twelve named disciples called by Jesus have joined in following him as we read in John’s Gospel of others such as his good friends Mary and Martha, our reading mentions Lazarus. All in all, a very mixed grouping of people. As we look around ourselves today we may count ourselves as today’s disciples of Jesus, we too are a very mixed grouping of people. Jesus did not set out on his ministry as some sort of would be celebrity looking for some roadies to tag along and keep control of the on looking fans, or enemies for that matter. As he enters the city he is no politician on the great vote winning campaign trail. Jesus was a teacher looking for students, his invitation to ‘follow me’ was to make disciples of those who said yes. As we know, they were not always grade A material but they faithfully followed and listened even when their understanding was not as clear as it could have been they were teachable. Let’s look at what we know of his closest allies that day. Peter, had his moments didn’t always understand and sometimes acted rashly but he was rock-solid in his own way, later Jesus would name him as the rock upon which the church would be built.

Jesus recognised in him the kind of leader that others could lean on. Especially his brother Andrew of whom we don’t know much about. Sometimes in life we overcomplicate things, maybe he just wanted to go with his brother. John was more of a thinker than a man of action. He would be reminding the others of their message and mission to share the good news and the love of Jesus. Remember James and John asking questions about who would be the greatest and who would sit on the right and left hand sides. Poor Thomas is often cast as the one who is on the fringes of the group, slightly different from the others, he seems to question everything they tell him. We have spoken about him before and how his doubting image may turn into a positive attitude. He may be seen as someone who is asking the questions that others want to ask but do not wish to stand out in the face of the others. We all know somebody like Thomas who will ask a question or make a statement that everyone in the room wants to ask but shies away from and only later admits they wanted to say the very same thing. Judas Iscariot, a treasurer, someone you would like to think understood the value of things, especially money. Who would have believed that any of the group could sell a friend for a paltry 30 pieces of silver. Obviously such a mixed group, just as we are today, will have a plethora of ideas, emotions and thoughts, about the things of life which are valuable to us and the things in life which challenge us. We will agree and disagree as our understanding leads us. I wonder if Judas never fully considered that they would kill his friend. However long we spend considering things. However long we debate within our own minds about the consequences of what we are about to do. We never fully know how our actions will take on a life of their own and impact on the lives of others. Before we know where we are control of the situation has overtaken us and we are lead to place we had not planned to go.

Yet Jesus knew this entry into the city was the beginning of the end. Or did he know it was the end of the beginning? He knew that as the week drew to a close one of his own would betray him and hand him over to the authorities. In this day of celebration with the crowds, his nearest and dearest friends are in there, as we read in verse sixteen, ‘At first his disciples did not understand all this’. during this last week with Jesus, they may still be playing catch up with his teaching. This group who had accepted, ‘follow me’. His friends who stuck with him. The ones who shared as witnesses to his ministry and who would continue with their work when the Holy Spirit continues guiding them in that work. Palm Sunday, beginning of the end? Or the end of the beginning? The beginning of something new that only Easter can deliver.

Sunday 27th March 2022

Reading: John 16:5-16

Reflection

Goodbye, a sad word or a happy one? What are the occasions when we say goodbye? When we look at the news bulletins on our TV screens coming to us from Ukraine there can be no doubt goodbye is a sad word as mothers and sons, husbands and wives, fathers and children say good bye, and who knows if they will ever say hello again. The other side of goodbye could be when waving a loved one off at the airport. They may be going off on some great adventure or returning home after a family get together. This can be a mixed emotion goodbye as we are happy for them and the adventure that lies ahead but also sad for ourselves as the visit has come to an end. Of course we have all experienced that ultimate sad time with the final goodbye as a loved one dies and we are left in grief, but even there for those who live and die if faith this is not a final goodbye. We have experienced the ultimate happy goodbye when the grandchildren go home after a sleepover and you cry out, cheerio now, and breath. Jesus opens up our reading with a goodbye speech that is a sad one for the disciples to hear. Or does he? ‘Because I have said these things you are filled with grief’. Yes, it would definitely appear to be sad, but wait. ‘It is for your own good I am going away’. Well, maybe it’s not sad after all. Everything they had placed their future hope on was surrounded in Jesus. Now he is to go they see no future. As we discover in the Book of Acts. It was only after Jesus had gone and the Spirit had come that they fully understood all those messages of Jesus. It was then they became full of joy and proclaimed the good news from nation to nation, from people to people, in the strength and power of this Counsellor that Jesus speaks of here in verse seven. He tells them as much toward the end of the reading in verse thirteen, ‘he will guide you into all truth.’ It will be the work of the Spirit to complete the teaching of the truth, the truth which Jesus had introduced them to. It will be the work of the Spirit to lead them forward into new things. The same Spirit that is at work in our lives leading us forward into the new things of our generation and the life of the church as it reshapes itself to face the changes and challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead. Then that assurance once more is given of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being one with each other. The sadness of the goodbye to Jesus for his disciples is to be matched by the happiness of greeting the Spirit as another gift from God, a new gift that can only be theirs as Jesus says goodbye. Goodbye, a sad word or a happy one? It can really all depend on you and what type of character you are. If you are one of life’s negative people who has a glass that is half empty then it will probably be a sad word because you are being taken out of your comfort zone as you lament over the things you leave behind things you know and feel safe with. If on the other hand you are one of life’s positive people who has a glass that is half full then it will probably be a happy word because you are being taken out of your comfort zone you are aware and ready, welcoming the new challenges that will lie ahead, you will look forward with excitement at the possibilities of doing some new things rather than dreading the letting go of the old ways. Goodbye, a sad word or a happy one? Can it every truly fall into one or other category or is it always tinged by a bit of both? This tension exists right up to the final verse.

‘In a little while you will see me no more, then after a little while you will see me.’

Sunday 3rd April 2022

Reading: John 16:25-33

Reflection – Plain Speaking

Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will begin our journey through Holy Week. I said when we started to look at the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus we would be fast forwarding through parts of the Gospel. Today we finish chapter sixteen which we began last week and then next Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will return to chapter twelve to look at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then on Maundy Thursday we will be in chapter thirteen before moving forward again into nineteen for our joint Good Friday service. Some of what we have been looking at in John’s Gospel over the past few weeks has not been in a chronological manner as we have concentrated more on following a theme. Much of what we have already visited, according to John, happened during that last week of Jesus life, after he had entered the city and indeed quite a bit of what John writes, about one third of the Gospel, seven chapters from twelve to nineteen, is actually centred around the final twenty-four hours with Jesus. We know this Gospel is different in style and content to the other three Gospels and in some places the timeline is also different. Between that final sentence from last week, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’ We discover the disciples asking questions about what Jesus means when he says these things. Jesus sees the confusion within the disciples and goes on to further explain what it is he is saying. The disciples were still thinking like the others that Jesus was about to establish a physical kingdom on earth, that would be like other human kingdoms. Why would he want to go away if he was setting up a kingdom? He speaks to them about pain and joy. He speaks to them about the present time and a time that is to come. Until this point they have not needed to pray in Jesus name as he is with them they could ask him a direct question or pray to God directly but after he is gone Jesus says pray in my name and it will be given to you, a promise to those who heard the words directly and to all who would follow in the faith and that leads us to our reading. Jesus tells them he has speaking figuratively but a time is coming when he will speak clearly to them about the Father. I think it really stresses the message John wishes to convey. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Word Incarnate. Through his dying on the cross and being raised again Jesus does not need to ask the father to save us, our salvation has been secured through him. Through his sending of the Holy Spirit Jesus does not need to ask the father to bless us, the work of the son on earth is done. For us now all we have to do ask God directly, in Jesus name, and our prayers will be heard for the sake of his son Jesus. The disciples respond to this plain speaking by announcing their belief that he came from God, he has answered their questions before they are even asked. Jesus knew what was in their minds and gave them the answer they were looking for. Sometimes it can be difficult for to hear people certain truths, to hear plain speaking, ‘the truth hurts’ saying. Jesus says, ‘I have overcome the world.’ Sin and evil cannot defeat him, that’s the plain truth.

Reading: John 17:1-5

Reflection – The Glory of Prayer

Here we see Jesus praying for himself before praying for his disciples and then for all believers. People often speak about the power of prayer. People often speak about the comfort that comes from knowing someone is praying for you. In this very short prayer Jesus mentions glory or glorify five times. I wonder how often we have thought about glory in prayer. All of us at some point in our lives have met someone who has been a great inspiration to us. Take a moment to think who that was for you. Your husband or wife, one of your parents or one of your children. Maybe it was work colleague, who knows maybe even a Minister. Take a moment to recall that person, that inspiration, maybe even to recall the moment on your journey when it all happened. Possibly we may even have been that inspiration to another. Think how your life changed from then on. How much richer has life become? How much more joy has filled your life because you got to know that person? Before we can become inspired we need to get to know the person. Jesus is saying here the disciples have come to know him and in knowing him they know the father also. How their lives will change from now and forever. The work of the son is complete on earth. He has brought glory to the Father and now asks for that same glory to be his when he returns to the father’s presence. Notice how John takes us right back to the opening verses of the Gospel ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ Compare to the final verse this morning. ‘And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ Once again John is stressing this Messianic message. The answer to Jesus prayer here is that those whom God has given him will receive the glory of eternal life. This glory of eternal life does not come about by knowing a god but by knowing the one true God and to know his only son who is Jesus the Christ. The work of the son on earth was to save men and women, when that work on earth is complete the Spirit will come and lead us through life and into life eternal.

Sunday 20th March 2022

Reading: John 15:18-27

Reflection

We have spent the last six weeks looking at the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus. I hope we have discovered something new on that journey or maybe even rediscovered something long known but buried away somewhere in our memory banks that has resurfaced and challenged or comforted us afresh. I see this morning’s reading as one of those transition pieces, similar to that of a few weeks ago, when we looked at Jesus, ‘I am the gate’ and ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ readings.

Jesus has laid it all out there over the last few weeks. He has spoken to crowds of people. He has spoken directly to his disciples. He has spoken to and challenged the religious leaders of the day. Last week Jesus made it very clear that by remaining in his love we will find a joy that is complete. He made it clear that he will give his life for us, his friends. The last verse said, ‘This is my command: love each other’. From there we move into this morning’s opening verse, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hates me first’. Surely there are no greater conflicts within the human nature than these two things, to love and to hate. And yet how often do we witness this on our journey through life? People meet and get to know one another, a relationship is formed and eventually they fall in love. One major falling out and almost in an instant people fall out of love and into hate. We see it in families where sibling rivalry goes beyond having a competitive edge and degenerates into families falling apart and once where there was love for kith and kin there is unabridged hatred and denial of blood connections as family members disown each other. Across society we see hatred such as Jesus describes.

People decide to hate one another. They choose elements of life and set these as parameters for hate.

Those who follow Jesus will be hated simply for following him. There is no need to find out something of the person who is a disciple there is that one requirement, they are a disciple, let hatred begin. The entire reading throws up some of the deepest held polar opposites in this world. The very fact that Jesus sets up his kingdom as having the opposite view to this world. Those who choose whichever one will be different and because of that difference the followers of Jesus will be hated, as he was hated. This brings a whole host of opposites; there is the question about good and evil, about truth and falsehood, about light and dark. The whole evocative master and servant relationship is addressed. Remember last week, ‘I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.’ Now Jesus says, ‘no servant is greater than his master’ this coming from the one who is the servant king. He tells his disciples this treatment comes about because the world does not recognise him.

They do not recognise the one who sent him, therefor they hate the father also. Had Jesus not come among us and ministered to the people, had he not performed these miracles and healed the people, had he not spoken to them of the kingdom that was near and offered them the way of entry into it, then they could not be accused of rejecting the Son and the Father and now the disciples. It is here we come to that transition I mentioned earlier. On the surface the future all must have appeared quite dark and gloomy for the disciples being told that the future held persecution by and hatred from others within their own communities. Jesus tells them he will send the Counsellor, the comforter, the Holy Spirit. It will be for those who abide in the vine. This Counsellor will be the source of spiritual knowledge and strength to face what lies ahead. Through this comforter, sent by God the Father through God the Son will be the very source of joy and peace and love for those who remain in Christ. It will bring new birth into those who believe and it will dwell within them. God the Father is in heaven and has sent Jesus, God the Son, who will be returning there, but God the Holy Spirit will be with us forever, guiding and leading, teaching and empowering the people of God. We will pick up on the work of the Spirit next week when we move onto the next chapter of John’s Gospel and our journey through it.

Sunday 13th March 2022

Reading: John 15:1-17

Reflection

We reach the last of the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus this morning. Most of you will be able to recognise the reading and probably associate the second half of it with Remembrance Day Services. This morning we will concentrate our thoughts on the first half and the true vine. It really is quite amazing that this is our reading this morning as it speaks of us being the branches of the vine that is Jesus. The baptismal family and I have been communicating through email since the beginning of January and today’s date was set for Isla’s baptism. At that time, we in St Michael’s were just beginning our journey through John’s Gospel none of us knew at that point where we would be on that journey. When I started to map out how I was going to lead us through the Gospel I did not know at the outset we would have this series on the ‘I am’ sayings. Then this morning Isla through her baptism is grafted into Christ and into the family of faith.

As is the case so many times, God is at work in our situations long before we know it, and his plan becomes evident as he reveals his goodness to us. To have that sense that God knew this family would be with us here today from Canada and better still he knew what reading would be the most apt for this service. All of this ahead of me/us knowing how, where and when God had it all under control and was putting his plan into place through us. A week ago would have been too early and next week would have been too late. God had the timing in place all along. It reminds me so much of that beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes chapter three when it speaks of God setting a time for everything. And to our reading today. As I said last week, all of these ‘I am’ sayings strike home with the Jewish leaders. This reference to a vine is common language used by Old Testament prophets as they spoke of the people being God’s vine or vineyard.

There is much written about bearing fruit and Jesus told parables of good fruit and bad fruit of yielding a crop or being barren. As any horticulturist will tell you a plant needs to be firmly rooted, it has to be watered and fed for growth to flourish in it. Here in our lives as the branches of the vine our roots are firmly placed with God, Jesus becomes the living water through whom we will never be thirsty again and the Holy Spirit is our feeding as it flows in us and through us. As we prayed at Isla’s baptism that the Holy Spirit would be upon us and the water in the baptismal font. Jesus says to remain in him and he will remain in us. Our journey through life is spent in relationship with him. As we continue to love him, obeying his ways and walking within them, we speak with and listen to him in our prayer time and we gather in times such as this to worship him and offer our thanksgiving to him. All of that really meaning, in simple, but not simplistic terms, that when remaining in Christ, we remain joined to him spiritually. We become one with him and part of him. Just as he continually tells the crowds who gather round him. Just as he tells those religious leaders who cannot understand him. He is one with the father, we are one with him. All of this speaks to me of the importance of regular gathering together as a community of faith. It speaks to me very powerfully of the importance of church and having a healthy church connected life. When we are baptised as an infant or adult, or when we come to faith in later years we become part of that believing community and part of the vine.

Now like any branch that becomes disjointed from the plant it will wither and it will eventually die off. Our faith runs the same risk if we remove ourselves from regular contact with the worshipping community. Yes, sure it might last for a while but I think it has limited life time. Like beautiful cut flowers in a vase. When attached to the plant root these flowers will bloom for their full life cycle, when cut they must be watered for them to survive anytime at all but to sever them from their source and simply stand them in a dry vase is surely the worst thing for them. I think that is what is being said in verse five when Jesus says apart from him we can do nothing. When we cut ourselves off, when we become apart from him, then no more growth is possible. Thankfully that is not where this ends as Jesus also says that if we remain in him then all things are possible, life will continue.

There is a common thread that runs through scripture when promises are made there are often conditions as well. In Matthew’s gospel, if we forgive others is the condition God will in turn forgive us is the promise. And in our reading just as in last week’s reading whatever we ask of the Father in the name of the Son it will be given to us. Remain in Christ is the condition, you will receive whatever you ask is the promise. All of this is to the Father’s glory when we show ourselves to be disciples of Christ. When Jesus says ‘remain in me’ we are to have the same spirit of Christ. Our mind and our will must at one with that of Jesus. As he lived for others, so too we live not for ourselves but for others. We are, as Isla was earlier, baptised into Christ and from that moment we belong to him, this is not a fear filled belonging to some oppressing, overpowering force, but rather a submission by us into the love and gentleness of God.

Sunday 6th March 2022

Reading: John 14:1-14

Reflection

How would you go about telling or writing the story of another person’s life? Would you like to concentrate on one aspect or would you rather try to cover a whole range of things? I have quite a few biographies and autobiographies on my book shelves and the range of people is quite something, biographies such as Gyles Brandreth ‘Philip the final portrait’ to David Meikle ‘The Krays, the prison years’ and autobiographies ranging from David Jason ‘A Del of a life’ to Fern Britton ‘My story’. At the moment I am halfway through Bob Mortimer’s ‘And away’. I suppose like most life stories there are absolute peaks and some very deep troughs to be journeyed through. In the main, the biographies I have centre on a specific time or incident in the life of the person or people being written about. It may centre on personal family life, relationships with colleagues or the general public. When one time or aspect is chosen we do not get that fuller picture of a life lived. What we do get is a writing that clearly identifies a very specific window.

The author somehow has to keep the reader captivated in the story and leave them wanting to read further and discover what happens next. This morning we once again are doing something a bit different, we are having a more recognisable traditional service. With a traditional order of service and singing traditional hymns. In the life of our congregation I think it is good to try new things and discover if new things work for us. The same is true across the church and as we all know it is true in our everyday lives. Different stages of the journey in life require us to re-evaluate that journey and our response to what is happening within it. Having said that I do think there is great merit in knowing who we are and, for want of a better expression, ‘what our default position is’ when we are challenged by life. As we have journeyed through the Gospel of John we have seen elements of that biographical writing. These ‘I am’ saying we are looking at just now revealing the width of who Jesus is and how interconnected; Father, Son and Holy Spirit of God is. And as we visited very early in this journey through John he states quite clearly in the final verse of the penultimate chapter his reason for writing the Gospel and maybe more importantly the message he wishes to convey in doing so. ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ This may lead us to question if it is written as a biography on the life of Jesus, with all its historical references, or is written more as in legal terminology, written as an argument for the accused. John is looking at the life of Jesus, writing after the other three gospels, and taking incidents at different times as a way of demonstrating to his readers that this Jesus is like no other man that has ever lived. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus saying ‘I am the way and the life’ just as with all the other ‘I am’ sayings is striking home with the Jewish leaders. Moses in the book of Genesis asks God, ‘when people ask your name what shall I say?’ God replies, ‘I am who I am.’ Tell the people, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ We enter our reading this morning following Jesus telling his disciples he was going away. He has told them one among them will betray him. He has said that Peter, seen by many as their leader, would deny Jesus three times. All of this can only mean something awful is about to befall them. Jesus calms them as he says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ Once again he binds himself to the Father. ‘You trust in God, then trust in me also.’ Even after Jesus description of what is going to happen we have the honesty of Thomas. When he doubts something he doesn’t just sit allowing things to fester away he speaks out, he says what he thinks, and even admits when he cannot think his way through what he is being told by Jesus. ‘I am the way.’ Through his teaching, through his sacrificing, the way of heaven is open to all believers. ‘I am the truth.’ Many had led the people astray, many today, are still trying to do so, Jesus stands as the truth of God that offers salvation to us all. ‘I am the life.’ Jesus offers us life in all its fullness but more than that he himself is life. He is the eternal life. As we approach the end of the ‘I am’ sayings, with next week being the final one. What are we reading?  What are we hearing?

What are we seeing? Jesus is showing us the way, he is teaching us truth, and he is giving life to every part of who we are. As a man who is approaching the indignity of being hung on a cross he says, ‘I am the way.’ As a man who is about to be condemned on the strength of the lies of men he says, ‘I am the truth. ’As a man who is about to be placed in a tomb for the dead he says, ‘I am the life.’ Jesus simply says to his disciples, ‘believe me, I will do what you ask in my name.’ The power of prayer has no limitations. We should not put limits on what can be achieved when we pray in the name of Jesus. Jesus answers our prayers that God may be given the glory that ought to be our basis for offering these prayers. It is not about self-glory or personal gain. Prayers offered in and through the name of Jesus reflect what lies within our heart and in the bigger picture of our lives. Just as I opened with biographies and autobiographies.

I close with reference to that in our prayer life. There are times when our prayers are biographical specific to a time or situation in life’s journey, revealing things that resonate with us. But our prayers are autobiographies because they are spoken by us about us and they say a great deal about the relationship we have with our God. Who is The way, the truth and the life.