BCP Sermon – 29/05/2016

First Sunday after Trinity – Readings – 1 Jn. 4:7-end; Lk 16:19-end.

The epistle reading today could not have a clearer theme running throughout, love is entirely present and obvious in our reading of 1 John 4. Every action described in this passage is used as a way of describing and evidencing the nature and activity of love. It is from this that we will briefly explore the epistle today.

This portion of the epistle is likely to be familiar with most, if not all, of us present today. It contains the familiar and well known phrasing: ’God is love’.

The reading of the epistle clearly tells us that love comes from God and those that love are those that are born of and know God. It is from this that the precursor to the revelation of God is love comes — it comes as a revelation in response to the statement that those who do not love do not know God.

To love is to know God for God is love. To know God is love is dependant on ones ability to love but also ones ability to truly love is also dependant upon the knowledge that God is love.

God has offered us the perfect demonstration of love and revealed his love for us through the incarnation. Verse 9 tells us this, God’s love for us was revealed through the sending of the Son to make a way for us to live.

God loved us before we could love him.

This ultimate sending and sacrifice is what made a way for us to have the ability to be able to love God. But is not the end of love, it is the demonstration. The passage goes on to tell us that because of this love, we should love one another — this love of one another, we are told, that this love for one another is what allows for God’s love to be in us and be made complete in us.

It is this love for one another than is what makes a way for God to live in us, and for us to live in God — today’s epistle makes that known to us in verse 16.

There needs to be an outworking of the love God has for us, we should be the ones demonstrating and outworking that love to those around us.

‘Whatever a person may be like, we must still love them because we love God.’ ~ John Calvin 

Calvin, here, is echoing the clear commands of both this passage and wider scriptural teachings.

The character of another person does not matter when it comes to the expressing of love, we are commanded to love. God loves us regardless of who we are, without God’s grace and the work of the Cross we are not worthy of his love. We are sinners redeemed by grace through the Cross because of God’s love for us.

As such, we need to put aside our own judgments and thoughts about the character of others and love them regardless. God is our example, his love does not discriminate. We should be following this example. We are his witnesses. Our love should testify to who God is.

The commandment of scripture is to love our neighbour, not to just love our friends. Scripture does not set before us an easy path as disciples and followers of Christ but Scripture demonstrates the way in which we should be living our lives.

Todays epistle uses strong language to emphasise the importance of loving brother, sister and neighbour. It tells us that we cannot truly love God while we are hating a brother or sister. It calls those that do this, liars. The epistle states that those who do not love their brother/sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

To love that which you cannot see requires more love and certainty than to love those whom you can see. To love God requires the certainty of faith in God’s existence before the love is able to be present. The problem pointed out in our epistle today is with those who cannot love those who are seen but claim to love the invisible God.

The starting point of the love is God. We love because God first loved us. When we cannot think for ourselves of a reason to love one another, we should remember that God first loved us while we were still sinners and unworthy. We should, therefore, love those whom we, incorrectly, sometimes deem unworthy of our love — even if we are doing so unintentionally. It is a challenge for us to do this. It often difficult to forgive or love those who we deem unlovable, or those who have wronged us.

In 1 Corinthians 11, we are warned against eating the bread or drinking the cup in communion in an unworthy manner for doing so would be ‘guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord’.

To withhold love goes against the commandments of scripture, Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

We should not be approaching the altar as those unworthy because we have withheld love or done other things that makes us unworthy for doing so would bring judgment upon ourselves.

We need to be obedient to what scripture teaches us, follow the examples it provides. Where it teaches us to love, we should love in the manner and capacity in which scripture lays before us.

This is one of the reasons why it is important to have the peace before taking the eucharist. It allows for an opportunity to reconcile and make right those things which need reconciling.

The love of God made a way to reconciliation possible. The incarnate Christ, lived, was crucified and rose again in order to make reconciliation between man and God possible. This ultimate act of love was performed while we were still sinners and unworthy of the love of God, yet God still loved us.

We need to let our prayer follow that of Saint Francis of Assisi —

‘Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.’ – Francis of Assisi

We are loved. The fact that we can gather together for a service of Eucharist reminds us of that. What we need to pray is that we seek to love others as much as we are loved. That we can demonstrate this love for others. That we can be the outworking of the fact ‘God is love’.

Let us remember perfect love as we are lead to Eucharist and may love outwork through us in the coming week and thereafter.

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BCP Sermon -28/02/16

Third Sunday in Lent – Readings – Eph. 5:1-15; Lk 11:14-28

Having had the choice of between sharing a homily from the Gospel reading or from the Epistle, I decided that after the last time I shared with you – you might have had enough of me talking about demons! So we get today we get to explore together something quite opposite to demons which our reading from the epistle today talks about.

The passage we have read today offers food for thought. It offers things for consideration that are not limited to the time and context to which Ephesians was penned.

Chapter 5 starts with, what is for Christians, a simple truth. Christ loved us, and gave himself as a sacrificial offering for us. An action that was clearly out of love, it offers an example of the level to love to which we as Christians should be aspiring and seeking to imitate. We should be striving to live a life of love. As such, today we are only really going to focus on versus 1-2.

This does not have to mean seeking to be an offering for others, but it means in all that we are doing seeking to do it in love, having a sacrificial heart and actions for others demonstrating our love, and the love of Christ to other.

Mitton writes ‘walk in love: that is, conduct your lives in a spirit of love, the spirit which can subordinate self-interest to a genuine concern for the welfare of others’

John teaches us Christ’s will in regards to love in this area by saying:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

The way in which love is demonstrated by us as Christians should be what identifying us as His disciples. It should not be solely down to our proclamation of the Gospel. But the love should be evident in our actions.

‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like’ (Augustine)

Our love should not cause us to be conceited. It should be an outward expression seeking to place others first. It should drive us into action and expression of love. What benefit is having, feeling, and holding onto a love if we are not prepared to express this love to anyone?

Foulkes in their commentary writes: ‘There is a perfect example, even in human flesh, which has been given and can be copied. Love answering love, love motivated by love, love made possible by the initial love of Christ’

It is almost impossible to get past the level of love that is expressed so succinctly in the opening 2 verses of this chapter. A love that underpins our faith, a love from which we should learn and then love Christ. A love which should then result in us following and obeying the things that are listed in the rest of the reading from Ephesians today.

To contain the love of Christ for and within ourselves would be counter productive and counterintuitive to the message of the gospel. One of the core aspects of the gospel is the proclamation and sharing of the gospel with others. It is not for us to hold on and keep the message of the gospel to ourselves.

We need to get to the stage where we are not looking at a simplistic and reductionistic understanding of what love is. When we get to the place where we are doing this, we cannot share the true love of the Gospel. We cannot share the true message of the Gospel which is hinged on the fact that God loves us and therefore sought to reconcile us.

Again we turn to Mitton, who writes ‘The hall-mark of love is the willingness to give oneself for the sake of another. Love is not just a warmth of feeling for another; it is the readiness to renounce self and sacrifice self in costly action for the good of the other’

This offers a definition and understanding of love that is much fuller. Arguably, it offers a definition of love that is more inline with what scripture teaches. What scripture demonstrates when it comes to love.

Scripture demonstrates this sacrificial love. A love that goes beyond emotional response and attachment to a person. God’s love was displayed for all with the incarnation of the Son, the crucifixion, and then the resurrection. The atonement of sins, the thing to which Jesus is the sacrifice and offering.

The chapter opens calling for us to be imitators of God. Living in love. Demonstrating love.

As Christians we need to be following this example. To live a life demonstrating and expressing love in the contexts and situations to which we come across or are based in.

It is this fragrant offering and sacrifice to God that we are remembering today as we approach the table of the Lord.

We remember the love poured out for us upon the cross. The sacrifice that was made. The offering that atones for our sins and makes salvation possible.

It is in the shedding of his blood, and the brokenness of his body that we may come to know God. It is the greatest act of the love the world has known that we remember each time we approach the eucharist.

A sacrifice for which we were made worthy only by the sacrifice. A sacrifice we are called to remember every time we take communion until the Lord returns.

It seems fitting to conclude with reading the opening portion of this scripture again’

‘be imitators of God, as beloved Children, and live in love, as Christ has loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (1-2)

BCP Sermon -31/01/16

4th Sunday of Epiphany – Readings – Matthew 8:23-34; Romans 13:1-7

For those with faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without, no explanation is possible. –Thomas Aquinas

In our Gospel reading today, a passage many of us will know thoroughly, the men we know that had great faith, Jesus’ own disciples came upon a time of doubt and a time when their faith was lacking.

They came to a place where Jesus’ own response was to question their lack of faith.

A place where they themselves were questioning who this Christ man was. These were people that spent a great amount of time travelling with and following Jesus. These were his disciples, the ones that would be pulled aside out of the crowd and given the expounded teaching which Jesus would not reveal to the wider crowd.

Yet, they doubted. They had a lapse in faith. This scenario demonstrates what Thomas Aquinas meant. While they were full of faith, they weren’t questioning who Jesus was because their faith made it so that no explanation was necessary. Their questioning arose when their faith was lacking, when they were doubting. When you are in a place of doubting and struggling with faith it becomes much harder to receive an explanation. In situations like that you cannot explain faith, faith in its very nature is one based upon not knowing all the answers.

Doubting is human. Faith is not a certainty. If it was, it would be proof not faith that God exists. Dostoyevski said ‘It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt’. His praise was formed out of the doubt that he had. Not out of the assurance and certainty in his own faith, but a faith formed and influenced by the times of doubt that he came across.

The doubt and question arose over who Christ was, who Christ is.

It arose during a time of marvelling at the actions of Jesus. The actions that calmed and stilled the very nature and creation that was threatening their lives.

Questions such as this should not be avoided. There is a place for the questioning of who Jesus is. It is in the questions that we can grow to know the God we worship more. It’s in the questions that God can reveal himself to us as we seek to understand better who he is.

But the issue comes from the attitude, incentive and starting place of the questions that are being asked. It is very different questioning who Jesus is out of a place of fear and doubt compared to asking the questions of who he is from a place of faith and obedience to him. It is the fear and lack of faith that Jesus questions in the disciples here, not their questioning of who he is.

Matthew is seemingly quick to move on from the question that the disciples ask about who Jesus is. Consider this: Is Matthew moving on to avoid answering this question or is Matthew’s account of the Gadarene Demoniacs a way of practically demonstrating this answer?

The Gadarene Demoniacs appears to be a way of demonstrating the answer to the question while continuing the story since Matthew suggests that this takes place once Jesus and the disciples got to the other side of the river.

It shows who Jesus is, it answers the disciples question. The demon possessed man/men depending on which gospel you read calls Jesus out – Jesus is called Son of God (or Son of the Most High in Mark). The demons that were possessing those in this story understood and recognised who Jesus is. They understood, recognised and experienced the authority that Jesus had/has/continues to have. They appealed to Jesus that he cast them into the swine rather than torment them. They know that Jesus could command the authority of the demons, not the demons over Jesus.

Only he who believes is obedient. Only he who is obedient, believes. –Deitrich Bonhoeffer

This quote from Bonhoeffer poses an interesting thought for Christians.

Elsewhere in Scripture, the book of James tell us ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.’ (James 2:19)

If the demons believed, recognised and knew who Christ was and were obedient in going in to the herd of swine as Matthew tells us. How and why do Christians then have such struggles when it comes to obedience to Jesus. Is it a faith issue or is it an obedience issue?

To doubt is to be human. To disobey is to be human. Both of these are intrinsically human. They aren’t something to be ashamed of, they are something to seek God and pursue growth in these areas.

This passage shows us that the demons appeared to have a greater understanding of who Jesus is and level of obedience to Jesus than his disciples had. The obedience and belief arose out of a recognition of who Jesus is.

This is where we need to spent time and focus as Christians. Making sure that we know who God is for us. What scripture reveals for us about who God is. When we truly recognise and have faith in God, obedience to God and his desires for us should grow just as Bonhoeffer suggests.

Communion is the very act that should remind us of why we should not be doubting. A place where we should be approaching the communion meal with humble adoration in remembrance of the sacrifice that Christ made. A remembrance of the action that made salvation possible. An action without which true obedience to God would not be entirely possible.

It brings us to a place where we should be considering who Jesus is for us, according to both our own personal experiences but also according to what Scripture tells us of the Christ-man, Jesus.

Is your Jesus the same one that scripture talks about? Is your Jesus the same one that nature and demons are obedient to? The same Jesus that demons recognise, believe and submit to?

Why are you taking communion today? Are you taking it out of obligation? Out of routine?

Or are you taking it out of submission to Christ and faithful obedience to who he is, what he has done?

We have seen more of the journey than the disciples would have know by this point of their venturing with Christ. They would have unanswered questions about Christ’s end goal. The cross would not have been known by this point.

We know Christ was born to go to the Cross. We know Christ died for us. Yet we struggle to have faith and obedience because we have not physically seen Christ do these things – something that was not even enough for the disciples. We know something more of who Christ is having seen that he was born, lived, died and rose again for the sins of the world. We need to be faithful to this revelation of Christ, obedient to his will knowing that he is real. Knowing he is there for us. Knowing that our faith is what he longs for us to have.

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.–H.G. Wells

This is such an important thing to remember as we come to communion. The important of Christ, the importance of the Cross. Let us remember Christ together now.

BCP Sermon – 20/09/15

Based on Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-end

C.S Lewis once said ‘There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.’ This will not sound like a positive start, and nothing more will be said about this now. It will be explored later, but for now consider this as we explore these scriptures today.

How do we even begin to explore today’s readings in such a short space of time, they are so rich in content. We could explore the notion of tribulations, persecutions or the demonstration of God’s glory. The most natural and fitting in the context of reflection and preparation before we join together in the receiving of communion around the table of our Lord is that of love – our love for each other but more specifically, the measure of God’s love for us.

Our Epistle today sets the foundation for the exploration of love. A passage that I’m sure many of us are familiar with. We have probably lost count of the number of times that we have heard and been reminded of Paul’s teaching of love regarding the vastness of God’s love, his exaltation for us to attempt to grasp the breadth, length, depth and height of God’s love for us. Paul says that ‘we may know this love’ and this knowledge is that which is about experience of God’s love for us. Something beyond just intellectually recognising God’s love for us. The very service we are in now is about remembrance of God’s love; the taking of communion as a sign of sacrifice. The most loving act that there has ever been. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We often do not realise and understand just how much this actually affects us and what it actually means to us, individually or as the church.

We have seen through Ephesians that Paul tries to summarise this love. To condense him further, I want to pose there is no limit to the love that God has for us. As much as we think of the breadth, length, depth and height of God’s love we cannot put a figure or approximation on how much he loves us and I personally don’t want to be able to. It is a truly incomprehensible love. The cross is the biggest example of God’s love to us but it extends much further than that. Luke shows us the power of God expressed in God’s loving actions. The mercy, compassion and love of God that is extended to this mother through Christ is demonstrated here. This is just one example of love expressed and demonstrated to us through Christ on his journey to the Cross.

Now we return to our opening quote where C.S Lewis said that ‘There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.’

This is seen through the mother who lost her son. The mother whose emotions were those of weeping and mourning. She demonstrates that love is vulnerable, it can hurt. Christ, however, gives us a new and restored hope. There is provision through Christ in a hope that means that we can and should love, a resurrection of the ideal of love is shown through the resurrection of this woman’s son. God’s love is demonstrated here through the simple words ‘I say unto thee, arise’; these words bring life back to the son and hope back into the mother’s love for the son. There is a restoration and resurrection to both the son and the brokenness of the mother’s love. It has been expressed by Tom Wright as ‘taking the commands of the great sermon (Luke’s account of the sermon on the mount) in chapter 6 and showing what this life looks like on the ground, with God’s love going out in new, unexpected, healing generosity’.

This great love needs to be more than just recognised. We need understanding of God’s love for us, in the sense that we are truly loved immeasurably, in order to be able to receive that strengthening, fulness and love for us to be able to do as the Gospel demonstrates and express that love outwardly. In the Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis makes the point that ‘whatever is done out of love, be it ever so little, is wholly fruitful… Whoever loves much, does much’. A loving church follows Christ’s example and loves. It doesn’t receive God’s love and contain that for itself. It needs to be an outworking church. The valuable lesson from this part of Thomas à Kempis’ writing is that it’s not about the quantity of what is done, it’s about the attitude and emotive motivation behind the act. He believes that the little can be as fruitful as the much if it is done in love but that the amount of love a person has is reflected in the amount that they outwork that love.

Christ demonstrates this. Throughout the gospel’s it is impossible to ignore Christ’s love for those that he encounters. Once we recognise this, there comes a place where we should love those that we encounter. Jesus came to the place where he did not care about his reputation or the religious laws, he expressed love to everyone. Our example today where he touched the bier would have made Jesus ritually unclean but that did not stop him from acting out of love. Jesus was obedient to the Father’s will. He understood what the rationale and motivation for action was. He describes the second greatest commandment as ‘loving you neighbour as you love yourself’. Something which will outwork in our lives as a result of what Paul is teaching us in this portion of his epistle to the Ephesians.

As a church there are great opportunities for us to be able to outwork and express this love to others. Love Northwood is coming up again which is entirely about expressing the love of the gospel to the community. For me personally, my expression of this love is by making myself available for people to speak to whenever they want or need to. Although this is more in a community of christian students, I still seek to do this as a form and method of expressing God’s love – even to those that already know God’s love!

Again we come to C.S Lewis who writes that ‘the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us’. Love and this acting upon this love does not place any value upon ourselves from God’s perspective. Our goodness and our worth come as a result of God’s love for us as demonstrated repeatedly in scripture and ultimately on the Cross. Let us remember today as we remember the sacrifice of God, the immeasurable and incomprehensible love of God. The love that our coming to the Lord’s table is all about.