Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sermon 17 April: Reconciling Spirit

Reconciling Spirit – turning the world upside down
Acts 17:1-10; 1 Thess 1:1-9

The journey continues; Paul and his wee entourage are galloping away sailing around the known world, landing, teaching, preaching, moving on.
I heard an analogy this week – Paul’s zeal is comparable with any new convert:
We all know the enthusiasm of those who’ve just stopped smoking; given up wheat; lost a huge amount of weight; or changed their lives in some way. Maybe you’ve even fallen into that category at some time!
It’s new
 It’s shiny
 It’s changed your life
And you want everyone else to share in the joy too!
Paul is overwhelmed by the transformation he experienced, and he wants everyone else to have the same opportunities he had. His life was turned round, turned upside down, changed, renewed… and through that change he found a deep and lasting reconciliation.
He accepted the mission God gave him – to go and share the Good News with the world – to Jew and Gentile alike. Each place he landed received him differently; some were thrilled to hear this new teaching; others less so. Some Jews heard the message and believed, but then were put out, or worse when they saw the message also being shared with gentiles. In some places he caused a riot and was thrown into jail. In other places homes were opened to him, food supplied, hospitality offered and his words were heard and acted upon.

Thessalonica is one place were the welcome was not great; a riot followed, and as Paul could not be found, those who’d welcomed him were thrown into jail instead. People were not happy!!!
The trouble with this new teaching was that it did not affirm; it did not reassure; instead it challenged, it required action – action that would turn all their usual activities inside out and upside down.
It was Jesus’ teaching: feed the hungry, clothe the poor; look after the outcast; and in addition to that Paul’s teaching challenged other things, other behaviours, and their immediate history too.
This man, Jesus – whom you all killed… was the Messiah! You Jews – killed God’s chosen One!
You killed the Messiah. For that is who Jesus of Nazareth really was! No wonder those in authority were upset!
Paul was challenging everything they stood for; everything they believed and he was challenging them to accept, believe and change. It was radical and it was upsetting – no one likes to be told they’ve got things wrong.

Paul’s tone with those in the fledgling church is far kinder. He writes following his visit, encouraging, praising them for their faithfulness their commitment, which everyone is talking about.
There is a genuine affection; Paul loves these people in this new church – because against all odds they are trying; they are following the new way, they have embraced the teachings of Jesus and even though it has not brought an easy time, it has brought joy and others in other new churches are following their example.

We can learn much from both the way Paul goes about sharing the gospel and how the faithful ones in Thessalonica received it.
We live in a world of instant communication and instant gratification. There is an expectation that we can have anything we want, whenever we want it; without counting the cost, without working hard, without considering others.
We do not need to be like that just because the media tells us we can.
I know, if I were writing to you all, as Paul wrote to them, I too would be thanking God!
I feel blessed that there are people in our church who pray for each other; who share the gospel message; who work hard to help others; who are excited and filled with the joy that the Spirit can bring.
All things are possible when we have the Spirit with us!
The gospel message may turn the world on its head: challenging the get rich quick attitudes of society; seeking to help the marginalised and speak out for justice for those who are oppressed; but the wonderful thing is that when we do rise to the challenge we will know it was right; we will know when it is of God – we know because of the sense of following God’s will and helping God’s people.
This sense of rightness fills us and leads us to know true peace – peace that comes from being fully reconciled.
As we ponder the people of Thessalonica – those who heard and believed, and those who heard and rejected – let’s reflect too on how we first heard about Jesus; how we first responded and how we continue to respond now…
Ponder how God is working in your life
With your loved ones
With our church family
In our community
Ponder, reflect, pray
Ask for guidance and the Spirit’s power to reconcile those who are unsure, those who are hesitant, those who follow and those who seek to share the joy of following the living and true God.
All of this – all God-filled living is what’s turning the world upside down!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Sermon 10 April: Healing Spirit

Acts 3: 1-10
This Easter season we are exploring “What the Apostles Did Next” – Jesus has been and gone again; the Spirit has done her work, and suddenly they are out there. Being this New Thing.
The New Church…
In a few weeks we will join with the whole church remembering Pentecost – the day the Spirit came. But meantime, we take a gallop through the Acts of the Apostles and the letters to the new church at Corinth.
For those of you whole like to see the whole picture, or place events in context, you will find the Home Devotions are back – the focus is on filling in the gaps between the readings each week, and they will help you to see how the early church grew and developed through the ministry of Paul, following his astonishing conversion experience on the road to Damascus.
Each of the next few weeks will focus on the different ways the Holy Spirit works in the world and with us; reconciling, uniting, living, loving, bestowing gifts and this week, healing.

As I read the scripture and reflected; I visualised the story – which I find always helps me.
I was struck first by the number of visual phrases that lie in the text.
The beggar sees Peter and John
Peter and John look at the beggar
Then Peter and John tell the beggar to look at them
He looks at Peter and John …
And then later, the crowds, the people gathering for prayer and worship see the beggar; recognise him; notice him… and are amazed.

Anyone who travels up to Edinburgh will know that in many doorways there sit beggars; homeless / jobless ones who sit, wait, hope… for someone to notice them; to see them, to speak to them; to give them help.

I have to admit, that by and large I am one who keeps their head down and passes as quickly as possible; avoiding eye contact; avoiding noticing, or being noticed. I am uncomfortable, maybe afraid even of what will happen if I need to connect in any way… but I’m not sure why.
Why is it that I will happily make donations to charities, but cannot bring myself to help directly? I don’t have an answer – but it is something I shall continue to ponder.

Peter and John must also have been used to seeing beggars at the temple gates; we know that Jesus saw beggars and responded to them in many places; so Peter and John continuing to do the same is not a surprise. I wonder what prompted Peter to react the way he did? Did he plan it? Was it an instinct that kicked in? Was he as surprised as everyone else when it worked?
As they came away again, I wonder what Peter and John thought after all of this?
For years they had walked with Jesus, witnessing his words, his compassion, his miracles. Seeing it all happen around them.
Now, Jesus is no longer with them, yet because of him, they are now able to do what he did; in his name they discover they are able to perform their own miracles.
What a joy! What a Surprise! What a responsibility!!
What did they think? How did it make them feel?
When we begin a new job, a new project or a new course of action we begin all excited and enthused; it’s fun, it’s challenging – there is so much to learn, so many new things to try, new people to meet.
Then, as time passes, thing begin to be normal – routine – the task begins to feel heavier as the reality sinks in and the scope of what is required becomes known.
We settle down for the long haul; we need to find the rhythm, the pace needs to be set. Too fast and we will become exhausted; too slow and we will get bored or complacent.

Peter and John and all of the other apostles were beginning a new thing – even if they did not quite realise what this would mean. They all thought that Jesus would be returning soon; in their lifetimes. There was no sense of a long haul project – I wonder what they would have thought if they had known that 2000 years later the world was still waiting, still wondering when will be the time? What would be the signs and wonders?
It is hard for us, in this age of medical advancement and technology; in this age when miracles are explained away or denied, and seem to be so infrequent to be impossible.
We say – with God nothing is impossible; and yet, the thought of miracles – of praying for miraculous inexplicable healing seems almost absurd.
We pray instead for acceptance; for healing of the spirit or the strength to carry on through and with whatever it is that ails us. (and I’m not saying this is wrong – far from it!)
We no longer expect to be amazed and surprised by what God and Jesus will do when called on.

This can be a difficult issue for many people.
The sorrow when prayers feel unanswered; the disappointment when a miracle doesn’t come; the bitterness that can seep in to our hearts when the thing we wish for above all is continually denied.
So what can we do? How can we continue to pray; to love and serve God; to ask Jesus to intercede on our behalf, in this age of doubts and uncertainties?
I do not have an answer!
Sometimes asking the question is enough. We pray, we hope, we trust, we support each other and we share our burdens.
We may not always get the answer we were looking for – but we do get answers.
God’s Spirit is with us; of that I have no doubt; and when life is difficult and answers seem far away, it is enough to know that we are never alone.
That God’s Spirit is an ever constant presence.
The Spirit is there, whether we are aware or not; moving and prompting whether we are aware or not; pointing us in the right direction, sending others to cross our paths and move us on – whether we are aware or not.

Whether we are aware or not, God’s Spirit heals our deepest wounds; touches our inmost being; and guides and directs our actions. Whether we are aware, or not.

Holy Spirit – guide us, lead us, touch us, heal us.
Today and always

The City of Jerusalem 2012

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Be Careful what you Ask For…

(Acts 3: 1-10 at the Beautiful Gate)

He had sat there for so long
people didn’t see him any more
Just another beggar, with his cup,
and his sadness, and his dirty cloak
wrapping him up against the
dust and the grime
kicked up by so many feet passing, passing,
always passing by.

Each day he cried out for alms,
for help, for someone to notice him;
each day the same meagre pickings,
pennies dropped to ease guilt
to assuage the sensibilities of the whole and hearty ones.
Each day, the same, the same,
the same until this day.

Until this day.
When it all changed;
“look at us” they respond.
“Look at us.”
So he looked - hope-filled, curious, what would they give him?
He looked.
He heard.
They saw.
They offered a hand and he.