Ascension – Absence and doubt

The first question that emerges on this feast of the Ascension is why sometimes it is better for a person to leave. For parents, that day when a child leaves home to go to university or on their first big European back-packing working-holiday, the absence can be heart-wrenching. Yet we all know that there is a need to let a young person find themselves and their own identity.

In the case of Jesus, his departure is very different. He needs to be physically absent so that he can be present in even more wonderful ways – present not only in the word of God and in the sacramental life of the church, but also in the call to friendship and discipleship. The conclusion to Matthew’s gospel is fantastic. He carefully places the action back in Galilee, where it all began, and high on the side of a mountain (of course). The eleven disciples (with the absence of Judas) make their way and when they see Jesus, some fall down in worship – although some hesitated (distazo in the Greek, which could also mean ‘doubted’). Even though some hesitate – perhaps because as good Jewish lads they are still not entirely sure that worship of anyone other then the one and only true God, the LORD, is appropriate. But it is clear from Matthew, that he invites his readers to join those who worshipped. Even so, Jesus draws near to all of them – even those who distazo’d. 

It is then that Jesus offers to them his final commission, reminding them that “all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Jesus” so “Therefore, Go!” Go into all the world, not only to baptise (initiate into the sacramental life of the church) and teach (which the church has also very faithfully fulfilled) but primarily to “make disciples.” This call, which the church has sometimes resisted and often fails to fulfil today remains the heart of the great commission. But we are not alone in this. Jesus promises, as Emmanuel, God-with-us to be with us always, and that we will also have the gift of the Holy Spirit to provide all that we need.

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Easter 6 – The odd power of God

As we move towards the great feast of Pentecost, the readings begin to focus on the expectancy and hope of receiving the holy Spirit. We have the first of four passages in the Gospel of John regarding the coming and promised Paraclete. As Jesus tells the still-misunderstanding disciples about what to expect, he makes a series of compelling promises about life in the kingdom, including the promises that we will do even greater things than he has done, and that any prayers that we make that are truly done according to the will of God will be answered.

But to make sense of all of these gifts, we do need to look at what the power and authority of God is really like. One way is to look at different kinds of powerful people, to see which one is most like our images of God and which is most like God in reality.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am.
Easter, Sunday 6, Year A.

Easter 5 – Living Stones

One of the interesting things about the season of Easter – and to a lesser extent, Advent and Lent – the ordinary pattern of our Sunday readings is changed. For example, in Year A, when we read from the Gospel of Matthew, our Sunday readings are taken (more-or-less) sequentially from Matthew’s gospel, and the first reading, drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, bounces off the Gospel – either providing another example of a healing, or an allusion or incident that the Gospel somehow fulfills. But during Easter, the first readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, the second reading is a semi-continuous reading of I Peter, and the Gospels are seemingly more random – chosen to highlight particular Easter themes.

Today, on this fifth Sunday, the second reading from the first letter of St Peter provides a powerful reflection on what being living stones is all about. Perhaps because Simon was renamed as Rocky – aka Peter – he had a great reason to spend time reflecting on what being a rock is all about. This dense passage brings together many scriptures from across the bible to provide the basis for the christian life and the call to worship God as a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ that has been set apart to sing the praises of God.

Easter 4 – An invitation to life

Whenever you read a gospel passage, one of the first things to keep in mind is that the division of the text into chapters and verses is historically recent – and sometimes is not the best. So in reading any given passage, we need to always begin with the section before our passage to get a better sense of what may have been happening to provoke the events in the section that we are considering. So in this case, when we are reading chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we need to see what has been happening in chapter 9 – which was the sign of the healing of the man born blind. The healing in turn had provoked questions in the man himself, who moved through various stages of disbelief through belief and ultimately worship (John 9:38). The question that is lingering in the air is – “who is this man Jesus?”

Jesus begins to address this by using the allegory of the good shepherd, the sheepfold and the gate. The shepherd is already a common image in the Hebrew scriptures, finding its height in the figure of the first (and only?) truly good king a millennium before – King David. Other key moments are the Psalm we read today – Psalm 23, as well as the great prophetic challenge of Ezekiel 34.

More significantly, Jesus is making an invitation to all of us today – an invitation to believe in the awesome promise of Christianity – that Jesus does not want us to live a half life, or to reduce the gift of life that he is offering to us to mere morality or religion. He warns us that there will be thieves who will try to steal and kill and destroy. What we sometimes forget is that those thieves are our own expectations, regrets and disappointments with our family and friends.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (8 mins)
Sunday 4, Easter, Year A. John 10:1-10.