Sermon given at Isham & Pytchley Benefice Service 21.5.17
Readings: OT/Epistle Acts 17: 22-31
Gospel John 14: 15-21
All of us have certain particularly vivid memories that stick in our minds for the rest of our lives. One of mine is a childhood memory – my father was driving and my brother and I were arguing. Suddenly my father’s arm shot in between us and blindly attempted to slap the two of us who were sitting behind him. I was most put out – partly because my father had never done such a thing before and partly because we’d been enjoying our argument! But it had the desired effect of quietening us!
I rather wonder if the reason I’ve never forgotten that incident is because it was years later when I had my own children that I realised how difficult it is to concentrate on driving with a noisy racket going on in the car, and as I recalled the memory I suspected that my father was probably driving on holiday and in an unknown area and he really needed to concentrate on finding the right way. In other words, I began to understand what had happened and to learn a whole lot more.
Well, it must have been something like that for the disciples as, after his death, they began to recall Jesus’ words, and slowly began to understand more and more about what he was trying to do and to tell them. And, of course, we don’t just recall situations once, we often recall them quite a few times – and each time we will have moved on in our experience and our understanding of life and each time the memory will create fresh thoughts and fresh understanding.
Today’s reading from John’s Gospel follows on from the one that is frequently used at funerals when we are understanding the words to refer to Jesus coming for us at the end of our lives – but, as I reflected with Isham and Great Harrowden last week, that isn’t the only possible meaning. John tells us that Jesus is talking to his disciples the night before he died, and trying to prepare them for the future beyond his death.
In that context, the rooms in his Father’s house might evoke in the disciples’ minds a picture of the travel lodges scattered across Israel in which traders could safely spend a night while on their travels. And in today’s reading when Jesus says he will not abandon them as orphans but will come to them, he’s probably talking about being with them in the form of the Holy Spirit which they would receive at Pentecost after he’d ascended into heaven.
We can imagine the disciples often recalling Jesus’ words and actions as the weeks, months, and years went by – and each time they’d understand a bit more of what Jesus was trying to tell them.
And because the disciples’ memory of what happened after Jesus’ death is recorded in our bibles, we know that the Holy Spirit inspired Jesus’ followers to go out and share the gospel message with everyone they could, and that the Holy Spirit helped them to find the right words, the words of truth, whenever that was needed, and especially if they were brought to trial for their faith.
And Jesus has continued to be with his followers in the form of the Holy Spirit all down the centuries, and is still continuing to come to us in the same way today to help us to understand more about God, and what it is he wants each of us to know and to do in our own lives. Sometimes he whispers in our ears, sometimes I find he uses a megaphone with me.
God had to use a series of accidents to family members and myself, special events, and a particular Holy Week experience to boot me into ministry. And last autumn I was so fixed on thinking that he wanted me to stay here with you for at least 7 years that it took mega stress, incipient depression and a very particular prayer session to get me to realise that God wanted me to move on NOW!
So don’t worry too much about the future – God has his plans for you and your churches. And as we’ve been learning as we’ve studied Genesis, God’s plans cannot be thwarted by our misunderstanding or mistakes – he is a GREAT GOD!
Scientists and physicists have known for some time that the Big Bang had to be at an exact amount of pressure to enable matter to clump together in planets like earth – the slightest bit less and matter would have clumped into one or more huge masses, the slightest bit more and matter would have scattered into far too tiny pieces.
This week a programme called “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” revealed the discovery that if that 9 mile wide asteroid had crashed into earth 30 seconds earlier or 30 seconds later it would not have led to the death of the dinosaurs, which in turn enabled small animals to develop and flourish, which led eventually to the development of us humans with our capacity to think and ponder on the amazing intricacy of our world, and our universe – which I believe they are now beginning to realise is surrounded by many, many other universes.
It could all be sheer chance – REALLY? – or God can lie behind it all. In which case these discoveries and fresh understanding leave us more and more in awe of God’s stunning wisdom. He truly is a GREAT GOD. But that’s not all. This awesome great God chose to come among us as a tiny baby and to live a human life so that we could see him more clearly, follow him more nearly, and love him more dearly.
It’s much too good news to keep to ourselves – so we need to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and use people’s experiences and understanding of life as a starting point for introducing them to the God who wants to come to us, to comfort and strengthen us when we need it, to forgive and heal us, to encourage us, and to help us fulfil his plans for our churches, plans that will help us all to create warm and loving communities, and to live life to the MAX!
In a Christian sense: “May the Force be with you! “