Monday, 21 May 2018

'A new heart I will give you'

A sermon preached at Guildford Cathedral 13th May, 2018, on the launch of the Cathedral's new mission & vision statement & annual meeting.

Ezekiel 36.24-28; Acts 1.15-17, 21-26; John 17.6-19

‘And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ Alleluia.
(Ezekiel 36.28b)

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Last Thursday, on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we recalled that Jesus Christ ascended into the heavens promising to ‘send power from on high’ upon the embryonic church comprising his mother, Mary, some other women and the eleven disciples.

The Ascension is the hinge moment between the life of Christ incarnate, crucified and risen and the era of the sovereignty of Christ, our King, who reigns in the power of the Holy Spirit – the power from on high - who brings Christ’s presence to us now.

The Ascension begs the question of what life in the ‘power from on high’ – life in the Spirit - looks like without Jesus physically present with us, his disciples.

This era of ‘life in the Spirit’ is not over! We still live equipped by power from on high. What each church has to discover is what that looks like here and now today, and not just in Jerusalem half way through the first century AD.

This time, living in the life in the Spirit, was then and is now always a time of discernment and openness to God’s will; a time of seeking what it means to say personally and corporately, ‘thy will be done’. It throws us to our knees; it opens our hands and hearts in prayer!

This way of discernment asks how particular gifts are nurtured within the church and ministries fulfilled. We see this in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Following the death of Judas a new member of the Twelve is chosen, Matthias, whose feast is tomorrow as it happens. Discernment in action.

This way of discernment opens us up to the searching of the Holy Spirit and seeing God’s movement in our lives, in the Church, and in our world.

So, to what is God calling you and me? It’s a question Canon Paul posed from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago and that we’re all following up now: what is the call and claim of the Good Shepherd upon your life? This is the question of discernment, not just in tasks we might do at church but who we are and how we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.

This time of living in the power from on high is always a time of transformation and re-creation: God’s people constantly being transformed into being God’s people. As St Paul puts it, it’s about being, ‘transformed into the [image of the Lord] from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3.18a).

This transformation is initiated principally on the Day of Pentecost – the day that we will celebrate next Sunday. After all, as St Paul continues to say, ‘this [transformation] comes from the Lord, the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3.18b).

Life in the Spirit is a time of growth. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the embryonic church of Mary and the Eleven grew: ‘and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved’ (Acts 2.47b).

And the growth is seen too in the quality of life of the Church: ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2.42).

Now is the time! Now is the time of discernment, of praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that the Spirit’s fruit will be seen in the life of the Church.

Discernment. Prayer. Transformation. Growth.

These features of the early Church, along with worship, are in the Church’s DNA and we neglect them at our peril.

So, we have been responding to those features in our own context here in Guildford. Over the last few months we have pondered, in an enquiring and appreciative way, what characterises our life here and what we dream it might look like in the years to come.

The discernment has led us to speak of our aspiration, under God, that this Cathedral is a ‘warm-hearted community’. This draws directly from the language of the prophet Ezekiel - through whom God speaks in our first reading - ‘A new heart I will give you, and new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’. (Ezekiel 36.26)

That heart, pumping God’s life around this cathedral and her congregations, is brought us by the Spirit, so that, in Jesus’ Name, we are open to God and open to all; so that we are open to growth and open to transformation.

It is down to each one of us to make that a reality.

And discerning, praying, transforming, growing is a programme for the Christian life and the life of every church community including this one.

This is the challenge: to embrace and adopt - in every aspect of our life as a Cathedral Church community - what it means and what it looks like to be a warm-hearted person and church, what it really means to be open to God and open to all, open to growth and open to transformation.

Life in the Spirit means knowing Jesus Christ. It is what we pray for and appeal to every time we break bread, as we do now: ‘grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these gifts of bread and wine may be to us his body and his blood’ (Eucharistic Prayer A). Here is the beginning of the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this sermon: what does life in the ‘power from on high’ – life in the Spirit - look like without Jesus physically present with us, his disciples?

It is seen in individual lives and in a community that knows Jesus Christ and makes Christ Jesus known to all. It is in knowing Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit that we share in the life of the Holy Trinity, that communion and fellowship of love.

That is the source of all Christian vision, life and hope. Let us embrace that here with ‘power from on high’.

‘A new heart I will give you,
and new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh’.
(Ezekiel 36.26)

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