Sunday 22 May 2022

Christ at home in us; and we in him

Acts of the Apostles 16.9-15 If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home

Revelation 21.10; 22-22.5 He showed me the holy city coming down out of heaven

John 14.23-29 A peace the world cannot give is my gift to you


‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home’ (Acts 16.15)




I wonder what you understand by the word ‘home’? I wonder if it is a place or a feeling, if it’s near or far away? Is it a place of safety and security or of anxiety and loneliness? Is it a place of hospitality and invitation or a refuge from the world and other people? It may be some or all of those things. Is your home where your heart is?


Let’s ponder ‘home’ in relation to the Gospel in which Jesus promises that, in him, God will make his home with us, and also to the fascinating figure of Lydia, whose heart is opened to the Lord, such that Christ can make his home in her life and who invites St Paul into her home.


First there is some theological work to do! That is to say, what can we say of ‘home’ in relation to the nature of God? What St John’s Gospel powerfully reveals is that God is at home in God’s own-self. God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Blessed Trinity, is entirely at home in itself without need or lack. There is no dissension or rivalry in this perfect relationship of love.


It is from ‘home’ in God, from the bosom of the Father, that the Eternal Word finds a home in human flesh, as one of us: Jesus Christ.


‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14). Jesus Christ finds a home with us and in us; literally in Nazareth, with his mother, Mary, and Joseph, and now as the glorified Lord made known in the Sacraments and scriptures.


The promise of today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, is that ‘those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14.23).


Lydia says to St Paul, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home’. That is an act of hospitality, she wants to hear more from Paul. She wants to know more and more about Jesus Christ, the one she has invited into her life. God will make his home with her.


Lydia’s story is a beautiful one. Lydia was clearly a successful business woman in her own right, a dealer in the very pricey purple cloth that her ‘home’ town of Thyatira was known for. She was some 400 miles away from home being in Philippi.


She was a worshipper of God, but not in a formed or coherent way. Like so many people today she had a deep awareness of God’s life and presence but had not connected that with Jesus Christ, with the Church or with the intimacy or relating to God that baptism brings.


So Lydia had sought out a place where she could pray: a river. Others gathered there too. There they would go to pray, perhaps to water gods and spirits. It sounds a bit new agey. But the impulse is one of spiritual desire and refreshment. After all, John the Baptist baptised people in a river; he baptised Jesus in that River, the Jordan.


There is something about flowing water that has a deep spiritual root. It is not out of the question that this very church built, as it is, by a river – albeit covered up now – was a pagan site before hallowed by the church and dedicated to the saint who baptised in a river. Perhaps our co-patron should be St Lydia, she who, with her whole household, was baptised in a river by which she had prayed to other gods, now finding her home with the Living God: ‘the river of the water of life’ (Revelation 22.1).


Through the Holy Spirit, St Paul instinctively knew where to go to find people who might be open to the message of eternal life in Christ that he brought, be that amongst philosophers in the Aeropagus of Athens or by this river in Philippi. And Lydia was open to hearing Paul’s preaching: ‘the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul’. Lydia is the first documented convert in Europe – as an aside, Asia Minor and Africa has earlier converts!


Christianity is not ultimately about following a moral code, or ‘connecting with our ‘spiritual’ side by rivers or with crystals. It’s not a self-help guide with a bit of whacky God language added on. It is about union with God, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit; it is about finding our home in the life of the Eternal God. The heart of the Eucharist is Holy Communion. Communion is about unification, participation, being at home in God.


It is that home that Lydia found. And from that discovery comes an invitation: ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home’. She echoes the powerful words of the centurion to Christ, on which we base our response to the Invitation to Holy Communion: ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed’ (Matthew 8.8 and the Roman Missal).


God is at home with you and me. Jesus’ mission is to bring the fullness of God to the world and save us such that we can go where he goes, back into the loving heart of the Father.


Scripture shows consistently that God desires that we find our home in God’s love and presence. That is none other than what we call ‘eternal life’, ‘life in all its abundance’ (John 10.10). This promise is further laid out in the book of Revelation, our second reading, where renewed life and renewed creation is the home of God and mortals.


It is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who brings us to this point of Holy Communion, and bringing to remembrance (πομνήσει) makes Christ present in our midst to find his home in our bodies: flesh, mind and spirit.


May we ever find our home in Christ, and he in us.


Thursday 19 May 2022

Lions' dens and empty tombs: an Evensong sermon

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.




Throughout the scriptures are laid, as it were, trails of crumbs for us to follow, and which point us to mysteries yet to be revealed and to be fulfilled. The trail takes us to an open tomb, from which life emanates.


So our trail tonight is the resurrection.


We see the pointers to resurrection in the Exodus and also in the prophets:  for instance, in Hosea ‘after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him’ (Hosea 6.2); in Jonah ‘But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.’ (Jonah 1.17).


In the New Testament, the account of the Raising of Lazarus in John 11, who has been in the tomb four days, is a trailer for Jesus’ resurrection power, as Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11.25, 26)


And tonight, we have a resurrection trailer in the Book of the Prophet Daniel. Daniel’s plight is familiar to all who seek to practice their faith in authoritarian settings. Daniel the Jewish exile in Babylon is forbidden with his fellow exiles to pray freely and, by sneaky means, Daniel’s enemies trick the king into issuing an edict that traps Daniel.


And as the story goes the king, with a heavy heart, throws Daniel to the lions. There is a foreshadowing of the Christians, the murdered martyrs, who the Romans threw to the lions as a public spectacle in the Colosseum in Rome, Carthage and around the Empire.


Tyrants do not like people who pray; secular and atheistic cultures do not like people who look beyond to things eternal (that’s true of the Romans, Stalinism, Nazism).


In scripture, as in much great literature, lions symbolise power. To describe Samson’s great strength one of the stories about him is that he wrestled and killed a lion ( Judges 14:5-6). From that incident comes something sweet. As an aside, the lion is the emblem of St Mark the Evangelist, the author of the gospel reading this evening: through his words he speaks of the power of the resurrection. It’s little wonder C.S. Lewis represents the messianic figure of Aslan as a lion.


The thread that weaves together the account of Daniel, the raising of Lazarus already referred to, and the arrival of the myrrh bearing women, in Sy Mark’s gospel, is the moment of arrival and wonder and the revelation of life.


The first moment of arrival and wonder is in the book of Daniel when we read, ‘Then, at break of day, king Darius got up and hurried to the den of lions’ (Daniel 6.19).

He went hoping, but not really expecting, that Daniel’s God, the God of Israel, the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, had spared him from the lions: ‘When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?’ (Daniel 6.20). (There’s a twist in the narrative, the powerful king, who threw Daniel to the lions’ den for praying to God, not himself pleads for God to save Daniel). At the threshold of the lions’ den Darius sees the power of Daniel’s God – our God – who has preserved him from death.


The second moment of arrival and wonder in the raising of Lazarus:


Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. (John 11.38-42)


Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb knowing and expecting that a great work of power would be revealed to the sceptical world. At the threshold of Lazarus’ tomb he who was dead now lives, although as a mortal he will die again.


The third moment of arrival and wonder as the three myrrh bearing women – holy Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome:


When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. (Mark 16.1-6).


The women came to the tomb not knowing what to expect, not saying anything, but simply to anoint the body that was dead, only to find an empty place from which flowed life and power that now filled the whole world.


In all places where we arrive, may we always be alert to the wonder of the signs of resurrection life.


For we stand at the threshold of life in all its abundance.

Staying at the supper

Acts 11.1-18 God shows no partiality

Revelation 21.1-6 A vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb

John 13.31-35 in the Son of Man, God has been glorified




Our gospel reading opened with some strange words, ‘during the supper, when Judas had gone out…’ (John 13.31).


They sound almost incidental, but they are deeply significant.


Just before this verse Judas is unmasked as the one who will betray Jesus. St John, the author, notes, ‘And it was night’ (John 13.30b).


Judas steps away from the intimacy of the supper because he has chosen his own path, which does not involve Jesus and does not involve his companion disciples.


Judas has chosen to cut himself off.


And as he walks out into the darkness of the night he is choosing to walk from life to death and to walk away from God’s abundance into the scarcity of shut down horizons, narrowness and betrayal of a friend.


When we make the ‘Judas move’ we are placing ourselves at the heart of our own drama – as one theologian calls it, our ‘ego-drama’.


In the ego-drama we are building all our sense of reality around our own imaginations, everything is on our own terms and not about God or neighbour. All becomes self-defeating and spirals downwards into pointlessness, where faith, hope and love is scarce to the point of non-existent.


When we make the ‘Jesus move’ we place ourselves in what the same theologian calls the Theo-drama, in other words, the God drama, where our point of reference is the way of faith and hope and love, of abundant life lived in all its fullness.


When we make the ‘Jesus move’ we step out into the light disentangled from the power games and manipulations of the world. In the light we can see more clearly.


The remarkable thing is that we are free to make the move we desire.


Such is God’s abundant love that he risks even our move into the night, as with Judas, the path trodden by Adam and all humanity.


But such is God’s love that the glorification of human flesh and wills is possible through a Saviour.


We are not locked into Adam’s refusal of God, but invited into Jesus’ total acceptance of God, and, in that move, we share in the glorification of the Son of Man.


Light or darkness, life or death, abundance or scarcity? We are given that choice.


There are seductive easy choices, following the whispers of the world: ‘you can have your cake and eat it’; ‘don’t commit, keep your options open: a better offer may come along’. That is so destructive in our relationships with other people and with God.


After all, Judas wanted what Jesus offered, but only on his own terms.


So often we say, ‘I will do what my heart dictates’ or we’re told ‘follow your heart’. A wonderful German Abbess I read recently debunks that ‘do it your way’ mentality.


Mother Christiana [Reemts, abbess of Mariendonk] says, ‘I hold it to be quite false’.


She explained what she meant by pointing out what we know from experience and what Jeremiah pointed out almost cruelly: ‘The human heart is deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17.9).


Our heart is not an infallible compass; it is subject to many temptations, tensions, and trends. Before it can guide us reliably, it must be oriented and, when necessary, healed. The great Christian task is ‘to let the heart be transformed by God’s Word — then to listen to this transformed heart’. (my italics).


Judas sadly followed his unhealed, untransformed heart. It was a wayward compass into his ego-drama and away from the intimacy of the supper with Christ.


The supper is the place of the Theo-drama, the God-drama, where Christ shares with us his life (in broken bread) and death (in poured out wine), so that we share in his life, death and resurrection. Only in the intimacy of the mystical supper do we hear the ‘new commandment’, to love as he first loved us.


The gospel today invites us to stay at the supper, to be present with Jesus and with his disciples.


The mystical supper is an eternal reality perpetuated in the Eucharist.


This is where we come, in the company of one another, to have the compass of our hearts set aright in the Theo-drama, the outworking of God’s light and life and love in the world.


As St Paul says, ‘for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness’ (1 Thessalonians 5.5)


Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’. To say ‘I did it my way’, or to build a ‘truth’ of my own imagining, or to seek life amputated from Christ and his Church, is the way of the ego-drama, making myself the centre of my own reality and not of God’s.


To be a saint, to be a child of the light and of the day, is to sing ‘I did it Christ’s way’


May we never prefer the isolation, darkness and chill of sin but always prefer the festivity, intimacy and warmth of the sacred meal where we receive the life of Christ and where we are formed as disciples marked out by love for one another.