An open gospel in an empty church…Emmaus road for 2020.

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An open gospel in an empty church…Emmaus road for 2020. Sermon for Adel Parish church Easter 3, 2020.

Luke 24: 13 – 35

There’s been much talk recently of empty roads and deserted streets as we do our bit and stay at home. But although there are fewer vehicles, the road past our house has a constant stream of people taking their daily exercise.

Many are couples or family groups and usually they’re chatting away. I wonder what fills their conversations? I guess the present situation looms large – whether it’s worry about family members or finances – or a new family project as we work out how to live this new kind of life.

Today’s gospel is the story of another walk, another couple deep in discussion about their strange new situation, ”talking with each other about all these things that had happened”. Their hopes for life with Jesus are in tatters, but they’ve heard odd rumours of new hope – so they’re doing what humans do…sharing their fears and trying to make sense of the situation.

Along comes a stranger whom they don’t recognise but we know as Jesus. He asks them what they’re so earnestly discussing – and with beautiful irony Luke lets the disciples tell Jesus his own story…well at least their misunderstanding of it!

They tell him how they knew he was a special man and hoped he was sent by God to save everyone – but how they must’ve got it wrong since he was handed over and crucified. Then they tell him about claims of resurrection – which they can’t make sense of, which they’re not ready to believe…the hope they can’t quite let in.

Jesus listens…then he takes their ideas, the things they’ve grasped about him, the things they can’t get their heads round…he takes their partial understanding and puts it back together with his death in the middle. He shows that anxiety, fear, betrayal, brutality, even death, are part of the story. That the ‘saving’ comes not by avoiding those – but by God in Christ going through them. That the resurrection means those things can never separate us from God.

He does this by helping them look again at the stories they’ve inherited, stories of God reaching into human lives, he shows them how their story fits in.

I chose this reading for my licensing service – because for me it’s the story of the Christian journey…the journey of getting to know Christ. It contains two vital strands …the importance of knowing and studying our shared story – the bible…and the transformative nature of meeting Christ at his table.

And at the heart of the story is that these aren’t things done alone. The pair are already trying to make sense of Jesus’ story together when he joins them. They invite Jesus to eat with whoever is in the house.

Like everyone else at the moment – we’re challenged to find ways of doing things together, whilst physically apart.

I’ve been going into church occasionally – just to check things. The first time I was almost reduced to tears at the sight of the gospel open on the altar – at the last reading we shared before the church was shut.

I wondered whether to leave it on that page…as some sort of memorial. But then I thought – we are still sharing the gospel – and people have shared it in much more difficult circumstances than this. So I’ve been turning the pages – almost as a sign of defiance – and of hope.

And it’s spurred me to think about how we might still study the bible together. I am, of course still writing sermons. But for all I know you might be using that slot to go and put the coffee on! And there’s no chance for questions or comments as you leave church…discussions over coffee are limited.

The Emmaus road story shows the importance of sharing the scriptures. At the start the disciples are talking together. Once they recognise Jesus they turn to each other and share the experience “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They rush back together to share with other disciples.

The bible is best understood together, in community, because left alone we tend to shape the stories to suit ourselves…to look inwards. We need to hear other interpretations to challenge our own.

On our own we can’t always make much sense of a bible passage. When we share it we find each person’s glimpse of the truth adds together to make a clearer picture.

We’re in a strange and disturbing new experience. In today’s gospel Jesus invites us to explore how his story enters our story and might begin to make some sense of both. He invites us to have a go at explaining his story – with all our misunderstandings – to each other and to him. He shows us how the Christian life is a journey of discovery as we share the scriptures in his presence.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll be trying out new ways of exploring the scriptures together. On Wednesdays at 7pm there will be Compline or other evening prayers… hopefully be led by someone different each week. Huge thanks to Karen Baylis for starting us off so beautifully.

Some of our home group have already met via Zoom, and our Lent course is resuming this way for those who can access it. We’re also launching ‘Ace’ our group for young people in school year 4 and up – only a week later than planned – and also on Zoom. Junior church will be resuming in virtual form.

I would love for us to have prayer groups…other discussion groups…if you have an idea get in touch.

I am aware that often this relies on modern technology not available to all. But there is still the telephone – you could always pick the sermon apart next time you have a chat – and please do feed back…it’s a very odd experience apparently preaching into a vacuum!

Today’s reading tells us the gospel doesn’t stay in Jerusalem – but follows us into our homes – to help make sense of our lives, especially when they’ve been turned upside down.

 

“He has gone ahead of you to Galilee…” Words for Easter Sunday at Adel Parish Church.

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“He has gone ahead of you to Galilee…” Sermon for Easter Sunday 2020, Adel Parish Church.

Matthew 28: 1 – 10

What do you get if you pour hot water down a rabbit hole? A hot cross bunny!

Easter morning – a morning for jokes and laughter…a morning for laughing at the jokes even if they aren’t very funny…a morning for just reveling in the existence of laughter.

Today we probably feel we have less than usual to laugh at. Today for many people, tears will feel more appropriate than laughter. But that will have been true for some every Easter.

Matthew’s gospel tries to show us how there is cause for joy – in spite of everything.

Matthew’s resurrection story is a vivid, fantastical description…a great earthquake, an angel of the Lord – his clothing white as snow his appearance like lightning, the stone rolled away, the guards felled…

…is Matthew perhaps saying there is no ordinary way of speaking of the resurrection? Normal human descriptions don’t work, because it isn’t about what’s possible for humans…it’s purely about what God can do.

…angels appear rarely in Matthew’s gospel…announcing Jesus’ birth…at his transfiguration…and here, announcing his resurrection from the dead. They appear only when heaven and earth intersect, when God’s presence in the world is especially felt.

What else does Matthew tell us?

Both the angel and Jesus say, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of the strange awesome happenings…for here God breaks the boundary of life that we call death…here God does something completely new. Here God shows us there is nothing can separate us from his love.

The angels say, “Jesus will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Galilee – where Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, reconciling took place. Galilee, where Jesus showed what God’s kingdom on earth looks like.

The angel at the tomb says, “He is not here, he has been raised.” Jesus cannot be contained even by a tomb.

In these times our closed church can seem something like a tomb – empty of prayer and praise, empty of singing and sharing. But we are being reminded in new ways that important though our building is – the church is the people.

We will return to our beautiful, holy building and find God there. We will squeeze in; stand shoulder to shoulder; share the peace. But perhaps we’ll do so with a renewed awareness that Jesus is risen and goes ahead to Galilee – to be found in our community wherever healing, feeding, teaching and suffering are shared in his name.

We have perhaps walked the way of the cross more closely this year – we might have to work harder to hear above our worries, the wonderful story of what is possible with God. But it is Easter. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

 

“Do this in remembrance of me…” called to wash feet…

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“Do this in remembrance of me…” called to wash feet.

A sermon for Maundy Thursday for Adel Parish Church.

Some of you are perhaps feeling very relieved at this moment. Had this been a normal Holy Week, containing what I’d planned – this sermon would be followed by me washing some of your feet.

There would, I suspect, have been some arm-twisting along the way. Foot washing has always been part of the Maundy Thursday service where I’ve worshipped, and it’s often been a challenge to find 12 ‘willing’ people…

I wonder why…

“Do this in remembrance of me…”; these words of Jesus are only recorded in Luke’s gospel at the last supper, and in slightly different wording, in John’s gospel we heard tonight. I wonder why churches have shared bread and wine regularly from that time to this – but the foot-washing bit happens, somewhat reluctantly, on Maundy Thursday or not at all.

The disciples were no keener than we are…Simon Peter probably speaking for them all with his protestation…”you will never wash my feet”. Yet for the writer of this gospel, there is no mention of bread and wine – foot washing is the focus of Jesus’ final evening with his followers.

And it’s more than just a loving final action. “Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asks the disciples. On the final evening of his life, foot washing is the message Jesus wants to leave…and through the story of Jesus’ actions and the disciples’ response John tries to answer that question. “Do you know what I have done to you?”

Peter at first refuses, but Jesus says, if you want to follow me this isn’t something you can get out of. It’s that important. Just as important then as bread and wine.

Peter typically then leaps in with the idea that if washing is good – more washing must be better – “wash all of me then” he says. Perhaps he thinks the washing is to do with being made clean, having sins washed away.

But one of the most moving parts of this story for me is that it includes Judas. Jesus knows that Judas has decided to betray him; he knows his mind will not be changed – yet he washes Judas’ feet with the same love and care.

This then is not a ritual act of cleansing; it’s not an anointing of disciples for their future role…it’s simply an act of humble love and service…no more, no less…as Jesus takes up the role of a slave, and does one of the least pleasant jobs of a household.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” What does this uncomfortable act mean for us as we try to follow Jesus? As one of my books put it…’It’s a sermon to the world about how to love.’

More specifically perhaps it’s a sermon to Jesus’ followers about the love we’re offered by God, and the love we’re told to share with others.

Do we perhaps avoid the foot washing because we struggle with what it means for us?

First there’s the difficulty of letting Jesus wash our feet. I don’t know whether you have ever tried imagining it. I have – and I find it asks me to put myself totally in his hands. It asks me to surrender to his love – to be willing to give up control of my life to him.

Then it asks us to accept that we have a king who kneels and washes smelly feet. This is the person we’re to proclaim as Lord – this is the person we’re to follow. We don’t have a leader who uses conventional power to protect his followers. We aren’t part of a ruling group, safe in our position, looking down on those on the outside. This is what glory looks like in the kingdom of heaven.

Which means, as Jesus said, that this is what we are called to do as his followers. This is what sharing the love Jesus looks like. We are asked to take off our ‘outer robes’, put on a simple towel, kneel, and clean smelly feet.

Of course for us the foot washing is symbolic – it’s not a common need in modern western life. But it is symbolic of doing the jobs that seem most demeaning, least important. It’s about doing those jobs in love for anyone who needs us. It’s about doing those jobs for the ‘Judas’ we come across – who is unlikely to be grateful, who won’t repay our love.

As this state of lockdown continues it means still being willing to help our neighbours when the first flush of enthusiasm wears off. At the start of this I received many offers of help…I’m grateful to those who are still answering requests.

It means being willing to do the inconvenient jobs for the awkward and ungrateful, as well as jobs we enjoy doing for those we love. Again I am very grateful to those who are helping the church to respond to everyone who asks – regardless of who they are.

Tomorrow we will stand at the foot of the cross and see the depth of Christ’s love for humanity. Today we are shown what our response should be. Most of us will not be called to die for Christ, or for our friends. All of us are called to wash feet.

On his last evening with his disciples, Jesus didn’t just talk, he washed feet. Jesus message is not about foot washing, it is foot washing. And it’s such a profound and radical message – that I for one find the physical act helps me to answer Jesus’ question “Do you know what I have done for you?”