Monday, 16 October 2017

Rejoice in the Lord always

Isaiah 25: 1-9 (page 586 in our pew Bibles) God is praised for his surpassing glory and then a prophesy is made that this will all be crowned by the swallowing up of death itself 
Philippians 4: 1-9 (page 982 in our pew Bibles) Paul prays that the surpassing peace of God will guard our hearts and minds and transcend the petty squabbles that divide people
Matthew 22: 1-14 (page 827 in our pew Bibles) Many are called and many respond to the invitation to the feast but the guests included a man "without a wedding garment". We must be clothed with genuine repentance to partake of the feast.

Isaiah prophesies a wonderful day, a feast day, a day of rejoicing where the veil that shields our faces from God will be removed and we shall see God face to face, when God will wipe away all our tears, and remove death for ever and the celebration that ensues will be a feast of rich food and aged fine wine.
The day of the Lord will be a day of celebration ushering in a new created order. This is the day when all things will be put right.

We are the heirs of this promise, a people bound together by this hope.

This day of the Lord would be ushered in by a Messiah, an anointed one, and the people ushered in will be drawn from all peoples and all nations.

This then is the background context for Jesus’ parable. The original guests invited to the wedding feast, the Jewish people, by and large refused to come. Some couldn’t care less and were more concerned with their daily business and others were positively malicious.

So God had to gather a new set of guests and welcome them to the feast from every land and people.
That is us the church – the newly invited guests to this feast of the Kingdom of God.

Brilliant. But before anyone gets too complacent there is a sting in the tail.

One of the invited guests isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding clothes and is thrown out of the party – so what can this mean?

The wedding clothes are symbolic of several warnings given in Matthew’s gospel at various points about being genuine. “Doing the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21) not just paying lip service to the commandments of God or “Having a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees”  (5:20) or “producing the fruits of the kingdom” (21:43)

These are all expressions that point out the consistency between words and deeds that is appropriate for anyone who calls Jesus “Lord”.

The wedding garment represents authentic discipleship.

That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect but we must have our heart and mind attuned to the demands of the kingdom and to sincerely want to put those commandments into action in our lives.

What that means in practice is written about by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians. He starts by exhorting two women who have obviously fallen out over something to “agree in the Lord”.

Whatever divides them at the moment, that is nothing compared to what they agree on as fellow workers with Paul and Clement for the surpassing glory of the gospel.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Be reasonable.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Take everything to God and trust Him to deal with it and your reward will be peace.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding. Not peace as in a temporary absence of conflict as in “North and South Korea are currently at peace” but a much deeper sense of wholeness, contentment represented by the Hebrew word shalom.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Glory glory Hallelujah!

Isaiah 5: 1-7 (page 569 in our pew Bible) Israel is God's vineyard but because Israel has forsaken God, God will remove his protection from his people and abandon them to their fate.
Philippians 3:4-14 (page 981 in our pew Bibles) Paul views his Jewish heritage as worthless when compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
Matthew 21: 33-end (page 827 in our pew Bibles). Jesus prophesies in this parable that the tenants of God's vineyard (the Israelites) will be replaced by a people gathered around Himself ("the stone that the builders rejected")

I went to a conference recently called the “Glory of God in the church” and how to communicate it, and the only way it seems to me to communicate God’s glory is to embody it – to put flesh on the bones.
Paul’s enthusiasm for the gospel, his joy, where everything he had known before he counts as rubbish, in the face of the surpassing glory of Jesus Christ filled his life.
Paul says “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”
Glory is a very difficult concept to embody or explain – brightness, magnificence, splendour, majesty – but as a shorthand I use the word “worth” the worth or weight of something. What is God worth?
We give glory to God by giving adoring praise and thanksgiving. In doing so we reflect God’s glory back to him. 
Without ever mentioning his conversion experience Paul nevertheless now rests fair square on that revelation where he was captured by Christ.
What is truly significant it seems to me is that Paul wasn’t in any kind of spiritual crisis or doubted what he was doing according to this passage, in persecuting the church, and he doesn’t seem to having any problems keeping the law either as he calls himself “blameless” according to righteousness.
In other words, Jesus Christ was not an answer to any kind of problem, spiritual or physical, that Paul might have been happening, and that is quite a difference to the premise underlying a lot of Christian evangelism, that Jesus is the answer to your problems.
According to the text, Paul didn’t have any particular problems. He was just blown away by the surpassing glory of God who confronted, challenged and changed him so much that everything he had known before he could dismiss as “dung”
He discovered the glory of God’s Grace and a righteousness that depended on faith.
Grace and faith are the two cornerstones of the Christian faith. It is God’s grace that saves us, that heals us, that sets us free, that bestows fullness of life.
We appropriate those glorious gifts through faith in the actions of his son Jesus who revealed God’s love on the cross by dying for us.
This reveals the multi-faceted glory of God where the ultimate symbol of Love is a man willingly dying on the cross to set us free.
The revelation of the glory of God to Paul, was not any answer to unanswered questions, it was a revelation of the glory of God through the revelation of and encounter with a raised and living man, Jesus Christ. He was blown away by the resurrection of Jesus.
Far from being an answer to anyone’s questions or offering the gospel as an answer to anyone’s problems, in fact this proved to be just the start of a whole host of new questions and set him on the road to try to comprehend the new vision which “upset” his previous answers which leads us to the next part of Paul’s writing, that he now wants to get to know this Christ and the power of his resurrection.
This is a task that will stretch to the end of our physical lives and beyond.
The Westminster catechism states “that man’s chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever”
Our scripture set for today ends with Paul saying that he is not perfect by any means and hasn’t fully grasped the glory of God but he presses on to make that his goal.

The Christian church is conjoined with this mission – so that each of us in our own way and at our own speed progressively discovers – unwraps – the gift of life bestowed on each of us as Christians. We pray that our enthusiasm for this gospel will consume us and will make it easier to communicate to others.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Forgiveness

Genesis 50: 15-21(page 44 in our pew Bibles) Everyone likes a happy ending. Jacob dies and instead of then turning on his brothers now that the old man is out of the picture Joseph is reconciled to his brothers and interprets the evil they did to him in a wider context that led to good.
Romans 14: 1-12 (page 948 in our pew Bibles) Paul tells us that these second order differences between fellow Christians such as when and what we eat or whether one observes a Sunday or saints day as more Holy than others, are peripheral and should not cause divisions amongst us as long as we are convinced that we are serving God by doing so and recognise the Lordship of Christ.
Matthew 18: 21-35 (page 823 in our pew Bibles) We all know we ought to forgive others but sometimes that seems all but impossible and knowing we ought to just heaps guilt on top of us. This parable is complex but roots all of our own potential forgiving in God's prior forgiveness of ourselves.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to forgive those who have injured us. We know that. The greatest prayer in Christendom – The Lord’s prayer tells us  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us”

This church will be full of people who know that intellectually there is much to commend forgiveness, in that the letting go of hurts and grudges has enormous mental health benefits, and that we should forgive others. Forgiveness draws a line so we can move on with our lives

And yet we do find it well nigh impossible to do so. Forgiveness is so very hard.

If you have been cheated on by a spouse, or double crossed by a friend or business partner, that leaves you feeling angry, cheated, shamed, defeated, or is terrible,

To then be told that you ought to forgive them, and you just can’t then just adds guilt  to the whole situation which makes everything worse. Burning coals are heaped on your head. 

It is in this context that we should view today’s gospel reading about forgiveness.

In that opening exchange between Jesus and Peter, Jesus says that you should forgive your brother not seven times but seventy seven times. What Jesus is trying to say is that forgiveness is not a commodity that can be calculated on a calculator, and so the language of numbers in inappropriate.

That numbers are inappropriate is illustrated in the parable that Jesus tells;

The king forgives a man who owed him 10,000 talents. We lose the force of this in our modern English translations. That amount is the equivalent to the wages of a day labourer in Palestine for 150,000 years – an absurdly enormous amount. The king represents God and that first servant represents every one of us.

God forgiveness of us is based not in numbers or any kind of justice, but based in mercy - unlimited mercy.

And that servant, us, after being forgiven so much then goes out and can’t even find it within him to forgive a piffling amount.

So what is happening here? Well for one thing the servant is quite deluded because he says to the king, “Oh have patience with me, I’ll repay everything in full” which of course he could never do because, as we have seen it was such a huge sum – his wages for 150,000 years! He imagines he is dealing with the king on the basis of Justice, but he is dealing with mercy.

But also there is a huge gap in this story that we must consider. He was forgiven an extraordinary amount and yet there was no rejoicing, no gratitude and no celebrating with his wife and family, and no reflection on being set free from such a crippling debt.

He hadn’t changed. He hadn’t discovered or appropriated God’s mercy really. He had been given mercy but he hadn’t “received” it. He still thought he was dealing with Justice, numbers, a commodity, so when he came across the other servant who owed him a few Denarii he dealt with him in exactly the same way as he would have before he had been forgiven.

He hadn’t come to see himself as a truly gifted person, a recipient of God’s mercy.
And don’t forget that Jesus is pointing the finger at all of us in this parable.

For one thing, most people see themselves as quite OK really with not much to forgive. We are good people. And just like the servant, we delude ourselves that what we owe is payable and not much is owed anyway. But near the core of the Christian faith is the belief that if we say we have no sin we delude ourselves.

So how does any of this help anyone struggling to forgive others?

As with another seemingly intractable problem like suffering, Christians are not given a pat answer.
We are given instead a dramatic story that portrays the incredible  kindness of God to all of us. We are given a story that shows God dealing with people not by using the scales of justice, even though that is what we want, but deals with people by showing mercy.

Unlike the servant who didn’t appropriate God’s mercy, we are invited to receive and show gratitude for God’s great kindness towards us and let that fact start to soften and change us.

Our forgiveness of others is based in God’s forgiveness of us, which when appropriated produces a sense of gratitude and rejoicing and greater magnanimity .

The differences between us all is slight, just as the difference between the two servants was slight. We do not want to get into the game of playing innocent versus guilty in our personal relationships because that is really not what it is about, but knowing that when we join a Christian community, our base line is that we join a community of forgiven sinners, whose defining characteristic is gratitude, rejoicing and joy.  




Monday, 11 September 2017

Building a healthy church

Ezekiel 33: 7-11 (page 721 in our pew Bibles) Confronted by people who object to the message of coming judgement, the prophet replies that he is like a watchman who has seen the enemy approaching and is issuing a warning to alert the people. If he were to fail in that calling he would be culpable.
Romans 13: 8-14 (page 948 in our pew Bibles) Paul writes "Love does no wrong to a neighbour therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" Works do not save us but we, as Christians are still to fulfill the commandments.
Matthew 18: 15-20 (page 823 in our pew Bibles) The formula for settling disputes are for the greater good of producing a united and coherent community and this results in more effective prayer when we are more united.

How do we deal with disputes within our own church congregation? Well there are guidelines for how to do it in Matthew this morning but what underpins the formula is a very specific understanding of the local church community as a “body” where the cohesiveness of all of our constituent parts is of the highest importance.

And when we talk of “coming to” church rather than “being” church, we betray the fact that in our minds the church is something “other” and outside of ourselves rather being intrinsic to who we are.

The plain fact of the matter is that this building is not the real church – this building houses the church which is all of us gathered together.

The danger of course is that we confuse the two things and end up caring far more about the physical state of the building than we care about the spiritual health of the congregation.

And the formula for settling disputes between ourselves is that we talk to each other first and if then there is still a dispute we get a couple more people involved and eventually the whole church has to make a decision.

It is natural that we try and limit arguments because we have the general spiritual health of the whole church to consider – but why?

Because the church as I’ve said is not this building, it is an organic living breathing entity with a corporate life that must be nurtured otherwise it withers and dies.

We need to be built up in three main ways, spiritually, theologically, and socially.
All need attention and the social side speaks for itself and is the reason we hold dinner clubs and Tynemouth walks and the MU and W3 hold various social events though the year.

Spiritual and theological nurture is more complex but each service is a part of the whole but also courses like Alpha and Christianity explored, and home groups like Dorothy’s group and the various groups I have led are a part of the whole thing.

What underpins all of that is a devotion to God’s truth no matter where that leads us.

Ezekiel was confronted by people who didn’t like God’s truth being prophesied by him and we heard Jeremiah complaining about just the same sort of thing happening to him last Sunday.

It is a lesson for us that God’s truth, however much it might run counter to the prevailing culture, must be preached no matter what and no matter how unpopular that may be.

The sort of God preached in some churches nowadays is just a big soft formless pink blancmange who never has a bad word to say about anyone or anything and offers no transformation , challenge or life.

And this does matter. The most recent British social attitudes survey makes grim reading that in just one year the amount of people professing religious belief has dived decisively below the 50% mark from 52 – 47 and alongside that, the statistics make worse reading for the C of E, in that against our decline, there is one group that has bucked the trend and has actually increased its share of the population and that is the independent evangelical churches who now make up 17% and growing of the total. This gradual long term shift of power is I think in part due to our neglect of the theological and spiritual. We have left a vacuum that others will fill.

But no matter what we do or say it must be done in love – genuine love and Paul reminds us of that this morning.

Whether that be in personal disputes or preaching, we must want the best for everyone, and that best is God’s truth..

When a community starts to coalesce around the central idea that we are a sacrament of God – that we are bearers of the Holy Spirit – and God’s light in a darkened world and not just a collection of diverse people who happen to meet once a week in church we fulfil our vocation.

Being strengthened by the Spirit through the Eucharist helps form us. As we will say later in this liturgy “Though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread”


Monday, 4 September 2017

In this world you will have trouble, but.....

Jeremiah 15: 15-21(page 643 in our pew Bibles) An intense and personal dialogue between God and Jeremiah. Following God has brought Joy but also intense pain and anguish and led to isolation and suffering. Being caught up in the mystery of human redemption involves pain.
Romans 12: 9 - 21 (page 948 in our pew Bibles) Short pithy sayings concerning how Christians should deal with each other even in times of suffering and how best to respond to persecution.
Matthew 16:21 - 28 (page 822 in our pew Bibles) Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to shield Jesus from suffering and death, saying that he has set his mind on the things of man and not the things of God.The mystery of divine suffering spoken of by Jeremiah reaches its climax on the cross.

In John 16:33 Jesus says “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world”

Pain and suffering and opposition and trouble incurred in the process of following God are revealed to be a certainty.

And this is certainly the case for Jeremiah who we heard complaining in our first reading this morning.

For Jeremiah the joy of following and prophesying the will of God was offset by great pain and suffering and lead to his social isolation. He berates God for misleading him and leading him down a blind alley, though caught up in the mystery of God he has no option but to carry on.

The knowledge that he has to go on preaching imminent judgement to a largely deaf audience is like a pain that cannot be dulled.

And in Jesus, the redemption of the whole world was achieved through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. So central is this to our belief system that we forget how scandalous this sounds.

To Muslims for example, part of their rejection of Jesus on the cross is their refusal to countenance the fact that God could suffer in any kind of way.

In modern society, pain and suffering and of course death are seen as entirely negative things to be stopped by any means and in a general sense that is true. The only place where attitude is modified is in sport where the adage “No pain no gain” has general consent.

We are speaking here of the pain directly incurred as a result of doing God’s will of course and probably the most emotive liturgical service in the Christian calendar is Good Friday – the clue is in the title – that we elevate the personal suffering of Jesus to the level of
“Good.”

Good in the sense that without the suffering the salvation and forgiveness that was
wouldn’t have been achieved without it because He was involved in the eternal spiritual war between good and evil.
.
We might not like it, but it is the fact of the matter.

But then Jesus says something much more challenging than that.

He speaks to us all directly through his conversation with Peter in the Bible;

For merely supposing that Jesus could or should be shielded from pain and death, Jesus calls Peter Satan. Can you imagine how hurt and confused Peter would have been to be told that?

The Christian way is a hard way, not free from opposition or far from trouble or being isolated or shunned because of what you believe and proclaim. This is normal and while we have been blessed in this country for a long time, those days perhaps may be returning.

And the killer blow comes when Jesus says that if anyone wants to follow Jesus he must take up his cross and follow him.

And it is Important to realise here that the cross was not a shorthand for generalised suffering as in “we all have our cross to bear” in 1st century Palestine. It had a very specific meaning. The cross was a punishment reserved for sedition, for opposition to the state, opposition to the worldly power structures of the day.

If we are to take up our cross it means not being afraid to confront injustice, ungodliness and corruption which undermines dehumanises and controls  whether it is wielded by the state or non-governmental bodies, like the church for example…..

We are called to join in that spiritual struggle for right against wrong wherever that may take us. It may lead us to be ridiculed or sidelined, made fun of perhaps or worse, but Jesus commands us to go on regardless

Our loyalty, my loyalty, is first to God and his gospel as recorded in the Bible. His will and truth come first.
For anyone who does and preaches God’s will and runs up against sanction and retribution we are only feeling a fraction of what Jesus did and we are blessed in the doing.

The Christ event is primarily a clash of kingdoms – the kingdoms of this world versus the kingdom of God which met on a cross on a hillside outside Jerusalem.

On Good Friday it appeared that the worldly powers had won – but that supposed victory was turned around on Easter Sunday

Jesus commands us to embody and pursue the kingdom of God against all worldly systems.

When you do that, Jesus promises that you will provoke opposition often leading to pain, sorrow and death. It is natural that this will happen when we directly oppose the powers of our enemies, because as Paul reminded us in a many chapters on this subject we are in a spiritual war. And we need to be armed.

The Spiritual armour that comforts me most from Paul’s words this morning… is that we don’t go looking for trouble. As long as it has anything to do with you,(he says) live peaceably with all but we should at the same time be zealous, be fervent in spirit, rejoice in hope and be patient when trouble comes and most of all be constant in prayer.   

In prayer we are joined to the Source, the Spirit that promised through Jesus that yes, you will have trouble in this world, but take heart and be strengthened by the fact that I have overcome the world.


Monday, 21 August 2017

A house of prayer for ALL peoples

Has anyone experienced being deliberately left out of a game in the playground or even worse because it is so public standing in a line waiting to be picked for a team – each time hoping that they are going to pick you and every time being overlooked – even by your friends?
Being excluded is profoundly uncomfortable.
Being excluded by God because you were not born Jewish would feel absolutely awful wouldn’t it?
The Jews were of course the “chosen people” , which of course means that other peoples. Including us were not chosen.
Being marked out like this has been both a blessing and a curse. I remember during one of my favourite films – Fiddler on the roof – after yet another tragedy Tevye looks up to heaven and says “Lord I know we are the chosen people, but just once in a while, couldn’t you choose someone else?”

But the question is “For what purpose were the Jews chosen”?

They were chosen to be a light to the gentiles. God’s purpose was to speak through the Jews to reach the whole world.

We heard Isaiah Today saying that the Temple in Jerusalem was to be a house of prayer for all nations!

Jesus actually refers to Isaiah’s prophesy that the Temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be “house of prayer for all peoples” just before he cleared out the moneychangers if you remember rightly.

Paul in his letter says that God’s promises to the Jews can never be revoked but the promises made to the world through the Jews were answered and fulfilled by Jesus Christ because the Jews were only ever partially successful in being a guiding light to the world.

Jesus uses a term from gardening and agriculture. We are “grafted in” to the vine that was the Jewish nation, but of course, Jesus declares in John’s gospel that the “true vine” is Jesus Himself, who took over the role of being “the light to the gentiles”.

Bearing in mind all this the exchange with the foreign woman is completely out of character.
But one thing the Bible is not able to transmit is tone of voice and context.

Given what we have just said Jesus could never have referred to the lady, and by implication all foreigners as dogs. So what is going on.

And the proof of that is twofold. Not the slightest hint of any offence is indicated by the woman in the text – in fact she joins in the fun and says “well yes, but even the doggies get the crumbs off the master’s table” and the greatest proof that Jesus was kidding is that the woman’s faith is commended and her daughter is healed instantly.
Salvation came to her house.

Jesus seems to have been playing with both the woman and his disciples, by first stating something he obviously didn’t believe in.

“I have only come to the house of Israel – not you foreigners.”

And it cannot convey sarcasm – but scholars do know that the word Jesus uses is a diminuitive form of the word so it is more affectionate term like “doggies” or puppies or house dogs.
He is teasing both the woman and his own disciples and poking fun at the fierce exclusivism that had taken hold in some quarters.

Salvation is for all people, but even the word “salvation” has become a distant, disconnected, plastic, theoretical theological concept that doesn’t immediately scratch where we are itching.

Another word for salvation is healing. The root of the word salvation is “salve”, to soothe, to lighten, to comfort, to ease.

If you can make that connection you have a better chance of personally appropriating the notion of salvation for yourself.

Because the word has accrued a distant, disconnected, plastic, theoretical theological concept kind of meaning that doesn’t immediately scratch where we are itching.

Do you want salvation? Dunno really, do I?
Do you want healing, soothing, rest for your soul, saving from yourself or your enemies, making whole again, have everything put right? Yes, I do.

This is what Jesus offers because it is what God has always wanted to offer to all of us, and God works through Jesus, born a Jew, to speak to the whole world.


Approach Jesus in faith and this is what he offers despite our present circumstances no matter how dire they may be or what nationality you are. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

The still, small voice of God

1 Kings 19: 9-18 (page 301 in our pew Bibles) The still small voice of God speaks to Elijah, called a low whisper in our translation, or "a thin silence" in some others. God can speak to us in any way He likes but it certainly doesn't have to be dramatic.
Romans 10: 5-15 (page 946 in our pew Bibles) The assurance of salvation has to be preached. This is the solemn duty of every minister of the gospel.
Matthew 14: 22-33 (page 820 in our pew Bibles) The authority of God in Christ extends over all creation. Peter only shares in that authority while he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus

A favourite hymn of some in this church is a hymn called “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine”.
And you know that is I suggest one of the major differences between Christianity and all other religions.
In some Eastern religions who believe in reincarnation where you go and what you become are determined by how good or otherwise you have been.
In Islam your fate is in the hands of a distant, unknowable deity and while Allah can do as he pleases salvation is again believed to be determined by how good you have been.
In both cases, salvation, your future, is determined by “works” as the Bible puts it.
To put it in prosaic terms, whether you go to heaven or not is determined by what you do here on earth but nothing is guaranteed because we all know how far we can stray from the straight and narrow..
People often wonder why Christianity is called “Good news” which is what the word “Gospel” means.
It means you have absolute assurance of entry to the kingdom of God not by what you have done or not done but by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Faith in God’s grace (his free and unmerited love) demonstrated on the cross means that we believe that anything that stood in the way of our entry to heaven or the Kingdom of God was cleared away and forgiven, clearing the way for us to be granted that holy status as a child of God.
And in simply stating that to you all this morning I have fulfilled Paul’s call spelled out in his letter today. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news” (v. 15)
You have that blessed assurance that your soul is clean and you are a child of God when we put our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our sins are forgiven and we have access to the kingdom through faith in God’s Love.
Making that claim loud and clear is what Paul is concerned with.
But how is that claim confirmed in our hearts. How does God communicate with us. How does He speak?
On one level he can speak through monumental acts like the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but as  is recounted in the first letter of Kings today He spoke to Elijah not through a mighty wind or an earthquake but in a “still small voice, in the translation we use it is referred to as “a low whisper” or in some others in “a thin silence” which is very mysterious and evocative.
It conjures up notions of having your conscience pricked, or a strange feeling in your gut, being mysteriously drawn in one direction or another.
You can be struck by a particular phrase or sentence of scripture even though you may have heard it scores of times before.
Sometimes words can appear in your mind or even “heard”. I have only one experience of this personally. My first wife, who died, was a very down to earth woman not given to flights of fancy but when I was trying to decide whether to go forward into public ministry in the church she was sitting on our front doorstep having a cigarette contemplating, and came in and said that she had heard words spoken to her in a soft whisper and the words were
“Feed my sheep”
Words which have propelled me in my ministry ever since.
God speaks to us also through other people (and they don’t have to be Christians or aware that God has acted through them) and through situations – both good and bad.
God speaks through Jesus’ teaching and occasions in the Bible. One such is the walking on the water incident which on one level is a description of God’s transcendent power over the created order – but the most important part of that story is not concerned with Jesus directly at all but with Peter.
Peter can walk on the water as well – that is the point – but only all the while that he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. As soon as he is distracted, his gaze wavers, and he starts to sink and Jesus has to haul him out.
And there lies the message on this passage. Not a spectacular stunt to amaze your friends, but in all things and in all situations keep your eyes fixed on Jesus because he transcends all situations and all calamities. 
If we don’t, when storms come, and they WILL come, we can metaphorically sink and be overcome by the storms of life. But keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and the good news he brings and let that be the dominant voice in our predicaments we can transcend all situations. We can walk on water.
God will have spoken to you all in one way or another in your life, otherwise I doubt many of you would be here today. What we need is to pray that our antennae are turned on and sharpened so we can hear what is so often a still small voice.
Let us pray.
Father you come to us and speak to us in many and various ways. Help us first of all to be expecting you to do so and secondly to be able to discern your voice amongst the clamour and noise in this world.

Amen.