Monday, 20 March 2017

Come to me and drink.

Exodus 17: 1-7 (page 59 in our pew Bibles) God provides water in the wilderness for his unruly and quarrelsome people.
Romans 5: 1-11 (page 942 in our pew Bibles) We have peace with God and access to God's Grace through faith so we can rejoice at all times, even when we are suffering. In fact suffering produces endurance, character and hope.
John 4: 5-42 (page 888 in our pew Bibles) Jesus offers everyone who comes to him in our metaphorical "spiritual wilderness" living water that wells up to eternal life.

The reason for putting the Exodus reading alongside John 4 is perfectly obvious.
When the Jews – God’s people were wandering in the wilderness and feeling increasingly remote and distrustful of God, through Moses, God provided them with water to drink and slake their thirst.
Wind forward 1,500 years and Jesus offers everyone who feels that they too are walking in the wilderness spiritual water that doesn’t just slake our immediate thirst but is a present continuous gift that never leaves us. We are incorporated into the Kingdom of God and this gift goes with us wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. The story of the woman at the well is a fantastic parable with so much depth but I’ll return to some of those insights a little later.
Because  the results of possessing that spiritual water is exactly what Paul is writing about in his letter to the Romans. Building on what Paul said last week, and written again here – we have access to God’s Grace through faith –  Paul is interested in how this works in a human life – how does it improve your life? Paul says that the natural outcome of faith is that is it produces a sense of peace. Peace in all circumstances.
Peace is a state of mind and being that we possess despite our circumstances. Whether we are happy or sad, whether we have just encountered success or failure, a new birth or a death, we always have at the very centre of our being, the spirit of God who guarantees our present and future incorporation in the Kingdom of God. We have the “peace” that we celebrate in every Eucharist and will celebrate again today.
Peace is a product  of the permanence of the Spirit of God, and the knowledge and trust in our state of possessing eternal life in a glorious re-creation that enables us to rejoice in whatever position we find ourselves.
In good times or bad times – it doesn’t matter - we still possess the presence of God, our guarantor of eternal life, we know we are loved and that is why we can rejoice in bad times as well as the good times.
I used to watch TV shows when prisoners would say that their conversion to Christianity gave them Freedom and I used to wonder what they meant. But even while they were caged behind bars, inside they were free. Despite their circumstances, they knew they were forgiven, loved by God, and had eternal life.
In fact Paul goes one step further and says that actually the bad times can be wonderful learning experiences and can be used to build endurance, character and hope.
Another important facet that Jesus tells us through his encounter with this Samaritan woman is that where you go to worship God is not the right question. John 4:23 Jesus tells us that true worshippers of the Father will do so in Spirit and truth. It is not a question of where, but how!
You can have a scenario where a prisoner in prison can have truer worship than a cardinal in the Sistine chapel if the cardinal is half hearted and hiding something, or feeling proud and pleased with himself, rather than a prisoner who admits the truth and reality of his situation, seeks forgiveness and approaches God in sincerity, humility and truth.
In another place Jesus tells us a parable about just that scenario in his parable (Luke 18:9-14) about the tax collector and the Pharisee.
It is one of the few occasions when Jesus unambiguously announces that He is the promised Messiah 4:26) and not just for the Jews but for all people because of course this woman was not Jewish.
Jesus says (John 10:10) when asked why he had come, he answered “That they may have fullness of life”. One of the meanings of this short saying is that Jesus wants the possession of the water of Life, God’s spirit to improve our present life;
To gain a new perspective on life in general and your own life in particular;
To gain Peace – Peace with God, peace with others and peace within yourself based on the assurance we have in God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life.
To gain Endurance, character and hopeful outlook on life.

Jesus offers us the water of life. All we have to do is echo the words of this Samaritan woman and say “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty”.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Amazing Grace!

Genesis 12: 1-4 (page 8 in our pew Bibles) Abram is the Father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a man from Mesopotamia (current day Iraq) who obeys God's instruction without question to set off for the land of Canaan. Abram means "Exalted Father" but after God confirms the covenant with Abram by way of circumcision he renames him "Abraham" which means "Father of a multitude."   
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (page 941 in our pew Bibles) Paul uses the example of Abraham to explain why Grace (the free gift of God) is superior and came long before the law of Moses. Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness" to explain that Grace made effective by Faith is superior to following the law.
John 3: 1-17 (page 887 in our pew Bibles) We must be born again by the Holy Spirit says Jesus to see the Kingdom of God. Otherwise we display the dead hand of legalism and intellectualism alone. The Spirit is part of the three fold being of God so without the Spirit our faith is dead (detached from the living reality of God) comes alive in God.(A spring of living water welling up to eternal life - John 4:14)  

Grace is a word we all know if only through the cliché “There but for the Grace of God go I” or through the words of the Hymn “Amazing Grace”, and it is central to understanding Christianity so I feel it needs a working definition.

Grace is the completely free and unmerited favour and love of God.

“Free and unmerited” are very important words for they mean that it costs you nothing at the point of need – just like the NHS in fact, but just like the NHS it doesn’t cost nothing to provide it free at the point of need, it costs the country billions and Grace cost the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ to provide Grace free to you at the point of need.
It is God’s Grace that saves us but that Grace is only made effective in someone’s life if we can appropriate God’s grace and we do that through faith.
When we believe in God’s unmerited love for us – it is then that we reap the benefits in our lives.

This is the big idea behind Paul’s writings, the very foundation of Christianity and was the fuel that fed the protestant reformation of which we, the Church of England are an integral part.

Following the Spirit of the law is a great thing, a necessary response to Grace, but it doesn’t save you in and of itself.

This is the central idea preached by Paul and retrieved by the reformers and is the motor of true Christianity. Paul uses the example of Abraham and Moses to emphasise the point. Abraham came well before the law was given to Moses so Paul says, being made right with God through faith was always the first and original idea that preceded following the law which the Jewish religion had come to rely on as the prime way of pleasing God.

Believing in what God has done for you in Jesus is the only way to please God, to be made righteous in God’s eyes and to be given eternal life.

In the beginning of John’s gospel John has already said that believing in Jesus is what gives us the right become God’s children (John 1:12) and it is this and the resulting gift of the Holy Spirit that we all need.

Nicodemus needed it; Nicodemus was a very religious man, a religious leader who knew the scriptures backwards, yet Nicodemus had missed, despite his great learning the very heart of the faith.
Jesus said those immortal words “You will never enter the kingdom of God unless you are born again” says Jesus.

You might be able to quote the entire Bible from memory and attend every service but until the Spirit of God comes a living reality in your heart, your religion will remain dull, lifeless, and unexciting and devoid of the only thing really worth having – which is God himself – living in our hearts and minds by his Spirit.

That was true for Nicodemus and I’m sure true for a lot of Christians ever since as well.
It is a situation that we can fall into time and again which is why Paul says we should pray to keep being filled with the Holy Spirit

Is our religion dull and lifeless and operates along rusty rail tracks or living and active and as fluid and surprising and refreshing as the wind?  That is not me asking you the question, that is Jesus asking us (as his church) the question.  

Is Jesus for us a living connection with God or just a man who died about 2,000 years ago who we follow as a great moral teacher, at a distance.

A solution to us becoming personally and corporately closer to God is prayer – both privately and corporately.

And instead of just leaving it there hanging in the air, I want to invite everyone to close their eyes, find as much inner peace as you can muster and pray with me;

Come Holy Spirit, come blow into my life like the wind.
Prompt and move me to move closer to our Father. Set me in the stream of your Spirit to cleanse and refresh me.
Help me to grow into the person you want me to be and an instrument of your love.
Amen.


Monday, 6 March 2017

Christ brings life and freedom

Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7 (page 2 in our pew Bibles) Attainment of the knowledge of good and evil makes humankind like God, and as far as we know, no other creature possesses this awareness. But while we are like God in this respect, that doesn't mean that we are able to cope with good and evil. In the narrative in Genesis, this actually culminates in such chaos and evil that God decides to destroy the world in a universal flood. Only the eternal God and not limited humanity can bring it to a resolution.
Romans 5: 12-19 (page 942 in our pew Bibles) Paul's main point here is to compare and contrast the impact of Adam's disobedience with Christ's obedience with the emphasis on "how much more" are the positive effects of Christ's act of righteousness compared to Adam's sin. Though Paul never articulates a universal salvation and actually differentiates between those who are being saved and those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18) the logic of his theology pushes in that direction. Certainly the only assurance we can have of our personal salvation is to believe the gospel.  
Matthew 4: 1-11 (page 809 in our pew Bibles) The purpose of the passage is to explain Jesus' rejection of the temptation to depart from God's will in contrast to the people of Israel's departure from God's will in their 40 years in the wilderness between the exodus and their entry into the promised land. The replies of Jesus are all from Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:16, 6:13) and refer to the manna, and the golden calf. Jesus wins through where the Israelites failed.

The themes highlighted in each of today’s readings demand a book written on each one so condensing each of them into one cohesive whole is a major task.

One of the themes highlighted in Genesis is our ability, unique to humankind as far as we know, to discern and make moral choices, and our inability to cope with that responsibility, until Jesus thousands of years later does so in his life.
In Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness we have a direct comparison with how the Israelites fared and failed in their wanderings in the wilderness after the exodus. To ram home the contrast, Jesus’ replies to the Devil are all taken from Deuteronomy which refer to the Israelites where they failed in the wilderness, particularly to their reaction to the manna and the making of the Golden calf.

Where the Israelites tried and failed to live in a perfect relationship with God, Jesus triumphed. The whole of what God was trying to achieve through the Israelites – to be a light to the gentiles and a way to God – was now to pass to a single human being, Jesus, the embodiment of a “perfect Israel” in a single person.   

What do we mean when we say that Jesus was without sin? It means that Jesus shared a perfect unbroken relationship with God, where Sin is understood as a broken relationship with God.
This was demonstrated in the first prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had just been baptised and at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form and the words of God said “This is my son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased”

But the first act of the Holy Spirit was to drive Jesus out into the wilderness! If you read the text (verse 1) it was God’s Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness, to prove his worth, to be tested. And where Israel had been found wanting, Jesus was found to be unshakable and rejected the temptation to use his relationship with God for his own personal gain or for power.
Jesus followed God’s will all the way to the cross. He didn’t want to die but as you remember he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Yet not my will but yours”

As the first person to actually remain in perfect communion with his Father without rebelling, and exuded the same ability to make perfect moral choices as the Father himself, the “Jesus event” effectively reversed the Sin of all humanity that was introduced and explained by the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.
Sin came into the world through one man – Adam – and was taken away from the world by one man – Jesus.

This is explained by Paul in our reading from his letter to the Romans this morning. The text can be a little dense but in verse 18 he makes it clear that “as one trespass (Adam) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (Jesus) leads to justification and life for all men.

God’s offer of new life, eternal life, to all, is an offer made freely and can be received freely by all people everywhere without exception. It is made effective in our lives through faith, so life is not just life after death but fullness of life before death.


Monday, 13 February 2017

We're all in this together!

Deuteronomy 30: 15 - 20 (page 172 in our pew Bibles) God has set before us life and good or death and evil. The wonder is that we have the choice, and that choice is always now. We know what to do because the word of God is near us as it says in the verse immediately before this extract. The word of God is in our mouth and our heart.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (page 953 in our pew Bibles)We are still spiritual children until we acknowledge that God is the soul source of our authority. Paul writes about the church, "For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building."  
Matthew 5: 21-37 (page 810 in our pew Bibles) A piece of teaching that amplifies what I preached about last Sunday. Anger and insults, will be judged by God because they come from the same source that leads to murder. In the same way looking lustfully at a woman is the source of adultery in the next section of scripture. Jesus looks into the heart of our being and knows the truth about us. It is pointless to try and run and hide or deny the truth about ourselves.

The church at Corinth must have an exciting and dynamic church when you read what Paul says about it but that wasn’t the whole story. Paul calls them immature. In a Christian sense he calls them children rather than mature Christian adults. He was hoping to stop feeding them milk, and get onto solid food
The Corinthian church was a dynamic one where spiritual gifts abounded, but at another level they were also immature and lacking in understanding.
What was their downfall? It is about the very nature of the church and the nature of ministry. He calls out their immaturity by talking about them comparing himself Paul, with another pastor called Apollos and pitting them against each other in their minds.
You are missing the point says Paul, because to use an analogy (verse 6) from nature, one man plants and another nurtures, but true growth comes from God alone.
Paul and Apollos are not people to compared with each other, they are both simply servants of God with a common purpose and responsibility. They were though both set apart for their God given tasks – set apart, but not above. He refers to himself and Apollos as God’s fellow workers, and the church community as God’s field, God’s building.
That for me is a great template for all ordained official ministry in the church today. Not set above, but set apart for a specific role for the benefit of God’s field, God’s building. God’s church – that’s us.
That is what God wants us to do in order to grow to maturity as Christians. Recognise God as the final arbiter, God as the final authority.  Recognise all ministry and the Christian life and gifts, not as reflections of talent or hard work but as part as our service to God.
But there is also something within Paul’s writing that might be seen as quite unsettling or unreal. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking that Paul elevates the Spiritual life over and above the physical aspects of life.
But what Paul rejects is not the “evil” body in favour of the Spirit, he is explaining his understanding of what makes for maturity in the Christian community.
When Paul contrasts flesh and spirit, he refers to the flesh not as inherently evil, but in terms of having a flawed perspective that characterises purely human decisions which are flawed and transient.
In contrast to this, decisions made by a spiritually mature Christian person, informed by God are true and clear sighted.  This is Paul’s description of the difference between Spiritual people and people of the flesh.
What Paul mentions today for us is amplified in the same letter – chapter twelve of Corinthians;
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body.
What this means is not rocket science. We all have gifts and a contribution to make to the Christian community. If anyone here today had decided not to come today, the whole body would be the poorer for it. We all have a contribution to make to the whole community. We don’t all have the same gifting; just as Paul points out in today’s reading, not everyone can plant a church like Paul, not everyone can nurture a church like Apollos, but we all do have a role and none of us can do without eachother.
I can’t lead the Sunday school like the Sunday school team do, my gifts lie elsewhere. At the end of the service I’ll want a cup of coffee. Someone makes that, and someone supplies the cakes. No one person can do everything.
If I were to want you to leave with one message today it is that whoever you are, you have been put here by God and you are valuable. You have a contribution to make no matter how small you might think that may be. And you are valued just for exactly who you are.
A body needs everything there are, just being and contributing their gifts where they can. That way we get stronger


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Walk the talk!

Isaiah 58: 1-9 (page 617 in our pew Bibles). God condemns our hypocrisy in seeking him yet at the same time ignoring his commands. A lot of us, including a lot of ministers, are in constant danger of being functional atheists. just like the ancient Israelites as the words of Isaiah describes it. By which I mean that the words, creeds, prayers, sacraments, and hymns, appear to leave no impact on their character or nature or outlook whatsoever.
1 Corinthians 2: 1-16 (page 952 in our pew Bibles) Christians come to an awareness of the wisdom of God through the gift of the Spirit of God. It is a Spiritual gift and not something we work for. Rather it is to be prayed for.
Matthew 5: 13-20 (page 810 in our pew Bibles) There is no compromise in Matthew's gospel which can be very appealing as well as disturbing. We are called to be different, and part of this difference is to practice righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the pharisees. Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfill the law and the prophets, and He interprets the law even more rigorously for his followers in the sermon on the mount. 

In Isaiah we have what could be one of the most insightful pieces on the difference Jesus makes to religious practices written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
It is not the religious practice itself that has any validity of its own but the Spirit of the practice that has practical consequences that underlies it.
Verses 6 -8 of today’s except from Chapter 58 very clear. The practice of fasting is not rejected but the true Spirit behind it is expressed only through the “doing” of righteousness.
The practice of fasting is useless unless it is backed by a reaching out to the oppressed, practicing Justice expressed as sharing our bread with the hungry.
This is a profound insight as we will be entering the period of Lent soon which is a period of fasting.
The lesson we might take from this is not that the practice of fasting has died out, not just in secular society but also within the churches as well – and this is a bad thing. If we interpret Isaiah correctly, God doesn’t care whether we fast quite so much as he cares as to whether we practice his sense of justice, the spiritual underpinning of the fasting process.
Jesus himself has no problem in fasting. Jesus says in Matthew 6:17 “When you fast” not if you fast but then goes on to decry those who do so in the wrong Spirit, for public recognition rather tha anything real or godly.
So what is Jesus and Isaiah both arguing for? It is personal integrity – thought, word and deed going together.  Our faith must have practical outcomes or it is, as Jesus described it – hypocrisy.
That is a Greek word that means you are an actor because our faith is an act and our religious practices are empty. There must be real life consequences.
It is just as Jesus said in Matthew “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet”.
Jesus then explains his whole relationship with the law that echoes exactly what Isaiah said. Jesus did not come to get rid of the law – he came to fulfil it and to reveal the spiritual underpinning of the law as the most important thing.
This was the very core of his fight with the Sadducees and Pharisees, who amplified exacting devotion to religious practices like fasting and ritual purity above all things.
The best example of that I think is when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath and the religious people thought that was terrible because Jesus had broken the strict Sabbath observance law and “worked” on the Sabbath.
The sermon on the mount is reckoned to be some of the finest Spiritual truths ever uttered but if you read on to the end of this chapter in Matthew you will notice something which can hit people rather hard.
You just need to look on Jesus’ next teaching on the law that says “Thou shalt not kill or murder”.
Jesus explains the spiritual underpinning of this law and says that even if you’ve ever been angry it is exactly the same in God’s eyes.
Jesus makes it much tougher and by the time you have got to the end of chapter five you are certain that God’s righteousness and purity, which underpins the law is so Holy that you probably fall short of it every day of your life.
This is why Christianity says that (1 John 1:8) “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.
The standard set by God is so high that we constantly miss that high standard and we are all sinners. The word we translate as sin in the new testament is hamartia which means “missing the mark” falling short of the standard.
But in our reading from 1 Corinthians we have the answer to that problem. God’s standards of purity are so high that we all miss and we all deserve God’s judgement. But God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to take the judgement on all of us, on himself and die in our place instead.

Faith in His love for us revealed on the cross as Paul writes is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Don’t put your faith in worldly wisdom, which has no power, put your faith in the Love and promises and action of God who expressed his wisdom in Jesus Christ on the cross who died that we might live.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

Isaiah 9: 1-4 (page 573 in our pew Bibles) "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". So familiar at Christmastime, it gets another airing this week because it is quoted in the gospel reading. It refers to the parts of Israel overrun by the Assyrians in 734BC which became the "land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations" but then introduces the notion of "Holy war" by referring to "the day of Midian" referring to Gideon's military victory over the Midianites (Judges 7:15-23) with just 300 men, so was only achieved with God's help against impossible odds. 
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18 (page 952 in our pew Bibles). A reminder that what unifies us is the cross of Christ, a fact that is central and supersedes all other things and personalities and internal movements and denominations within Christianity. 
Matthew 4:12-23 (page 809 in our pew Bibles). It is clear from this passage and from Mark's gospel that the content of Jesus' preaching was "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand". Our call to repentance, of turning our lives around and aligning them with God's rule, is akin to Paul saying "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind"(Romans 12:2). This command of Jesus is still central to our call.

If you had gone to hear a sermon preached by Jesus, what would you have heard? The central message upon which everything else was based, like the sermon on the mount is made pretty clear in the Bible and is repeated in our gospel reading this morning in verse 17.
From that time Jesus began to preach saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
That is what you would have heard primarily. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
The word translated “Repent” in our Bible is actually a very interesting word in Greek with layers of meaning.but it primarily means “change”, change your mind and change your ways. An actual literal translation is “Go beyond your mind”.
So you meet Jesus and what would he tell you….he’d tell you to change. But why should you?
Well he tells you that as well. He tells to “change” because the “kingdom of heaven” is at hand. The content of Jesus ‘ preaching was “the kingdom of heaven” or as the other gospel writers call it, “the kingdom of God”. The two phrases are interchangeable. Matthew talks about heaven rather than God because his is the most Jewish of the gospels and his audience were mostly Jews and culturally they didn’t like to use the name of God too freely because the name was considered too holy.
So your meeting with Jesus would be a bit confrontational because that’s how Jesus is. He’s tell you to change because the kingdom, which he, Jesus, was inaugurating is in your midst or “at hand”. So a Christian faith that invites you to have no growth or change at any level is not Christianity, it is something else.
So if you were to meet Jesus or been in the crowd listening, he would be issuing you with a challenge. To change your beliefs to change your perspectives, to change the way you relate to God, your neighbour and the world.
Now as the famous joke has it. “How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?” and the answer is “Change, what’s that” is symptomatic of our general attitude to change.
It is tempting to think that if you had met Jesus in his physical ministry that you would have been drawn to him, but that wasn’t the response of most people. They took what they wanted, which may have having their appetites satisfied with loaves and fishes on a hillside, or Uncle Timaeus had had his sight restored (Thank you very much) and then forgot about him and didn’t respond and didn’t change.
Most people in Jesus’ time let’s not forget were not drawn to that message. Some were, including a central tiny core of just twelve people, but most were repelled.
Most people wanted Jesus’ death and were baying for his blood come Good Friday.
That central challenge , the gauntlet that is thrown down to us, is the same today as it was then and shall be tomorrow.
Change your mind, your perceptions and your actions, change your way of life, because because God wants you to. “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
And this is before the full revelation of the depth of God’s love and sacrifice were revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross!
In the light of that earth shattering event – the cross - that  Paul says is the biggest motor for change and the thing that is absolutely central to the Christian revelation for aiding this change of heart that the church has. Paul says, make the cross central to your mission. That goes before everything else, and transcends all other divisions in the church, whether denominations or personalities.
But what if after all that, you are left thinking. Yes, I do want to follow Jesus more and more and change my mind and my life, but I just can’t do it alone – I am too weak and I haven’t got the will power.
Just remember that you are not alone. If you decide to move closer to God he will provide the help and support you need.
Isaiah uses the image of a famous battle in the Old Testament which he calls the “day of Midian” when a tiny force of 300 commanded by Gideon prevailed against a much bigger army. Gideon could do so only because he had the support and help of God.
And we have the help of God’s Spirit whenever we decide to take more tentative steps toward God. As we take those few faltering steps closer, God joyfully runs towards us to give a helping hand. God will also provide that helping hand through other people – especially from within the church
Our moment of Epiphany this morning is the realisation that God wants us to change, but also that provides us with the help we need to make that change.
Jesus says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”

  

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Lamb of God

Isaiah 49:1-7 (page 609 in our pew Bibles) The second of four "servant songs" applied by Christians to the person and work of Christ, in which the hopes vested in Israel by God to be "the light to the gentiles" become focused in Jesus 
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (page 952 in our pew Bibles) In Paul's otherwise standard opening he nevertheless expresses his theological belief in "calling". He is called "by the will of God" but also the whole church is "Called" to be Saints. God is the one calling and we in turn call upon the name of Jesus.
John 1: 29-42 (page 886 in our pew Bibles) "Jesus is the lamb of God". In the Jerusalem Temple lambs (as perfect as possible) were sacrificed to make amendment for sins committed. What John the baptist is referring to is that Jesus sacrifice on the cross will atone (make amends) for the sins of all people in all times if we put our faith in that atoning sacrifice. We all need atonement because we are all sinners and the sacrifice is offered once for all time just because God loves us. All we need to do is believe in this good news

Have you ever wondered why the cross has become the defining symbol of Christianity?
The cross is an instrument of torture and execution.
A modern equivalent would be to hang a gallows or an electric chair around our necks. But the cross, a method of execution so barbaric that even the Romans eventually banned it has become the symbol of a religion that is supposed to reveal the love of God for his creation.
The paradox is on the face of it astonishing.
But when John the Baptist says “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” that throws light on this central mystery.
The lamb is the sacrificial animal killed in the Temple. A terrible thing – an innocent dies. John points at Jesus and says – that’s Him - the sacrifice, the one that will suffer and be killed (unbeknownst to John at that time on the cross). He didn’t know the means but he knew he had to die.
John would have had in the back of his mind, the story from the bowels of the Old Testament when Abraham was called upon to sacrifice his only son Isaac but in the event Abraham said “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son” (Genesis 22:8).
And God did. He provided Jesus. The lamb of God.
For why and for what?
The answer is given in that same short pronouncement. Behold the lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world”
 Through his death he brings forgiveness of our sins and restores fellowship with God. Jesus’ death opens for us a path, a way, to God. And this is open to anyone who believes.
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is if you like the whole gospel in one line. That is the Good news. It contains the method by which this will be achieved – Jesus’ death and what will result, the sins of the whole world will be taken upon his shoulders and who it is for – the whole world.
The result, the end product is a restored and renewed relationship with God. And God wants that because he loves us.
So we end up with this central paradox that the ultimate symbol of love is a means of execution.
Epiphany is a time of revelation and today we have revealed the complex, multi-faceted nature of  the cross of Christ. Symbolsed by the gift of Myrrh from the Magi.
And what does it reveal about Love?
We learn That love and sacrifice are closely related. What would you not do for someone you truly loved. Have you not sacrificed willingly for love.
We learn that God’s love is closely related to service.
Do we not call Jesus the servant king in hymns and songs and litrugies? We read the servant songs of Isaiah and apply them to him. Yes he did serve mankind. He healed the sick, he cured the lame, he made the blind to see”
But his greatest act of service was the cross – He laid down his very life that we might live.  What faith Jesus must have had to go willingly to his death because he truly believed that it would make a difference.
Serving, sacrificial love made concrete in that self-giving sacrifice on the cross. The suffering and pain he went through and bore without complaining , could have been done only with the greatest faith in his Father and with the highest love for us driving him on despite the pain. “Take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours”.
The good news is a person. The good news is an event. The good news had wonderful consequences. The good news was achieved through sacrificial love and faith.
John saw Jesus and said,

“Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”