Sermon for Pentecost 3C – 26th June 2022

Dornoch War Memorial

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence” 

Galatians 5:1,13

No, not the words of a right-wing politician talking about the new wave of Covid and the return of restrictions, but the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians. He then goes on to add:

but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Freedom is a word that we hear bandied about quite a lot, but there are many forms of it: freedom from the rule of unelected bureaucrats, freedom from government interference in our lives, freedom from trade barriers, freedom from red tape, freedom from exploitation. In 1941 President Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. But none of these are what Paul’s saying to the Galatians.

When Paul was in Galatia, establishing the Christian community, they heard his message and they practiced what he preached. He preached a freedom of conscience, that no one is truly free until Jesus Christ has rid them from the burden of their guilt and from having to be good enough to merit God’s favour. We are Christians, not through our own merit but through the gracious calling of God. We’re called to that freedom by God through Grace. Many outside our faith think that as Christians we’re anything but free, that we’re hidebound by rules and regulations that cramp our style and take half the pleasure out of life. (Looking out at some congregations on a Sunday morning one might be forgiven for thinking that they had a point.)

But unlike the old covenant, which required adherence to the 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice contained in the Torah (mostly Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus) (248 of these are positive – things that one should do – and 365 negative – things that one should not do. However in his letter to the Galatians, Paul points out that:

 the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Galatians 5:14

However the freedom that we enjoy isn’t without any limits, and that’s where Paul’s taking issue with the people that he calls “foolish Galatians”. He says, as perhaps some politicians might have done since the recent by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you.

Galatians 1:6

This isn’t party politics, its far more important, you see those who are ‘confusing’ the Galatians are suggesting that so long as you keep the 613 rules and regulations and are circumcised, then you’ll be all right with God and it pretty much doesn’t matter what else you get up to, you’re free to indulge yourself. You can have your fill of: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing or whatever happens in Downing Street on a Friday evening after work. All so long as you observe all the rules as you see them!! In short freedom to get up to whatever you like – a bit like that magic pill which you take once a day and then you can eat and drink as much of whatever you like, whenever you like and not put on any weight.

But of course Christian freedom isn’t like that at all, freedom has consequences.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about grief over the last few weeks. We spend quite a bit of our lives working hard to create stability, through acquiring things, settling down, establishing relationships and a way of life, partner, home, job material comforts, money and security. We can then live in a world that’s familiar and secure. And then something happens that shatters our neat predictable world. Loss of job, failure of relationship, a life-threatening disease, death of someone very dear to us, natural disaster, war, terrorism, they can all serve to pick us up from a world we know and understand and dump us in an alien world where there’re no certainties. 

So what happens then? Quite naturally we grieve. Grief is more than sorrow or sadness. It touches the whole of us, affecting us physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The feelings, let alone the physical sensations, behaviours and spiritual responses, are many and varied. They can include: anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, freedom, relief, numbness, inadequacy, hurt and yearning. I have seen and heard quite a number of these played out in interviews and responses on radio and TV over the last two years especially. There’s no doubt that there are many who are suffering varying degrees of grief over the effects of Covid, the rise in the cost of living and all the rest.

What’s the Christian response to grief and to the dislocations that cause it?

Well in Dornoch on Friday we marked the Centenary of the War Memorial with a service of Thanksgiving, Commemoration and Rededication. Now you might feel that the Great War was a very long time ago, but I heard a lady remark that three of her father’s brothers were named on that memorial. It was lovely day, a colourful ceremony and the joy at having 100 children plant crosses – one for each of the fallen – was written on the faces of all those present.

Having railed against a whole list of the fruit of the flesh, Paul goes on to say: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The essence of fruitfulness doesn’t rest on accomplishments or achievements, but in who we really are. The first three concern our attitude to God – love, joy and peace; the last three are to do with ourselves and how we are – faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The middle three concern how we relate to those around us – patience, kindness and generosity. These three were present in profusion on Friday at the memorial.

So if people that you know are grieving over changes in their life and circumstances, remember that

There is nothing in death or life, in the world uncertain as it is, or the world as it shall be, nothing in all creation, not Boris, nor Keir, nor Ed nor even Nicola, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

with apologies to Romans 8:38-39

so we have a responsibility to walk alongside our neighbours, friends, families and all we meet with patience, kindness and generosity manifesting the Christian hope in the God who made us, the God who redeems us and the God who sustains us. As Paul says to the Corinthians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” 

2 Corinthians 1:2-4

Amen.

Sermon for the first Sunday after Trinity – 19.06.22

Isaiah 65:1-9Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Miss MacLeod was the boss of a big company and she needed to call one of her employees about an urgent problem with one of the main computers. She dialled the employee’s home phone number and was greeted with a child’s whispered, “Hello?”

Rather put out at the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster, Miss MacLeod asked, “Is your Daddy home?” “Yes”, whispered the small voice. “Can I talk to him?” she asked.

To Miss MacLeod’s surprise, the small voice whispered, “No.”

Wanting to talk with an adult, the boss asked, “Is your Mummy there?” “Yes”, came the answer. “Can I talk with her?” Again the small voice whispered, “No.”

Knowing that it was not likely that a young child would be left at home all alone, Miss MacLeod decided she would just leave a message with the person who should be there watching over the child. “Is there any one there besides you?” she asked the child.

“Yes” whispered the child, “a policeman.” Wondering what on earth the police were doing there, Miss MacLeod asked, “Can I talk to the policeman?” “No, he’s busy,” whispered the child. “Busy doing what?” “Talking to Daddy and Mummy and the Fireman”, came the whispered answer.

Growing concerned and even worried as she heard what sounded like a helicopter through the ear piece on the phone, Miss MacLeod asked, “What is that noise?” “A hello-copper” answered the whispering voice. “What on earth is going on there?” asked the now rather worried employer.

In a voice full of awe the child whispered, “The search team just landed the hello-copper.” Alarmed, concerned, and more than just a little frustrated the boss asked, “What are they searching for?” Still whispering, the young voice replied along with a muffled giggle: “hee hee, they’re all looking for Me!”

Hide and seek is one of those games that will never be superseded by an electronic games console. It’s impossible because it’s a game that needs both people and a good sized house or other location.

Do you remember playing Hide and Seek as a child? Were you one of those who preferred to be a hider or a seeker? Did you find a place to hide which meant you were really difficult to find, or did you always choose a pretty obvious hiding place so that you would be one of the first to be discovered?

When I was at school I once tried to organise a professional Hide and Seek tournament – but it didn’t work – good players are just too hard to find!

Though hide and seek is just a game, how we feel about it, says a lot about the kind of person we are. Do we need to be found or are we content to be lost?

These questions are brought to mind by the Gospel for today.

In it, a man who wears no clothes, lives out in the tombs and describes himself as ‘Legion’ because of the ‘many demons’ that had ‘entered him’ is saved by Jesus.

The reading is a mysterious passage and some of the words can seem strange to our modern minds. Yet central to it is the sense that Jesus seeks to bring wholeness and healing to those who call upon him. Even those who hide amongst the dead.

The man tormented by the demons possessing his life, asks Jesus, who had already commanded the ‘unclean spirit’ to leave him, ‘What have you to do with me Jesus, son of the Most High God?’ He was lost and though some might have given up on him Jesus seeks, finds and restores him to life.

What about us, though we’re here at church this morning, do we too sometimes feel a bit lost and need to be found again by Christ?

If so, then we need to ask, what would he find hiding in our lives? What demons have possessed and frustrated God’s loving purpose in us?

Most of us struggle with the word ‘demons’ yet few of us would doubt that there are things that can undermine the fullness of life to which we’re all called. They cannot be ignored if we’re to be constantly transformed by our faith.

This morning’s Gospel describes a life changing transformation for that man, from being a lost outcast, he is restored ‘clothed and in his right mind’.

Yet, like him, if we’re to be, in St. Paul’s words, ‘clothed with Christ’ we need to always be open enough to let Christ find us, let him touch the depth of our souls and transform us.

But we do have to want to be found, we have to want his love to come and continually transform us. It’s so easy to stand still, to reach a certain point in our journey of faith and then not to move, to decide that the change around us in society and the church is all too much and not seek to engage with it.

It’s a bit like what was happening in Galatia, described in our Epistle. They had found Christ, yet it was too much, they wanted to hide and Paul speaks to those who found certainty in the easy security of the law.

Paul knew that any law which divides, separates and frustrates doesn’t speak of the God of transformation and he reminds them that in Christ there is ‘no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, make or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus’.

The radical freedom Jesus brought changed their world. Likewise the living Christ in us, can be frightening, for he challenges everything in which we find security. For some, then as now, it can be too much.

In our Gospel those who witnessed the man’s transformation were ‘seized with great fear’ and they asked Jesus to leave. It was easier to send him away, to hide, than to live in his life changing love.

We might draw a parallel with life for so many today; they don’t wish to be found and they probably don’t even think they’re lost. Yet Jesus seeks them too.

When a child first plays hide and seek they need to be encouraged to overcome their caution and fear and to hide. Sometimes an adult will need to go with them, to reassure them that they won’t be lost forever.

What we do in our church buildings every Sunday morning may not be Hide and Seek but we do need each other’s encouragement and help to find Jesus in our midst. Whilst society has changed and the church has struggled to keep up, that doesn’t mean people no longer need the redeeming love of Christ.

Having been found, we’re called to go and be his people amongst our neighbours. So a challenge for each one of us this week is to not be afraid, to leave this service, like the demon possessed man his life now transformed, ‘proclaiming the good news’ of just how much ‘Jesus has done for’ you. Go from here and in the strength of the Holy Spirit seek those who are hiding and waiting to be found.

May God Bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for Trinity – 12th June 2022

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

In May 2009, I was summoned, one evening, to the General Synod Office in Edinburgh for what has been called ‘trial by buffet’. The format is simple. A group of candidates for ministry eat supper with four ‘selectors’ and everyone tries to be friendly and relaxed, but no-one succeeds. The selectors have the onerous job of trying to discern God’s call in the lives of the candidates and the candidates are just terrified. 

After supper, the each candidate is interviewed twice for 30 minutes at a time by two of the selectors (one lay and the other ordained) working together taking it in turns to ask questions. At the second of these interviews with just two minutes to go, one of the selectors said: “Sunday is Trinity Sunday, how would you explain the Trinity to one of your Egyptian (Muslim) friends, who would probably think that Christians worship three Gods?” My reply was along the lines of “Do you think that I can explain probably the most difficult of Christian doctrines in just two minutes.” And then having bought some time, I waffled for the remaining minute.

What did Jesus say to his disciples in today’s Gospel?

There are things that are essential to your faith, but I can’t speak about them because you wouldn’t be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.

Yes really!

The Trinity is an inadequate human attempt to describe what we believe God;s like and to reflect the ways we might encounter God (or perhaps more accurately) that God might encounter us. It underlines that God should be seen not as a creature or object but as a spiritual experience whose mystery inspires awe, but who can’t be understood or explained logically. In other words it brings us face to face with the mystery of God, and helps us to recognise the God that we meet in the Bible, in history and in own lives.

Poetry and hymns often capture an idea better than anything else, so let me share with you this poem by Canadian Anglican Priest – Bill Countryman:

Going to God with the Shepherds.

If you want to go to God, go without your certainties. 

Take your graces. Leave your certainties behind.
If you go looking for a Triangle inside a Trefoil inside a Conundrum,
you’ll miss the greatest sight of all,
the Holy Trinity playing children’s games on the lawns of heaven.
If you only look for the Virgin of the Window,
you’ll walk right past Our Lady,
laughing and telling stories with a group of friends.

The disciples knew not the Lord Jesus in his resurrection flesh.
They were expecting someone else,
someone they knew for certain.
And this was like, but was it he?
They knew him only when he handed them their bread.

Go to God, then,
taking in the hand of memory the silken light of a clear dawn after wet weather
and say, with tears if need be,
You made this.
Take the name of your beloved and say,
You made him and in him you remade me.
Take the goodness of your life.
And take some moment of uncertain and life-giving hope,
ike an angel whispering or – sometimes – trumpeting in your ear.
These are your guides.

And so go with the shepherds on their angelic quest. 

Go to that hick town that David left as soon as he got the chance,
go to the stable, see what you never expected to see,
the doors to God opening in that manger against all certainty.

And then return to find anew the tracks of grace:
the beauty of men, the beauty of women, the delight of children,
the running of a swift dog, the flight of birds,
the sweetness of a pear, hands held in quiet.
If you want to go to God, leave your certainties behind.
But be sure to take your graces.

L. William Countryman

Today in Arpafeelie we have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Poppy into our community in baptism and we’ll all make promises to her. Her parents and Godparents will make their specific promises, and then as a congregation we’ll say that we welcome Poppy into our family, the Body of Christ and will share with her the gift of God’s love revealed in Christ.

In faith, we’re invited to learn the value of inter-dependence. Where I need you, and you need me and together we’re stronger. Where as a community we can support and encourage one another, sharing both our sadness and our joy – in funerals, in weddings and as today in baptism.

As Christians we’re not perfect, we’re as capable of being thoughtless, of as the next person, we’re after all works in progress, but we need to learn to make space for God to work in us.

Baptism, or christening is a starting point for this learning. It’s a way of saying, for us and on behalf of Poppy, that we’ll commit to feeding her spiritual needs and growth in faith,

And Communion, which we share, serves as a reminder and reinforcement of this commitment. We eat bread, made special because of the way Jesus taught us to share it and in doing so be aware of the love of God poured out for us. We share with one another, with the wider community of faith and with the Blessed and Holy Trinity.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 

Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost – 5th June 2022

Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-34, 35b; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

On Radio 4 there is a panel game called “The Unbelievable Truth”. Which is hosted by the comedian David Mitchell. The idea is simple, four panellists take it in turns to deliver a short lecture on a topic that they are given. The lecture has to be plausible nonsense (well lies really) but hidden within it are to be five pieces of truth. The other panellist have to try to spot the truths without mistaking lies for truth and when they think that they have spotted a truth they press their buzzers.

The next minute or two is going to take a similar form. In the absence of buzzers you’ll have to be content with putting your hand up or shouting out or something, if you detect a truth smuggled in amongst the other stuff.

So one day a group of Jesus’ disciples got together to form a committee with the intention of founding a new religion. 

There was a need for secrecy at this early planning stage, so that no-one else would get wind of what they were up to and so they had to make sure that the door was locked to keep spies from other religions out. The first item on the agenda was to agree who was to occupy the role of convenor, secretary and treasurer and all the other positions on the vestry. Since their original treasurer was no longer with them they had a vacancy to fill and so Peter arranged an election to fill this important post.

The main item on the agenda, however, was to weigh the merits of the teaching of various prophets including John the Baptist and Jesus and decide which was likely to have the most popular appeal, given that none of the contenders was still alive. That done and the disciples having decided to put Jesus at the centre of the new religion, set about defining rules about what form worship should take and who should be allowed to conduct it, what days it should take place, whether or not singing was to be allowed, should they use smoke or not, how about candles, how many, what parts of what scripture should be read on each specific day and all the other rules and regulations that a thoroughly modern religion would need to appeal to a mass audience.

Then they had to look to the marketing strategy, who was to be in charge of publicity, set up the web site, Facebook, how about Twitter. Then of course there were the small matters of fund raising, acquiring suitable premises, with just the right type of furnishings. They were so absorbed in getting all this administrative bureaucracy sorted out that they didn’t notice where the incredible draught blowing through the whole house came from.

OK that’s enough of that. Today is the feast of Pentecost and Pentecost is more or less the opposite of what I have been telling you so far. Pentecost is when the Spirit of God came upon the disciples. The Spirit itself was as invisible as the wind, but its effects were anything but. The Disciples staggered about mouthing strange words. Words that were oddly intelligible to people from every nation. This was unfamiliar behaviour and so those around thought and said ‘these people must be drunk’. But Peter pointed out that it was only nine in the morning and so that wasn’t very likely.

It was out of this scene of exhilarating confusion, possibly even hysteria that Luke records the beginning of the Church in his ‘Acts of the Apostles’ . It wasn’t the disciples sitting down to soberly consider the merits of Jesus’ teaching or to ponder the meaning of His death. The disciples were just carried away on a high, out of which came preaching and prophesy and it is this that we in St Maelrubha’s today are heir to. It is out of that response to the spirit breathing life into the Church that started it, and it is this that has sustained the Church for over two thousand years.

It wasn’t the setting up of an organisation that led to preaching or the prophesy, it was the complete lack of organisation, The chaos of what happened at Pentecost. It was an emotional response to what the Spirit brought into their lives that led to the excitement. That’s what caused the disciples to want to tell everyone about what had happened. They proclaimed it to anyone and everyone who would stop to listen. It was through this prophetic preaching that the excitement became infectious and many were brought into the fellowship of the Church:

Now when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:37-42

The message is simple:

This Jesus God raised up, being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

Acts 2:33

The first expression of Christian faith was this recognition. That this Spirit was from God – a Divine Spirit. At Pentecost, Mary and the other women and the disciples believed that the new life welling up within them was the life of God. This feeling that was overcoming them was the vitality, the joy, the sheer excitement of God. 

They didn’t start by thinking that Jesus was divine, so therefore the spirit that he breathed upon them was divine; but the other way round. What happened to them at Pentecost was so unexpected, so unpremeditated, in such contrast to their fear in locking themselves away, that they just felt in their bones, they just knew, that it couldn’t be anything else but from God. From that it followed that is Jesus could breath the Spirit on them then that settled the matter, he must be of God. 

Whilst many of us may not have such dramatic and overwhelming experience of the Spirit as is described in this morning’s readings, I suspect that most of us have had unexpected experiences that were just so difficult to account for in any other way that we simply have to attribute them the work of the Holy Spirit. They may be feelings that are fleeting, or that last a long time, but we know in our hearts that they are of God. God breathing life into our lives, at times when we are perhaps cast down. At times when we don’t know what to do and need guidance. At times when someone close to us needs more than we can give them.

In the beginning, the Spirit of God breathed over chaos and breathed life into creation. The Spirit of God breathed life into Adam. The Spirit of God breathed life into the dry bones spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel. Jesus breathes his life-creating Spirit into his fearful disciples huddled together for fear of the Jews. The Unbelievable Truth is that the same Spirit moves over the chaos of our lives as well, bringing form out of formlessness and fullness out of emptiness, resulting in a new creation today in us, if only we let it take hold.

Let us pray:

Spirit of Light, let the fire of your wisdom burn brightly within us.
Spirit of Silence, in the still moment may we be open to God’s presence.
Spirit of Courage, dispel the fear that lingers in our hearts.
Spirit of Fire, engulf us with the passion of Christ’s love.
Spirit of Peace, help us to be attentive to God’s word in the world.
Spirit of Joy, enthuse us to proclaim aloud the Good News.
Spirit of Love, compel us to open ourselves to the needs of others.
Spirit of Power, bestow the gifts of your strength upon us.
Spirit of Truth, guide us to walk in the way of Christ.. 

Amen.

Sermon for Easter 7C – 29th May 2022

Acts 16:16-34; Ps 97; Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

In his books “The town Beyond the Wall” and “A Beggar in Jerusalem”, the Jewish author Elie Wiesel demonstrates in a quite remarkable way, the sustaining power of friendship. In both books it comes not simply from a friend, but from the memory of a friend. In the former novel, it’s Michael who lives through torture, but avoids madness because Pedro, his absent friend, lives in his memory and so sustains him in the midst of his agony. And in the latter, it’s David who’s sustained in his struggles by the memory of his friend Katriel, killed during Israel’s six day war. In his novels, Wiesel expresses the profound truth that memory not only connects us with our past, but also keeps us alive in the present.

In his Gospel John spends quite a long time (four chapters in fact) describing exactly what happened on the last night that Jesus spent with His disciples; that night of the Last Supper. Of course they didn’t know it was their last night with Him, but Jesus knew and John tells us how He set about preparing them to continue what he had begun. 

The first thing that Jesus did was to demonstrate how they should behave towards one another – he got up from the table, took water and a towel and washed their feet in an act of humble service.  We see this in our Maundy Thursday service.

Then Jesus began to talk to them, to explain what was going to happen and about the relationship that he had with His Father and how they could share in that relationship too. He gave them as much information as he could about what was going to happen and how he would provide for them in the future. 

Finally in Chapter 17 Jesus turns to prayer and our passage this morning is a part of that. The whole chapter is prayer of intercession for the disciples, both present and future. And when Jesus prays his long prayer of intercession for them, the disciples are actually within earshot.

In reading and understanding today’s Gospel, we need to know that Jesus isn’t offering instructions to the disciples or to the church they will lead. So when Jesus tells his Father that he’s asking

not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word“,

John 17:20

he’s not urging the church to participate in evangelism, important though that may be. When Jesus asks that those who believe and those who do not yet believe “may be one“, He’s not urging involvement in ecumenical dialogue, important though that may be. Jesus is not exhorting the church, He’s not instructing, He’s not preaching, teaching, or rallying the troops. Jesus is praying to His Father.

So that’s how Jesus spent His last evening with His disciples, teaching through deed and word and in prayer, preparing them for the change from Jesus physically present, to Jesus physically absent.

During my training, I did one of my placements in a very evangelical church in Ayrshire, a church whose tradition is for one individual to pray out loud for another, openly and naturally. Now I don’t know how you feel when someone prays out loud for you in your presence, but initially I found it rather embarrassing? But after a short while, I found it comforting, supporting and helpful; I felt, grateful, appreciative and humbled by it. 

Maybe one of the reasons that many people read John 17 as a ‘to do’ list for the church is that such a list is easier to cope with than the intimacy of being the subject of another person’s prayer – they, not we, are the ones doing the asking, and God, not we, is the one answering the prayer.

If Jesus were exhorting his disciples, and by extension us, we could strive to meet his expectations. If he were exhorting us, we’d have a mission, namely, not to disappoint him. Instead, we overhear a prayer on our behalf and aren’t called to action but to be grateful, appreciative and humbled that the Father and the Son spend their time discussing the likes of us and our little community of faith.

The content of that prayer is equally humbling. At the centre of the prayer is the relationship that the Father and Son share and the work of the Son to draw everyone into that relationship. Jesus prays:

As you Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us

John 17:21

and again:

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

John 17:24

Jesus prays that those who follow him may be drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity. The Father sends the Son to humanity precisely so that the Son may draw all humanity into the relationship that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Trinity.

This isn’t the only place where we hear of people being drawn into relationship with God.  In the prologue of John’s Gospel is the news that,

to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God“.

John 1:12

When the risen Jesus meets Mary Magdalene near what had been his tomb, he tells her to,

Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

John 20:17

My Father and your Father…. In the resurrection, the relationship that the Son and Father have is extended to those for whom he prayed before his death. And that includes you and me.

In all this Jesus is preparing the disciples for His absence, he knows that they’ll never really understand until he’s no longer with them. He knows that they’ll not be able to stand on their own two feet until he’s gone. He knows that in His absence a new and more intimate presence becomes possible.

“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:15-17

During the pandemic when we weren’t able to be physically present with many of those we love, we all started to understand more about the meaning of presence, through enforced absence and perhaps to value time spent together more.  

We live in a culture and social climate which places a great emphasis on presence. Being present is much more highly valued than being absent. But the message of much of the Bible, the message which Elie Wiesel puts in the context of some of the most awful events of the 20th century is that: when everything seems dark, when we’re surrounded by despairing voices, when we don’t see a way out of a mess, we can find salvation in a remembered love, which isn’t simply a wistful recollection of a bygone past but a living force which sustains us in the present. 

Amen.