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Sunday’s Sermon, The Bequest Of The Risen Christ

Well, here is my attempt for this Sunday. This same Lectionary Gospel reading occurred on the Sunday after Easter last year, and I preached on it then. Don’t expect this to be terribly original, then: there are some considerable similarities with that sermon, Resurrection Mission. One favourite story appeared in that sermon; another has appeared in other sermons. But I’m still tired after Easter, and tomorrow is our daughter’s belated birthday party (postponed largely because of Easter), and this is the best I can do.


John 20:19-31

Introduction
The other day, I attended the first meeting of a committee my Chair of District
had asked me to join. Having found my way to the venue, and then to the room
where the meeting was being held, I found a seat around the table. The minister
who was chairing said he would get everybody to introduce themselves once
everyone was present.

Silence ensued. Eventually, the same minister broke the silence.
‘We look just like the family gathered at the solicitor’s to hear the reading
of the will,’ he said.

I wonder what the gathering of the disciples on the evening
of the first Easter Day looked like. Behind locked doors out of fear, they
await not the benefits of Jesus’ death, but the consequences. They expect the
authorities to round them up. They fear the worst.

Yet in a sense, they do hear the reading of the will. They do
receive their bequest. Strangest of all, the deceased himself reads the will to
them – that is, the deceased who has been raised from the dead. Jesus turns up
to give away his own inheritance.

So what is inheritance? Fundamentally, it is to carry on his
work. To that end, Jesus bequeaths these things to his disciples.

1. Peace
As I said, the disciples are fearful. They have locked the doors to protect themselves.
Suddenly, Jesus is in their midst. I think if that had happened to me, I would
have been even more afraid! I’m in fear for my life, and now this!

To people feeling like that, Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’
A moment later, when he commissions them to continue his work, he repeats these
words: ‘Peace be with you.’ Fearful disciples will not be in a state to carry
on God’s mission in the world. Therefore, the first bequest is peace.

Surely, this is relevant to us. When we consider the fact
that Jesus has called us too to be his witnesses, one common reaction is fear. We
have discussed this in our Alpha Course. We have talked about being in
professions where admitting to Christian faith is a career disadvantage. We have
mentioned friends and relatives who do not share our faith, and we wonder what
they think of us. We have wondered whether there are ways of sharing our faith
whereby people will still respect us. All of these threads, I suggest, reflect
an underlying fear about mission in general and evangelism in particular.

But Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’ He promises his peace
to fearful disciples who want to be faithful. He doesn’t always promise a
positive response to our witness, but he does promise peace in the storm.

In fact, isn’t that just what our non-Christian friends
expect? In recent months, I have been treated for raised blood pressure by one
of the nurses at our GP practice. She freely admits she doesn’t believe in God.
She can’t understand why not only my blood pressure has been up, but my pulse
also. One time she said, “I don’t understand why someone like you who believes
in an afterlife can get worried about things.” At the last appointment she
said, “Surely someone like you believes that God has got a purpose for things
when something goes wrong?” Although I gave her an answer that talked about how
I was like certain biblical characters who got mad with God before finding an
equilibrium, I have to admit she had a point. I don’t simply need the
beta-blockers that are reducing my pulse; I need the peace of God. It is the
risen Christ’s bequest to me. Others expect to see it in my life.

2. Joy
Jesus shows the disciples his hands and side, and then the disciples
rejoiced when they saw him – now they knew it really was him (verse 20).

I preached on this passage a year ago at Hatfield Peverel,
and told a story then, which I’d like to repeat now. When I was at Trinity College,
Bristol
, one of the visiting preachers was the Bishop of the Arctic. He came on
a recruitment drive. I didn’t succumb. But he did tell a story about the first
Christian missionaries to the Inuit people. They decided to translate the New
Testament into the local language, but came to a halt when they reached this
passage. There was no word for ‘joy’.

However, one day, one of the missionaries accompanied the
Eskimo hunters. When they returned, they fed the huskies. As the dogs tucked
into their food, the missionary thought, there is a picture of joy. So he asked
the hunters what the word was for the dogs’ evident pleasure. As a result, the
first Inuit translation of the New Testament read at this point, ‘Then the
disciples wagged their tails when they saw the Lord’!

No word for joy. But we have words for joy: Christ is risen –
he is risen indeed! In the face of death, we have hope. When despair comes, we
have hope. In the midst of our sorrow … we have joy. Jesus is alive.

There is a story of a little girl who asked, “Mummy, do all
fairy tales end with, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’?” “No,” replied
Mum, “some end with, ‘When I became a Christian, all my problems disappeared’.”

The joy of the risen Christ is not fairy story joy. It is
joy that sustains us through thick and thin. The happy and the clappy are
intermittent features of the Christian life: whether they are present or
absent, the joy of knowing that Christ is risen and that everything is
different is what keeps our heads above water when our strength would not
prevent us from sinking. This becomes a powerful witness in a world that has no
reason for hope, and seeks joy in a bottle, a syringe or a shopping mall.

3. Model
After the peace and the joy that fortify us for the work of Christ comes the model to do it: ‘As the Father has sent
me, so I send you’ (verse 21).

The problem is we have a faulty model for mission. We work
on a ‘Come to us’ model. We expect people to come to us as we are (or with a
little tweaking). We also say, ‘Why won’t they come to us?’ and don’t make the
connection that our model is faulty. It may have done service in a society
where there was a more common understanding of the Christian message, but it is
a broken model, because it is not the Jesus model. His model is that the Father
sent him – and thus we are sent, too.

In other words, by the Incarnation Jesus was sent into the
world to live and minister in the world. Mostly he conducted his mission not in
the synagogue but in the street. The risen Christ models our mission on his. It
requires faithful testimony in the world, not raids from the Christian castle,
followed by retreats across the drawbridge, which is then pulled up tight. Our model
is not about seeking a decision for Christ and then expecting people to conform
to our way of doing things in the church. The Jesus model requires that we call
people to follow him in the world, that we draw people into a new community,
and that we then form church within their culture. It will probably look very
different from what we are used to – but that is the Jesus model. He bequeaths
the model us. We are fools to discard his gift in favour of a discredited
model.

4. Power
Next, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
(verse 22). It’s a bit of a mystery to some how this account relates to the
waiting for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts
of the Apostles. I don’t propose to spend time on that today, just to highlight
that whatever explanation we opt for, Jesus bequeaths his own Spirit as the
essential gift for sharing in his mission. Without his power, Christian mission
will not happen. With the Spirit’s power, the Church will break out with
unstoppable love from Pentecost onwards. Jesus himself didn’t begin his public
ministry until after the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove at his
baptism: so too must all Christian disciples be dependent upon the Spirit.

That’s why the Easter season leads to Pentecost. The two are
linked. Every disciple needs to make that journey. Some are fearful, but God
never gives bad gifts, only good ones.

Others are sceptical: if they received the Holy Spirit when
they found Christ, why keep banging on about receiving the Spirit? The
evangelist D L Moody made my favourite reply to this. At a meeting, he pointed
out that Ephesians 5 verse 18, commonly translated, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’,
might better be rendered, ‘Continue to be filled with the Spirit.’ Afterwards,
a vicar complained to him. Why say this? Had we all not received the Holy Spirit
in all fullness when we became disciples of Christ? Why insist that we continue
to be filled with the Spirit? “Because,” replied Moody, “I leak.”

Whatever our history of faith and spiritual experience, most
likely we all leak. We need to hear the summons of the Spirit regularly.

5. Authority
Finally, another puzzling verse from Jesus: ‘If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
(Verse 23)

Different Christian traditions have interpreted this
differently. I do not believe this is something that Christ hands down only to
those ordained priest who may pronounce the forgiveness of sins. I believe this
is about the missionary call to proclaim and demonstrate forgiveness. We have
received the bequest of forgiveness from the risen Christ himself, who has
forgiven those who failed him at his time of greatest need. Now what failing disciples
have received, they – and we – share with others. We share by telling people
just how forgiving God is in Christ. We share by living it out, as people
witness us forgiving those who hurt us. In a society increasingly of the
persuasion that says, ‘If it moves, sue it,’ the Christian lifestyle of
forgiveness is a powerful witness.

More troublesome, perhaps, is Jesus’ comment that ‘if you
retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ It is not that we may vindictively
refuse to forgive and that we may thus deny someone the blessings of God. I find
these words from Richard Burridge helpful:

The … word, ‘retain’ … appears only here in John – but throughout
Jesus has warned that the coming of light into darkness produces shadows, the ‘critical
moment’ when some prefer to remain in their sin and blindness. To be sent into
the world as Jesus was sent inevitably brings the possibility of acceptance or
rejection.[1]

Ours is the responsibility to share the bequest of
forgiveness. Ours is not the responsibility to determine the outcome.

Conclusion
I haven’t had time to touch on the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ (or ‘depressed
Thomas’, as Richard Burridge calls him). In that story are more missionary
keys: the patience Jesus has while Thomas makes his journey of faith, and the inclusiveness
that keeps Thomas in the group of disciples until his moment of revelation.

But in the meantime, I hope you will have found with me that
in this story (which is a favourite of mine) there are plenty of implications
for the mission of God. Jesus embraced that mission, and with him now risen and
ascended, it is our privilege in partnership with the Holy Spirit to follow the
model of being his witnesses in the world. And in dependence upon the Spirit,
we have the peace and joy of believing in the risen Lord that trumps the fears
of our world. We also have his authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

May we – the Easter People who are also the Pentecost People
– join in with what God is already doing in the world, to the praise of his
holy name.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday’s Sermon, The Bequest Of The Risen Christ

Well, here is my attempt for this Sunday. This same Lectionary Gospel reading occurred on the Sunday after Easter last year, and I preached on it then. Don’t expect this to be terribly original, then: there are some considerable similarities with that sermon, Resurrection Mission. One favourite story appeared in that sermon; another has appeared in other sermons. But I’m still tired after Easter, and tomorrow is our daughter’s belated birthday party (postponed largely because of Easter), and this is the best I can do.


John 20:19-31

Introduction
The other day, I attended the first meeting of a committee my Chair of District
had asked me to join. Having found my way to the venue, and then to the room
where the meeting was being held, I found a seat around the table. The minister
who was chairing said he would get everybody to introduce themselves once
everyone was present.

Silence ensued. Eventually, the same minister broke the silence.
‘We look just like the family gathered at the solicitor’s to hear the reading
of the will,’ he said.

I wonder what the gathering of the disciples on the evening
of the first Easter Day looked like. Behind locked doors out of fear, they
await not the benefits of Jesus’ death, but the consequences. They expect the
authorities to round them up. They fear the worst.

Yet in a sense, they do hear the reading of the will. They do
receive their bequest. Strangest of all, the deceased himself reads the will to
them – that is, the deceased who has been raised from the dead. Jesus turns up
to give away his own inheritance.

So what is inheritance? Fundamentally, it is to carry on his
work. To that end, Jesus bequeaths these things to his disciples.

1. Peace
As I said, the disciples are fearful. They have locked the doors to protect themselves.
Suddenly, Jesus is in their midst. I think if that had happened to me, I would
have been even more afraid! I’m in fear for my life, and now this!

To people feeling like that, Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’
A moment later, when he commissions them to continue his work, he repeats these
words: ‘Peace be with you.’ Fearful disciples will not be in a state to carry
on God’s mission in the world. Therefore, the first bequest is peace.

Surely, this is relevant to us. When we consider the fact
that Jesus has called us too to be his witnesses, one common reaction is fear. We
have discussed this in our Alpha Course. We have talked about being in
professions where admitting to Christian faith is a career disadvantage. We have
mentioned friends and relatives who do not share our faith, and we wonder what
they think of us. We have wondered whether there are ways of sharing our faith
whereby people will still respect us. All of these threads, I suggest, reflect
an underlying fear about mission in general and evangelism in particular.

But Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’ He promises his peace
to fearful disciples who want to be faithful. He doesn’t always promise a
positive response to our witness, but he does promise peace in the storm.

In fact, isn’t that just what our non-Christian friends
expect? In recent months, I have been treated for raised blood pressure by one
of the nurses at our GP practice. She freely admits she doesn’t believe in God.
She can’t understand why not only my blood pressure has been up, but my pulse
also. One time she said, “I don’t understand why someone like you who believes
in an afterlife can get worried about things.” At the last appointment she
said, “Surely someone like you believes that God has got a purpose for things
when something goes wrong?” Although I gave her an answer that talked about how
I was like certain biblical characters who got mad with God before finding an
equilibrium, I have to admit she had a point. I don’t simply need the
beta-blockers that are reducing my pulse; I need the peace of God. It is the
risen Christ’s bequest to me. Others expect to see it in my life.

2. Joy
Jesus shows the disciples his hands and side, and then the disciples
rejoiced when they saw him – now they knew it really was him (verse 20).

I preached on this passage a year ago at Hatfield Peverel,
and told a story then, which I’d like to repeat now. When I was at Trinity College,
Bristol
, one of the visiting preachers was the Bishop of the Arctic. He came on
a recruitment drive. I didn’t succumb. But he did tell a story about the first
Christian missionaries to the Inuit people. They decided to translate the New
Testament into the local language, but came to a halt when they reached this
passage. There was no word for ‘joy’.

However, one day, one of the missionaries accompanied the
Eskimo hunters. When they returned, they fed the huskies. As the dogs tucked
into their food, the missionary thought, there is a picture of joy. So he asked
the hunters what the word was for the dogs’ evident pleasure. As a result, the
first Inuit translation of the New Testament read at this point, ‘Then the
disciples wagged their tails when they saw the Lord’!

No word for joy. But we have words for joy: Christ is risen –
he is risen indeed! In the face of death, we have hope. When despair comes, we
have hope. In the midst of our sorrow … we have joy. Jesus is alive.

There is a story of a little girl who asked, “Mummy, do all
fairy tales end with, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’?” “No,” replied
Mum, “some end with, ‘When I became a Christian, all my problems disappeared’.”

The joy of the risen Christ is not fairy story joy. It is
joy that sustains us through thick and thin. The happy and the clappy are
intermittent features of the Christian life: whether they are present or
absent, the joy of knowing that Christ is risen and that everything is
different is what keeps our heads above water when our strength would not
prevent us from sinking. This becomes a powerful witness in a world that has no
reason for hope, and seeks joy in a bottle, a syringe or a shopping mall.

3. Model
After the peace and the joy that fortify us for the work of Christ comes the model to do it: ‘As the Father has sent
me, so I send you’ (verse 21).

The problem is we have a faulty model for mission. We work
on a ‘Come to us’ model. We expect people to come to us as we are (or with a
little tweaking). We also say, ‘Why won’t they come to us?’ and don’t make the
connection that our model is faulty. It may have done service in a society
where there was a more common understanding of the Christian message, but it is
a broken model, because it is not the Jesus model. His model is that the Father
sent him – and thus we are sent, too.

In other words, by the Incarnation Jesus was sent into the
world to live and minister in the world. Mostly he conducted his mission not in
the synagogue but in the street. The risen Christ models our mission on his. It
requires faithful testimony in the world, not raids from the Christian castle,
followed by retreats across the drawbridge, which is then pulled up tight. Our model
is not about seeking a decision for Christ and then expecting people to conform
to our way of doing things in the church. The Jesus model requires that we call
people to follow him in the world, that we draw people into a new community,
and that we then form church within their culture. It will probably look very
different from what we are used to – but that is the Jesus model. He bequeaths
the model us. We are fools to discard his gift in favour of a discredited
model.

4. Power
Next, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
(verse 22). It’s a bit of a mystery to some how this account relates to the
waiting for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts
of the Apostles. I don’t propose to spend time on that today, just to highlight
that whatever explanation we opt for, Jesus bequeaths his own Spirit as the
essential gift for sharing in his mission. Without his power, Christian mission
will not happen. With the Spirit’s power, the Church will break out with
unstoppable love from Pentecost onwards. Jesus himself didn’t begin his public
ministry until after the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove at his
baptism: so too must all Christian disciples be dependent upon the Spirit.

That’s why the Easter season leads to Pentecost. The two are
linked. Every disciple needs to make that journey. Some are fearful, but God
never gives bad gifts, only good ones.

Others are sceptical: if they received the Holy Spirit when
they found Christ, why keep banging on about receiving the Spirit? The
evangelist D L Moody made my favourite reply to this. At a meeting, he pointed
out that Ephesians 5 verse 18, commonly translated, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’,
might better be rendered, ‘Continue to be filled with the Spirit.’ Afterwards,
a vicar complained to him. Why say this? Had we all not received the Holy Spirit
in all fullness when we became disciples of Christ? Why insist that we continue
to be filled with the Spirit? “Because,” replied Moody, “I leak.”

Whatever our history of faith and spiritual experience, most
likely we all leak. We need to hear the summons of the Spirit regularly.

5. Authority
Finally, another puzzling verse from Jesus: ‘If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
(Verse 23)

Different Christian traditions have interpreted this
differently. I do not believe this is something that Christ hands down only to
those ordained priest who may pronounce the forgiveness of sins. I believe this
is about the missionary call to proclaim and demonstrate forgiveness. We have
received the bequest of forgiveness from the risen Christ himself, who has
forgiven those who failed him at his time of greatest need. Now what failing disciples
have received, they – and we – share with others. We share by telling people
just how forgiving God is in Christ. We share by living it out, as people
witness us forgiving those who hurt us. In a society increasingly of the
persuasion that says, ‘If it moves, sue it,’ the Christian lifestyle of
forgiveness is a powerful witness.

More troublesome, perhaps, is Jesus’ comment that ‘if you
retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ It is not that we may vindictively
refuse to forgive and that we may thus deny someone the blessings of God. I find
these words from Richard Burridge helpful:

The … word, ‘retain’ … appears only here in John – but throughout
Jesus has warned that the coming of light into darkness produces shadows, the ‘critical
moment’ when some prefer to remain in their sin and blindness. To be sent into
the world as Jesus was sent inevitably brings the possibility of acceptance or
rejection.[1]

Ours is the responsibility to share the bequest of
forgiveness. Ours is not the responsibility to determine the outcome.

Conclusion
I haven’t had time to touch on the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ (or ‘depressed
Thomas’, as Richard Burridge calls him). In that story are more missionary
keys: the patience Jesus has while Thomas makes his journey of faith, and the inclusiveness
that keeps Thomas in the group of disciples until his moment of revelation.

But in the meantime, I hope you will have found with me that
in this story (which is a favourite of mine) there are plenty of implications
for the mission of God. Jesus embraced that mission, and with him now risen and
ascended, it is our privilege in partnership with the Holy Spirit to follow the
model of being his witnesses in the world. And in dependence upon the Spirit,
we have the peace and joy of believing in the risen Lord that trumps the fears
of our world. We also have his authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

May we – the Easter People who are also the Pentecost People
– join in with what God is already doing in the world, to the praise of his
holy name.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday’s Sermon, The Bequest Of The Risen Christ

Well, here is my attempt for this Sunday. This same Lectionary Gospel reading occurred on the Sunday after Easter last year, and I preached on it then. Don’t expect this to be terribly original, then: there are some considerable similarities with that sermon, Resurrection Mission. One favourite story appeared in that sermon; another has appeared in other sermons. But I’m still tired after Easter, and tomorrow is our daughter’s belated birthday party (postponed largely because of Easter), and this is the best I can do.


John 20:19-31

Introduction
The other day, I attended the first meeting of a committee my Chair of District
had asked me to join. Having found my way to the venue, and then to the room
where the meeting was being held, I found a seat around the table. The minister
who was chairing said he would get everybody to introduce themselves once
everyone was present.

Silence ensued. Eventually, the same minister broke the silence.
‘We look just like the family gathered at the solicitor’s to hear the reading
of the will,’ he said.

I wonder what the gathering of the disciples on the evening
of the first Easter Day looked like. Behind locked doors out of fear, they
await not the benefits of Jesus’ death, but the consequences. They expect the
authorities to round them up. They fear the worst.

Yet in a sense, they do hear the reading of the will. They do
receive their bequest. Strangest of all, the deceased himself reads the will to
them – that is, the deceased who has been raised from the dead. Jesus turns up
to give away his own inheritance.

So what is inheritance? Fundamentally, it is to carry on his
work. To that end, Jesus bequeaths these things to his disciples.

1. Peace
As I said, the disciples are fearful. They have locked the doors to protect themselves.
Suddenly, Jesus is in their midst. I think if that had happened to me, I would
have been even more afraid! I’m in fear for my life, and now this!

To people feeling like that, Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’
A moment later, when he commissions them to continue his work, he repeats these
words: ‘Peace be with you.’ Fearful disciples will not be in a state to carry
on God’s mission in the world. Therefore, the first bequest is peace.

Surely, this is relevant to us. When we consider the fact
that Jesus has called us too to be his witnesses, one common reaction is fear. We
have discussed this in our Alpha Course. We have talked about being in
professions where admitting to Christian faith is a career disadvantage. We have
mentioned friends and relatives who do not share our faith, and we wonder what
they think of us. We have wondered whether there are ways of sharing our faith
whereby people will still respect us. All of these threads, I suggest, reflect
an underlying fear about mission in general and evangelism in particular.

But Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you.’ He promises his peace
to fearful disciples who want to be faithful. He doesn’t always promise a
positive response to our witness, but he does promise peace in the storm.

In fact, isn’t that just what our non-Christian friends
expect? In recent months, I have been treated for raised blood pressure by one
of the nurses at our GP practice. She freely admits she doesn’t believe in God.
She can’t understand why not only my blood pressure has been up, but my pulse
also. One time she said, “I don’t understand why someone like you who believes
in an afterlife can get worried about things.” At the last appointment she
said, “Surely someone like you believes that God has got a purpose for things
when something goes wrong?” Although I gave her an answer that talked about how
I was like certain biblical characters who got mad with God before finding an
equilibrium, I have to admit she had a point. I don’t simply need the
beta-blockers that are reducing my pulse; I need the peace of God. It is the
risen Christ’s bequest to me. Others expect to see it in my life.

2. Joy
Jesus shows the disciples his hands and side, and then the disciples
rejoiced when they saw him – now they knew it really was him (verse 20).

I preached on this passage a year ago at Hatfield Peverel,
and told a story then, which I’d like to repeat now. When I was at Trinity College,
Bristol
, one of the visiting preachers was the Bishop of the Arctic. He came on
a recruitment drive. I didn’t succumb. But he did tell a story about the first
Christian missionaries to the Inuit people. They decided to translate the New
Testament into the local language, but came to a halt when they reached this
passage. There was no word for ‘joy’.

However, one day, one of the missionaries accompanied the
Eskimo hunters. When they returned, they fed the huskies. As the dogs tucked
into their food, the missionary thought, there is a picture of joy. So he asked
the hunters what the word was for the dogs’ evident pleasure. As a result, the
first Inuit translation of the New Testament read at this point, ‘Then the
disciples wagged their tails when they saw the Lord’!

No word for joy. But we have words for joy: Christ is risen –
he is risen indeed! In the face of death, we have hope. When despair comes, we
have hope. In the midst of our sorrow … we have joy. Jesus is alive.

There is a story of a little girl who asked, “Mummy, do all
fairy tales end with, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’?” “No,” replied
Mum, “some end with, ‘When I became a Christian, all my problems disappeared’.”

The joy of the risen Christ is not fairy story joy. It is
joy that sustains us through thick and thin. The happy and the clappy are
intermittent features of the Christian life: whether they are present or
absent, the joy of knowing that Christ is risen and that everything is
different is what keeps our heads above water when our strength would not
prevent us from sinking. This becomes a powerful witness in a world that has no
reason for hope, and seeks joy in a bottle, a syringe or a shopping mall.

3. Model
After the peace and the joy that fortify us for the work of Christ comes the model to do it: ‘As the Father has sent
me, so I send you’ (verse 21).

The problem is we have a faulty model for mission. We work
on a ‘Come to us’ model. We expect people to come to us as we are (or with a
little tweaking). We also say, ‘Why won’t they come to us?’ and don’t make the
connection that our model is faulty. It may have done service in a society
where there was a more common understanding of the Christian message, but it is
a broken model, because it is not the Jesus model. His model is that the Father
sent him – and thus we are sent, too.

In other words, by the Incarnation Jesus was sent into the
world to live and minister in the world. Mostly he conducted his mission not in
the synagogue but in the street. The risen Christ models our mission on his. It
requires faithful testimony in the world, not raids from the Christian castle,
followed by retreats across the drawbridge, which is then pulled up tight. Our model
is not about seeking a decision for Christ and then expecting people to conform
to our way of doing things in the church. The Jesus model requires that we call
people to follow him in the world, that we draw people into a new community,
and that we then form church within their culture. It will probably look very
different from what we are used to – but that is the Jesus model. He bequeaths
the model us. We are fools to discard his gift in favour of a discredited
model.

4. Power
Next, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
(verse 22). It’s a bit of a mystery to some how this account relates to the
waiting for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost in Luke’s Gospel and the Acts
of the Apostles. I don’t propose to spend time on that today, just to highlight
that whatever explanation we opt for, Jesus bequeaths his own Spirit as the
essential gift for sharing in his mission. Without his power, Christian mission
will not happen. With the Spirit’s power, the Church will break out with
unstoppable love from Pentecost onwards. Jesus himself didn’t begin his public
ministry until after the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove at his
baptism: so too must all Christian disciples be dependent upon the Spirit.

That’s why the Easter season leads to Pentecost. The two are
linked. Every disciple needs to make that journey. Some are fearful, but God
never gives bad gifts, only good ones.

Others are sceptical: if they received the Holy Spirit when
they found Christ, why keep banging on about receiving the Spirit? The
evangelist D L Moody made my favourite reply to this. At a meeting, he pointed
out that Ephesians 5 verse 18, commonly translated, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’,
might better be rendered, ‘Continue to be filled with the Spirit.’ Afterwards,
a vicar complained to him. Why say this? Had we all not received the Holy Spirit
in all fullness when we became disciples of Christ? Why insist that we continue
to be filled with the Spirit? “Because,” replied Moody, “I leak.”

Whatever our history of faith and spiritual experience, most
likely we all leak. We need to hear the summons of the Spirit regularly.

5. Authority
Finally, another puzzling verse from Jesus: ‘If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
(Verse 23)

Different Christian traditions have interpreted this
differently. I do not believe this is something that Christ hands down only to
those ordained priest who may pronounce the forgiveness of sins. I believe this
is about the missionary call to proclaim and demonstrate forgiveness. We have
received the bequest of forgiveness from the risen Christ himself, who has
forgiven those who failed him at his time of greatest need. Now what failing disciples
have received, they – and we – share with others. We share by telling people
just how forgiving God is in Christ. We share by living it out, as people
witness us forgiving those who hurt us. In a society increasingly of the
persuasion that says, ‘If it moves, sue it,’ the Christian lifestyle of
forgiveness is a powerful witness.

More troublesome, perhaps, is Jesus’ comment that ‘if you
retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ It is not that we may vindictively
refuse to forgive and that we may thus deny someone the blessings of God. I find
these words from Richard Burridge helpful:

The … word, ‘retain’ … appears only here in John – but throughout
Jesus has warned that the coming of light into darkness produces shadows, the ‘critical
moment’ when some prefer to remain in their sin and blindness. To be sent into
the world as Jesus was sent inevitably brings the possibility of acceptance or
rejection.[1]

Ours is the responsibility to share the bequest of
forgiveness. Ours is not the responsibility to determine the outcome.

Conclusion
I haven’t had time to touch on the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ (or ‘depressed
Thomas’, as Richard Burridge calls him). In that story are more missionary
keys: the patience Jesus has while Thomas makes his journey of faith, and the inclusiveness
that keeps Thomas in the group of disciples until his moment of revelation.

But in the meantime, I hope you will have found with me that
in this story (which is a favourite of mine) there are plenty of implications
for the mission of God. Jesus embraced that mission, and with him now risen and
ascended, it is our privilege in partnership with the Holy Spirit to follow the
model of being his witnesses in the world. And in dependence upon the Spirit,
we have the peace and joy of believing in the risen Lord that trumps the fears
of our world. We also have his authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

May we – the Easter People who are also the Pentecost People
– join in with what God is already doing in the world, to the praise of his
holy name.

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links for 2008-03-24

Relieved

Well, I’m glad Holy Week is over for another year. And this time next year, I shall be on a sabbatical, so I won’t have the hassle.

Yes, that’s right, hassle. This year, more than ever, I have felt the joy of Easter sucked out of me, much as I have often lost the thrill of Christmas in the mania of a minister’s activity.

What was different this year? A number of things. One, I didn’t have any additional services, but the turn-out (apart from this morning) was disappointing. I work just has hard for a small congregation as for a large one, but when it persistently happens, something can get to me. So, having had only five for Christmas Eve (four of us were on duty), there were five Methodists at the ecumenical Maundy Thursday service at the parish church, and nine at our Good Friday evening meditation (six for tea beforehand).

Actually, there was one additional event, at which I was required to mingle but not lead: we had a Messy Church afternoon on Tuesday. I also took a large funeral on Wednesday.

Two, yesterday was our daughter’s fifth birthday. On the day, it was a wonderful occasion. Rebekah was immaculately behaved, kind and sensitive. However, preparing for that during the week largely fell on my wife, because I was consumed with Holy Week. She got frustrated with me, and I got stressed with her.

Three, there were some other personal things to fit in on Maundy Thursday. I had to see the nurse for the latest appointment about my blood pressure. My new glasses – much needed – were also ready for pick-up that morning. I went in first thing, and then my car broke down in town. Thankfully, the RAC turned up far quicker than the two and a half hours their call centre guy estimated, and the patrol man solved the problem in less than five minutes.

Four, in all the production line of service preparation at this time of year (and it hadn’t been possible to do any in advance), I had to miss certain things I would have wished to have been at. Ministers always have to make such decisions, but this year I felt I had to miss things that could have recharged my batteries. One was my New Wine network meeting. The other was Churches Together in Chelmsford’s annual Good Friday open air service. It’s the first time in my adult life I’ve missed a united Good Friday service. But I needed more preparation time.

Five, the other thing about the non-stop service preparation is that your thoughts are operating proleptically, and you can miss the important time frame of Holy Week, and walking each step with Jesus, which is a helpful spiritual discipline. Like chain stores preparing for Christmas at the end of the summer, writing Easter Day sermons when you want to be thinking about Jesus’ trial or his time in the tomb, means missing helpful spiritual disciplines.

Having described that, you will see it wasn’t as though I underwent any personal tragedies. It was a cumulative effect. I didn’t look forward to Easter Day this year: rather, I just couldn’t wait to get it over and done.

I don’t have any neat solutions. They may come, they may not. The best I can do upon early reflection at this stage is to think back to the Gospel story of when the woman with the haemhorrage touched Jesus’ garment. ‘Who touched me?’ he asks. The disciples tell him that’s a silly question when the crowds are pressing in on him. But Jesus knows someone has touched him, because power (‘virtue’ in the AV) has gone out of him.

Right now, I feel like power has gone out of me, and I suspect it has for thousands of church leaders tonight. I’m not so silly as to think I’m unique. Having led our people to the risen Christ and prepared for that ahead of time, now after the event we need to find him ourselves. If we are truly blessed with grace, he will come looking for us before we find him. If you are as shattered as I am, may he come looking for you, too.

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links for 2008-03-23

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Resurrection Now

Matthew 28:1-10[1]

Introduction
Two weeks ago, Reuters reported this story:

The mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them.

In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that “all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish.”

It added: “Offenders will be severely punished.”[2]

Sounds like Mayor Lalanne could do with the resurrection of the dead now! Confounded by a court decision forbidding his village from buying some private land to extend the cemetery and doubtless complicated by traditional Catholic preference for burial over cremation, the seventy-year-old mayor said, “It may be a laughing matter for some, but not for me.”

Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection that promises the emptying of cemeteries and with it God’s kingdom with new heavens and a new earth. It gives us vision and hope for the future.

But it also affects the way we live now. What did it mean for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, those first witnesses of the empty tomb, according to Matthew?

1. Promise
One of the things we’ve tried hard to teach our children is that it’s important to keep your word. If you make a promise, you keep it. I can’t say we’ve always been successful, and sometimes it has been hard to live up to our ideal, but we have wanted to teach them that it is good to be known as someone whose word can be trusted.

The Resurrection is the event where God supremely shows his people that he can be trusted. He gives his word. He keeps his promises. Notice how the angel’s first word to the women is one that says, look, God has kept his promise in raising Jesus from the dead:

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Verses 5-6)

Wow! What kind of promise keeping is that? It’s the fulfilment of a promise that has gone down to the wire – and beyond. It’s a promise made in the teeth of death. What faith it took from Jesus to give himself up to death, knowing that his Father had promised to raise him up on the third day. And it is that promise Jesus himself had relayed to his friends several times as they headed for Jerusalem.

How many of us have struggled to believe in the faithfulness of God, because everything has gone pear-shaped? The Resurrection is testimony to the fact that nothing can stop God keeping his promises, not even death. God is faithful. He makes and fulfils his promises.

Our friends in the circuit at Christ Church, Braintree are facing that very challenge, to believe in such a promise-keeping God right now. As some of you know, next to their building is a doctor’s surgery. The surgery is moving to a different part of town, and the premises have been up for sale. The location means it would be an ideal opportunity for them to expand their ministry, especially as they want to implement a lot of social care and community initiatives. After a lot of heart-searching and prayer by the leadership team and the congregation, they put in a sealed bid for the property. They were certain God had led them to do so. They based their bid on a survey they had commissioned. It was a huge amount for the size of their congregation.

However, they lost the sealed bid auction. So are they giving up? No. they believe God spoke to them, so they are holding on. They believe in a God who keeps his promises. The God of the Resurrection can certainly raise up a property deal, if it is his will. The church has not thrown in the towel. Who knows what God will do?

Are there aspects of our lives where we are waiting and longing – perhaps in desperation – for God to intervene? Yet is that situation still tending towards a cold tomb? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God of Resurrection. That means he is the God who keeps his promises. The Easter message says that it is always worth holding onto our trust in him.

The evangelist D L Moody had a list of people for whom he prayed that they would find faith in Christ. Many of them did. When he died, two of them still had not. But after he died, they did. Death can never have the final say in the face of the promise-keeping God. That’s what it means to believe in the Resurrection.

2. Proclamation
Something flows from the angel’s assurance that God in Christ has kept his wonderful promise:

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
(Verses 7-8)

‘Go quickly and tell his disciples.’ Which they did. They have good news – no, amazing news – for downhearted, discouraged disciples. Jesus is back, and he is still interested in those who denied him. He wants to see those who didn’t believe his word, and who failed him out of fear. The Resurrection is Good News to be proclaimed. Whatever our fear, whatever our failure, ultimately the Resurrection of Jesus brings us the joyful truth that Jesus still loves us. How is it each one of us has let him down? Whatever it is, whether it seems serious or trivial, we hear the Easter proclamation that he is going to meet us. Jesus counters the lie of the enemy that our sins mean God no longer cares about us, and we might as well sin boldly and make a complete wreck of our lives, and those of others. The Resurrection is the turning point. Receive and believe the Gospel!

So in that sense, the Easter Proclamation is something to be received. It is healing news for failed disciples. But the proclamation of the Resurrection is not only to be received: it is also to be shared. Perhaps our fear sent us undercover, and that is the reason for our shame. When we receive the Good News of Christ risen from the dead that heals our failure, we are also liberated from behind closed doors to share that Gospel with others, to be public about our faith, just as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on that first Easter morning.

This last week, the newspapers have reported[3] the story of one famous person who kept his faith secret for years. However, now he has gone public about his belief in Jesus. He visited the tomb of his spiritual hero, Francis of Assisi, and prayed there silently on his knees for half an hour. He said that Francis had brought him to the church, and had played a fundamental part in his life.

Whom do I mean? Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union.

Ben Witherington, the American Methodist New Testament scholar, made an Easter connection with the story of Gorbachev’s faith. He quoted a communist who had once said, “I’ll believe Jesus rose from the dead when the atheist leader of the Soviet Union becomes a Christian.”

Gorbachev has gone public. It’s an Easter thing to do. That’s why I can never use part of the intercessions in our Easter communion service. The liturgy prays for ‘those who have confessed the faith, and those whose faith is known to you alone’[4].

What might happen with us if we truly heard the Easter Gospel again, and it quickened our hearts? Would it not be the first step in the reinvigoration of our witness? Let us pray that we may receive the healing knowledge of the risen Christ who forgives our failures, and inspires our testimony.

3. Presence
Off go the women. According to Mark’s Gospel, they went away from the empty tomb afraid. But Matthew has a punch line:

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Verses 9-10)

The Resurrection means that the disciples will meet the risen Lord. He wants to meet with his friends. The Resurrection means that our faith is not a theory or a philosophy. It is about a real experience of the living God. We can come up with all sorts of reasons to believe the Christian message, and it is good to engage the brain in the service of Christ. However, if it remains no more than an intellectual conviction, then it is not the Gospel. The Gospel is that the risen Lord is present to meet with his followers. A recent survey shows that thirty percent of Britons believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. But whether that same thirty percent claim a personal experience of Christ is, I suspect, rather doubtful.

No, the Easter Good News is not simply that Jesus rose from the dead bodily. It is that when he rose, he sought out his followers. The Easter faith is that Jesus is alive, he is present, and he meets us. Don’t accept any account of Christianity that is less than a meeting with the risen Christ.

So where might we experience his presence? In church? Well, I hope so! I believe we hear his voice in the preached word as it seeks to interpret Scripture. I believe we meet him at the Lord’s Table when we come in obedient faith. I believe we meet him in the midst of our fellowship, and especially as we pray together.

But is that the only place we meet him? Is the gathering of God’s people the exclusive or even the privileged place of finding the presence of our risen Lord? No. All the angel asked the women to tell the male disciples was that they would see Jesus in Galilee. Yes, Galilee. Not only Jerusalem, the religious and political capital, but backwater Galilee, the ordinary place from which they came. The location of their upbringing and their working lives as fishermen. ‘There they will see me.’

Why should we expect it to be any different for us? At school: ‘there they will see me.’ At the office: ‘there they will see me.’ In a conversation with a neighbour: ‘there they will see me.’ At the petrol station, the newsagent’s and even in the supermarket: ‘there they will see me.’ Jesus is alive, and he cannot be restricted to church gatherings and buildings. Where is Jesus going ahead of us? Where might he surprise us with his presence? Can we open up our expectations and our vision so that we encounter him in more places where he wants to meet us? Places where he is on mission, and he is inviting us to join him, not just our religious events. He isn’t sending us to do his mission: he’s already on the job, and is calling us to participate. The risen Christ’s presence in the world is the primary strategy of God’s mission. As one minister puts it:

Heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing the Gospel preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.

Conclusion
So let us hear the Good News again this Easter Day. Be encouraged in your dark times that ours is the promise-keeping God who keeps his word, even in the teeth of death. The grave cannot thwart his promises. If we are failures, receive the Good News and go public with it to others. Finally, expect to meet the risen Christ everywhere, as much in the world on mission as in the gathering of God’s people at corporate worship.

I might not like the intercessions in our Easter communion service, but I like the way it ends. I say, ‘Alleluia! Go in joy and peace to love and serve the Lord’, and you reply, ‘In the name of Christ. Alleluia!’[5] However, I want to go further: don’t just go in joy and peace to love and serve the Lord. Go in joy and peace to meet the risen Lord.




[1] Regular readers will know I normally link to the NRSV at Oremus. However, when I needed to do so this week, the site was down. This link is to the TNIV at Bible Gateway.

[4] Methodist Worship Book, p 166.

[5] Ibid., p 173.

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Tomorrow’s Sermon: Resurrection Now

Matthew 28:1-10[1]

Introduction
Two weeks ago, Reuters reported this story:

The mayor of a village in southwest France has threatened residents with severe punishment if they die, because there is no room left in the overcrowded cemetery to bury them.

In an ordinance posted in the council offices, Mayor Gerard Lalanne told the 260 residents of the village of Sarpourenx that “all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish.”

It added: “Offenders will be severely punished.”[2]

Sounds like Mayor Lalanne could do with the resurrection of the dead now! Confounded by a court decision forbidding his village from buying some private land to extend the cemetery and doubtless complicated by traditional Catholic preference for burial over cremation, the seventy-year-old mayor said, “It may be a laughing matter for some, but not for me.”

Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection that promises the emptying of cemeteries and with it God’s kingdom with new heavens and a new earth. It gives us vision and hope for the future.

But it also affects the way we live now. What did it mean for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, those first witnesses of the empty tomb, according to Matthew?

1. Promise
One of the things we’ve tried hard to teach our children is that it’s important to keep your word. If you make a promise, you keep it. I can’t say we’ve always been successful, and sometimes it has been hard to live up to our ideal, but we have wanted to teach them that it is good to be known as someone whose word can be trusted.

The Resurrection is the event where God supremely shows his people that he can be trusted. He gives his word. He keeps his promises. Notice how the angel’s first word to the women is one that says, look, God has kept his promise in raising Jesus from the dead:

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Verses 5-6)

Wow! What kind of promise keeping is that? It’s the fulfilment of a promise that has gone down to the wire – and beyond. It’s a promise made in the teeth of death. What faith it took from Jesus to give himself up to death, knowing that his Father had promised to raise him up on the third day. And it is that promise Jesus himself had relayed to his friends several times as they headed for Jerusalem.

How many of us have struggled to believe in the faithfulness of God, because everything has gone pear-shaped? The Resurrection is testimony to the fact that nothing can stop God keeping his promises, not even death. God is faithful. He makes and fulfils his promises.

Our friends in the circuit at Christ Church, Braintree are facing that very challenge, to believe in such a promise-keeping God right now. As some of you know, next to their building is a doctor’s surgery. The surgery is moving to a different part of town, and the premises have been up for sale. The location means it would be an ideal opportunity for them to expand their ministry, especially as they want to implement a lot of social care and community initiatives. After a lot of heart-searching and prayer by the leadership team and the congregation, they put in a sealed bid for the property. They were certain God had led them to do so. They based their bid on a survey they had commissioned. It was a huge amount for the size of their congregation.

However, they lost the sealed bid auction. So are they giving up? No. they believe God spoke to them, so they are holding on. They believe in a God who keeps his promises. The God of the Resurrection can certainly raise up a property deal, if it is his will. The church has not thrown in the towel. Who knows what God will do?

Are there aspects of our lives where we are waiting and longing – perhaps in desperation – for God to intervene? Yet is that situation still tending towards a cold tomb? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God of Resurrection. That means he is the God who keeps his promises. The Easter message says that it is always worth holding onto our trust in him.

The evangelist D L Moody had a list of people for whom he prayed that they would find faith in Christ. Many of them did. When he died, two of them still had not. But after he died, they did. Death can never have the final say in the face of the promise-keeping God. That’s what it means to believe in the Resurrection.

2. Proclamation
Something flows from the angel’s assurance that God in Christ has kept his wonderful promise:

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
(Verses 7-8)

‘Go quickly and tell his disciples.’ Which they did. They have good news – no, amazing news – for downhearted, discouraged disciples. Jesus is back, and he is still interested in those who denied him. He wants to see those who didn’t believe his word, and who failed him out of fear. The Resurrection is Good News to be proclaimed. Whatever our fear, whatever our failure, ultimately the Resurrection of Jesus brings us the joyful truth that Jesus still loves us. How is it each one of us has let him down? Whatever it is, whether it seems serious or trivial, we hear the Easter proclamation that he is going to meet us. Jesus counters the lie of the enemy that our sins mean God no longer cares about us, and we might as well sin boldly and make a complete wreck of our lives, and those of others. The Resurrection is the turning point. Receive and believe the Gospel!

So in that sense, the Easter Proclamation is something to be received. It is healing news for failed disciples. But the proclamation of the Resurrection is not only to be received: it is also to be shared. Perhaps our fear sent us undercover, and that is the reason for our shame. When we receive the Good News of Christ risen from the dead that heals our failure, we are also liberated from behind closed doors to share that Gospel with others, to be public about our faith, just as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on that first Easter morning.

This last week, the newspapers have reported[3] the story of one famous person who kept his faith secret for years. However, now he has gone public about his belief in Jesus. He visited the tomb of his spiritual hero, Francis of Assisi, and prayed there silently on his knees for half an hour. He said that Francis had brought him to the church, and had played a fundamental part in his life.

Whom do I mean? Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union.

Ben Witherington, the American Methodist New Testament scholar, made an Easter connection with the story of Gorbachev’s faith. He quoted a communist who had once said, “I’ll believe Jesus rose from the dead when the atheist leader of the Soviet Union becomes a Christian.”

Gorbachev has gone public. It’s an Easter thing to do. That’s why I can never use part of the intercessions in our Easter communion service. The liturgy prays for ‘those who have confessed the faith, and those whose faith is known to you alone’[4].

What might happen with us if we truly heard the Easter Gospel again, and it quickened our hearts? Would it not be the first step in the reinvigoration of our witness? Let us pray that we may receive the healing knowledge of the risen Christ who forgives our failures, and inspires our testimony.

3. Presence
Off go the women. According to Mark’s Gospel, they went away from the empty tomb afraid. But Matthew has a punch line:

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Verses 9-10)

The Resurrection means that the disciples will meet the risen Lord. He wants to meet with his friends. The Resurrection means that our faith is not a theory or a philosophy. It is about a real experience of the living God. We can come up with all sorts of reasons to believe the Christian message, and it is good to engage the brain in the service of Christ. However, if it remains no more than an intellectual conviction, then it is not the Gospel. The Gospel is that the risen Lord is present to meet with his followers. A recent survey shows that thirty percent of Britons believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. But whether that same thirty percent claim a personal experience of Christ is, I suspect, rather doubtful.

No, the Easter Good News is not simply that Jesus rose from the dead bodily. It is that when he rose, he sought out his followers. The Easter faith is that Jesus is alive, he is present, and he meets us. Don’t accept any account of Christianity that is less than a meeting with the risen Christ.

So where might we experience his presence? In church? Well, I hope so! I believe we hear his voice in the preached word as it seeks to interpret Scripture. I believe we meet him at the Lord’s Table when we come in obedient faith. I believe we meet him in the midst of our fellowship, and especially as we pray together.

But is that the only place we meet him? Is the gathering of God’s people the exclusive or even the privileged place of finding the presence of our risen Lord? No. All the angel asked the women to tell the male disciples was that they would see Jesus in Galilee. Yes, Galilee. Not only Jerusalem, the religious and political capital, but backwater Galilee, the ordinary place from which they came. The location of their upbringing and their working lives as fishermen. ‘There they will see me.’

Why should we expect it to be any different for us? At school: ‘there they will see me.’ At the office: ‘there they will see me.’ In a conversation with a neighbour: ‘there they will see me.’ At the petrol station, the newsagent’s and even in the supermarket: ‘there they will see me.’ Jesus is alive, and he cannot be restricted to church gatherings and buildings. Where is Jesus going ahead of us? Where might he surprise us with his presence? Can we open up our expectations and our vision so that we encounter him in more places where he wants to meet us? Places where he is on mission, and he is inviting us to join him, not just our religious events. He isn’t sending us to do his mission: he’s already on the job, and is calling us to participate. The risen Christ’s presence in the world is the primary strategy of God’s mission. As one minister puts it:

Heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing the Gospel preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.

Conclusion
So let us hear the Good News again this Easter Day. Be encouraged in your dark times that ours is the promise-keeping God who keeps his word, even in the teeth of death. The grave cannot thwart his promises. If we are failures, receive the Good News and go public with it to others. Finally, expect to meet the risen Christ everywhere, as much in the world on mission as in the gathering of God’s people at corporate worship.

I might not like the intercessions in our Easter communion service, but I like the way it ends. I say, ‘Alleluia! Go in joy and peace to love and serve the Lord’, and you reply, ‘In the name of Christ. Alleluia!’[5] However, I want to go further: don’t just go in joy and peace to love and serve the Lord. Go in joy and peace to meet the risen Lord.




[1] Regular readers will know I normally link to the NRSV at Oremus. However, when I needed to do so this week, the site was down. This link is to the TNIV at Bible Gateway.

[4] Methodist Worship Book, p 166.

[5] Ibid., p 173.

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