Trinity Sunday 26.5.13 John 16. 12-15

19 05 2013

All Truth

This is a very short gospel reading. Its very brevity makes you wonder how many words it takes to tell the truth.

John 16. 12-15

Jesus said, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

Head Questions

  1. Why can the disciples not bear the ‘many things’ yet to be said to them?
  2. Can you begin to imagine what ‘all the truth’ might be like?
  3. What does Jesus mean by saying that the father will ’take what is mine’?

Heart Questions

  1. How are the disciples feeling at this stage in Jesus’ discourse?
  2. Do you believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is something your heart can connect with?
  3. How do you feel about the idea that the three persons of the Trinity have the same heart?

Hand Questions

  1. What one action of yours could speak volumes of truth?
  2. What are the ethical implications of believing in the Trinity?
  3. What does the Spirit of truth require of you at this stage in your life journey?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

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Pentecost 19.5.13 John 14.8-17 [25-57]

1 05 2013

The Holy Spirit

Jesus is asked a question – but as usual the question is not good enough to get a direct answer. But fear not, the spirit of truth is coming.

John 14.8-17 [25-57]

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This 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 …

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

Head Questions

  1. Why do you think Philip asked that question (v8)?
  2. ‘Another Advocate’: what is your sense of the meaning of ‘paraclete’?
  3. What might it mean to do ‘greater works than these’ (v12)?

Heart Questions

  1. Do you find the prospect of the ‘Spirit of truth’ comforting – or is there a bit of threat in there for you?
  2. What do you feel about Father and the Son coming to make their home in you? Are you that hospitable?

Hand Questions

  1. Do you have a ‘Philip question’ in you that you need to ask someone?
  2. Can you identify the works that you do?
  3. Can you find one practical way to obey the commandment to love your real-life neighbour?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.





Baptism of Christ 13.1.13 Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

6 01 2013

Drama With John

This brief passage is full of energy and surprise.  There is fulfilment but also promise. We might wonder whether John’s words about Jesus are true to the Jesus reveled as Luke’s gospel unfolds. In these brief verses the fire seems to be all with John.  Jesus accepts his baptism, prays and is deeply affirmed.

Luke 3.15-22 [The verses in square brackets are excluded by the lectionary]

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.]

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Reflection

To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

‘Head Questions’

  1. The noun ‘baptism’ and the verb ‘to baptize’ occur a lot here. What does the word mean?
  2. Why might people think John the Messiah?  What sort of Messiah would he have been?
  3. Why have the lectionary editors removed verses 18-20?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. Notice that expectant people ask big questions. Does this ring true to you?
  2. What emotions do you connect with John the Baptist?
  3. How does the word ‘beloved’ touch you?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Are there questions floating around which only you can stand up and answer?
  2. Are you perhaps called to be a bit more Baptist-like in your life and ministry? When did you last use your winnowing-fork?
  3. The only thing Jesus does here is pray.  Does that affirm or challenge your own priorities and to-do lists?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.





Pentecost 27.5.12 Acts 2.1-21

20 05 2012

Sensing the Spirit

Pentecost invites us to attend to the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for human beings to do that directly and so we focus not precisely on the Spirit but on the impact of the Spirit. It is impossible to get even that properly into words.  But with the Spirit’s help we can be better communicators than we think.

Acts 2.1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

The icon depicts the descending of the Holy Sp...

The icon depicts the descending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This icon is the part of the iconostasis of the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Hajdúdorog, Hungary. The icon was painted around 1810. This icon is the last one in the row of the Great Feasts of the iconostasis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Reflections and Questions

‘They were all together in one place’ v 1 It is easy to overlook this point.  When people talk of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church they are  not usually thinking of the importance of gathering in one place.  Maybe they are missing out on something vital.

How important is it that ‘all gather together in one place’ in the life of the Church?  In your view, is the Spirit’s primary work to gather or to disperse God’s people?

‘a sound like the rush of violent wind.’ v2. The word ‘Spirit’ also means ‘breath’ or ‘wind’.  Look up Ezekiel 37.9-10 and remember John 20.22 where Jesus breathed on the disciples and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.  But here we have wind – and violent wind at that.

How forceful do you believe the Holy Spirit can be?  What is your experience?

‘divided tongues, as of fire’ v3  More imagery, signalling both communication and danger.

Why should the communication of the Spirit be like fire?  Can you offer both a Biblical and a personal answer?

‘these are not drunk, as you suppose’ v14 There is an implicit symbol in this, suggesting a kind of intoxicating effect of the Spirit. But there is no poison here. They are not out of their minds, but in their most right of minds.

What does the accusation to which Peter is responding tell us about the onlookers? And what does it add to the impression we have of the disciples’ actions and attitudes?





Second Sunday of Easter 15.4.12 John 20.19-end

9 04 2012

Doubt and Faith

At the centre of this brief passage lies one of the most memorable encounters in the Bible. That between the risen Jesus and Thomas a week after Easter Day. Caravaggio has Thomas intently inspecting the evidence. But that is not the picture John paints.  He suggests Thomas’ doubt is very short-lived.

John 20 19-end

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio....

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflections and Questions

‘doors of the house’. v 19 Although much has been made of the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb, not so much has been made of the locked doors of the upper room. John tells us why they were locked. But our interest is more in their solidity than in the security they afford.

What do the locked doors tell you about the risen Jesus? 

‘he breathed on them.’ v 22. We immediately think of this breathing as congruent with the idea of spirit as breath, and remember the animation of dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. But maybe should see it in the context of other acts of breathing in John’s gospel.

What happens to your imagination if you compare this out-breathing with that of John 19.30?

‘Unless…’. v26 This is how Thomas begins his utterance. With a demand.

What is your ‘unless’?

‘My Lord and my God!’. v28  Thomas again. Many people identify with Thomas. You might be one of them. There are number of reasons for doing so.  For instance, you might feel like the typical outsider, the one who would be unlucky enough to miss out on something really special. Or you might be someone who knows the keenness of doubt.  Or maybe you identify with this outburst of faith or the cry of reckless discipleship in John 11.16.

Which Thomas do you most easily identify with? What about the people you preach to?

For many people life is lived in different places up and down the spectrum between 100% doubt and 100% faith. Where are you now?

Finally, why not check out my seven tips on ‘how to make Easter joyful’ http://stephencherry.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/how-to-make-easter-joyful/