Proper 6: God the Gardener

The Generous Sower
Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Sower’

13/6/21 – Proper 6
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

I would like to welcome you all this morning to Jesus’ Summer School! We recently changed into the ‘ordinary time’ on the church calendar – which I think is anything but ordinary. The world and our times are certainly not ordinary! Over the coming weeks and months our weekly readings turn to the teaching of Jesus and his parables. Today’s lesson is about gardening and the particular use of seeds.

I know that a lot of you are avid gardeners and others are garden appreciators (like myself). Jesus often refers to gardening in his parables as he tries to teach about what the kingdom of God is like. He uses analogies of the seed and sower, lamps under bushel baskets, and today the focus is on seeds. Why these things? I think that lamps and mustard seeds represent everyday miracles. We all know how they work. The kingdom of God is in the everyday stuff of life. This is drastically different from the kingdom of military power that many people thought Jesus would bring; including the disciples.

The first seed parable might suggest that the gardener is rather reckless by the scattering of seeds. You could picture this person flinging handfuls of seed everywhere to fall where they may. This is not neat and orderly rows of well tended vegetables. Then this gardener goes to sleep, and doesn’t pay attention as the seeds begin to sprout. They don’t seem to know how this happens, just that it does. Sometime later they can come back and harvest what has been sown.

If you are a perfectionist you might have picked up what is wrong with this parable. Good gardeners do not toss seeds randomly about and then sleep away the growing season. Good gardeners should tend their garden, watch out for the weather, protect the sprouts from the deer and the birds. Things surely need to be watered and weeded.

Or, is this gardener generous and trusting? They apparently have enough seed to scatter freely and enough trust in the soil to do it’s thing so that not much attention is required. This gardener seems to understand the mystery, the ancient cyclical nature of the growing season. The gardener has done their part by planting and harvesting. Growth will simply happen without any intervention from them.

This gardener seems to know that they are not in charge; they are operating in the realm of mystery. No amount of worrying or control will make these seeds grow. In this story of the kingdom, it is not our striving, our piety or impressive prayers that cause us to grow and thrive in God’s garden. The kingdom of God will grow on grace alone.

The mustard seed is interesting too. Jesus’ first audience would have been surprised with this reference. I read recently that the people of Jesus’ day would not have planted mustard seeds. They were a noxious weed. You also would not want to attract birds to your garden either. Birds who eat seeds and fruit. Once a mustard seed starts growing they need very little care and not much water. They spread quickly and take over where they are planted; not exactly something you would want in a well-tended garden. It would have been seen as a nuisance and not to be cultivated on purpose. It grows like a weed and looks like one too as they are not beautiful to look at.

What does the mustard seed have to say about the kingdom of God? Mustard seeds have small beginnings. Jesus is saying here that this kingdom of God starts small and grows large – much larger than we can ever imagine, the kingdom spreads out and changes the taste of the world around it.
The mustard seed also says something about what counts in God’s economy, what is beautiful and who matters. It is not only the well-tended and well organised. It is the spindly weeds, the small ones who matter. It is the birds, an unwelcome visitor who is welcomed and given a seat of honour too.

If we are going to plant then we need to be sure of the soil in which we are planting. The first gardener seems to trust the soil to do it’s thing. Whatever happens in the soil is hidden, it is generous as it feeds and nurtures the seeds deep below the surface. Eventually the soil brings forth the seedling and it begins life above the earth to be harvested. How is the soil in which we are planting? There are times when we do not trust the soil, maybe we plant our prayers but not let them be cared for by the soil of God’s love and grace.

As a church and as part of a larger benefice, we need to spread out and change the taste of the world around us. Church is not contained to these four walls, this hour on a Sunday and only the people sitting here. Lord help us if that ever becomes our view of His church and his kingdom. Without seed, that is without the word of God being shared, then nothing will grow. Where can we be planting seeds in our villages?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he is encouraging them to be confident of the love of Christ. We are not just God’s creation but part of his new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, think of what happens in the soil that we cannot see. Paul is calling us to be confident in Christ. Probably one of the hardest things to do is to ‘walk by faith, not by sight’.

From Psalm 119 ‘your word is a lamp unto my feet and and light to my path’. The light is on the feet; we get enough vision for the next step not the whole journey. Walking by faith in all life throws at us. Growth still comes. New creation is birthed. We are nurtured and cared for by God.

Paul talks about our eternal home: in the heavens that God is preparing for us. We are to be forward-looking people. We have the Spirit as a guarantee. This is where our confidence should be.

How is your confidence this morning? What are you confident in? What we do as a church may feel small and under confident ; but it will grow like a mustard seed if we let it. We need scatter seeds with abandon, trusting that they will fall in the right places to take hold. It is not solely down to our efforts, well executed prayers and piety. There is mystery in the soil, in the unseen where growth happens. If, like Paul, we walk by faith and refuse to let circumstances crush or perplex us and focus on the new creation we can be confident in the love and grace of God.

Proper 5: God at the Centre

Hambleden Valley Group Service – St Mary the Virgin, Fawley
Proper 5

1 Samuel 8:4-11,16-20
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Sieger Koder
Fr Sieger Koder, Jesus Loves the Children

I can only trust that it is divine providence to be preaching on 1 Samuel 8 and Mark 3 this morning; my first Group Service as Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group. I also realized that I haven’t written a sermon on this Sunday before either. Indeed a fresh start.

Both of these books along with 2 Corinthians will feature over the coming weeks according to the lectionary. Might I suggest adding them to your summer reading lists! There are some solid and still relevant lessons in them. I hope that the take away today: Is Jesus at the centre? It is a fundamental question for the Benefice at this time and for each of us. What happens when He is not? How do we put him back?

To set up my stall: I like the Old Testament. A lot. I am by no means an expert, it does take some time and energy to get one’s head around it and when you do there is beauty and story to be discovered.

If I had to nutshell the Old Testament it is this: it is a story of a people who messed up and the God who loved them anyway. These people, Israel, had been chosen by God to be his people (unsure why them), to be the Chosen ones they had to follow some rules – the Chema (love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. Super easy!) Israel had to care for the neighbours, the widows and orphans but above love God.

Yet, they couldn’t do it. They focused on what they didn’t have, they worshipped other gods, complained about what they felt entitled to, nothing was quite good enough, they wanted what the neighbours had. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?

In 1 Samuel, this all comes to a head as Israel demands a human king to look after them ; just like all the neighbours had. They thought this was a better option than obeying God. At this point, Samuel was an old man, his own sons had chosen their own paths and went astray so he would not be leading them for much longer. Israel has reached a critical moment in their history, two ways to go here. The way of God or the way of themselves.

Samuel gets a warning from God which he passes on about how awful the ways of a human king are going to be. A human king will turn their sons into war labourers, daughters will be put to work; he will take the best of their flocks, fields and vineyards for his friends, and then a 10% cut on top of that for his own personal use. This is grossly unfair. However, the people will not listen and continue their demands, they are actively rejecting God for their own agenda.

God’s response, despite the warning, is to give the people what they want. There are consequences, the Lord will not answer when they cry out because of the king. God did not do this because he is uncaring or gave up on his chosen people; he wanted to show them that His way is the better one, following him leads to life and not death. If God is not at the centre of life and we choose to go our own way, there are consequences, there are responsibilities that come with free will.

Stay tuned as the first human king of Israel will be appointed in next week’s edition!

Summer Reading Book 2: Mark’s Gospel

We are now in the early days of Jesus’ ministry and things are hotting up. Jesus is travelling, healing, teaching and gaining attention. He was doing things, like healing people on the Sabbath and declaring forgiveness of sins, getting in the face of the religious establishment. This attention is likely causing some pressure on his family.

We do not know very much about Jesus’ family life as there are few references to them. We have two in Mark 3 and they both indicate that Jesus’ family life likely was not easy! His family certainly doesn’t come across well; Mary and the brothers go to restrain him, public opinion was that ‘he had gone out of his mind’ and his family seem to have gone along with the crowd on this one. I am sure that many of us know what it is to have awkward/difficult/odd family members.

However, what Jesus is saying is lucid and makes sense. Jesus is pushing them to look not just at the theory of God but the reality of God. Everything Jesus was doing was good. Everywhere Jesus went people were being restored to God, evil and sickness were banished, demons were exercised. The root of the problem was that the power Jesus was displaying could only come from two sources: God or the devil.

Jesus is not only proclaiming the word of God but performs it in action. If we read God’s word, then we should be able to see it in action. Evil simply cannot work against itself.

This pushing made them, his family and the religious leaders, uncomfortable. His family was risking a bad reputation. The religious leaders could lose control of the population; so much so that they were willing to lie and deny the consequences of what Jesus was saying and doing was true.

Revd Dr Cally Hammond in this week’s Church Times, ‘We human beings have the terrifying freedom even to reject our Maker, and refuse to hear his voice. There are people, both inside and outside the churches, who put themselves – and keep themselves – beyond God’s forgiveness. This makes them literally ‘unforgivable’; because they refuse to respond to him, they harden their hearts against the call to turn and begin anew with him. This is not a matter of religious observances (reading the Bible, church attendance, saying prayers): it is about the command to confess that God is, with all that flows from that confession It is no sin to be ignorant of that, or to refuse it on the basis of a misunderstanding of what God is. But truly to know and still refuse? That really is unforgivable.’

I have always been curious about the nature of the unforgivable sin and what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I have found a clearer explanation than Dr Hammond’s. It is to know God truly and still refuse. This does not apply to people of other religions or little tribes of people in deepest, darkest, wherever. This applies to people who know and refuse to put God at the centre, actively rejecting what is on offer. Unfortunately I know many more of them than I do Muslims, Hindus and Samburus.

How do we keep God at the centre as a Benefice and as the beloved children of God? From the examples of 1 Samuel; choose God’s kingship over that of other imperfect and fallible humans, care less about what the neighbours have and what you do not. God is faithful and he will give us what we ask for sometimes; be careful what you are demanding and why. You just might get it!

From Mark, look to the love and goodness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Living a God-centred life is not always easy, the temptation to lie and deny can be strong at times, what other people think has a powerful influence on us, tuning that out to follow truth and conscience is never easy – not even for Jesus.

Good and saintly people of the Hambleden Valley Group – we will face consequences if we do not stay together, we cannot become divided over opinion, preferences or money and all the myriad of things that can cause difficulties in churches. We need to be united with God and with each. With God at the centre of our lives and churches there is a bright and hopeful future ahead of us.

I am going to end with a poem today called ‘I Am Bending My Knee’ by the Scottish folklorist, Alexander Carmichael.

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday: Nighttime with Nicodemus

Trinity Sunday! The celebration of the complex and beautiful and messy doctrine central to the Christian faith. It is exciting!

Trinity Window

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Today we are remembering Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost and we are meant to celebrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three-person Godhead. Celebrating foundational Christian doctrine might not sound all that exciting, but it is!

It is good, I think, to remind ourselves about the essence of our Christian faith after the events and activities of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Phew – the church year now opens up and rolls along until Advent as the big festivals are now complete.

Most Priests shiver at the thought of a Trinity Sunday sermon. We try to take holidays, pass the preaching on to a visitor or a curate. Clergy Facebook groups are filled with angsty posts about Trinity sermons!

So where does that leave me?

Well with Nicodemus. My attempt this morning is to look at how Nicodemus came to understand more about God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit through his conversation with Jesus that dark night in Jerusalem.
Who is this guy? Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the Jewish leaders. He is a big deal in the Jewish circles of Jerusalem; Nicodemus has been well educated in the faith and is a smart man.

Like most religious people, Nicodemus believes, to some extent, that God is love. But he believes that God’s love is measured and sensible, and follows a set of rules. I think that many Christians today still follow this thinking.

They have reasoned that God’s love is reserved for really ‘good’ people, those who are nice or do good things or turn up to church on Sundays. This is true and untrue as God’s love is for everyone despite our perceived and actual goodness and badness.

Nicodemus is confused about Jesus and where he fits; Jesus is not playing by the conventional Jewish rules that Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees are expecting. This could be why Nicodemus pays him a visit – to get Jesus to fill in the proper forms, tick the right boxes.

His confusion is given away in the detail about coming to see Jesus at night. Darkness or night in John’s Gospel represents confusion or a lack of understanding.

A second reason for going at night means that Nicodemus was concerned about being seen with Jesus. He wasn’t willing to risk his reputation or position as a leader in the Sanhedrin for Him.

But credit to Nicodemus for even going in the first place, his colleagues couldn’t or wouldn’t. Nicodemus’ attraction to Jesus has led him to take action which is leading further into the love of God.

Nicodemus starts by telling Jesus that he, and others, know that there is something special about Jesus – only someone with a special relationship with God could do the things Jesus was doing. He is basically saying ‘I’m someone who can recognize what God is doing – and you, Jesus, are doing a pretty good job’.

Jesus’ reply seems to mystify Nicodemus. I’m not sure what your response is when you hear the words ‘born again’. What do you say when someone asks you ‘are you born again’? Jesus wants Nicodemus to tear up the checklists and understand that God’s activity cannot be ordered.

Nicodemus is picturing a physical re-birth which makes for some interesting mental images around re-entering his mother’s womb. This is not what Jesus means – he is referring to spiritual rebirth in which someone who already possesses life at the physical level comes to birth at a spiritual level.

Spiritual rebirth is about discovering life in all its fullness, which comes only through being born again, or from above. Spiritual rebirth has to come from God. To see his kingdom we need to be born both of water (physically) and spirit (from above).

Jesus then makes the crucial link between his own forthcoming death and the full benefits of the gospel. This comes through the deliverance of believers from death through the gift of eternal life which will become possible through his death.

This eternal life is a new quality of life, made only possible through the love of God, which is shown in the astonishing fact that he loves the world so much that his only Son should die for it.

John 3:16 – This very familiar verse. It is the first one I remember learning as a child. When I think of verses – it often comes to mind first as it is so ingrained. But do I really know what it means – the massive significance that gets lost or overlooked with over-familiarization.

John 3:16 sets out what it means to be a Christian; it sums up the essence of what Christianity is.

What is that?

An invitation to join God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit in the unfathomable richness of God’s love. To join in their being and doing. This is the invitation that Jesus extended to Nicodemus that night and continues to extend to us today.

Jane Williams writes ‘God does not love when we have met requirements, or when we have changed enough to be lovable, or when we were lucky enough to born in one race or sex. God just loves. And trying to measure the love of God is like trying to control the wind. God will do anything for this world he loves, including coming himself, the Son, to die for it. To understand this, in Jesus’ words, born again, to start the world again, learning to walk and speak and think and grow in a world where the love of God is the breath we breathe, so that our every response to the world around us is informed by that love.’

I think that Nicodemus made a start that night in understanding what this love of God is really about – even if he doesn’t quite yet understand. After this midnight meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus goes away changed.

How do we know? He appears on two more occasions in John’s Gospel. First in Ch 7 – Jesus has gone back to Jerusalem for a festival and has really irked the Pharisees and temple priests – remember that Nicodemus is one of them. They send the temple police to arrest Jesus and they don’t. Nicodemus steps into the fray to protect Jesus by reminding the other Pharisees about a point of law that they have easily overlooked about giving a person a hearing before judging them.

Think for a second here – would Nicodemus risk everything – his whole life – in that moment if he didn’t believe who Jesus was? If he didn’t want more of what Jesus was offering? I think Nicodemus had way too much to lose if it was untrue.

The final appearance of Nicodemus is after the crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea has asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus is the one who brings them myrrh and aloes for the preparation of the body. They – Joseph and Nicodemus take the body, wrap it with the spices in linen cloth according to burial custom and they lay him in the tomb.

Why would he do that if he didn’t believe it? Again – risk everything. You also need to really love someone to care for their body after death. A few years of Macmillan Nursing helped teach me this – only those who are most intimately acquainted with a person – the ones who really love them will be with their body after death.

Nicodemus was extended an invitation into the deepest relationship that we can be offered – a relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The belief that God is Trinity is the foundation for the belief that God is also love. I wonder when Nicodemus accepted the invitation? At what point? These are questions for another day. But he accepted the invitation.

His next actions – defending Jesus in front of his peers at great personal expense and then anointing Jesus’ dead body can only speak to love. A love that is born again, a start-the-world-over kind of love.

Maybe I have skated around the Trinity and trying to explain the doctrine of Father, Son and Spirit being the three in one. Start with the Three and see that it is the deepest nature of One. In the Trinity we discover God’s character, personality, priorities and God’s reality. I can point you in the direction of large theological volumes if that is helpful. When we see the deepest nature of the One – as Nicodemus did – we are invited to join in the relationship of the Trinity, we are invited to the table to share love and life together. This is worth celebrating.

Pentecost: The Old Made New

Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Well, it’s 9:30-ish in the morning/6:00-ish in the evening, and we’re all gathered together in one place. Perhaps we should watch out for tongues of fire and listen for the sudden rush of a violent wind from heaven.

But I think we should pray first…

Creator God, as your spirit moved over the face of the waters bringing light and life to your creation, pour out your Spirit on us today that we may walk as children of light and by your grace reveal your presence. Amen.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am sure a few people here this morning/evening who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up! I am equally sure that there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

I don’t think that being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t intend to leave you comfortable today either. Sometimes a sense of discomfort is needed to remind us of the areas in our faith that we may be ignoring or falling short in.

The Holy Spirit was sent to change people, including us; to send us away differently, refined, plucked or pruned. The process of change can be uncomfortable to downright miserable while in it.

Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable. But it was meant to be lived together in both the joys and the sufferings. We are not alone either. Jesus explained to the disciples that ‘the Advocate, whom I will send, will testify on my behalf; will guide you in all truth.’

Jesus points to the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples everything that he (Jesus) had said to them. This is not a one-off, show me, show us event. The work, the presence of the Holy Spirit is an on-going, lifelong affair. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the connection between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us.

In John 14, Jesus explains that the Advocate, the Counsellor or the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said. The first thing we are taught about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is inextricably linked to the life of Jesus and his teaching. It is not some woo-woo spirit floating about like changing clouds.

‘IF you love me’ says Jesus, ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.’ IF implies a choice!

The love of the disciples for Jesus leads to Acts 2.

We do know that something astonishing is happening in Acts 2, barriers of culture and language are being broken down as the Spirit falls on those gathered that day. Luke in his writing is struggling to find the language to describe what is going on; things ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’ which indicates he has never seen anything like what he is seeing before. God is drawing new people from every nation at the time towards him. The people, mostly Jews, are encountering the Holy Spirit and being changed. Jesus changes people. We are seeing an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

When trying to understand the Holy Spirit it is helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit has been around from Genesis. It was the spirit hovering over the waters at creation. It is not/was not a new thing but that first Pentecost saw the most powerful outpouring that had been experienced.

The other thing to keep in mind was the timing of this event. God was using a long-standing appointment on the kingdom calendar of the Jewish people. The Feast of Pentecost was meant to pour out the ‘old’ spirit in a ‘new and powerful way’.

For centuries 50 days after the Passover, the Jews have celebrated with a feast, traditionally called ‘The Feast of Weeks. The number 50 points to fullness, ripeness, to a time that is ready for something to happen.

This was already a time of celebration. Pentecost happens 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

In the Feast of Weeks and at Pentecost, God was creating for himself a new people. When the disciples received the Spirit, they became witnesses for Christ. Here to Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church.

Pentecost is not a random event! The feast was on the calendar and we see God take something old and familiar to the Jews to produce something new and fresh.

I now want to look at the 3 purposes of the Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit works and moves in the church today.

Firstly, the Feast of Pentecost is a time to remember and give thanks for what has been done for us. The Jewish people were to remember and celebrate their release from slavery by being generous to each other, feeding the widows, the orphans, the poor and other unfortunates.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a very common Jewish method of interpretation or way of coming to a new understanding called ‘midrash’.

Peter is doing exactly that in Acts 2 when he refers to the prophecy of Joel to explain to the mostly Jewish crowd what is happening beyond ‘we are not drunk at 9 am’!! Joel announced that God was going to do something very special on Mount Zion which is in Jerusalem and Peter is confirming that.

I think that it is important to remember where we have come from. But there is a caution when looking to the past; I am not suggesting we constantly rehash the past or not move on from it. Nor am I suggesting a rewriting or romanticising of the past either. We can remember again where we have come from, but we don’t live in that past anymore.

Secondly, the Feast of Pentecost was a time for great generosity; it was about generous grace and generous giving. The Jews of the day had a slightly different take on it. For the Feast, the Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 – ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

This actually makes me more uncomfortable than the wind and fire. I am not suggesting that we can out-give God, but we are to give him thanks and offer ourselves to Him and his service. We are called to be generous with our time, talents and possessions to meet the needs of others and the church.

Imagine for a second if our churches and we as people gave to God in proportion to the way He has blessed us? We would live and love in a completely different world and probably wouldn’t have budget shortfalls.

Rev Bill Albinger was an Episcopal priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. I had a look at what Rev Bill had to say about Pentecost and giving. This is what he writes:

‘This is where the power of the church is – the Spirit is not a power to boost us up and make us feel good, but it is power and presence of God to bring a wholly new perspective in the way we live and love. It doesn’t matter so much if we are ‘slain in the spirit’ and knocked to the ground – what matters is the kind of changed person you are when you are on your feet.

What matters are the gifts you bring to the building up of community and the gifts you bring to the healing and repair of the world. This is where the power of the church is.’

At Pentecost we need to remember where we have come from and give thanks. By way of thanks we are to be generous with our time, talents and possessions for the benefit of the church and others.

Thirdly, The Feast of Pentecost is a corporate harvest, the first fruits of church. The specific time of this event on Pentecost offers little doubt that God intended a highly significant feast of harvest.

The harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who met Jesus and went away changed. They went back to their towns and villages and they began to sow what they had learned and seen in Jerusalem, a call to a life in Jesus. We know they did as the church still exists today.

If the Jews are simply said, ‘well that was interesting, Peter spoke well, etc…’ and went on their way without being changed, who knows what would have happened. But they went and sowed.

But sometimes we don’t sow and therefore don’t see a harvest. Instead we tend to eat the seed. The American writer and bible teacher Beth Moore explained the principle of eating the seed after visiting villages in Kenya. Beth writes:

’One of the most frustrating things is that in the villages where they receive seed, they often eat the seed rather than planting and bringing forth the harvest. I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind and suddenly had an answer to the questions I most often ask God: Why do some people see the results of the Word and others don’t? Why do some study the Word of God yet remain in captivity?

Some just eat the seed and never sow it for a harvest. You want examples? Why have many of us read books on forgiving people, known the teachings were true and right, cried over them, marked them up with our highlighters, yet remain in our bitterness?

Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it.

We think we accepted the teachings because we were so moved by it. But you see, the seed of God’s Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction and still not produce a harvest – that is when we eat it but don’t sow it.

Many times we apply biblical truth to our theologies without applying it to the actual practicalities of life.’ God repeatedly says that a harvest is to be sown and not eaten as seed. We were meant to eat from the sheaves and not the seeds. God wants to sow into our lives so we can sow into the lives of others.

On this Feast of Pentecost as we pray Come, Holy Spirit, let us remember what God has already done for us, show our thanks for what He has done by being generous to others and to the church. Let’s also think about what it is to harvest. If we can’t seem to find anything to harvest, have we sown anything, or have we eaten the seed ourselves?

To ask for the Holy Spirit is a choice as is to do any of the above: to be thankful, to be generous and to be changed. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Spirit to help us, to guide us; we never have to do this alone.

Pentecost was a very public event and meant to be shared. Live beyond your convenience and comfort! The Holy Spirit came to change us, the church and the world – apologetically, wholly and completely. And uncomfortably when necessary. We are part of a greater story that involves the past, the present and the future; giving and receiving; sowing and harvesting.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.

Few short minutes of asking ‘Come Holy Spirit’

Easter 7: Unity & Prayer

As the congregations move back to worshipping in the 6 churches across the Hambleden Valley from next week we need to stay united to Jesus and to each other.

St Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot. The apostles began their search for a replacement with prayer, asking God to search their hearts. A lesson for us all.

Easter 7

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

How are the fruit bearers doing this week? I loved Sue’s sense of urgency at the end of her sermon last week. There are just some things that cannot wait. Over the past two Sundays we have explored Jesus’ teaching in John 15 about abiding, pruning and being fruit-bearers. The take away messages (I hope!) were about being rooted in Jesus. This is where our love and hope is found.

The message of this morning is unity; being not only unified with Jesus, but also with each other. This is poignant today as many of us will be returning to worshipping in our church buildings from next Sunday. Zoom has unified people from across the Hambleden Valley over the past year in new and unexpected ways. This isn’t going to end of Zoom but it will be different as the mix of people we see on here will likely change.

Yet we will still need to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. It may be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. But it would be unfortunate to lose what has been gained. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!

We have the opportunity through the Rural Review to look at how each church operates, how we operate as a larger benefice and where we sit within the Deanery. I sense a fresh energy in what might be possible going forward: new ideas for family services, lay-led services, a real determination to invite our villages into the church to see for themselves. Many people have been hurt, damaged over this past year by the consequences of lockdown; our families, friends and neighbours. Surely we want to bring them to a place where they can find love and hope again, find unity with Jesus that lasts for an eternity.

Where do we start?


What do you think you are doing when you pray?

I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right. Firstly is that you do – in fact – pray. Secondly that you think about prayer and praying. This is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.

Back to my original question: What do you think you are doing when you pray?

Are we telling God what to do?

Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?

Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?

Are we praising and thanking?

Are we pleading and begging?

In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.

The Apostles (this is the new name of the Disciples – same people, different name) are getting on with the business of church. There is a vacancy to be filled; Barsabbas and Matthias are the proposed candidates. The Apostles begin the process with prayer and with a rather interesting opening line ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.’ Notice that the Apostles don’t jump in with their requests or demands. They start by acknowledging God’s knowing.

God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him! As they were acknowledging that God knew their hearts and then they asked him to ‘show’ them which of the two should be chosen and God does. Matthias is chosen to take up the apostleship.

Do you expect an answer? Clearly the Apostles did; and they got one. I am not sure that I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in the fear that I won’t get what I want or worse – no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.

What do we learn about prayer here: God knows the condition of your heart, acknowledge this before you start, present your request, wait in trust for an answer.

The second example of prayer comes from Jesus himself. It might be helpful to keep in mind that this event was one of the last earthly things Jesus did before his crucifixion. He prayed. He prayed for his friends and he prayed for all of us.

He prayed out loud in front of his disciples; for his disciples. If I asked for someone to pray out loud, right now, at this moment in the service, how would you feel? Would you do it? Without a script, just off the cuff.

Fortunately Jesus is not awkward! Jesus prays for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.

Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. Jesus protected the disciples in his own name; he guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.

This is an important thing to do for those given to our care – pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.

The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. I remember going out for dinner with friends at a highly recommended restaurant in London a few years ago (can’t remember the name). The starters were fantastic, the wine list was fantastic, the main courses were all beautiful and the puddings were hugely disappointing!

My joy was so nearly complete but then disappointment resulted. I appreciate that this is a trivial example – but the point is that so often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.
Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start.

As we go from here today my prayer is that we will remain unified as a Benefice; loving and supporting our friends and neighbours in old and new ways. Old dogs can learn new tricks – it just takes longer!
Like the Apostles we start in a place of praise and acknowledging who God is and that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!
Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.