Lent 5: I am the Resurrection and the Life


Psalm 130
John 11:1-45

The Raising of Lazarus
National Gallery, London
Sebastiano del Piombo incorporating designs by Michelangelo

It is a great privilege to welcome the baptism family and friends to St Mary’s Fawley this morning on this very special day. According to the baptism book, FB is the 399th person to be baptised here since 1910. Baptisms are a delightful occasion in the life of the church as well as being quite a serious one too.

Parents and godparents Simon you are making some considerable promises to God and to FB this morning. You are putting yourself on the hook for guiding and teaching him throughout his life in the ways of the Christian faith. This is more than being a good and nice person with an understanding of Christian virtues and morals.

Fortunately, we are off to a good start this morning with our Gospel reading. This is a rather long and well-known passage of John’s Gospel. I chose to read it from the Children’s Bible that I will present at the end of the service; as I was quite surprised by the depth this version goes to. Often the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus gets reduced down to a miracle story of Jesus. An impressive miracle story of course. However some of the more important parts get left out.

Jesus is our friend. I baptised two brothers a couple of years ago and I asked the older one what does it mean to get baptised? He paused for a moment. Then with the biggest smile on his face, he said, ‘it means that I am Jesus’ friend forever and Jesus is my friend forever.’

Jesus is the friend that will never leave us. Jesus loved his disciples and his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He spent his life travelling around and teaching them so they could pass on the message to others. Mary, Martha & Lazarus appear to have been particularly close friends as Jesus is known to have stayed with them and they are mentioned by name.

Jesus does not always do what we want him to, when we want him to. The fact that Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick and did not immediately rush to his bedside, but waited for two more days is awkward. We have this idea that God should act and react whenever we summon him to meet our needs and wants. When this does not happen, people get angry and God takes the blame for all failures and misfortune.

There were reasons why Jesus did not rush off: the disciples were afraid that the Jews were going to stone Jesus (we are getting rather close to Easter) and they were quite far away from Bethany at the time. Jesus tells the disciples that, ‘this illness does not lead to death, but rather it is for God’s glory, so the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

There are things that we will never understand about how God and Jesus work on this side of death. We do not know how God’s glory fully works. It is good to be curious so that we can begin to understand and that comes through learning about Jesus by looking at this life.

This past week a lovely Priest friend of mine collapsed and died at his home. Leonard was married with three teenagers; he is a much loved parish priest just outside of Reading. He was a very good friend to me during a difficult time when we were training together in Oxford. I have been so incredibly sad through to raging mad over his death. It makes no sense and all I can see is the unfairness, the injustice of it. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, what is wrong with my friend Leonard?!

Everyone who trusts in Jesus will live forever. The pinnacle of John 11 is in the words of Martha as she knows that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Despite her distress, her sadness and her request that seemed to go unanswered; Martha understands, at least on some level, that death is not the end of the story.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. As he says, ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha believes this. I happen to believe this. I am confident that other people in church today believe this. Do you?

This, ultimately, is what FB will need to come to understand about the Christian faith. The resurrection is the central event that everything about Christianity hangs on. Part of baptism is being prepared for death; the water represents the washing of sin and death to self. This is not easy and needs to be done daily. We all make mistakes, fall short, mess it up and we need to make amends for that. As lovely as FB is, he will not always be the delightful little cherub we see in front of us today. In his life, FB will need to forgive and be forgiven. He, like us all, will have to die to ourselves.

We will all experience physical death in this life; the death of those that we love and our own. How do we make sense of it? Unfortunately most of the popular narrative around death today is painfully lacking and brushed over.

In light of my friend’s death, belief in the resurrection is the only thing that has brought any comfort at all. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I have no questions or qualms over the fact that as bad as it is right now, my dear friend Leonard is now living in the light of the resurrection.

Jesus cried. People sometimes get the impression that God is somehow removed, distant from us or worse, not particularly interested in what is going on down here. If we want to know what God is like, then we need to look at the person of Jesus. In Jesus we see love and compassion, forgiveness for those who want it and boundless patience. Jesus was so moved by the broken hearts of those around him, he cried.

Jesus is not afraid of bad smells. FB will need to know that nothing is beyond God’s reach, nothing he can ever do or not do, say, think, act is too much or too bad. He is loved by God unconditionally forever. As much as you love him, God loves him more! Trying to out-love God will keep you occupied for the rest of your lives.

Jesus can raise people from the dead. Jesus can and did raise people from the dead on a few occasions. Miraculous! However, they went on to die again another day. Jesus also raises people from spiritual death who do go on to live forever. This is out of love, the most extraordinary love we will ever know. I hope that you go from here today knowing how much you are loved by God. Go and share that love.

Baptism of Jesus: Time & Togetherness

It was lovely to be with my great friend Fr Joseph Fernandes this morning. We lived streamed from St Hilda’s, Ashford.

St Hilda’s Ashford – 10/1/21

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Leonardo Divinci’s Baptism of Christ

Happy New Year! I think it is still okay to say that. As we stand at the beginning of another year, with many unknowns and uncertainties that are certainly going to come our way, celebrating the baptism of Jesus should help us to remember that He is very much with us. He always has been. I am going to begin this morning by reflecting on Genesis 1.

In the beginning’, these famous first words started time rolling. A podcast I listened to this past week had a very interesting take on time. Time was the first thing God created. In the words ‘in the beginning’, the clock started running. Ever since then, humankind has been trying to measure time – it started with light and dark, day and night, evening and morning.

Humans created sun dials, water clocks. The philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with creating the wristwatch when he took out his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist with a piece of string! The minute hand was added in the 1570’s. In the 1970’s when digital watches were made popular, we started to mark time in seconds! What can you do with a second?! We have become obsessed with time and marking it. Reflecting on the last year and our use of time – many people have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Others have never been busier and can’t spare a second for one more thing.

Time is the most valuable thing that we have. Isn’t it interesting that time is the first thing God created? It is one of the very few things that every single person has in equal measure and no one can change the amount of time they have been given. The difference is, of course, how we fill our time.

We can wax poetically about time; a quick Google search provides all manner of quotes and statements about it.

William Penn: ‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’

J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’

Miles Davies: ‘Time isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing’

Jonathan Estrim: ‘The way we spend our time defines who we are’

What does time have to do with the baptism of Jesus? A lot actually! At the beginning of time, there was God, water and light. The three key elements of baptism. God’s timing is everything! He is never late, but he is often not in a hurry, as it has been said. As the wind swept over the face of the waters in Genesis, in God’s timing John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The time came for Jesus to be baptised, notice the ‘in those days’ Jesus came. We so often ask ‘where has the time gone?’, we count down days or sleeps until x or y happens. Time, biblically speaking, does not go – it comes. The time came for Jesus to be born, the time came for him to be baptised.

For John, Jesus and the disciples time builds up. Time is coming. Time is coming when the vaccines will be in millions of people, time is coming when we won’t have to live in lockdown. I am finding this way of looking at time much more encouraging than counting it down. It unhinges me from the tyranny of counting seconds and hours and the disappointment that inevitably comes when delays and cancellations occur.

There is difficulty in being patient for time to come. It can be a struggle to hold on to hope in the waiting. Proverbs 13:12, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace wrote, ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.’

The time came for the creation of the heavens and the earth, the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry. The Spirit, breath or wind of God came down at both events to signal the presence and power of God. We all need to know God’s presence with us and in us. This presence shows His great love for us, reveals our purpose, and draws us into His family.

This is what we do in baptism, become part of God’s family. I remember fondly asking a 6-year-old boy I was going to baptise if he knew what his baptism was all about. Without hesitation he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘it means that Jesus and I are friends forever!’ And so much more!

Many of us may not remember our baptisms if we were baptised as babies. We can re-affirm those promises made on our behalf – I am sure Fr Joseph would have loved to have sprinkled you all today!

In his baptism, Jesus enters the dirty, messy waters with us. He didn’t need to be baptised. Jesus’ baptism was called an acute embarrassment by the early church. The gospel accounts are short: Matthew makes the point that John the Baptist tried to argue with Jesus that he should be the one baptizing him and not the other way around. We have this short account in Mark. Luke gives it two verses and doesn’t mention John the Baptist. John has no account at all.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism of repentance. He had not and has not sinned. What was he doing in the waters of the great unwashed, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors?! Did he not care about his reputation?

Apparently not. This is very good news for us. Jesus’ first act was one of radical solidarity. Jesus stepped into a relationship with sinful humanity. He was not apart from it, not standing on the banks of the river waiting for the water to run clear.

In baptism we are all united to God and to each other. We are interconnected into one family. We cannot let go of this; we need to come back to it. That is why the wrong message of our culture and society that independence, doing it my way, is so dangerous. We are not islands unto ourselves.

Having to live distanced from each other is not helping! We can of course do things to mitigate and stay connected in other ways. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. Time is coming when it won’t be like this anymore.

The disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were waiting, but they did not know what they were waiting for. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul knew what they needed so he baptized the in the name of Jesus. They began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Wild stuff! The time came for them – it wasn’t booked in the diary! These twelve heard God’s Word and it transformed them. They received the light and love of God in that moment. The light and love that gives us a language, a home and a community.

We all need the light and love of God right now, more than ever. We also need to share that light and love with those around us who are living in darkness. God is with us always. The One who started the clock running in the beginning, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is still the One pouring out love and grace on us as individuals but also as His Church. We might not be able to meet in person, but the time is coming when we will be able to and, in the meantime, we are still connected by the waters of baptism.

Lent 1: God’s Heart in the Waters of the Flood & Baptism

Image result for Ash Wednesday cross & heartSunday, February 18, 2018 – This is this morning’s offering. We held Joint Parish Communion where members from all 3 churches come together. It was wonderful! I am still going on about the heart – this time God’s heart and we can come to understand His heart in the stories of Noah and Jesus.

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-end
Mark 1:9-15

Today we are marking the first Sunday of Lent – the colours on the alter and the service books have changed temporarily; if you have decided to fast from anything I hope that the cravings are not too bad yet! I will also ask those of you who were at either of the Ash Wednesday services how your hearts are doing this morning.

The focus of the sermons on Ash Wednesday was the heart – your heart, my heart and the condition that they are in at this present time. I don’t mean the physical condition of your heart either! By all means – take care of them but it is not your diet and exercise that I am asking after.

The focus on the heart has come about after attended a conference a few weeks ago with Shola. The keynote speaker made the comment about Ash Wednesday, and Lent more widely as being a point of reflection, a time to step aside and ask ourselves ‘what have I picked up here in my heart?’

This question has stuck with me as I began to think about the condition of my own heart. As I have been praying, I felt that this is the question to ask through Lent not only of myself but also to others to ask themselves.

The entire season of Lent could be a time set aside for examination (if we never have) or the re-examination (if we already do regularly) of our hearts. Our hearts need to be guarded for they are the well-spring of life, everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

Given the readings this morning – they kind of have a Sunday School feel to them, don’t they? The story of God and Noah and the rainbow set alongside the story of Jesus’ baptism. I feel like I should give you some colouring sheets or something!

However, there is the grown-up side to them as well. A Children’s Bible doesn’t mention Jesus being driven into the wilderness with the wild beasts to be tempted by Satan or John’s arrest. It also misses out on the end of the Noah story. Go read your Bible…

Along with having an adult side, the Genesis and Mark readings are hugely significant in understanding the nature of God’s heart towards his creation (including us and all the animals) and towards Jesus.

To understand the heart of another person is no small feat! It is hard work; it takes love, patience, endurance, courage and time! The same is true with getting to know and understand the heart of God.

God does have a heart! I am not sure if this is news to you or not. If our view of God is that he is distant, cold and uncaring then we may not think that he has a heart. But he does; he must – because we humans have hearts – and if we are made in His image then he has a heart as well.

God’s heart, much like ours, is a heart that breaks. The great flood in Genesis is a result of God’s broken heart. What broke God’s heart? His people, those whom he had created. Us.

Genesis 6:6 – And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Anyone else here besides me know what it is to be grieved to the heart over something?

The flood was catastrophic – no doubt about it, everything was wiped out. We mere humans do not have that kind of power to react out of grief. But God does. We can of course still be destructive!

After the flood, creation is made new – there is a re-creation. The first creation has gone and the new one begins with Noah – new people and animals appear; the seasons are re-established, and humanity is blessed by God. However, it is still marred with human sinfulness.

God makes a covenant that begins with Noah and his family but also for every person and creature until the end of time. A covenant – OT word that comes up a lot. It is a sacred promise, an agreement. The covenant that God makes with Noah and all of creation is that never again will a flood destroy the earth. This covenant between God and Noah is the first one that God ever made with humankind.

God also gave us a sign of the Covenant – the rainbow. This is significant as it proves God’s compassion for his people, His promises to his people and the obligations the covenant puts on them. What are the obligations – don’t grieve God! Like the song says, ‘don’t go breaking my heart!’

A rainbow signifies that we need two things for life – sunlight and water. When they come together, a rainbow is visible. To see rainbows, we have to keep our heads up – we don’t see rainbows if we walk around with our eyes on the ground.

We also see the promise and heart of God in the waters of baptism. The waters of baptism symbolize both the judgment resulting from sin and the cleansing and forgiveness which result only from the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is fascinating to me that Jesus was baptised. He is the only person in all human history who did not need to be! Jesus did not need to go down in water to has his sin washed away because he had no sin. The only sin that Jesus knows is ours. In the waters of baptism, we are cleansed from our sins and are connected to the heart of God through Jesus. We are welcomed into his family.

Mark begins his Gospel with the baptism of Jesus and is scant on the details compared to Matthew and Luke who provide much more information. Mark wants us to get on with discovering who Jesus is and why he is so important.

When we see who Jesus really is, we can begin to understand who He’s made us to be and who we are in Him. Many people go through their whole life and never really understand who they are or what they were made to do.

People who are not clear on their own identity are often very (if not overly) concerned with what other people think; this is not unimportant, but it isn’t the final word either. Many people look for identity outside themselves – in their spouse, children, job, house, car or bank account. I think this is true of both older and younger people.

How can we come to understand who we are? I think this story can help…

My Mom had an elderly Great Aunt named Betty. Great Aunt Betty was a character – she lived to be a 103 and was very committed to her family and liked them to visit her. So much so that Aunt Betty would point out when her nieces and nephews didn’t visit!

Shortly after her 100th birthday, my Mom received the command/invitation to visit. My Mom recalls that on the 2-ish hour drive to Aunt Betty’s seniors’ accommodation she thought about all the other things that she should be doing that day.

As she was walking down the corridor, one of Aunt Betty’s neighbours opened her door to see who was coming. Aunt Betty who was waiting at her door for my Mom, said to her neighbour, ‘This is Eddie’s girl Margie.’ Eddie being her father.

My Mom recalls that in that moment her heart melted and all the things she should have been doing that day floated away. No one had called her Eddie’s girl for decades! She was Mrs. Lepp, Wally’s wife and Sue & Jenn’s Mom etc. But not Eddie’s girl.

Mom said they had a wonderful visit and she stayed far longer than she had planned as she relished in being Eddie’s girl.

This is what God says to Jesus when he comes up out of the water – ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ You are my girl, my guy!

Through Jesus we are given the right to be the children of God. We all have access to the God the Father. God is well pleased with You. He loves you. You are on his heart.

Say to the person next you to you – You are God’s son/daughter. He is well-pleased with you.

Most people and many Christians don’t know this or live like this is true. If love and affection aren’t shown in human families, it can be very difficult to a) view God as Father and b) expect anything from him.

This is one of our primary jobs as Priests – to make sure you know that God loves you. That you are on his heart – all the time.

Why do we need to know this, live like this? Two reasons really.

Firstly – like Jesus, there are times we will find ourselves in the wilderness. A wilderness experience biblically was a time of testing and ultimately deliverance.

Jesus is not treated as we might expect post-baptism – if you have been to a baptism recently you may have experienced a lavish celebration after the event! There is no time here to linger in the glory of baptism. Mark writes as though Jesus went from the banks of the Jordan to the wilderness immediately.

However, Jesus’ time in the wilderness is not to be seen as unfortunate circumstance or a lapse or failure on the part of Jesus. This time was divinely orchestrated as much as his baptism was. The time of temptation was to establish that Jesus had choices and desires of his own – like all human’s – and must choose to make God’s will his own will.

This is true for us to – we will choose God’s way or our own way. Notice that God does not abandon Jesus in the wilderness – Jesus is ministered to by the angels. When we find ourselves in the wilderness – we are not abandoned as it is Jesus who tends to us.

Lent can be a wilderness season of sorts as we make time (or should make time) to examine where we are at with God – hence my opening question of ‘what have you picked up here in your heart?’

A wilderness season however challenging will never be wasted if we believe and know that God with us, that our identity lies in being His beloved son or daughter. If we can hang on to that, then whatever the wilderness throws at us can be overcome.

Secondly – one day our hearts will stop beating and this life will be over. What happens then? I know from many years of nursing and a few years of ministry this is a big question for many people – one that often wants to be avoided.

Both Lent and Baptism prepare us for death. In Lent we journey to the cross with Jesus to his death. In Baptism we are cleansed in the waters and given the forgiveness that Jesus gave his life for so that we can have life after we die.

What can we do about this? Most of you – I am guessing were baptised as babies. Your parents brought you to church and presented you. This morning, at the start of this Lenten season we will renew our baptismal vows. I am not re-baptising you or baptising you if you haven’t been.

Renewing vows is a way of renewing the promises that were made when we were first baptized. I hope that it reminds you that you are a beloved and precious child of God.