Archive for November, 2016

The King foretold

Posted: November 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

20 November 2016, St George’s, High Heaton

Luke 1.68-79

He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant

Today is the last Sunday of the church year. It’s the feast of Christ the King
The feast was inaugurated in the 1920s by a Pope who thought politicians were getting above themselves

When Christmas is coming we think of the manger and the shepherds
But the baby in the manger is also the King of heaven
How do we understand the kingship of Christ?

We have been listening to the song of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist
An angel came to the temple to tell him he would be a father
He was struck dumb for arguing and saying he and his wife Elizabeth were too old to have children

Now, when the child is born and they have to give him a name, Zechariah’s voice comes back
He not only speaks – he sings and praises God. He prophecies
His song is known to Christians as the Benedictus (after the first word, Blessed, in Latin)

We Christians tend to think of Jesus as ‘a new thing’ – but if Jesus had been a totally new thing, no one would have understood him
The people who accepted Jesus saw in him something new – but also something old
Or rather, the fulfilment of something old – the fulfilment of prophecy

We see this in Zechariah’s song
It must have been incredible to hear someone speak in this way about a newborn child
But Zechariah’s words are not entirely new – his song has deep roots in Scripture

If you read closely, you see Zechariah does not say explicitly he is talking about the son of Mary
That’s something we only guess, with the benefit of hindsight
What he does say, is that Elizabeth’s child, John, will a prophet of the Most High – meaning God
And we guess that the Most High in this case is the One who is to come – in other words, Jesus, the Messiah

Zechariah says five things about the One who is to come:
– His coming is a sign of God’s favour towards his people (the GNT says God has come to the help of his people and the nrsv says he has looked favourably on them, but other versions say simply God has come to (NIV) or visited (NASB) his people – images pointing more directly to the Incarnation)
– His coming is a sign God’s people have been redeemed (not just set free, as in the GNT)
– He comes from the house of David
– His coming is a fulfilment of prophecy
– He will save God’s people from their enemies
Each of these five points is evidence, in its way, that Christ is King

The savour raised up from the house of David is without doubt a kingly figure
Kings are a divine gift, believe it or not; a physical sign of God’s favour – his presence with his people – because they are his anointed ones
Which you will remember, is what the word Messiah means

A redeemer is someone, normally a family member, who upholds and establishes a legal claim on behalf of weaker members
Christ speaks for us, as our representative in the court of God’s justice

God promised a descendant of David would sit on Israel’s throne forever
If we understand this to mean an individual rather than a dynasty, the only one who can do this is Jesus – who is God himself, and therefore immortal

Kings bring peace through military victories over the enemies of their people
Of course, the peace of God is achieved for us through Christ’s victory over sin and evil, and the powers of this world

The prophets said, a future king would bring peace and justice
Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, is the embodiment of prophecy: the ultimate fulfilment of of these royal prophecies and every other prophecy

So enjoy the celebration of the birth of Christ; enjoy the excitement of the build-up
But the birth of Christ is just the start of the real build-up
The build-up to coming of the Kingdom and the return of the King

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A time for peace

Posted: November 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

13 November 2016, St Cuthbert’s, Heaton

Isaiah 65.17-25  Luke 21.5-19

They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain

Have you ever watched the end of a boxing match?
When the fight is over, and result has been declared, the fighters hug each other
The opponents who have been trying to hurt each other and if possible knock each other unconscious, suddenly act as if they were best friends

We see the same thing happen in politics
Donald Trump’s campaign was based on a deliberate strategy of dividing people
Yet the moment he was elected, he talked about uniting people and healing divisions

Donald Trump and Barrack Obama attacked each other violently
Yet straight afterwards, they sat down in the Oval Office and promised to work together

Some of this is realism – politicians have to work together, even if they don’t like each other
Yet there is always an outbreak of idealism at the end of major conflict

The United Nations and the European Community were created in the aftermath of war
Created to perpetuate the feelings of regret for the conflict that was past, and hope for the peace that was beginning

Remembrance Sunday was created in that same spirit – not just to remember soldiers who died, but everyone who suffered in war
And to express the determination that these things must not happen again

The reality is, these things have happened again; the spirit of idealism never lasts
Because it is founded on human ideals, human striving, and human capacities, which are imperfect and finite
More people have died in fighting since the Second World War, than died in the War itself

We heard two Bible readings this morning: two prophecies
One prophecy came from the prophet Isaiah, the other from Jesus
Isaiah says everything is going to be wonderful; Jesus says there are terrible troubles ahead

Isaiah is speaking to refugees
They have already been through war, invasion, conquest
They have been deported from their own country and they don’t know if they’ll ever see it again
Isaiah tells them, your sufferings are past – and not because of any human act of mercy
God is giving you a future

Jesus is speaking to his followers
The troubles he speaks about have yet to arrive
He has to warn his followers, they will be attacked when they tell other people about him
He has to prepare them to suffer in his name – and he does it by telling them, no matter what happens to them in the body, not a hair of your head will perish, or be lost.

What Jesus and Isaiah both have to do is to create a spirit of hope
They reassure people, by telling them the things that have happened and the things that are about to happen are part of God’s plan

They reassure people by telling them, there is something that is more real than suffering
More real than anything enemies or emperors or dictators can do to you
The reality is God: the love of God, the peace of God, and the kingdom of God

Dawn of the living dead

Posted: November 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

6 October 2016, St George’s, High Heaton

Luke 20.27-38

They are considered worthy of a place in that age, and in the resurrection from the dead

Our theme today is resurrection. What do we believe about resurrection?

The Christian doctrine of resurrection is actually two doctrines
Hands up if you believe that your soul will survive the death of your body
Hands up if you believe that the dead will rise on the last day
Hands up if you find it tricky to reconcile those two beliefs

The immortality of the spirit and the resurrection of the body are hard to bring together
If our bodies are all going to rise, what happens to the souls of the departed in the meantime?
If the soul can survive without the body, why do the bodies of the dead have to rise at all?

We teach the resurrection of the body because we believe soul and body are one created entity
And because Jesus rose in the flesh, ascended in the flesh and still lives in the flesh
Christ’s resurrection in the flesh proclaims the redemption of the flesh
It also heralds a new age, the age of the kingdom

Resurrection was an extremely contentious issue in the time of Jesus
It was an issue that divided religious society on class and party lines
On one side the Sadducees, who denied it; on the other, the Pharisees, who preached it

The Sadducees bring their question to Jesus to test him
– Partly to find out whose side he is really on
– Partly to undermine their opponents, the Pharisees
– Partly to undermine Jesus himself

You can see that the Sadducees’ question is about the resurrection of the body
It’s a very earth-bound understanding of resurrection
They imagine life continuing in the hereafter in the same way it does here

How should Jesus answer them? The book of Proverbs gives us a choice in these situations:
Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. (Proverbs 26:4)
Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. (Proverbs 26:5)

Should you turn your back on fools, or pick them up by the lapels?
Jesus, as always, confounds his foolish questioners
He silences them with an ingenious piece of exegesis on one of their favourite texts

Anyone who tries to judge the Son of God, ends up being judged themselves
The silence of the Sadducees tells us, judgement has fallen on them
And then Jesus gives the real lesson

What does it mean to say, our God is God not of the dead, but of the living?
Jesus talks about two ages: this age, and that age
This age is the life we know; that age is the age of the kingdom

The Sadducees are among those who belong to this age
They believe neither in the resurrection nor in Jesus

Whereas those who receive the gospel are considered worthy of a place in that age, in other words the age of the kingdom, and in the resurrection from the dead

This is not a pie-in-the-sky promise
What Jesus is holds out the promise of resurrection from a spiritual death which is the result of sin
We have all suffered this death – but we can all experience the resurrection, even before death
There is, in Christ, a new life to be shared by all believers

The issue for us is, do we understand the resurrection any better than the Sadducees?
Jesus says the resurrected ones are like angels

We shouldn’t romanticise or sentimentalise this image
We shouldn’t imagine ourselves after we eventually die, sitting on clouds, wearing white robes and playing harps

We should think rather of angels as beings who live in the presence of God, praising him and glorifying him in every moment of their lives
We should also think of angels who walk on the earth as God’s messengers
As people of the resurrection, these things are open to us now – these are the things we should be doing already, as we wait for the return of Christ

How do you judge the Sadducees? Are they among the living, or the dead? The answer is clear
But what about us? Are we among the living, or are we still among the dead?