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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

17th May 2020


Sermon for Easter 6     Year A    2020

 

“You know God, because he abides with you and he will be in you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”  John 14.16-18.

 

Today is the final Sunday of Easter. Next Sunday as we observe the Ascension of Jesus into heaven the Church arrives at a theological ‘bend in the road’. We observe the contrast between the immediacy of the resurrection appearances and their thrilling communication of God’s love with a distinct point of departure, a wrench. In Christ’s ‘going back to the Father’ as John puts it, a new kind of matured faith is being demanded. There is now the need for the followers to grow in grace and to receive what Jesus calls ‘another advocate’ The Holy Spirit, which will inform, refresh and guide their future lives as they brace themselves for a ‘brave new world’.

The resurrection of Christ draws all who believe in Him to the immediacy of the present time. It is in the immediate present that the Christian Faith is to be worked out. In this it is to be expected that we may experience discouragement and doubt. And when this happens, it is all too human at times of spiritual crisis to ‘bottle out’; to resign; to long for a quick way out of the crisis and to decry the present with all its many frustrations. This was after all, the experience of the Exodus for God’s chosen people. Life on the move, life with poor food, life which provided little or no immediate comfort, life not knowing where and when and if it would all end. Their frustration  led them to blame poor Moses, and through him, to blame God.

In our first reading, the tendency to blame and the temptation to withdraw into angry silence is gently challenged as St Luke reminds us in Acts that ‘In God we live and move and have our being’, and that though we struggle to understand where God’s will may lie in the midst of present trouble, nonetheless it is certain that ‘he is not far from each one of us’. As the poet Tennyson urges us,

 

Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet –

Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

 

Many have struggled to come to terms with a Church which has closed its doors in this Coronavirus period. Set against the proper instruction of the state against reckless journeys and the risk they pose to the NHS front line and an increase in the ‘R’ number comes a strong reaction. Many within the Church feel that this looks like a dereliction of Christian duty. A country full of locked churches is of course a sad sight. Those who decry this go on to say that churches meeting online have backed away from their duty to meet others at the greatest point of need and the legacy this might leave is a sad one. On the other hand I would say that this is not a time when our own church has been in dereliction of its duty to serve others.  We are putting in place funding for those most vulnerable in our own local community in support of existing services which are currently delivering groceries and running errands. We are ensuring that vulnerable members of our own congregation have their needs met through visiting, telephone calling and liaising with the social services. We are sustaining a new pattern of Christian worship which we hope continues to strengthen us in this time of great challenge. I have been doing a lot of ‘phoning around this week and it is apparent that we are entering a phase in which the pressure of recent events is being felt more profoundly. There is real distress, which is only to be expected. And this is heeded. But there is also a great deal of good old British good cheer and a strong resolution and a desire to see this thing through as best we can. We have identified Sunday July 5th as the day of going back to our church building and we will work creatively toward that longed for goal.

Complainants often have a good case to offer, as they did in Moses’ day, but it was certain then as now that they were not privileged to see the bigger picture or accept the proper constraints which were being demanded of them for the sake of the greater good. God is bigger than our west door, whether open or shut! The need to accept and live with difficult realities is so often a necessary part of life. We mature when we live with not always getting what we want. The Exodus was a journey which did not promise an easy life or an assured sense of destiny, even though in retrospect the idea of the journeying to the promised land was momentous. But it had another, dimension as a journey which brought the exiles into a deeper sense of their destiny and of God’s provision along the way. It was their time of utmost faith. But this could only be acknowledged in retrospect.

The current Coronavirus realities do not offer the way to an easy ‘promised land’ but I feel sure that it is being worked out in the present and especially among those who are contributing so richly to our sense of confidence and hope. They are the ones who evidence the words we have been given this morning, the assuring words of Christ who has not left us merely to our own devices, but given us the promise of a God shaped future in which our intentions and purposes and his loving influence may form one real constant.

As Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel,

“You know God because he abides in you and he will be in you”.

“Because I live you also will live”

 

For in Him we live, and move and have our being.