Thursday, 17 April 2014

A sermon on healing and wholeness

Tuesday in Holy Week 2014 - Eucharist with prayers for healing

The kingdom of healing

What would you say is the key message of Jesus?

Some might say it is about loving neighbour, loving God and loving ourselves.  That’s a good foundation.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?  OK, helpful life advice.

God so loved the world.  Yep. I like that too, and the verse that follows!

Well, if we were to go by the number of times a word or phrase is mentioned then the ‘kingdom of heaven’ or ‘the kingdom of God’ or ‘the kingdom’ must come pretty high up the list – mentioned a wopping 105 times in the stories and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels.  Money is mentioned 25 times, the poor 11 times, hell (or rather gehenna  or sheol, outer darkness, fiery furnaces etc) 12 times – each in a story I might add and sexuality, well, um, not at all.

But this kingdom, this is the heart of the Gospel.

It’s important to remember that when Jesus talks in terms of Kingdom he doesn’t mean a physical place located in this world or the next.  Nor does the word ‘heaven’ mean somewhere beyond this life.  The kingdom is perhaps better described as a way of being – and more accurately described not using the word king (which has lots of other often unhelpful connotations) but talking of the reign of God.  The reign of God is when we allow God to live within and through us, when we seek to align our hearts and minds with God’s values, when we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit and when we become Christ-like.

So though we use the words ‘kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven’  There is much more to it than that.  It is a concept much more in line with the Hebrew concept of ‘shalom’ – another multi-faceted, multi-layered word variously translated as ‘peace’, ‘wholeness’ and ‘healing’.  The idea of the kingdom of shalom is a place – not physically located, but based in the hearts of human beings – where there is harmony and the broken things of this world, of our lives, of all creation, are put back together again.

It’s not a destination, but a calling, not a one off but a lifetime journey. It’s a state of being to which we relate, and one into which we are growing.  It is a place of resurrection and renewal, integrity and wholeness and the deepest healing – where we find ourselves in loving relationship with our true self, with God and with others.

It’s a kingdom of healing.

Everytime we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are proclaiming and celebrating this kingdom.  Every time we pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ we are commiting ourselves and expressing our yearning for this kingdom. 

And here this evening we are again opening ourselves, intentionally, carefully, prayerfully to this hope, this desire for healing.  Not just for ourselves – that our past hurts may be healed, that our bodies and minds might be made whole, that our spirits receive the balm of Christ-life.  But for the whole world, that all might know their part within the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of healing.

When we talk about salvation we often think about being ‘saved from eternal perdition’ or ‘rescued’ from something.  The very root of that word is, though, a kingdom word – coming from the same root as salve, in the same way that we place a salve upon our wounds.  Salvation is the ultimate healing – and salvation comes through God’s reaching out to us in Christ and offering us his own salve for our troubled souls, and for the world which he embraces.

Here this evening, as a symbol of our hope for healing – both for ourselves and for our loved ones, for the church and for the world – we are invited to receive, just for a moment, the laying on of hands at the altar rail, an anointing with holy oil as an echo of the oil of healing and forgiveness talked of in scripture.  It’s a symbolic act – and if there are other issues you would like to talk about and seek prayer for I would encourage you to make use of the gift of our healing ministry team and seek one of them, or indeed one of the clergy should you so wish, for specific prayers for healing.

More than anything what we celebrate here today is a hope, and a longing, for healing.  For ourselves, for friends and neighbours, for our society and for all creation.  We seek the deepest healing –and I would encourage each one of us to receive this act of laying on of hands anointing.

May we continue to enter more fully into the reign of God in our hearts and minds, and know the wholeness, integrity and life of the kingdom of shalom. Peace be with us all.  Amen.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Short Sermon on Death...and Resurrection

Tuesday in Holy Week 2014 – 12 Step Eucharist

Death and resurrection

We don’t like talking about death.  At least as a society we steer clear of talking about death.  It’s a strange reversal on the Victorian era where they took almost a delight in all the things that surrounded death, they observed mourning very visibly and even took pictures of deceased loved ones – known as momento mori – to keep.  But they were very uptight indeed about sex and (the urban legend goes) even covered up the legs of tables in order that the menfolk not get aroused.

We, on the other hand, talk about sex a lot.  We have highly sexualised advertising, magazines proclaim the latest way to excite your lover and we get hung up about issues of sexuality particularly in the church – as if God really cares what happens in our bedrooms.  But we don’t talk about death.

Jesus wasn’t quite so uncomfortable talking about death. Of course in the world he lived in death was much more visible and the death of younger people much more common so it would not be a subject anyone could really avoid.  But still, he talks of his own death (often to the horror of his disciples) and about death generally.  Today’s long reading from the Gospel of John is a case in point… verse 24 of John 12 says  unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.”

Now for those of you who remember your high school science you’ll probably realise the inaccuracy of that statement – seed’s don’t die when they are planted, they germinate and grow – but the image is still a striking one.  It’s an echo of Jesus’ own death – which is also mentioned in the reading – but also a statement about the way God works.

For us who follow Christ we don’t  follow a dead saviour, but a resurrected one. One who has passed through death to a new kind of life.  Scholars differ on what exactly that means, but it is the key belief and understanding of the Church – Christ died and was raised to life again by the power and the love of God.

We’re quick to divide things in two, in the Church, and indeed as human beings – death one side, life the other, darkness one side, light another; hope one side despair another etc.  But there is more to what Jesus says than simply one thing or another.  Without the darkness we don’t see the shape or depth of things as pure light leaves no shadows.  Without despair some of us never get to the point where we need to recognise that we need help – from God or from others – to bring us hope and set us free.  Without death, says Jesus, there is no resurrection.

But of course he isn’t just talking about physical death, but of those things which have to die in order that new life may come.   We see it in nature, every year the leaves fall, the trees seem dead, but are renewed in this wonderful spring season as the world burst with colour.  We see it in childbirth where the pain and the struggle of labour have to be borne in order that a child may come into the world.

Perhaps it would help if we didn’t think in such black and white terms as death and resurrection – but of renewal and new life.  The Church at its best takes things which are old and makes them new, bringing them to life with the light of Christ.  So the pagan festival of light, saturnalia, is taken and made into a celebration of the light of Christ and called Christmas.  The festival of springtime alonngside the powerful images of Passover from our Jewish heritage are taken and renewed in the story of Easter Day. 

We are called to renewal.  To new life. To resurrection.

But in order to do that, perhaps there are things that must die in us or around us.  Perhaps our pride and reliance on ourself – so that we learn to trust in God and  in others again.  Perhaps our desire to achieve and always be ahead of the crowd in order that we find community.  Perhaps those things, activities, substances, people or events which bind us and stifle us and drain the life from us – in order that we might be renewed again.

Are there things that we need to let go of, things that we need to allow to fall into the ground and die in order that our Christian Faith may truly live?  Perhaps there are distractions, things we take us away from truly giving all to God. Perhaps we are afraid to what might happen if we truly gave up everything to God.  Perhaps we are not sure what it means to hand over the whole of our lives to God.  Perhaps we struggle to let go of these things – for it is true that we can do none of this without a power and a strength that is beyond ourselves – the power of God in the Holy Spirit as those of us who are Christians would say.

When we are alive in our faith, when we have allowed our distractions, fears, misunderstandings and apathy to fall into the ground and die, it is then that we can bear the fruit of renewed lives, resurrected lives – life – as Jesus himself says in this Gospel of John chapter 10 verse 10 – life in all its fullness, or life abundant.. 

And we pray that the seed of this old world may pass away and God may bring resurrection life to all of creation.  That the fullness of life in Christ can come.   May we be given the strength to let go, to let die those things which distract us from and destroy our well-being.  That we may know resurrection life.