Ordinary 1: Being Hospitable to Holiness

I love the story of Sarah and Abraham’s holy visitors: Abraham is so delighted to see these guests that he throws off all sense of dignity and runs to meet them, Sarah hides as is befitting of the social gender restrictions of the time, but listens in.  The warmth of Abraham’s welcome is matched with his generosity, bringing water to wash the travellers feet and providing lavish refreshments for them. The visitors reward the ancient couple with a blessing and a promise: Sarah will indeed bear Abraham a son. Sarah is so shocked by this outrageous promise that she bursts out laughing. Read it here.

If we read on we discover that the guests are right, and 9 months on a son is born, and named Isaac, meaning laughter.

But what has this passage to do with the gospel passage that has been set for this Sunday – the first one of ‘Ordinary Time’? Perhaps it is a reminder that nothing is ‘ordinary’ once we live our lives for Jesus; once we are willing to drop our dignity as Abraham did and rush to meet with God offering him the best that we have; being hospitable to holiness. Perhaps it is about allowing ourselves to be immersed in the life that God has given us, whatever that may be. For Sarah a life of waiting and hoping (and getting things wrong along the way) until the blessing arrives, of being willing to trust and hope against all the odds. For Abraham, the willingness to keep on pouring out lavish hospitality, to be generous to the Lord, whether his prayers had been answered or not.

In the gospel passage Jesus looks upon the ‘lost sheep with compassion and sorrow – he knows that they need to be shepherded, but that he cannot physically tend to them all. He calls to the disciples to pray that other shepherds, will be sent to help these lost ones (only he uses terms of agriculture not husbandry). In this year’s call to prayer, the Archbishop of Canterbury commented that in praying for others we are changed. And so it is with the disciples. Read it here.

First they are challenged to ask God for workers, but as they do, find themselves responding to that prayer themselves, so they become the ones to shepherd those lost and wondering sheep: they are sent out to bring healing, teaching, hope and a true understanding of the love that God has for them. The disciples are to become bringers of Good News.

This is history in the making, this is the first expansion of the kingdom. Except that it isn’t: the disciples are not sent to the heathen, but to those who already belong, those who have already bear the mark of the covenant. And this isn’t simply history, because we are still being called to be disciples, we are still called to become shepherds and to reach out to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised. We are still called to proclaim the Good News, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and even cast out demons. Which is all pretty daunting. What is even more daunting is that we are called to do so to those in our own communities – not to go and be missionaries in Africa, but to be speakers of the Gospel in Hampshire.

And Paul tells us why:

In becoming Christians we become bearers of hope. In accepting Jesus into our hearts through his Holy Spirit, we gain a peace that enables us to endure whatever the world throws at us; and through endurance we grow to reflect the character of Christ: hope. Read it here.

We are in dark times in our country: times of fear and anger, times when darkness seems to be winning. And yet there is a resounding response of ‘love not hate’. As Jesus died on the cross forgiving his executioners as he did so, we too receive the gift of forgiveness, but also the gift of being able to forgive others. Instead of holding on to the hate, instead of cowering in the darkness, we can be the light bearers, the bearers of hope. And I am excited by this. I am horrified at the bombings, and the attacks and the fires, and the negative political campaigns, but I am excited at the beacons of light shining at this time. I am excited by the Archbishop’s call to prayer. I am excited by the response of hundreds of thousands of people praying in large ways and small ways: the quiet muttering of prayers as knotted wrist bands are fingered, the loud exclamations of praise from the gatherings in the cathedrals. I am also excited by the generosity of those who turn up with food and water, with blankets and clothing, those who open up their homes and businesses, those who turn up for shifts they are not scheduled to fill. I am excited by the hope spoken through pop stars urging us to love not hate, and those previously apathetic towards democracy signing up and casting their votes by the busloads.

These are both fearful and exciting times and we are called to be a part of them, here. I wonder how Paul felt the first time he spoke out for Jesus amongst people who knew him only as someone to be scared of? I wonder how daunted the disciples felt when they were first sent out as lead shepherds and not just helping hands? I wonder how Sarah felt when she discovered that she was pregnant at such an old age?  I don’t think ‘daunted’ quite covers it! And we will feel daunted too.

But this is what it means to follow Jesus: to feel the fear and do it anyway, to borrow the surfers’ mantra. To face the challenge and meet it. To be hospitable to holiness. To step into the unknown and to find the peace of God present with us.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What it the most daunting thing you have been challenged to do?
  • What helped you to meet the challenge, or what determined you to turn it down?
  • What does it mean for you to be ‘sent out’ into your own community?
  • What challenges is Jesus presenting you with at this time?
  • How can we help each other to meet those challenges?
  • How can we become hospitable to holiness?

Something to pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, meet with us now through your Spirit, reminding us of your living presence and risen power.

In a world where so much questions faith, denies love and threatens hope, may your resurrection life flow within us, convincing us of your eternal purpose: the  blessings you hold in store – imperishable, unfading, kept in heaven – and may that assurance sustain us now and always.

Amen

Nick Fawcett

 

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Pentecost Sunday

We have a guest blogger today: Stephen Baldock preached at Nether Wallop this morning and this is what he had to share, thank you Stephen:

The sequence of the church’s year invites us to go on a personal pilgrimage. The last seven weeks (50 days if you count inclusively) have taken us from the crucifixion, to the resurrection, to His Ascension 40 days later and finally ten more days before Pentecost.  For us, the ups and downs of sadness and joy have been tempered by the fact that we knew what was coming and I cannot help but wonder how those closest to Jesus in His earthly ministry coped with those 50 days.  They must have been pretty bewildered much of the time.

So here we are at Pentecost.  You’ll have heard many sermons on the theme of the Holy Spirit – His gifts, the fruits of the Spirit and so on.

This morning I’d like to reflect on one particular aspect of the Acts reading.  On that Pentecost Day, the Holy Spirit showed Himself in unforgettable ways: wind and tongues of fire; but more than that …. there was an international gathering to celebrate the Feast and when people heard the apostles talking, they heard them in their own language.  What was that about?  Let me ask you to hold that question in your minds as I put it in the wider context of Jesus’s mission.

When I talked at the May TTP about the Kingdom of God, I drew attention to the tension between the arrival of the Kingdom of God with Jesus and the fact that its complete fulfilment still lies in the future.  Jesus told people “The Kingdom of God is among you”; He forgave sins and healed the sick, as evidence or “signs” of the Kingdom.  When John the Baptist suffered doubts as to whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he sent Him a question.  Jesus’s response was this: “Go and tell John what you see and hear – the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, lepers are cured, the dead are raised, the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not take offence at me”.  There had been a perfection, a beauty in God’s original creation, but it was spoiled by man’s disobedience and the Old Testament is a catalogue of human failure.  But Jesus in His ministry and by His death and resurrection reversed all that – people were made whole again in spirit and in body – and so He introduced a new chapter in which forgiveness and new life are offered to all who put their trust in Him – this time not just to Jews but to Gentiles and with absolutely no discrimination on grounds of gender, age, wealth, race, background.  And at the heart of this new life is the Holy Spirit, God’s own presence alive in all who believe.  Remember Peter’s reference to the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people … (Acts 2:17-18) and he rounds off his address with the appeal “Repent and be baptised, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39)

So back to the Day of Pentecost and the fact that the international crowd heard the message of the Gospel in their own language.  To understand this properly we need to recall the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11.  We read there that the whole world had one language and people said to each other ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.’  But the Lord came to see the city and the tower and being angry with their arrogance and self-importance He confused their language so that they could no longer understand one another.  The point of the story is clear: the multiplication of languages was symbolic of man’s failure to submit to God.  It was, if you like, a knock-on effect of man’s first disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

If we understand it in that way, it is hard to avoid the view that, just as Jesus’s healings restored at a moment in time the perfection of creation, so at the first Pentecost of the Christian era, the effects of the Fall were reversed – men could hear the message of the Gospel without a language barrier.  The Jewish Rabbinic tradition has it that in heaven there will be only one language (Hebrew!) – but don’t worry since if this is true we shall all be able to speak and understand it!

So what does all this mean for us?

First, it is a cause for CELEBRATION:  God welcomes us as His forgiven children and has given His Holy Spirit to all who believe, as a Comforter, an Advocate, and both to remind us of the truths of our faith and to empower us in our daily lives.

Second, it brings a CHALLENGE:  the Holy Spirit is God Himself, not a vague influence as some have assumed because of the KJV terminology “Holy Ghost”.  So the NT challenges in our daily lives not to grieve or quench the Spirit, but to draw on His help and to hold on to the peace He brings in the face of trouble, anxiety and disappointment.

Third, it brings COMFORT and HOPE.  St Paul writes “We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies; for in this hope we are saved.

So as we come to the Communion table today, let us celebrate the gift of the Spirit, let us rise to the challenge of following Jesus with His help and let us rejoice and trust in Him as we look forward to the final fulfilment of the Kingdom.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • How many languages can you say ‘hello’ in?
  • How do you understand the Holy Spirit – an ethereal ‘ghost’, an invisible power, masculines, feminine…?
  • How does the thought of the Holy Spirit present in times of trouble comfort you?
  • In the light of terrorist attacks across the world, how can we recognise the Holy Spirit?
  • How can we recognise God’s presence in our lives?

Something to pray:

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Keep it Reel:Trolls

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

What does it mean to be happy? For the all singing, all dancing, multicoloured, glittery, cupcake pooping Trolls it is simply who they are: pure happiness. Except for Branch. Branch lacks colour, lacks hope and doesn’t sing. In fact Branch acts more like a Bergen than a troll.

The Bergen live in a constant state of depression, they almost revel in their misery and hopelessness. They believe that they have no inner source of happiness, that it can only be obtained from eating a Troll.

20 years ago, however, the Trolls escaped from the Bergen and have enjoyed a life of freedom and joy, whilst the Bergen have endured the opposite. Princess Poppy plans the biggest party ever, and their secret glade is filled with light and love, music and dancing – until their firework extravaganza gains the attention of their predators.

What follows is an action packed rescue mission in which Branch and Poppy are thrown together. The trolls , SPOILER ALERT find freedom, but more than that they discover who they truly are, and in doing so help the Bergen to understand what happiness really is.

So what is happiness? It is just one of many emotions, and each are valid, indeed necessary, to lead a full and fulfilling life. Poppy discovers that not all emotions are positive but they are all valuable if she is to understand the world she lives in and the kingdom she will one day soon rule. Through the adventures she discovers frustration, fear and betrayal, whereas, Branch discovers healing, hope and the courage to sing again.

Poppy also discovers that the people she needs in her life aren’t necessarily the happiest, shiniest ones, sometimes the more ‘prickly’ people are the more reliable and trustworthy of friends. Both Poppy and Branch, in very different ways, discover that it is OK to be vulnerable, and to share that vulnerability with others, because only then can we receive the love and strength of others; and when a community, whether they be Trolls, Bergen or even Human, are able to share each others burdens, that is when we grow stronger.

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Easter 7: Glorify Your Name

This week has seen the celebrations of Ascension Day – ‘Our eyes have seen the glory’ we sang as we climbed the nearest hill-fort to remember Jesus and his return to heaven, ‘Glory, glory, Alleluiah’.

But this week has also seen terrorism come too close to home and for parents of children just beginning to explore the world of pop music and live gigs, right into our hearths. We are not the only ones to be subjected to such fear and horror: terrorist bombings also took place in Istanbul and Jakarta as well as Manchester, Marawi City in the Philippines was invaded, and Syria continues to face such constant fear and terror, that it is no longer news.

In the midst of worldwide attacks by a group who claim to be religious, it can feel a little treacherous to be not just celebrating a religious occasion, but revelling in the glorification of God.

The gospel passage set for this seventh Sunday after Easter, and three days after Ascension, recalls Jesus’ prayers for his disciples before he is arrested. He begins by calling upon his Father to ‘glorify’ him so that in turn Jesus can glorify his Father. He goes on to pray for his disciples, those who have ‘glorified’ him on earth. I am not feeling comfortable as I read through this passage. I wonder what it could mean for Jesus to be glorified, or for him to glorify his Father. We know that Jesus had a huge cult following, that fame was certainly his and fortune could have been too. This all takes place long before the invention of the camera and certainly the selfie, but Jesus was a celebrity of his time – or at least he could have been. Jesus didn’t live a celebrity lifestyle: he didn’t travel around in luxury, his entourage weren’t there to make life easy for him, he didn’t send out riders ahead of him to ensure that his every need was met. He certainly didn’t court those in positions of power and influence. If Jesus was glorified by his disciples, if Jesus sought glorification, it wasn’t in the way that we have come to understand in our 24/7 media world.

For us ‘glory’ means to be clothed in splendour…For Jesus it will be seen in the humiliation of the cross.

Andrew Knowles

Jesus has come to the end of his earthly mission. It began with him shaking off the splendour and the glory in order to become one of us; descending to earth in all the humiliation of a messy birth and the helplessness of incontinence and weakness. The culmination of his ministry would be his death on the cross, once more stripped naked and powerless. His resurrection astounded everyone and was a foretaste of his true glory – but his Ascension, his return to heaven, is the celebration also of his return to glory.

The promise Jesus made, prior to his return, was that he would pray for us – that he would have a word with God the Father, the Almighty. In his earthly prayers for his disciples he prayed that they would be protected by God. If this is true, how do we account for what happened on Monday night? How do we account for the persecutions and crucifixions that his disciples met? Empty promises? False hope?

Just what does it mean to ‘glorify’ God?

And what does it mean to make God’s name known? Those who have caused the outrages of this past week, also claim to have done so in God’s name. When we pray ‘Hallowed be thy name’, in the Lord’s Prayer, what do we actually mean? We are back to that sense of celebrity status – hollowing God’s name doesn’t just mean to put it up in lights, to have top billing, to become a hashtag even. To do something in someone’s name means to do something according to all that they stand for, all they represent. We are back, in a way, to re-imagining what it means to be glorified: in our society (and Jesus’ too) to be glorified meant to be given the VIP treatment, to be hero worshipped, but for Jesus’ it meant death on a cross. It meant to act out  love that is true and puts others first. Jesus laid down his life so that others wouldn’t have to. For Jesus’ name to be known wasn’t to make him infamous, but to make his way of life known to others so that they, so that we, can love others too. So when we pray, ‘hallowed be thy name’ we are praying that everything that Jesus stands for, loving your neighbour, forgiving your enemy, taking care of the poor, the vulnerable, the refugee, will become sacred. We are praying that those of us who align ourselves to his church and take on his name, will also take on this way of living too.

And when we pray ‘for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory’, we are reminding ourselves of where Jesus truly belongs and why. These 9 days between Ascension day and Pentecost, the Archbishop of Canterbury is once more calling us to pray, to call on God’s name, on behalf of others; to pray for good, to pray for blessings, to pray that Jesus’ name will indeed be known, and through that sacrificial love will he be glorified.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • How do they events of this week make you feel?
  • Have the events of this week affected your relationship with Jesus, with God?
  • Do you agree with the statement that ‘religion is the cause of all wars’?
  • What does it mean to you to glorify God?
  • How can we make Jesus name known in a positive way?
  • How can we respond to the Archbishop’s call to prayer? https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

Something to pray:

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Every Mother’s Son: Manchester

Last night I sat with my daughter and watched the news – something I would not have expected to do a year ago. So much has happened in the past 12 months: she has grown from being a trouser wearing tomgirl into a skirt wearing, young woman with pierced ears, a greater collection of make up than her mother and the ubiquitous smart phone. Last summer her biggest concerns had been her SATs, this year she has become alert to uncertainties of western ‘civilisation’, not quite able to get her head around her country choosing to leave Europe and the reality of a ‘superpower nation’ choosing an insensitive buffoon as their leader.

So we sat and watched the news together. Social media being what it is, my daughter had discovered the events in Manchester before I had; she was seeking more info, I was catching up. We sat together and our hearts broke.

Our hearts broke for the children whose dream night had ended in trauma, for those in hospital, those reliving the nightmares at home, those lost and those who had died. Our hearts broke for the parents who were mourning, sitting by bedsides, by telephones, searching the streets. Our hearts broke for those who had survived as we watched them retell their experiences – those who needed to keep telling the story, to purge themselves, and those too stunned to speak. Our hearts broke for those who would be suffering from PTSD, from survivor’s guilt, from a misplaced sense of responsibility. Our hearts even broke for the young singer, who according to my daughter’s sources, was also in hospital, who was also traumatised, who was struggling with a sense of guilt for ‘luring’ her fans into a death trap, who was considering giving it all up.

Did our hearts also break for the parents whose son had taken his own life? The parents who had left violence behind to start a new life, who had loved their son and done everything they could to give him the very best. Did our hearts break for the mother and father who will never be able to publicly grieve their son, their child who was neither a ‘monster’ nor a ‘loser’, but their beloved child? Parents racked with grief and guilt, wondering where on earth did they go wrong, how, for heaven’s sake could they not have noticed the influences that had brought their son to this desperate place? At what point did he no longer value the sanctity of life, including his own?

We lit a candle.

What else could we do? Too far away to provide food and lifts, too young to give blood.

We prayed, words….

Words of despair, words of brokenness, words for the injured, the lost, the traumatised. We gave thanks for the medics, the taxi drivers, the givers of food, water, shelter, comfort. We gave thanks that there are more people doing good, doing love, doing kindness, than there are people doing evil.

We extinguished the candle before going to bed, and as we watched the bright light of the flame turn to a smoulder that curled and twisted its way to heaven, we were reminded that God’s light is always present, whether we can see it or not. Even when darkness encroaches and closes in around us, God’s love is never extinguished.

Jesus wept.

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Easter 6: Promises, promises.

Election fever has hit the UK – polling cards have already been pushed through letterboxes and party campaigners can be seen delivering leaflets outlining manifesto promises. Although there is a desire to believe that each party really does want the best for our nation, there is also a sense of defeatism, does it really matter who we vote for? At the end of the day each party is only working for itself, and promises made on the doorsteps in May will surely be broken in June, regardless of who gets in. We have seen it all before. Perhaps less ‘election fever’ and more ‘election apathy’.

There are other promises in our lives which may have been broken too – promises of ice-cream for tea, broken because of ‘bad behaviour’; promises on money to ‘pay the bearer’ broken when it is realised that the note is a forgery; the promise of an engagement ring broken when the wedding is called off – or worse, wedding vows ‘until til do us part’ broken when one party forgets to ‘forsake all others’.

We live in a world of false and broken promises, so why should we believe in them any more? The thing with a promise is that it is only as reliable as the one who makes it: if we can’t trust the person, how can we expect them to keep their promises?

So how do we feel when Jesus makes a promise? Is Jesus reliable? Trustworthy? Is he even able to make promises, let alone keep them, following his death on the cross?

Before Jesus died he made a whole set of promises which were really quite fantastic and pretty much unbelievable, and yet thousands of his followers do still believe them.

In today’s gospel reading from John, also known as the Farewell Discourses, Jesus is making some rather out of this world promises. Read it here.

Jesus promises that he will:

  • Speak to the Father on our behalf
  • Send a helper
  • Will not leave the disciples orphaned
  • That those who have loved Jesus will be loved by God himself
  • That Jesus loves us
  • That Jesus will reveal himself to us

The first promise sounds like a bit of a brag – hard to believe; we can imagine some wideboy crossing his fingers and saying ‘Me and the band manager are like this – I’ll have a word with him and get you a VIP pass’. In essence throughout the three years of his ministry, and in line with thousands of years of prophecy, Jesus has been saying that he and God the Father are as closely entwined as two crossed fingers. For Jesus to have a word with the boss is not a problem – but it is an indication that Jesus will be leaving those closest to him on earth.

However, his disciples will not be left alone – Jesus has come to think of them as his children, he calls them brothers, sisters, and friends, he has also referred to them as his ‘little ones’. Jesus promises not to leave them abandoned, all alone without anyone to care for them, guide them, support them. Jesus promises that his Father will send a ‘helper’, The Greek word is paraclete which literally means one who stands alongside, it is a legal term used for an advocate who speaks out for those on trial and guides them through the court systems. We also know the ‘helper’ as the Holy Spirit – the other third of the Holy Trinity: the one who hovered over the chaos that was formed into creation, the one who landed upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism, the one who came upon prophets at specific times for specific purposes throughout history, the one who enabled Mary to conceive Jesus. This ‘helper’ is to be a gift to us – and that’s a promise.

Then Jesus goes on to speak about love: he promises that those who have loved Jesus will be loved by the Father – not just entry into the VIP suite, but an all access pass into God’s home and heart. Now that’s a big promise; and Jesus backs it up by saying that he will love the disciples too, and even reveal himself to them, from heaven itself! Wow!

But there’s a catch here. Isn’t there always a catch? I will do all these things for you, I will love you, if you love me. It sounds more like a contract than a promise, and it reminds me of that childhood ice-cream – If you are good, there will be ice-cream for tea. It sounds a bit like emotional blackmail too, a desperate plea to be loved. Jesus doesn’t need to be loved though – God is love, and he and the Father are one, remember?

Jesus isn’t speaking about love in the way we understand it though. Love isn’t a feeling that comes and goes – a feeling, that if we are lucky, will last a lifetime of marriage, and if not, well, let’s get some more love elsewhere. Love is a decision, a choice, an action. Jesus is asking us to choose to love him, Jesus has already given them a new commandment to enable them to endure the days and weeks ahead and to enable them to build his church. Jesus has commanded them to love each other. This is not the love that creates butterflies, or makes the heart beat faster; this is the love that is shown through gritted teeth, through words and through actions. Do loving things for each other.

Jesus is not treating love as a feeling, he is describing an action – a way of life…This love and life will be shown by readily, joyfully and wholeheartedly obeying Jesus’ teaching.

Andrew Knowles

Love doesn’t come easily – it’s hard work, and if we are to be and do love, then we will indeed need help. We will need an assurance that we are loved, because it is only from a position of love that we are able to love others. The promised helper will guide us in the ways of love, but also remind us that we are loved beyond measure. Jesus’ final promise is that

I will love them and reveal myself to them♥

 

Something to watch, (from across the pond):

Something to think about:

  • ♥What is the most exciting promise that has ever been made to you?
  • ♥What is the most loving thing anyone has ever done for you?
  • ♥What is the most loving thing you have ever done for anyone else?
  • ♥What does it mean to be loved by God?
  • ♥Can we trust in Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit?
  • ♥Why? How?
  • ♥What promises can we make (with the hep of the Holy Spirit) to each other – to individuals, to fellowship groups, to our church, to our community?
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Easter 5: All Back to Mine

I don’t know if you remember the moment at the end of the first wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral when the jolly nice Tom invites everyone back to his house: The motley crew of well to dos whom we assume know each other from university days, all bundle into the land rover, unsure of how they will all fit into Tom’s parents house. Until, that is, they pull into the drive and realise that Tom’s father is landed gentry.

I am reminded of that brief moment from the film as I read through this Sunday’s passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of his death, but tells his disciples not to trouble their hearts  because he has gone to prepare a room for them in his Father’s house. Read the gospel passage here.

The disciples are troubled: Thomas doesn’t know the way, and Philip doesn’t know the Father.  Jesus tells them that he is the way, and that he and his Father are one – so that answers that then, except these answers seem to have posed more questions and quandaries than resolutions over the years to follow.

These questions are core to our Christian faith – Jesus is the only way to heaven. It seems such an arrogant thing to say – what of the many other people of faith who have lovingly served other Gods, do they not deserve a place in the afterlife? surely all roads lead to Rome? Maybe there is a place in an afterlife for everyone, but Jesus is the only deity who has claimed to prepare the route ahead of us, the only one to have laid down his life in order to beat that path through death and out the other side. Jesus, is the only one qualified to be our guide on that journey when our time comes.

However, Jesus’ own death is not the only qualification, it is his identity as the Son of God which enables him to offer this invitation to come and stay at his place; but this provokes more questions – how can one house or even mansion, expand to be big enough for a population that keeps growing to fit. Of course the simple answer is that God is omnipotent, God can do anything he wants, for a deity who has created the entire universe, creating a home big enough to keep adding one more isn’t a problem. And it may not have been a problem for those early disciples either.

It is our modern, western culture which sees ‘home’ as being a single building with a limited number of rooms, just enough to house 2.4 children, a cat and a dog. In other cultures ‘home’ expands to fit the generations, and marriage means moving into the home of your husband’s parents. I remember in Jordan seeing houses which looked ‘unfinished’ – structural metal spikes pointed to the heavens, high over the flat roof of the dwelling. Our guide told us that a house was never finished, if an adult child married, another layer would be built to provide room for the next generation.

Homes were intended to expand, to grow to fit a growing family – culturally this made sense. Perhaps too, it made sense that God the Father was known by knowing his Son, after all, throughout the Bible, disciples and others are described as being ‘the son of …’ Family reputations were a key part of the individual’s identity. Jesus could not be recognised as a teacher or prophet in his home town because he was too well known as the carpenter’s son.

In my final year at Theological College, a new Archbishop was selected. It was an exciting time, all the more so because one of the bishops being considered was married to one of our tutors. We found ourselves in a privileged position because we knew her. She and I and all the other faculty and students were part of a college ‘family’, we had connections with each other and a shared identity. When she left college ahead of his consecration, he joined his wife, and we were able to sit at his feet, to ask questions, to pray for him and his family. In her parting words, we were told that should we ever be in London, we were to knock on the door, name the college and we would be warmly welcomed in for afternoon tea. A friend of mine did indeed find himself in Lambeth, and warmly welcomed.

Peter sheds a different light on the housing issue: in his letter to the exiles he reminds them that they are to be ‘living stones’ to be built into a spiritual house. (Read it here). Perhaps the ‘way’ that Jesus was trying to show his disciples and us too, is a way of life here and now, and not only a house in ‘heaven’. God’s promise has always been that he will re-create heaven and earth, and those who are faithful will find themselves at home in this new, perfect recreation of the world, a world with an absence of sin and sorrow and suffering, because Jesus has dealt with all those on the cross; but perhaps we are to be the bricks and mortar of God’s perfect kingdom? Perhaps the building work is not something the happen in the future in a different realm, but in the here and now? Perhaps we are the welcome home for those who feel unloved and unwelcome, perhaps we are the safe haven for the broken and downtrodden, perhaps we are the place of celebration and hope and looking to the future? But this requires us to be active now, to be at work, and not to sit back and wait until Jesus escorts us to the pearly gates. This is harder, much harder. This will take time and energy and sacrifices in our lifestyles.

Today, we also remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who literally sacrificed everything to be true to his calling as a disciple of Jesus. As Stephen was condemned he had a vision of heaven, but those religious leaders covered their ears and drowned him out; instead of becoming living stones for Jesus, they picked up stones to throw at his disciple. Read Stephen’s story here.

We have a choice: as Christians who truly believe that Jesus is the way and the truth, we can build from our lives places of welcome to invite others into God’s presence, or we can arrogantly drive them out as heathens and philistines.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What is the biggest house you have ever stayed in?
  • Where have you been made to feel most welcome?
  • How do you envision Jesus’ Father’s House?
  • How do you feel about being a ‘living stone’ used to build the Father’s house?
  • How can we make our churches and fellowship groups more like the Father’s?

Something to pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,

we believe you to be he way, the truth and the life, but our faith is flawed and our commitment weak, so that, all too easily and often, we go our own way, losing sight of truth and denying ourselves the fullness of life you offer:

Guide us now, as we worship, so that we might walk with you more closely, believe more truly, and live more faithfully, to the glory of God the Father. Amen

Nick Fawcett

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