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Good Friday Sermon

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How many of you are wearing a fit bit? How many steps have you walked today already? It is said the journey of a thousand miles only begins with one step. If you think about it, we are climbing steps, using lifts and going up and down escalators all day. Here in Redhill we have a wide range to choose from, go in the belfry and you can take your pick steps, escalators and lifts abound in equal measures to take us where we want to be it up or down. So is our life everyday we move on sometimes stepping up and sometimes down, we all have good times and hard times. Tears and laughter.

The thing with stair cases is that when you start out on them you cannot always see where you are going to end up. If you take a lift in a destination unknown to you, you don’t know what you are going to come out onto. These steps we are using for our stage today don’t stop at that top point but continue around the corner, you can’t see it, most of you will know it’s there, but the rest of you will have to trust me! It was Martin Luther King Jr who said ‘Faith is taking the first step when you cannot see the whole staircase.’ I wonder how many of us if we knew the twists and turns in our life would be willing to take the steps, or how many times we would like to use the escalator or lift to zip passed certain points in our life.

Our readings today acted out on these very steps show the story of the last days on this earth of an extraordinary man, Jesus Christ who, unlike us, knew every twist and turn that his life was going take, knew where his staircase was headed yet still choose the path that lead to the cross.

We laid stones to remind us of Jesus being betrayed by one closest to him. And learned how one of his disciples scared to step out with Jesus denied knowing him not once but three times. We heard how he was questioned by Pontius pilot. How the crowd sentenced him to death. How he carried his own cross, was nailed to it was given vinegar to drink and finally declaring “It is finished” he died. We placed the shroud on the cross. Then the petals representing the un-ceremonial quiet burial.

It’s an old rugged story really, certainly not a pretty one, some may wonder why we want to share it. But is it not in the most rugged and worn stories in our life that often we find out who loves us the most? The thread running through these passages is one of love, it’s about Jesus overwhelming love for this weary world that he willingly sacrificed himself with arms nailed to the cross but outstretched as if embracing all in his love. Taking on all our sin means today we can receive his forgiveness and healing touch.

The fantastic thing about this story is that it does not end there, on that cross, or in the tomb, for those outstretched loving arms overcame all. On Sunday the churches of Redhill will be proclaiming the Glorious rising of our Lord. Come, step inside learn what happened next, I promise you its extraordinary, all are welcome!

So, when you are buying your Easter eggs later today and have cause to use steps, lifts or escalators. Take a minute there, pause and remember that on the cross Jesus took one giant leap of love for us all. But we only have to take one small step of faith to experience that rich love which is un measurable, unconditional and with arms outstretched is available to us all.

One Church, One faith, One Lord

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Having been bought up in a fairly musical family with hymn singing being at the forefront of things, it is hard for me when I read Ephesians 4 not to think of that wondrous hymn by E H Plumptre Thy hand O God has Guided. The end refrain talked directly from Ephesians 4 verse 5 “one church one faith one Lord” The hymn tells of God’s faithful guidance, the church hearing the call to continually proclaim the kingdom and the foundation on which the proclamation will stand firm. One God – father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here is the first verse:

Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
the wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;
our fathers owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one Church, one faith, one Lord.

So how can we fit that into both our scripture readings today? Can we use it as a catalyst to explore our two reading today? What can we take away in encouragement to ourselves and others?

Let start with the first four lines:

Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
the wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;

Here I think we could look at Samuel, The Old Testament is a great wealth of wonderous stories, showing God’s Guiding hand from the very being of time from Adam to Noah, Moses, Joseph all tell of God’s power and his leadership as well as faithful and humble following of those called. In Samuel we have another example, a very clear one of God calling to service. Samuel, as it says at first did not recognise the call of God. It was the prompt from Eli that recognised, discerned if you like, that it was God speaking to Samuel gave Samuel the push he needed.

I maybe giving to much away here but I don’t know if you have ever had that experience when you think someone has called your name but they haven’t. It can be quite disconcerting. Your walking through Redhill and you are sure you heard someone call your name but you look around and no one is there! I think I must of done it quite a lot as a teenager because, after one such incident, I remember distinctly a family member stomping up the stairs to my room with a bible in hand open at Samuel 3 saying “I think you should read this it might help you” I am sorry to say that I did not react in the same humble way as Samuel did in trusting Eli and responding to God’s call at the time, it took St Matthews church and a lot of costa coffee to get me anywhere near the dedication Samuel showed in his faith and lifelong service to our Lord. But it does not have to be that way for you. For God is calling each and everyone of you. He is calling you to a Life of Love, humility and work with others. As in Samuels case it will not always be easy sometimes there will be conversations we don’t want to have with others, sometimes we will wonder if we are on the right path. Which is why we must always keep listening ear open for when he calls.

…And just maybe he is calling you to be like Eli too, maybe you have noticed someone who needs encouragement, who is hearing a call but has not yet discerned it, maybe God wants to use the gift of your Maturity, a person that with life’s ruggedness and disappointments can still stay steadfast to God’s will, who has the ability to encourage and nurture. Love God with your whole heart and love one another as you love yourselves, a full, clear statement, written into every page.

So, to the next two lines of the Hymn:

our fathers owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;

We move onto what was recorded in The New Testament, and the encouragement in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. Here we are given more instruction on how we can live out God’s call for us and I think reassures us of the solid foundation from which that call is given.

I like to read different versions of the bible, you can gain different insights and perspectives sometimes, when I was preparing this sermon, I happened to read The Message it’s simple language on this occasion struck a chord in me.

“I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run! — on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.” From Ephesians 3: 1-6

In the body of Christ, we are one, but as a body has different parts, we have different giftings and it is the collaboration of those different giftings in conjunction with The One God who is present in all that keeps the whole body, as it were, working.

As a young Nursey Nurse in training many moons ago it was very much drummed into me that the children needed a role model, if there was something that needed to be done in a certain way or there was a certain expected behaviour you modelled it to the children, showed the way or you engaged in the activity with them. When I was slightly disappearing earlier this week at some of the behaviour of our parliamentary candidates and what appears to be their lack of ability to work together. A thought popped into my head that maybe there is a calling on the whole church to model that love and unity that comes with belonging to the body of Christ. Maybe we need to take that maturity out and show that working together, using everybody different gifts can provide a rich and juicy fruit crop.

So as the song ends so do I. For all generations God’s hand has guided those who heard the call, as is written and recorded in this great book. And we, as the body of Christ continue to bear witness to God’s Presence and power and love in the sure foundation of “One Church, One Faith, One Lord.”

1 Sam 3:1-20
Ephesians 4:1-16

Love and Compassion

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Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways
ReCloth us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives our service find
In deeper reverence, praise!

The scripture passages for today made for tough reading. I felt that before we looked at them I wanted to start with the Good news. That as we look at these passages we do so already in the knowledge that God is with us, ready to forgive our foolish ways, re-cloth and transform us in rightful minds as we draw near to him in praise. The unconditional love of Christ challenges the false judgements we might make and that others make about us. So, let us study these passages together with hope in our heart. United in the body of the church and secure in the knowledge that God is the foundation on which we build, always present, always near…

I have to admit that my first thought, rightly or wrongly, when I read the passage in Matthew was ‘oh no, so when earlier today the dentist told me I needed a filling not only did I have to smile and nod in obeisance but I should have been thinking nice thoughts about him as well!

I mean human to human here, how many times have you stood there listening to someone give you a tirade of insults, outwardly showing grace and understanding, apologising for your misjudgement, whilst in a little thought bubble inside your head thinking something like ‘your hair is long enough that I could plait it and then pull!’ – No – is it just me… I think it’s a tough ask for us mortal souls.

And that is just the start for in this passage Jesus addresses all those things that have the power to divide and destroy Murder, Anger, resentment, unfaithfulness, separation, swearing oaths, not keeping promises. Jesus is not pulling any punches here, he is setting the boundaries. He looked at the way the people were using the laws to judge and condemn, and saw that this just sets up a cycle of negative feelings and in the end, we all end up condemned.

Attending theological college means you learn lots of lovely big words to describe different language used in different texts. One such word which theologians would use to explain this text is hyperbolic, that means that Jesus exaggerated the language he used to make his point. He needed us to see that a cycle of judgement and condemnation was not going to work he needed to emphasis the point that to follow his way is to show compassion, mercy be ready to forgive and ask for forgiveness in return.

I think the hard thing for us to admit about this passage is that actually you don’t have to look to far into the state of the world before his point stop feeling that exaggerated and the need for these stringent rules, whether we like them or not become more understandable. You only have to go home and read a paper or watch the news, in fact I probably only need to say the words terrorism, revenge killings, cyber bullying, divided nations, to you, and this passage is brought scarily into focus.

But on the other hand, this passage is actually not all doom and gloom for in verse 23 He does offer us a lifeline, he offers us to take the things that are wrong and to bring them to his justice… he urges us to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters…

So, that got me to thinking what is it in our personality that God have given us to be able to keep going, how do we find it in ourselves to show compassion, forgiveness, non-judgement and unconditional love in a world can appears to promote the complete opposite, and where is that strength to admit when we are wrong. For it does take strength to admit our wrong doings. It’s funny how words in the English language go in trends sometimes, and one such word at the moment is resilience, I think resilience is a lovely word, it is often defined as having the capacity to bounce back especially in the face of challenge or adversity, it encompasses the spiritual fruits of perseverance, patience and self-control. It is something that we all have innate in us I can guarantee that every single one of you here at some point will have had to show resilience whether it be keeping going after a tragedy, having the strength to admit when your wrong, say sorry to that person you upset the day before or even just to get up every morning and face another journey on southern rail that all takes resilience and God has given us all that gift.

Paul in the reading in Corinthians stresses how division can cause us to fall. Wanting to encourage unity in the early church he talks about the breaking force of division. He encourages us to see that with Christ as our cornerstone we need to build together as separate parts we will fail. We do not need to tackle the challenges of this world separately we can do it united with each other in the body of Christ.

For you know I don’t think anywhere in these passages Jesus is telling us not to challenge when we see wrong doing he is setting boundaries for how we meet those challenges, and he is urging us to look at our own moral compass and get it right with him in order that we can meet these challenges. He is asking us to be Christ like – to challenge without judgement, with compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love. In these years ahead of change it is going to be important that as Christians we are willing to collectively stand up and challenge moral issues.

Let us face the challenges and judgement calls we have to make in the week, months, years ahead with resilience, in unity with the body of the church and with the secure knowledge of Christs unconditional and unwavering love of us. And if you do get in a tough spot… or down with the state of the world… remember the good news, with compassion and love we can lift every situation to God in prayer!

Matthew 5 21-27. 1 Corinthians 3: – 19