Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter

A sermon from St Peter's Reader, Sue Diplock on Sunday 27 April 2014...

2nd Sunday of Easter 27th April 2014: Act 2:14a; 22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31 May the words of my lips and the thoughts of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. A question for you all: This morning you could have had a lie-in, a nice leisurely morning, Or you could have gone for a walk –had a day out or just caught up with the housework or something………. So what brought you here this morning? What’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Any answers? Hold on to these – we’ll come back to them! So what brought the disciples together in that upper room? Fear of the Jews we are told – they didn’t want to die the same way as Jesus did (although, indeed some of them did die brutally). But it wasn’t just fear for their lives, their whole world seemed shattered, everything they had built their lives and dreams on gone; grief, confusion pain. It’s an interesting contrast: them in their upper room behind locked doors and us here this morning – doors wide open. But brought together by a belief in Christ, even if how we would each express this belief will vary widely. And the disciples were a mixed bunch much as we are: Peter – he frequently gets things totally wrong, denies Christ but is also the first to say straight out to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah.’ And Thomas, I think unfairly called doubting Thomas as Jesus also showed the other disciples the marks of the nails in his hands and the wound in his side when he first appeared to them in the upper room. But Thomas is the one who always seems to say what he thinks. When Jesus makes the dangerous decision to travel back to Martha and Mary’s when he hears of Lazarus’s death it is Thomas who says to the other disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ - possibly a hint of fatalistic resignation there. Again, when Jesus is trying to explain to them what is going to happen to him, where He is going, it is Thomas who is honest and brave enough to say, ‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Thomas tells it how it is – so it is he who finally says, when Jesus appears to him and shows him his wounds, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Thomas and Peter show there is hope for us all! The disciples seem to have been as different and varied as we are – and not above arguing who would have the top roles in Christ’s kingdom. But they all believed, even if they weren’t quite sure exactly what they believed in – perhaps also like us sometimes. They all knew Jesus, followed him, received the Holy Spirit from him and were sent out to continue his mission, to spread his Word. And the other readings today show them carrying his mission out, how the message was spread wider and wider. In the first reading from Acts, Peter is in Jerusalem, speaking to the crowds just after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s apparent that most of the people who he is speaking to would also have known Jesus. Even if they weren’t followers they would have witnessed Jesus’s entrance on the donkey to Jerusalem, seen or heard tell of his actions in the temple, sweeping out the traders and, probably, witnessed his crucifixion, or at least heard about it. The second reading today, Peter’s letter, was written to the people of what we know today as Turkey. Highly unlikely that any of them would have actually seen Jesus – they were relying on the second-hand testimony of those, like Peter, who had. As Peter says, ‘although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ And what about us here today – as I asked at the beginning – what brought us all here today? We have the Bible but are we just relying on umpteenth hand testimony – or is it something more direct reaching our hearts? We celebrated Easter, Christ’s resurrection only a week ago. Do we love and believe in Christ and rejoice with Peter’s ‘indescribable glorious joy.’ We may not be dancing in the streets but is this what is going on quietly inside us? Across the centuries I have five pictures: First the one we started with, the disciples, fearful and confused, huddled together behind locked doors in an upper room while darkness falls outside. Then, next, the same room, the same night, the doors still locked, still darkness outside, but inside light, and Jesus, showing them his hands and the wound in his side, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And breathing the Holy Spirit on them. Next, the picture from Acts, broad daylight, Peter, perhaps standing at an open window in the crowded ecstatic house in Jerusalem where the followers had gathered and where the Holy Spirit had descended on them all, rushing like a wind filling the whole house. Peter, talking to the crowd outside, sharing the good news with them. Then the Turkish followers, perhaps also gathered together in someone’s house to pray and share bread and wine, reading Peter’s letter, reassured by his blessings and praise for their belief, encouraged by his confidence in their faith and ability to endure suffering in this world for the salvation of their souls. And finally us here today, gathered in our church with the doors wide open to share in worship and the Eucharist. Carrying on the movement started by Christ’s resurrection all those centuries, millennia ago. When I was reading these texts I was drawn to a particular verse in the first reading from Acts: ‘You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Peter is actually quoting from Psalm 16, to show his Jewish audience how David’s prophesy has been fulfilled by the coming of Jesus.) At the beginning of this sermon I asked you all what brought you here today, to St Peter’s this morning and you gave your honest answers. But I suggest they are all covered by, included in this verse. ‘You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Deep in all of us is a longing to know the ways of life, why are we here, what on earth is going on and, most important – what do we do about it, how can we live fully, now, here on earth and for eternity. And we can only begin to find our answers in God’s presence. I believe that that presence is there for us all the time but, mostly, we are too busy, to wrapped up in other things to remember, to notice. We need to pray, to set time aside – which is what we do when we come here to church. The Eucharist, sharing in Christ together is the still point, however much we flurry round the edges. We come together, just as we are, however imperfectly, to share the presence of God. And we are blessed that we can do this in total freedom without fear. Let’s make the most of it! We share in God’s presence here today in church. Let us remember His presence is with us when we leave, wherever we go, whatever happens. Christ is risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia

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