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Sun, Apr 29, 2018

Jesus in us

Interpreting faith narratives. Emmaus and Ethiopia. The gospel lesson is: St John 15: 1 - 8
Series:April-June 2018
Duration:14 mins 42 secs
Sermon  Sunday 29 April, 2018
 
Lessons  Acts 8: 26 – end           1 John 4: 11 – end           St John 15: 1 – 8
 
Prayer of Illumination
 
Let us pray.
 
Calm us, O Lord, that we may be still.   Still us, O Lord, that the quietness and sacredness of this sanctuary may fill our souls.   In the quietness, may we know the peace only Your can give.   In Jesus’ Name, we pray.   Amen.
 
Drawn from the New Testament Book of Acts, the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John, our readings today are rich in meaning and point us to the importance of the Mystical in all things, in faith and life.   In the Book of Acts, in a post-Resurrection story, we hear of Philip, the evangelist or deacon, and his encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch.   The eunuch, whose name we never learn, was the senior official in the treasury, a court officer of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia.   The eunuch had been to Jerusalem to worship and was on his return journey when he met Philip.   Seated in his chariot, the Ethiopian read Scripture, verses from the Old Testament prophet
Isaiah.   On his lap lay the words:
 
                        Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb
                        silent before its shearer, so he does not open his 
                        mouth……
                         
The eunuch asked Philip the identity of this man who had been slain.   Philip began to speak, and starting with those verses, told the eunuch the good news about Jesus.   If we enter that chariot ourselves, that intimate space, do we not feel the Presence of the Holy, the presence of Jesus with us?   Sit there for a moment, shut out everything else, let Scripture be a nourishment and medicine.   Shut your eyes, and focus your heart and soul on Jesus:  this is the power of the gospel.   
 
After Philip had spoken, the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water!   What is to prevent me from being baptised?’   In the oldest manuscripts, we read, “And Philip [answered], ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’   And [the eunuch] replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”   From the intensity of that encounter in the chariot, from the Spirit filling the whole chamber, the Ethiopian eunuch desired nothing more than to be baptised.   Together, Philip and the eunuch went down to the water.   The Ethiopian man was baptised.   Once baptised, we are told that ‘the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.’   The eunuch went on his way rejoicing.
 
According to tradition, now baptised, the Ethiopian returned to his country and, alongside the other faiths, declared the miraculous message of Jesus.   The Coptic/Orthodox Church in Ethiopia claims its origins go back to the first century, perhaps even to this story.   In his homily on Pentecost, the fourth century saint, John Chrysostom, mentions that Ethiopians were present in the Holy City on the day of
Pentecost.
 
How are we to interpret this narrative?   What are we to make of the eunuch, Philip, the baptism and the actions of the Spirit?   In the Book of Jeremiah, there is a very powerful story of a eunuch, a senior court official, a servant of the king, who name in Aramaic is Abimelech.   Through the shallow politics of the court, the distortions and manipulation of truth and the near murder of Jeremiah, Abimelech represents integrity, courage and, above all, one who trusts in the LORD.   It is the eunuch who saves the life of the prophet.   On behalf of the LORD, Jeremiah tells the eunuch:
 
            I will save you on that day, says the LORD, and you shall not be  handed over to those whom you dread……..
 
The defining characteristic of the Ethiopian eunuch in the Book of Jeremiah is that he trusts in the LORD, and the LORD promises to save him:  help, heal and restore him.   In the king’s court, facing mortal danger, with the potential to make enemies at every turn, the faith of the eunuch is a light in a dark place.   Is there something of this story in the story of the Book of Acts?   Here, as in the Old Testament, the faith of the eunuch is held up as a beacon, a source of immense strength for those with open hearts.   
 
Besides the connection with the Old Testament eunuch, there is an uncanny resemblance between the story of Philip and the eunuch and the story of Jesus with Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus.   In both narratives, the Scriptures are opened and, again in both, those who hear the Scriptures opened are spiritually brought alive by what they hear.   On the Road to Emmaus, Christ is known in the breaking of bread, while on the road from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, Christ is known in the sacrament of water.   At the close of each story, the one who opens the Scriptures, the one who celebrates the sacrament, Jesus and Philip, is snatched away, vanishes out of sight.
 
In the Book of Acts, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is preceded by the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.   In the moments before he was stoned, we are told that, ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’   Following the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, we read of Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus:  ‘Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.’   In the end, the scales fall from his eyes and he is filled with the Holy Spirit.   Taken together, these stories are intoxicating.   The Spirit fills all things, saturates all things.   Though the life of faith may take us into another world, though life in the Spirit may yield us an inner depth and fulfillment we find nowhere else, still our encounters with the Spirit of Jesus, of the Risen Christ, are felt in the midst of this very worldly, material life.   
 
The palaeontologist, philosopher and Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, said that God is not apart from any of us, not apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell and taste.   God, he said, ‘awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment….He is at the tip of my pen, my brush, my needle – of my heart and of my thought.’   
 
In these three readings, what I see is the Presence:  with the eyes of faith, with an open heart, with a soul spiritually hungry and eager for sustenance, we experience the Sacred, the Unnamable, the eloquent
Silence at the centre of the universe.    In the First Letter of John and
in the Gospel of John, mystical union, intimacy of the soul, reveals itself over and over.   Let me run some verses together:
 
            If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is perfected   in us.   By this we know that we abide in Him and He is in us   because He has given us of the Spirit.   God abides in those who   confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.   
            God is love and those who abide in love abide in God.
 
When we speak of Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ we mean that He is of the nature of God, a human image or reflection of the nature of the Divine Spirit.   God abides in us and, if we love as God is love, we will bear much fruit.   If, like the Ethiopian eunuch, we let ourselves be filled with the love of God, we will bear much fruit.   This is what the Orthodox churches call our deification:  we become like God, a faint reflection of God’s light.   It is what Jean Vanier describes as ‘Jesus in us and us in Jesus.’   Through accident, sickness, failure and loss, there can be hurt, grief and desolation.   Through our emptiness, we can suffer anxiety, fear and loss of self-worth.   Jesus says, ‘Abide in My love.’   He says, ‘Let Me be at home within you.’   The journey of the inner life is a process of growing towards greater oneness with
Jesus.   
 
Amen. 
 
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MYSTICISM & THE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS - LECTURE

Mayfield Salisbury Church Memorials 1914-1918

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Memorials

Including every individual name.
  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.
    Origen

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.
    Wittgenstein

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.
    Plotinus

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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