While you Wait…

Message:  While we wait between chapters, we grow closer to God, a sermon based on Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11 (Easter 7A).

Introduction

Today we begin the last week of Pascha, the fifty-day celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The fifty days ends next Sunday with the Day of Pentecost. 

On Thursday was Ascension Day: after walking resurrected with his disciples for 40 days, Jesus was taken into heaven to be everywhere present. As he left, he told his followers to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have to wait for the Spirit – who’s already here with us. But then again, sometimes we do face similar in between times, don’t we?

Sometimes the job is done. The mission is completed.

We look to God for the next step and God says “Wait”. How do we relate to God in the times when God tells us only to wait?

The Gospel of John, Chapter 17

In our Gospel reading, we heard 11 verses from the “farewell discourse”. It was Jesus speech, 4 Chapters long, to prepare his disciples for after his Ascension. Much of it is about relationships: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and us.

If we tried to draw it, then it would messy – just like real life.

We are drawn into the mystery at the heart of the universe, life, love and meaning. I’m not keen on mystery: I like the real presence of Jesus: words; and actions.

What’s important is that we surrender to this relationship with God. Maybe that’s what the in-between times are for.  When we’re busy we don’t always have time to spend with God.

Just before Jesus Ascended into heaven, the disciples asked ‘Lord, when will you restore Israel?’  They wanted some action! Jesus told them it was not for them to know when, but that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes; they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Action and Waiting

You’ve known action.  The busyness of employment, homemaking, community building, paying bills, raising children, service, socialising and caring for others. 

You’re still doing things, perhaps the pace is a bit slower now. You’re still witnessing – witnessing to other residents, staff & family. We wait.  Like the Disciples, we ask: ‘what next?’

Perhaps we don’t feel refreshed & renewed. Like the first disciples waiting for Pentecost, it sometimes feels as though God is absent and avoiding us in these times.

But we need it.  A pause between activities.  Time for God.

Conclusion

So let’s thank God for the gift of “in-between” times, for retreat, waiting and not knowing. Let’s accept this time for growing into the mystery in God, waiting (Isa 40:31). We can rest in the unknown. A new chapter will open soon enough.

God will call us to new life and purpose and mission – we don’t know what, but that’s OK.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

This sermon is based on one by Nathan Nettleton, ©LaughingBird.net, 4 May 2008, which you can find here.

Finding Meaning in the Story of Ruth

A sermon on finding meaning in the Book of Ruth, based on Ruth 3:1-9 (Proper 27B).

Introduction

The Book of Ruth is story about the harvest.

A fortnight ago, we heard about Naomi’s husband taking them away during difficult times: ‘the grass is always greener somewhere else’.

Last week, we heard that Naomi, embittered by the loss of her husband AND her two sons, returns to her people:

  • Ruth is extraordinarily faithful to her mother-in-law.
  • Ruth’s character attracts Boaz’ attention and brings blessing on both women. 

This story is set in a patriarchal society, yet it lionizes the women.

(N.B. In Israel, there are two harvests per year, one at Pentecost and another one later in the year.)

Meaning at the Time

We can see that this is parable about:

  • Being faithful to God, faithful to one’s people, community or group, faithful to family. Being true to oneself.
  • Naomi sees a way to secure her daughter-in-law’s future (also hers and Boaz’s!):
  • Ruth needs a husband; Boaz needs a wife – he is a kinsman: it’s traditional!
  1. Why hasn’t Boaz made the first move, when he should?
  2. It doesn’t matter: Naomi obeyed her husband, and look what happened to them!
  3. Ruth asks for a corner of the blanket (God’s wing) – marriage.

Meaning During the Return from Exile

When this story was written down (we think) it may be a story about identity:

  • The remnant of the Jewish people return to their land.
  • Some have compromised and married outside the faith.
  • Who is ‘inside’ and who is an ‘outsider’?
  • This story reminds the people that Ruth – a Moabite, a hated foreigner – was the grandmother of King David.

Meaning for Today

Today we can see all these things and more:

  • Ruth is not only the ancestor of King David but of Jesus himself.
  • This is a story about the common sense and dignity of ordinary folk being more important than dogma and labels.
  • This is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil – there are never enough of these!
  • The harvest in this life or the next is there for those who will work with God and in accordance with His will and character, and not against him!
  • How fitting that we should be reminded of this every year, or even twice a year! 

The Temptation of Weeding

Message: The Church will always contain more than its fair share of nastiness, but weeding it out is a temptation to abandon the way of Christ and make things worse.

This message is based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Year A, Proper 11). Please note that this sermon is not advocating turning a blind eye to abuse or any other illegal activity in churches.

The Problem

A question then, in the fields, and now, in the church: “Why aren’t people in the church able to get along peacefully and lovingly?”  Where did all these weeds come from?

We expect advice on how to get rid of the problem, but we are told that we had better learn to live with the problem or we will end up becoming the problem.

So what is Jesus telling us about the sort of people we are and the sort of situation we face in this church and in every church?

  1. Pettiness will be in every church; where the Messiah sows good seed, Satan will try to spoil it.
  2. Places that promise healing and renewal will attract those who are damaged and unstable.
  3. Some people come to church to hide from God.  Every church has some people who talk the talk but don’t really respond to God.

Before we look around to categorise each other, we remember that these things are in all of us.  I come here with: bitterness and anger from the wounds of my past; parts of me willing to respond to Christ, but holding something back, and hiding it.  So do you.  It’s easier to spot in others!

Human Weeding will Go Wrong

We are tempted to take action to make the church holy, to make room for the good wheat of love, mercy and justice to grow.  We look to Jesus for advice on how to go weeding in his name, but Jesus says “Don’t! Don’t even try!”  Why?

  1. Weeding is not our job, but God’s. Our job is to be good wheat, not to be the gardener.
  2. We’d get it wrong.  The weed described in the story is a common grass that looks a lot like wheat. Given that we are all something of a mixture of each, no wonder.
  3. Any attempts to weed out the problem (people or things) will uproot and harm the innocent.

Conclusion: Growth, not Weeding

“Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.” It is that word “let” or “permit” or “allow”. The same Greek word also means “forgive”.  This is not just a passive ignoring of the problem. It is an active naming and forgiving of it. We are being told that the means to purge the community of malice and pettiness and nastiness is not through the violence of weeding but through the grace of courageous forgiving and accepting.

Let’s allow the weeds and the wheat to grow together until the harvest, and when the harvest comes, we may find that we have a whole lot more wheat and many fewer weeds than we thought.

This message is based on a Sermon by © Nathan Nettleton, 17 July 2005, which can be found at www.LaughingBird.net