Tuesday, 12 October 2021

St Philip the Deacon

A reflection at morning worship for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 12th October 2021.

Philip the Deacon proclaiming the good news to the Ethiopian eunuch

 (icon written by Ann Chapin)

Yesterday was the feast day of Philip the Deacon, a contemporary of the apostles and St Paul. And we remember him today. He is not to be confused with the Apostle Philip. Philip the Deacon helped the apostles to administer the alms of the growing church in Jerusalem, and when that church suffered persecution, he became a travelling evangelist first in Samaria, and then along the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. His name tells us that he was Greek speaking, a Hellenised Jew, which must have been a great advantage in his work away from the Aramaic speaking Jewish heartlands.

There is an ancient tradition that he was one of the seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out in pairs to proclaim the good news. But the first we hear of him in the New Testament is when he is appointed as one of seven deacons, along with Stephen and five others, to help the apostles to administer the growing church, so that they could concentrate on spiritual leadership. The epithet ‘deacon’ derives from the Greek word for ‘helper’. It must have been a very sensitive job, since Greek speaking Christians were starting to complain that they were being neglected by Hebrew speaking Christians in the distribution of alms.

The church in Jerusalem suffered pogroms after the martyrdom of Philip’s fellow deacon Stephen. Most Christians fled from the city, leaving the apostles in Jerusalem. Philip went first to Samaria, where he worked as a travelling evangelist, with great success, we are told. 

Then, as today’s reading tells us, he was inspired to travel to the South, toward Gaza, where he encountered the ‘Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians’. These people were probably not from Ethiopia as we know it today, but from the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia, South of Egypt, which at that time was governed by queens with the title Candace. Philip’s exposition of a text from Isaiah, from which he proclaimed the good news about Jesus, so impressed the eunuch that there and then, he asked Philip to baptise him, which Philip did. How lovely it would be if the eunuch’s conversion and baptism could be seen as the origin of the Ethiopian Church. While this is not impossible, historians tell us that the Ethiopian church dates only from the 4th Century AD.

Immediately after the baptism, we are told, ‘The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away’ to a place called Azotus, which is identified with Ashdod, a town on the coast close to Gaza. From there Philip travelled North up the coast, ‘proclaim(ing) the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea’, a port town between modern Tel Aviv and Haifa. He must have settled in Caesarea, because the Acts of the Apostles reports that many years later St Paul and his companions stayed there with ‘Philip the evangelist, one of the seven’ on his way to Jerusalem. It adds the detail that Philip had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

What a career Philip had! Guided by the Spirit he served and nurtured the growing church in many different ways, as the need arose. It is good to remember him, and all he achieved, because he is one of the heroes of the primitive church, a model for all who serve the Church as deacons. As we travel our own pilgrim paths through this world, may his story encourage us to continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.


Sunday, 10 October 2021

Through the eye of the needle

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan church on Sunday 10th October 2021, the 19th after Trinity

Do you know how to catch a greedy monkey?

First take a jar with an opening a little larger than the monkey's hand. Attach the jar to something that can't be moved, like this pulpit. Then put something in the jar that the monkey wants – a sweet, perhaps. The monkey reaches in, grabs the treat, but with his hand full, he can't get his hand out of the opening. He's so greedy he won't let go – you have him trapped!

The man in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-31) is rather like the monkey, isn’t he? He had asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” - ‘Jesus, looking at him’, we are told, ‘loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.’

I think the man is a failed apostle. He received the same call to leave everything and follow Jesus that Peter and the rest of the Twelve did. Jesus loved him and must have seen his potential. But the man was trapped, trapped by all his possessions, and he could not respond to Jesus.

 What should we learn from this man’s story?

Should we all, perhaps, do what this man couldn’t do – sell all our possessions, give the money to charity, and follow Jesus in holy poverty?

Just imagine what would happen if everybody did that. Prices would immediately crash. The economy would come to a grinding halt. And as ever the weak would suffer the worst consequences.

No, the fact is that Jesus calls each one of us uniquely, personally. He does not call us all to be or to do the same thing. He calls some to follow him in holy poverty, as he called his twelve apostles, as he called others through the centuries like St Francis of Assisi, and as perhaps he calls some today. But very few of us are called to be apostles.

Rather each one of us should practice listening attentively for Jesus to reveal our personal call, through prayer, through our conscience and through the working of the Holy Spirit. And we should pray that when we hear Jesus call, we will be able to respond.

Jesus goes on to reflect on how wealth and possessions can cut us off from God.

“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” he says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

What a knack Jesus has for vivid, humorous images! – once heard, no one ever forgets this image of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle, as a metaphor for human impossibility.

Almost all of us here in Ireland are rich compared to most on the planet. Surely we must all sit up and take notice of these words of Jesus, whatever else our personal call might be.

The trouble, I think, is not wealth and possessions in themselves; it is how we use them - and how we allow them to use us. They are God’s good gifts, but it is all too easy for us to allow them to close our ears to Jesus’s call, preventing us from being the people God wants us to be – in other words preventing us from entering the kingdom of God. We must always be prepared to surrender wealth and possessions back to God, or to give it away to others, if that is necessary to do God’s will.

Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader, coined the slogan ‘To be rich is glorious’

Doesn’t that sum up the false values of our consumer capitalist society? We share those values with other modern industrial societies, including supposedly Communist China.

Advertising encourages us to want more and more stuff we don’t need. We run around in circles to get the money to buy it, at the expense of our health, our communities, and our families. And we consume it and finally throw it away, damaging our environment in the process. Yet we are no happier for doing so! Meanwhile, the owners of capital seek to increase their wealth, and if they cannot find a profitable investment hide it away in off-shore accounts. We are on a treadmill leading us to the despair that Job expressed in the 1st reading (Job 23:1-9,16-17): ‘If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!’

We all know this kind of collective madness cannot go on - unless we are peculiarly deaf and blind. People made in God’s image are being hurt. God’s planet is being trashed. Humanity’s greed is damaging the beautiful life filled planet God has placed us on. This cannot be God’s will. The Holy Spirit is speaking very clearly, and our consciences must tell us this is wrong. Now, surely, we need as a society to discard the false values, to surrender our greedy dreams of riches.

Jesus tells us that it is almost impossible for us to enter God's kingdom while we hold on to our riches. But how hard it is to let them go! “Then who can be saved?” say the disciples to one another. “For mortals” – that’s men and women like you and me – “it is impossible”, says Jesus, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

The author of our 2nd reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:12-16), urges us to listen to the living, active word of God, and to trust in Jesus, the Son of God. ‘Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,’ he says, ‘so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’.

This surely is what we must do to escape from the treadmill of riches. We must pray that God will show us how to live more abundantly with less, how to heal our damaged earth, how to rekindle community, and how to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping greed.

I shall finish with a Collect of the Word.

Merciful God,
in your Son you call not the righteous but sinners to repentance;
draw us away from the easy road that leads to destruction,
and guide us into paths that lead to life abundant,
that in seeking your truth, and obeying your will,
we may know the joy of being a disciple of Jesus our Saviour,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Hope amidst climate chaos

 Reflection at Morning Prayer for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 14th September 2021

Creation Time 2021

In the reading from Proverbs 1:20-33, we have just heard the voice of Wisdom, personified as a woman, raising her voice in the public square, crying out from the city walls and at the city gate, rebuking the people of a great city. If the people do not listen, says Wisdom, ‘the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them’.

Theologians, who always like to argue, disagree about the nature of Wisdom. Is she the mouth-piece of the Holy Spirit? Is her voice that of the as yet unborn Christ? But we can surely all agree her voice comes from God.

Today the prophetic voices of climate scientists and ecologists are calling out to us in the public square and the media, the modern equivalent of the city walls, to warn us that we must urgently change the way we live. Theirs is surely the voice of Wisdom in our own times. We must live sustainably within the resources of this good earth, or suffer the consequences. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels, our children and grandchildren will experience climate chaos – the droughts and fires, storms and floods of the last months are only the foretaste of what they will experience. If we continue to carelessly destroy the delicate web of life on this beautiful planet, there will not be enough food for all, many will starve, and the beautiful diversity of living creatures, which feeds our spirits, will be snuffed out.

Human nature is greedy, and our whole society is shaped by market capitalism, which generates ever greater consumption – the antithesis of sustainability. Will it be possible for human-kind to change course in time to prevent disaster?

The barriers to change are immense, and time is very short. It would be all too easy to lose hope. But that would lead to inaction, and bring about the disaster we fear. As Christians we are people of hope, people who rejoice in the good news, people who believe that the kingdom of God is at hand. The voice of Wisdom in Proverbs promises, ‘Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm’. We must listen to that voice of hope.

And there are signs of hope. More and more ordinary people are listening to the wisdom of scientists. Governments around the world are beginning to take action. They will come together in October in Yunnan, China for the UN Biodiversity Conference, and in November in Glasgow at the COP26 UN Climate Conference.

At the start of Creation Time 2021, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a rare joint message, called on us to pray for world leaders as they prepare to meet, and to consider what choices we all must make. ‘We call on everyone’, they say, ‘whatever their belief or worldview, to endeavour to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behaviour and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us.’

Let us join them in prayer:

We pray for the good earth which God has given us, and for the wisdom and will to conserve it.

We pray for the world leaders preparing to meet in Glasgow at the COP26 climate change conference in November, and in October at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Yunnan.

Grant them the wisdom to take the hard decisions before them.

And inspire us all to make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet,

working together and taking responsibility for how we use our resources.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Sunday, 29 August 2021

My Beloved

 

Today’s OT reading from the Song of Solomon(2:8-13) is beautifully romantic, isn’t it?

It is a passionate, poetic dialogue between two lovers:

·         The one cries out, “(I hear) the voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.

·         The other responds, “‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.’”

Nothing can persuade me that this is about anything but the physical desire the couple have for one another – they are lovers, and they are in love. Which is why my wife Marty and I chose this passage, sharing the voices between us, at a service in Killodiernan Church to bless and celebrate our marriage, a quarter of a century ago.

But, you may ask, why should such passionate love poetry be read in church? Indeed, why should the ‘Song of Solomon’ be included in our Bible at all, since God is not mentioned in it even once? The early church chose to view this Jewish text as an allegory for the love between God and his people. Later Christians read it as an allegory of the love of Christ for his Church. And we may do so too.

But I prefer to see the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in our Bible as a sanctification of passionate human love, a recognition that it is a holy thing, inspired I feel sure by the Holy Spirit.

In our 2nd reading, James addresses his audience as ‘my beloved’, which no doubt explains why the lectionary pairs it with this reading from the Song of Solomon. ‘Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above’, says James ‘coming down from the Father of lights.’ The essence of passionate human love is surely the generous giving by lovers of themselves, one to the other. Such love is a perfect gift from God. Without it, loving, stable human families would not be possible.

Let us look at today’s 2nd reading (James 1:17-27) a bit more closely.

The author identifies himself as ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’, and he is writing to ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’. It is traditionally attributed to James the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just. St Paul describes him as ‘one of the pillars of the church’ in Jerusalem. James remains in Jerusalem and writes to Jewish Christians in the diaspora, at the same time as Paul travels among and writes to Gentile Christians.

It is God’s good purpose, says James, to ‘(give) us birth by the word of truth’. I am reminded of the opening words of John’s Gospel: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’.

‘So that’, James continues, ‘we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures’.When we offer the first fruits of the harvest to God, we intend them to be the best of the good things he has graced us with. And similarly, God intends us, through the word of truth he has given us in Jesus, to be the best people we can be. James pleads with those he writes to, and to us: ‘Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls’.

‘Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger’, says James, ‘for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness’. There is a great deal of anger about just now, isn’t there? And not just anger about secular things. For instance, Christians who disagree about how to respond to God’s word in the way they treat the LGBT community are furious with each other, even in our own Church of Ireland. But James tells us that such anger is unproductive, it does not produce positive results. Instead, we should respond to God’s word with meekness, with humility, not use it to bludgeon each other in argument.

But our meekness must not result in passivity. We should ‘be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’, says James, ‘Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers  - they will be blessed in their doing’.

‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this, says James: ‘to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world’. Listening to God’s word in church on Sunday is worthless – worthless - if it does not cause us to act upon it. Our response must be twofold.

·         First, we must generously support the poor and the marginalised – and for me that includes our LGBT brothers and sisters. If not, we deserve the rebuke that Jesus gives to the Pharisees and scribes in the 3rd reading (Mark7:1-8,14-15,21-23): ‘You (are) hypocrites. You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’.

·         Second, we must resist the pressures of the world to be complicit in evil. We must guard and discipline our hearts as well, for as Jesus teaches us, ‘It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’.

I finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Cleanse our consciences, O Lord,
and enlighten our hearts
through the daily presence of your Son Jesus Christ,
that when he comes in glory to be our judge
we may be found undefiled and acceptable in his sight;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Wisdom for children

Address given to children at the Family Service in St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 15th August 2021, the 11th after Trinity.

Children, I’m going to talk to you today. I hope you will pay attention. I'm delighted to see so many of you here, and you are truly welcome. Those of you who are grown up can listen in, and perhaps some of what I say may also mean something to you. So, children, are you paying attention?

The readings we have heard today are both about wisdom – what it means to be a wise person. So I’m going to talk about being wise.

But first I’m going to tell you a story about one of my daughters. I’m glad she is not here because if she were, she might be embarrassed by what I’m going to say. When she was a little girl of 6, she was playing with her friends in the school playground as she waited for her mother to pick her up to go home. The playground was surrounded by iron railings. I don’t know why – perhaps she was dared – but she squeezed her head through the iron railings. And what do you think happened?

Her head got stuck! And however much she squirmed and wriggled, she couldn’t get her head out – her ears got in the way. Parents and teachers came to help her, pushing her head up and down, and round and about, until it started to hurt, but she was stuck fast. Eventually the headmaster sent for the fire brigade. They brought a special tool called a jack to push the bars apart, and so she was set free. Do you think she was a silly girl?

Well it was certainly a silly thing to do...

What does it mean to be wise? My dictionary tells me that it is ‘the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions’. In other words, before you decide to do something, you think carefully about what the result would be, and you only do it if you believe it is right, if it helps people and doesn’t hurt anybody - including yourself.

In the first reading (1Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14), God asked Solomon what gift he would like to be given. Solomon could have asked for anything he wanted, wealth, fame, and so on. But Solomon asked God for an understanding mind, able to see the difference between good and evil. In other words, Solomon asked God to make him wise. This pleased God, who gave him the gift of wisdom, but also promised him riches and honour, and long life if he followed God’s commandments. The lesson we should learn from this is that God wants us to be wise like Solomon, and that if we are, we will receive other blessings too.

In the second reading (Ephesians 5:15-20), St Paul urges the Ephesians to be wise people. They should try to understand what God wants, not just what they want. Then they will be so filled with God’s Spirit of joy that they will want to thank God for all the good things they have received from God. The lesson we should learn from this is that it is not gloomy or boring to be wise. Rather, if we are wise, we will count the blessings God has given us, and we will want to dance and sing, and say thank you to God.

Let me go back to my daughter and the railings. The next day in the school assembly, the headmaster brought her to the front, and told her she had been a very silly girl, and that he hoped others would learn not to be so silly. Bravely my daughter said to him, ‘Yes, it was a silly thing to do, but I am not a silly girl’. That was a clever distinction for one so young to make. I think what she really meant is this, ‘I will learn from this bad experience so that I can do better’. In other words, she was determined to become wise – and now she is a very determined and wise grown up, the mother of three of my grandsons, and I am very proud of her!

Let us finish with a little prayer together, responding with a loud ‘Amen!’

Dear God, please show me how to be wise.
Help me to understand the consequences of my choices,
what is good and what is bad,
and help me always choose the good.
Help me to see all the blessings you have given me,
until I want to dance and sing to your praise and glory.
In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen


Sunday, 8 August 2021

Bread of Life


Address given in St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 8th August 2021, the 10th after Trinity

One of life’s greatest pleasures is to share a meal with loved ones and friends, isn’t it?

It is for me, and it is for you too I’m sure – good food, good drink and good company. And it must have been so for Jesus as well, since so often in the Gospels we find Jesus sharing meals with others. He shared meals not just with his disciples and friends, but also with tax collectors and sinners, and with Pharisees and scribes – with all kinds of people.

When Jesus himself broke bread as the host at a meal, he had a special way of doing so – first he took the food, then he gave thanks or blessed it, and finally he broke it and shared it out. It was so distinctive that, after Jesus’s resurrection, it was only when the disciples on the road to Emmaus saw it that they recognised him. Today’s reading from John’s Gospel (John 6:35, 41-51) comes just after Jesus shares a meal with others on a grand scale – the feeding of the 5000 – a truly gigantic outdoor picnic party. There too in his special way, he took, blessed, broke and shared the five barley loaves and two fish to feed the crowd.

We can recognise this same sequence of actions – taking, blessing, breaking and sharing - in the Last Supper as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. And that of course is the model for the Eucharist which we with all other Christians continue to celebrate in his memory. The Last Supper can be seen as an acted parable – and so, I think, can all the other meals Jesus shared in his Eucharistic way of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing.

But what does the acted parable of Eucharist mean? In today’s reading John opens out for us the spiritual significance of Eucharist for Jesus himself, in Jesus’s own words. The last verse (John 6:51) sums up what Jesus meant:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Today I want to share with you what these words say to me.

First, what does Jesus mean when he says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven’?

Jesus says ‘I am’ many things on different occasions, among them ‘I am the good shepherd’, ‘I am the door’, ‘I am the way’, and ‘I am the true vine’. He is of course talking in metaphors, about his relationship with those he is talking to, but also his relationship with God, who he calls his loving Father.

Jesus has just been responding to hecklers in the crowd who want him to display earthly power, as they believe Moses did by sending bread from heaven – manna - to feed the people in the wilderness. So naturally the metaphor he uses on this occasion is about bread.

As Jesus tells the hecklers, it is God, not Moses, who sent the manna, just as it is God who sends the food we all need to nourish our bodies. But Jesus wants his listeners to look beyond the physical to the spiritual. God also provides what we need to nourish our spirits – by analogy with the bread which feeds our bodies, this too is bread from heaven.

And Jesus knows that his loving-father God is calling him, by his every action and every word, to offer this spiritual nourishment to all people. So he uses metaphor to describe himself as the living bread which comes down from heaven.

The hecklers in the crowd know quite well who Jesus is - the son of Joseph the carpenter from nearby Nazareth. They choose not to understand his metaphor – and they ridicule the idea that Jesus came down from heaven.

Second, what does Jesus mean when he says, Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’?

I suppose people since the dawn of humanity have dreaded death and had fantasies of living for ever. But we all know, as Jesus did, that our physical bodies are doomed to die and to decay. Yet for Jesus this is not what truly matters. What does matter is our relationship with God. It is those who believe that God enfolds and protects them like a loving father that are released from dread of their own mortality. So he says, Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. Eternal life is surely another metaphor for a loving relationship with God.

And more than that, Jesus knows his own importance. Working in and through him, God reveals his own nature as loving Father to those who listen. Those who feed on Jesus’s words and actions, as on bread from heaven, have eternal life.

‘This is eternal life’, says Jesus, in John’s Gospel after the Last Supper, ‘that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Third, what does Jesus mean when he says, The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’?

Jesus goes on to equate bread from heaven with his own body, his own very flesh. He does so again at the Last Supper, when he says Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you, words we still hear every time the priest consecrates the Eucharistic bread.

Many have found this suggestion of cannibalism very shocking. It certainly upset the hecklers in the crowd. And it upset many of Jesus’s disciples too, who, as we are told, turned back and no longer went about with him.

And it still causes problems for some of Jesus’s disciples today. On the one hand we have those who accept the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, whereby in some miraculous way the essence of the Eucharistic bread is actually transformed into the essence of Jesus’s flesh. On the other, we have those who are disturbed by the idea that the Eucharist involves eating human flesh.

I think that perhaps some people interpret these words of Jesus too literally, as the hecklers in the crowd did. For here surely Jesus is extending the metaphor of bread from heaven, and to understand it we need to look behind the literal words.

Christians have wrestled to understand Jesus’s metaphor of his flesh as bread ever since. They have come up with many different ideas – and perhaps this is part of the strength of the metaphor, that it can be understood in so many ways. For myself, I think the point is simply this - Jesus is expressing the depth of his commitment to God’s saving work for us. He is ready to give up his life, his human existence, his very flesh, for our salvation.  That is precisely what he did for us on the cross.

These words of Jesus are difficult. I have told you what they mean for me, and I hope you find it helpful.

But why don’t you take home the pew sheet and spend a little time to ponder Jesus’s words for yourself? They may speak to you in quite a different way to how they speak to me. And that is OK. Metaphors often bear many different meanings at the same time. God will surely grant you the ones that are right for you.

Listen again to what Jesus says:

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Let me finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word

Grant, O Lord,
that we may see in you the fulfilment of all our need,
and may turn from every false satisfaction
to feed on the true and living bread
that you have given us in Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Sunday, 18 July 2021

The household of God

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 18th July 2021, the 7th after Trinity

The Library of Celsus, Ephesus 

(By Benh LIEU SONG - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15578063)

In today’s 2nd reading (Ephesians:2:11-22), Paul addresses the Ephesian Christians as ‘you Gentiles by birth, called the “uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”’.

Called that is, by Jews – like Paul himself – who were brought up to despise and dislike Gentiles, whom they saw as immoral and unclean.

What sort of people were the Ephesians Paul was writing to? In his time Ephesus was the Greek-speaking capital of the Roman province of Asia, with a population second in the Empire only to Rome itself, perhaps as many as half-a-million. It was as vibrant and cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic and multi-faith as any modern European city. And it was rich, as I saw from the amazing archaeological remains when I visited 35 years ago – including an amphitheatre big enough for 20,000 spectators, and a massive public library!

Paul stayed in Ephesus for 2 years on his 2nd missionary journey, according to Acts. His first dozen or so converts had been baptised by John the Baptist – they were surely Jews like himself. Paul re-baptised them in the name of Jesus and they received the Holy Spirit. At first Paul preached the gospel in the Synagogue, but he encountered opposition there, so he withdrew elsewhere with his growing flock of Christians, both Jews and Gentile Greeks. By the time he left 2 years later, he had converted enough followers of the Greek goddess Artemis to threaten the business of local silversmiths who specialised in making shrines to her, provoking them to a nasty riot.

Clearly, by the time Paul wrote his letter the Ephesian Christians were overwhelmingly Greek speaking gentiles.

Paul believes in the continuity of the new faith in Christ that he preached with the old faith of the Jews.

He reminds the Ephesians that before they became Christians they were cut off from the true God that the Jews knew. They were ‘aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world’.

But he is intensely conscious also of the change that Christ brings. Christ has ‘create(d) in himself one new humanity in place of (Jews and Gentiles), thus making peace, reconcil(ing) both groups to God in one body through the cross’. All Christians, whatever their background or tradition, are made one people in Christ, ‘for through him (all of us) have access in one Spirit to the Father’.

Paul’s insight is just as important for us here today as it was for the Ephesians then. Our towns, our country, are increasingly cosmopolitan like Ephesus. Our neighbours come from many countries, speak many languages and hold many faiths. The old divisions of Catholic and Protestant are increasingly irrelevant. All our churches must work together, we must break down the barriers between us, we must move from being exclusive to being inclusive, if we are ever to make a reality of Paul’s vision of one new humanity in Christ.

Only then will we be able to hear Paul’s words clearly, ‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’.

The Church, ‘the household of God’, is like a building, says Paul.

This lovely, suggestive metaphor is an alternative to the more familiar metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, which Paul also uses later on in his letter (Ephesians 4:11-16).

It is ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’, says Paul. ‘In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God’.

Without the right foundations a building is unstable – as unfortunate people living in new houses discovered, when foundations made from unsuitable pyrite rock swelled and cracked in and around Dublin 15 years ago. And now similar problems are being discovered in Donegal and Sligo with mica in concrete blocks. The people affected deserve not just our prayers but redress.

The right foundation for the church is the teaching of the apostles – those Jesus sent out, of which Paul understood himself to be one – and the prophets – no doubt Christian as well as Hebrew prophets. As the Church we must be grounded solidly in scripture before we can build anything worthwhile using tradition or reason.

In Paul’s day builders made sure the walls of a building were true by carefully aligning them with a cornerstone – Jesus serves that function for the church. Jesus joins all of us together into a structure worthy of God, in which we can find God present.

Is today’s Church recognisable in Paul’s description?

Or do we see instead a building site with an untidy, higgledy-piggledy jumble of jerry-built shacks and lean-to extensions, where the architect’s plans have been ignored? We need to take lessons in construction, I suggest!

If we cannot feel proud of the Church we see about us today, we should not be fearful for its future. We should listen to what the prophet Nathan says to King David, in today’s 1st reading (2 Samuel 7:1-14). Nathan advises David that the time is not yet right to build the Lord God a great Temple to live in. God is content to live in the portable tabernacle inside a tent which the children of Israel have carried with them since the Exodus. But, says Nathan, your offspring shall build such a Temple. David’s son Solomon was to build the first Temple in Jerusalem, but that of course was destined to be destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed again.

Perhaps it does not matter so much that the Church today does not yet live up to Paul’s vision of the holy temple, because it is what it always has been - a work in progress. It is not yet finished. It is being built generation by generation - by our forefathers and foremothers, by us, by our children, by our children’s children, and will continue to be built by generations yet to come.

What does matter, though, is that we see ourselves as members of God’s household, whoever we are, wherever we come from, and however we worship. We are ‘one new humanity’, in which there can be ‘no longer strangers and aliens’, to use Paul’s words.

The Church is made up of people, not buildings. Christian people like you and I are the Church, in all the glorious variety of our traditions, founded on the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus Christ as our corner stone.

Let me finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Eternal God,
author of our life and end of our pilgrimage:
guide us by your Word and Spirit
amid all perils and temptations,
that we may not wander from your way,
but may run our course in safety
until we come to our eternal rest in you;
through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen


Sunday, 11 July 2021

Guilty Conscience

Salome receives the head of John the Baptist, by Aubrey Beardsley

Address given on Sunday 11 July 2021, the 5th after Trinity, in St Mary's Nenagh, when Josh William Thomas Platt was baptised, and at Killodiernan, without the baptismal reference.

I am going to share a shameful, guilty secret with you - I am a thief! At least I used to be…

When I was about 6 years old, in the village where I lived with my parents, I used to go to Mrs Pullan’s shop with my pocket money to buy sweets. And sometimes, when I thought she wasn’t looking, I would take a few extra and put them in my pocket. I stole them. I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It made me feel awful, as I scoffed them all by myself, but I still did it. I tried my best not to think about it, and I didn’t want anybody to know. I didn’t want to admit to myself or to anyone else what a bold, naughty boy I was. That’s the first time I can remember having a guilty conscience, but of course I’ve felt guilty about much worse things since then.

We have all felt the pricking of a guilty conscience, haven’t we? When we know we have done something bad, or not done something good that we should have done, we can’t stop thinking and worrying about it. It’s a horrid feeling. No matter how young or old we are, try as we might to be perfect - or even just ordinarily good - every one of us does what we know is wrong more often than we care to admit.

In the reading from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 6:14-29), we heard about King Herod’s guilty conscience. He had done something truly wicked – he had ordered his soldiers to behead John the Baptist, even though he thought John was a good person. So later, when Herod heard people talking about Jesus, he was afraid that Jesus must be John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him.

Let us remind ourselves again of how Herod came to do this wicked thing.

King Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife Herodias and married her. John the Baptist had bravely told Herod that what he had done was not right - it was against the law. Herod didn’t want John going about making trouble by telling people this, so he had had John arrested and put him in prison.

Herodias nursed a grudge against John. She really hated him and wanted to have him killed, but she couldn’t do so straight away, because she knew Herod liked listening to John and respected him as ‘a righteous and holy man’, even if he didn’t always like what John said.

But Herodias got her chance for revenge when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday, for all the important people in his kingdom. Herodias’s daughter – tradition tells us her name was Salome – was brought in to dance for Herod and his guests. She must have been a good dancer, because the guests liked it; and Herod was so pleased with her that he did something very foolish. He told her that he would give her anything she asked for – even half the kingdom. And all the important guests heard him say it! Salome didn’t know what to ask for, so she went to ask her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ And Herodias told her, ‘The head of John the baptiser!’

King Herod didn’t want to have John killed – ‘The king was deeply grieved’, we are told. But he had just told Salome she could have anything she asked for – absolutely anything - and he did not want to look weak or foolish in front of his important guests. So he gave the order and the soldiers chopped off John’s head. They brought it in on a big serving platter and gave it to the girl, who gave it to her mother Herodias.

It’s a horrid story, isn’t it! A story from which no one in Herod’s family comes out well.

Herodias must have been a thoroughly nasty piece of work to use her daughter to take such an awful revenge. Salome too asked for a ghastly present, but perhaps she was too young to be blamed for doing what her mother asked her. But it was Herod who gave that wicked order to behead John the Baptist, even though he knew it was wrong. Let’s focus on him to see what lessons we can learn. What should he have done differently that day to avoid the heavy burden of a guilty conscience?

Well, the first thing would have been not to make that foolish promise! If Herod hadn’t promised to give Salome anything she asked for, she couldn’t have asked for John’s head, and everything would have been different. 

This is the first lesson: we must be very careful what we promise!

Even after Herod had made that foolish promise, he did not have to give that wicked order! Herod was a coward, wasn’t he? He knew it would be wrong to give Salome what Herodias had told her to ask for. But he was afraid – afraid that his important guests would think he was weak. So he gave the order anyway. If Herod had been a braver man, not a coward, he would have listened to his conscience – that little voice inside each of us which tells us what is right and what is wrong. He would simply have said, ‘No, that would be wrong, ask for something else’, and John would have been saved. 

The second lesson is this: we must be brave and do what we know is right no matter what the consequence.

So Herod did the wrong thing. He gave the wicked order and suffered from a guilty conscience.

We are not told if he ever felt sorry for what he had done. But if Herod had listened to Jesus, he would have known what to do when he felt his guilty conscience pricking him. Because Jesus tells us that if we repent of our sins – that means if we admit we have done wrong, if we are sorry and try to make amends and to be better in future – then God, our loving Father in Heaven, will forgive us. The burden of guilt will be lifted from us, and we can find happiness living a new and better life.

So what about my own guilty conscience over stealing sweets when I was a child? Years later, when I was a university student and thought myself to be very grown up, I went back to the village and called on Mrs Pullan in her shop. She invited me in for tea and a chat, and when I came to leave, she filled a bag with all kinds of sweets and gave it to me. Suddenly I was 6 again, and my guilty conscience made me feel bad. I told her about stealing her sweets, and said I was sorry. With a laugh she said, ‘You don’t think you were the only little boy who nicked sweets, do you? I realised what you were doing. And of course I forgive you!’

This is the third lesson: if we repent of bad things we have done, God will forgive us, just as Mrs Pullan forgave me!

Today is a joyful occasion, a day for celebration, a day of baptism for Josh.

But what, you may ask, has the story of Herod’s foolish promise, his cowardice, and his wicked order to execute John, got to do with Josh’s baptism?

In a few moments Josh’s parents and godparents will promise, with the help of God, to care for him, and to help him take his place within the life and worship of Christ’s church. We pray that they will teach him, by their example and love, to be brave and do what is right. And we pray that they will also teach him to repent and seek forgiveness when he falls short.

It will be important for Josh, with their help, to learn from Herod’s story, because the lessons it teaches are tools to protect him from the pain of a guilty conscience.

So today it is right for us all to celebrate and rejoice in Josh’s baptism, with his family and his godparents, as he is joined with us into Christ’s body here on earth, the Church.

 Let me finish with a prayer:

O God our loving Father,
we thank you for the courage of people like John the Baptist,
who do what is right even when it costs them dearly.
Give us the courage to always try to do what is right;
and when we fail show us how to truly repent, and forgive us.
We ask you in Jesus’s name. Amen

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Double baptism of Ailbhe Lynda Cahill & Adam John Nevin

 Address given at St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 13 June 2021

Today is a joyful occasion, a day for celebration, a day of baptism - and a double one too!

For many of us it is a family celebration. Particularly so for Sandra and Ruari, and for Sharon and Robert, as they bring Ailbhe Lynda and Adam John to be christened in the presence of so many relatives and friends, who share their joy in them. Sandra and Sharon are daughters of John and Myrtle Gloster.

For their godparents, it is a day when they promise to encourage them in their life and in their faith. Each pair of parents will stand as godparents for the other pair's child. It is a day to celebrate the start of very special relationships they will have with their godchildren as they grow up.

My daughter, when she was small, didn’t understand what a godmother was. She called her godmother ‘my bed-sitter’, because when she came to stay her godmother would sit on the end of her bed and have long talks with her. My daughter loved those special talks. May you as godparents be equally special ‘bed-sitters’ for Ailbhe and Adam!

It is surely right for families to celebrate as families, because our Lord Jesus Christ himself was reared in a human family, and enjoyed family celebrations -  we remember the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

But today is about much more than just family celebration.

St Matthew’s Gospel tells us how Jesus after his resurrection commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations, and to mark it by baptism. They in turn passed on the commission to others, handing on the gift of faith to new generations. And so we, as that part of Christ’s church gathered here today, as Jesus’s disciples, pass on this gift to a new generation, to Ailbhe and to Adam.

We are here to welcome them as new members of Christ’s Church.  Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God, which will last for the rest of their lives. Whether we are family or not, we celebrate that today. And as we renew our baptismal vows in a few moments, let us reflect on our own journey, and let us be determined to support Ailbhe’s and Adam’s parents and godparents as they guide them on their journeys.

Ailbhe and Adam will be baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Matthew tells us that Jesus himself used these words, invoking the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God. Those of us who are Anglicans share this baptismal formula with most other Christians, including the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and most Reformed Churches. It is a symbol of unity within the diversity of our traditions that we all baptise in the same words.

We shouldn’t see the Trinity as a static thing, I think. Rather, God reveals himself in the Trinity as a dynamic cycle of loving relationships. The Father and the Son loving each other; the Son and the Spirit loving each other; and the Spirit and the Father loving each other.

May Ailbhe and Adam grow up to recognise God’s dynamic cycle of love reflected in their own relationships!

In today’s Gospel reading (Mark4:26-34), Jesus likens the kingdom of God to sowing seeds.

Today’s baptisms are like the sowing of two seeds. When we sow seeds in the kingdom of God, we must be patient. We must live in hope and trust in God’s goodness and loving kindness to us all.

We pray that both Ailbhe and Adam, nurtured by the love and examples of their parents and godparents, may grow like mustard seeds in God’s kingdom. May they live in hope, trusting in God’s loving faithfulness, and both yield and receive a great harvest of goodness in the kingdom of God.

 

Sowing seeds

 

Van Gogh: The Sower (after Millet) 1881

An address given in Killodiernan church on Sunday 13 June 2021, the 2nd after Trinity

Mark tells us in today’s Gospel reading (Mark 4:26-34) that Jesus spoke only in parables in his public teaching, but explained everything in private to his disciples.

Why did Jesus take this approach, I wonder? Perhaps he realised that if he spoke his mind too directly, his enemies among the religious and political leaders would move against him before he was ready. Speaking in parables for others to interpret was safer, yet he needed to make sure that the disciples he chose had understood his teaching correctly.

But a more important reason is this, I think. Jesus wanted people to use their own minds, to wrestle out the truth in his parables for themselves. By doing this they would better understand his teaching, and the images in his parables would help them remember it. That is a powerful technique, used by great teachers.

Today Mark gives us two short parables about the kingdom of God, often known as ‘the parable of the growing seed’ and ‘the parable of the mustard seed’.

The kingdom of God is central to Jesus’s teaching. He teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.’ As I said to you the Sunday before last, I feel sure we enter the kingdom of God when we do God’s will here on earth, as it is done in heaven.

Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus explained today’s parables to his disciples, so let us look at them closely ourselves, to tease out what they mean for us.

‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground’, says Jesus.

Who is this sower who scatters seed? Some have interpreted it as Jesus himself, but I am sure this is wrong. The sower does not know how the seed sprouts and grows, but the Son of God surely knows.

The sower is surely each one of us, man or woman. We must hope and trust that ‘when we scatter seed on the ground, … the seed (will) sprout and grow, … first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head’. Only when the grain is ripe, through the grace of God, can we gather in a good harvest.

Similarly, when we make our human plans, we cannot know how they will turn out. We can only hope, and trust in the goodness of our loving God, that they will turn out well.

The message Jesus means us to take from this parable is surely this. In the kingdom of God we must be patient. We must live in hope, and we must trust in God’s goodness and loving kindness to us. Because our loving God is faithful, and knows what we need, we can be sure that we will receive a bounty of goodness.

‘The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,’ says Jesus, ‘… the smallest of all the seeds on earth’.

‘Yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs,’ he continues, ‘and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

In his parables, Jesus likes to use images from nature that would be familiar to his audience. But you, like me, may find this one a bit puzzling, because mustard seeds are not particularly small, around 1mm or so, compared for instance to the dust like seeds of an orchid. And nor do mustard plants grow particularly large.

Yet perhaps mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds that his audience would be familiar with deliberately sowing, smaller than the grains of barley or wheat, smaller than peas or beans. And mustard is an annual plant that grows rapidly with large leaves, so that in favourable conditions, by the end of a single season, it could well be big enough to provide shade for birds to roost in on the ground, just as the related oilseed rape does for partridge or pheasants.

In my woodland garden I have many oak trees, grown from acorns I collected from the Botanic Gardens in Dublin just over 20 years ago. My wife Marty planted and nurtured them, and I planted them out as a shelter-belt. Now they are around 40 feet high, providing shade and much needed shelter from the prevailing winds, for me and for a host of birds and other wildlife as well. They are my pride and joy.

I think the message Jesus means us to take from the parable of the mustard seed is clear. The kingdom of God is not a place nor is it a static thing. It is a growing and developing organism. Everything we do for love of God and neighbour, every little act of kindness, nourishes the growing kingdom. Over time, we can see it grow and develop from tiny beginnings to something wonderfully large and life-giving. It is God’s will that we and all creation may flourish in his growing kingdom.

This morning, two of John and Myrtle Gloster’s grandchildren were baptised in St Mary’s.

They are Ailbhe Lynda, daughter of Sandra and Ruari Cahill, and Adam John Nevin, son of Sharon and Robert Nevin. It was a scene of great rejoicing for their families, and I’m sure you will want to join me in welcoming them into our church family.

We can see their baptisms as like the planting of two seeds. Nurtured by the love and examples of their parents and godparents, they will grow organically like mustard seeds in God’s kingdom. We pray that they will live in hope, trusting in God’s loving kindness, and both give and receive a great bounty of goodness in the kingdom of God.

Let us finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
without you we are unable to please you:
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts:
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Nicodemus talks with Jesus

 

Nicodemus talks with Jesus, Alexander Bida, 1874

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh on Trinity Sunday, 30th May 2021

We have just heard Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus from John’s Gospel (3:1-17).

It is a difficult passage to understand – at least I find it so. But it is crucial for the development of our Christian faith and Trinitarian theology. So on this Trinity Sunday please bear with me as I reflect on the meaning of their conversation.

Although he is a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews, Nicodemus is sympathetic to Jesus.

Pharisees have had a bad press they don’t deserve. In general they were good people, rather too pious for some people’s taste perhaps, but they did their best to keep every detail of the Jewish law. As well as being a Pharisee, Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, which would later try and condemn Jesus on a trumped up charge.

‘(Nicodemus) came to Jesus by night’, we are told. Perhaps he didn’t wish to be seen visiting a controversial figure like Jesus. But after dark, away from the distracting crowds was also a good time for serious conversation. ‘Rabbi’, he says to Jesus, ‘we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God’. And then they talk.

Poor Nicodemus – he must surely have felt that Jesus spoke to him only in riddles! ‘Being born from above’; ‘entering the kingdom of God’; ‘the Son of Man’; ‘having eternal life’: what in God’s name is Jesus talking about? Let me try to tease it out.

We start with the kingdom of God – what did Jesus understand by it?

The key I think is in the prayer he taught us: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.’ I feel sure we enter the kingdom of God when we do God’s will here on earth, as it is done in heaven. But that ain’t easy – we have to resist our human impulses to do what we want, not what God wants. We cannot do so unless something changes in us. In a sense we need to be ‘born again’ to be immune to human wilfulness.

Jesus talks about being ‘born from above’ – but the words could just as well be translated as being ‘born again’ – and that is the sense in which Nicodemus correctly understands them. He understands the necessity of it, but he does not understand how to achieve it. ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?’ he asks. ‘Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

So Jesus explains, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit’. We need to be washed clean of our sinful natures – that is what baptism symbolises. But we cannot by ourselves surrender our will to God’s will. For that we need God to take the initiative through the power of his Spirit. Only then can we entrust ourselves to God completely, without reservation, as to a loving Father.

In Greek the same word is used for both wind and spirit – ‘pneuma’. Jesus says, ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ He is telling Nicodemus that he doesn’t need to understand how the Spirit works, he just needs to know that it does work.

There’s nothing very difficult about any of this from Jesus’ point of view – this is just how human beings are made psychologically – it is a plain observable fact, an earthly thing - not a deep truth, a heavenly thing. But Nicodemus just does not get it. ‘How can these things be?’ he says in exasperation. And Jesus chides him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? … If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?’

But I think Jesus likes Nicodemus, and enjoys their conversation.

Because Jesus does indeed go on to tell Nicodemus – and through him us too - about deep, heavenly truths, about theological truths.

‘No one has ascended into heaven’, says Jesus, except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man’.

‘The Son of Man’ is a typically Jewish way of saying ‘a representative man’. Jesus is saying that for a representative man to go up to God, he must have come down from God in the first place. And he clearly understands himself to be the Son of Man, the representative man.

‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’

Moses lifting up the serpent refers to a strange story in the Book of Numbers (21:8-9). On their journey through the wilderness, the people of Israel complained about their hardships since they left Egypt. God sent a plague of deadly serpents to punish them. When the people repented and cried for mercy, God instructed Moses to raise an image of a serpent on a pole in the centre of the camp, which healed those with snakebite when they looked at it.

Jesus is saying that he, the representative man, is destined to be lifted up – on the cross and to God in heaven - to bring eternal life to those who believe in him, just as in the ancient Hebrew scriptures the image of the serpent healed those who gazed on it.

But what does Jesus mean by ‘eternal life’? We should distinguish it from ‘everlasting life’, I think. Everlasting life might just as well be hell as heaven, experiencing the same things over and over again. Duration isn’t the point - eternal life is surely to participate in God’s life, full of the joy and peace and love that can only be found in God’s presence.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’

Jesus is revealing to Nicodemus – and to us – that Jesus the Son of Man, the representative of all human beings, is also the only Son of God. The extent of God’s love for the world – for you and for me and for all creation - is shown by the gift of his only Son. And God sent his Son to save the world, not to condemn it – to offer us the chance to reconcile ourselves with God by aligning our will with his, rather than to be punished for not doing his will.

John does not tell us what Nicodemus makes of all this.

You might expect him to have taken umbrage when Jesus chided him. But he didn’t. John goes on to tell us (John 7:50-53) that Nicodemus defended Jesus in the Sanhedrin when there was a move to arrest him. And after the crucifixion Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus, contributing the expensive embalming spices (John 19:39-40).

Nicodemus may even have become a disciple of Jesus, and he is considered a saint in both the Orthodox and RC churches. Let us hope that this was the case.

And let us give thanks for the insights Nicodemus prompted Jesus to reveal about the relationships within the God of the Trinity, between the Father, his Son, and his Spirit, and the relationship between God and human beings like us. They are the scriptural basis for our Trinitarian faith.

Let us finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word

O blessed Trinity,
in whom we know the Maker of all things, seen and unseen,
the Saviour of all, both near and far:
by your Spirit enable us so to worship your divine majesty,
that with all the company of heaven
we may magnify your glorious name, saying,
Holy, holy, holy. Glory to you, O Lord most high. Amen