Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent 4 B.O.B. (Born of Blindness)

Lent 4
Readings: Psalm 23, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-14
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 26, 2017

This story in John's gospel, about a man who is born blind, invites many different ways of reflection. There are a number of characters, and it almost comes across as drama.

There is, of course Jesus Himself. He is the focus of the account. What He does for the man, and how he is dealt with by his opponents, in a way that shows them up as deluded and confused, makes for one story. Next there is the perception and treatment of the man himself. Both by Jesus and by the council.

There is the account of the mans parents, whose integrity is questioned, yet whose delight must have beyond measure. Finally, there are the inquisitors themselves, who appear angry, intolerant and totally unable to grasp the truth that takes place before their eyes.

One version of the bible describes the man’s problem as “Being of blindness”, which gives us the initials B. O. B. which spells “Bob”. The phrase “Born Ocularily Benighted” also gives us the initials B.O.B. If anyone tells you there is no Bob in the Bible... well there is now!

So, by way of illustrating an intriguing, and in some ways amusingly ironic, biblical tale, I thought... if Bob had a story to tell, how would it go. So for your listening delight and, hopefully eye-opening spiritual unraveling, This morning I present to you...

The Story of Bob

‘Bob’s’ the name.
Used to be ‘Blind Bob’.
Now it’s just ‘Bob’ because I’m not blind any more.

Being born Blind Bob, you learn to see with things other than Bob’s eyes.
You see through sounds
and smells
and touch
and taste.

Blind Bob learned to sense peoples emotions,
And know without being told.

‘Blind Bob’ was often treated as ‘Stupid Bob’.
Because I was non functioning in the ocular area,
The presumption was made that Blind Bob
Was also ‘Dumb Bob’ and ‘Deaf Bob’.

‘Would Bob like this’
‘Is Bob all right sitting there’.
‘Does Bob take cream in his coffee’.

‘Blind Bob’ learned that it was best to play the game of ‘Deaf and Dumb Bob’.
Blind Bob saw a lot going on that others missed.

Jesus came to town.
I could sense in His touch He was different.
He put clay on my eyes.
Vision! Wow.. so that’s what colors are!
He sent me to Siloam Pool.
Good-Bye ‘Blind Bob’.
Hello just plain ‘Bob’.

Now here’s trouble.
The religious folk didn’t care much for Bob.
Didn’t care much for Jesus either.
Particularly as it was the Sabbath Day when He said;
“Here’s mud in your eye.”

So they call me in.
“What did Jesus do to make you see?”
Bob explained about the mud on his eyes and the pool washing.
They get mad.

Some say this.
Some say that.
Bob senses these folk are having a hard time with themselves.
They are... to put it mildly... divided in opinion.

They asked me what I thought of Jesus.
‘He’s a prophet’ said Bold Bob.
Thy threw me out and sent for my Mom and Dad.

The Questions they asked them;
‘Was he really born blind?’
‘You’re making all this up, aren’t you?”
‘How can He see?’
‘Is this really your son?’
‘Are you sure?’

The answers they gave;
‘Sure is our son and sure was born blind!
Why can he see? Well, ask him,
He’s of age.
He’s got a tongue in his head.
He can answer’.

They call me back in.
‘Praise God’ they say.
‘Right on’ thinks much Blessed Bob.
‘No more stories Bob’ said the getting mad religious folk.
‘We know that this Jesus is a sinner, tell us what really happened’

Insightful Bob saw it all.
These religious folk were blinder than Bob born blind had ever been.
They couldn’t see a good thing staring them in the face.
Bob decides it’s time to play the game.

‘I don’t know if he is or isn’t a sinner, good sirs,
All I know is that I was ‘Blind Bob’ and now I’m just ‘Bob’.

Some of them start getting really mad.
Playful Bob starts to chuckle in his heart.

‘Bu-Bu-But what did he do-do-do,
Hu-Hu how did he oh-oh-open your eye-eye-eyes?”
Splutters one of them important folk.

‘I get it’ says Bob, “You guys want to be his disciples as well, don’t you?

“No, No, No, No, No, No,
You’re the disciple,
We don’t even know where this man’s coming from?”

Bob looks at them posturing, pontificating, puffed up, pathetic, peacocks.

“Now here’s a strange thing.
A man going round,
Doing stuff that has never been done since the foundation of the world,
And you, the religious folk, who know all about God,
Don’t know where He’s coming from?
Bob finds that rather strange!”

“You, you, you.. sinner,
Conceived in iniquity, scum of the earth,
How dare you lecture us, Get out of here..”

Further down the road,
Bemused Bob meets Jesus again.
‘Threw you out did they?’
‘Yep’ smiled Relieved Bob.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” asks Jesus.
“Point Him out to me, and I will” says Hopeful Bob.
“Don’t you recognize my voice?” says the Good Shepherd.
‘Master’ said Believing Bob.

‘I’m here’ said Jesus, ‘To make things clear;
Some of those who have never seen,
Are going to see it all,
Some of those who pretend to have great insight,
Are going to be seen for what they really are.’

Some Pharisees heard
With their ears.
Just like some who will never see Bob’s point,
They said to themselves,
“You’re not calling us blind are you?”

Bob mused on these on these things.
“If you’re born physically blind,
You learn to see things differently,
How sad to have all your faculties functioning fine,
And never see a thing.”

The End.

Thanks for listening. I hope you gained some insight from Bob's tale. As Bob said,” It would be sad to have all your faculties functioning fine, but never see a thing.” Amen!

To God's name be the glory!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lent 3 My Reality Check Just Bounced

Lent 3
Readings: Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-26
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 19 2017

Certain passages of Scripture invite us to take a look at our lives and question our motives, our prejudices, our actions, our decisions and a whole lot more. Such passages may make us feel like the comedian who said; “I just took a reality check. It bounced.”

Last week we were bounced by Nicodemus and were told to be born again and give our hearts to Jesus. This week we have been taken into the desert by Moses and revealed to be people of little faith who grumble and complain against God at the slightest change in our fortunes. Now Jesus takes us to encounter a person convention said He should have nothing to do with.

Please don’t underestimate how scandalous this passage must have appeared to it’s first century readers. Rabbinical teachers like Jesus were not meant to hang around wells with unaccompanied women, let alone beg drinks from them and engage in conversation.

Samaritans and Jews were separated by intense prejudices of both culture and religion. They hated each other. They spoke of each other as feared and despised enemies with whom the least contact would result in them being contaminated and having to seek some form of ritual cleansing.

In Luke's gospel we are given a parable about a ‘Good Samaritan’, a phrase which to Jewish ears must have sounded like an oxymoron. Johns gospel takes this scandalous encounter even further by opening up the Good News not just to one solitary Samaritan woman but to the whole Samaritan community.

Underlying this situation is a statement about the difference between false religion and true religion. Samaritans and Jews were divided about both the right way and the right geographical place to worship God. They had both received a great heritage, they could both lay claim to the intervention of God in their past and they were both a people who could point to evidence of God’s blessing.

Jesus cuts through all of that with a simple statement. 'True worshipers worship God in spirit and truth'. Religion was a matter of the heart, not outward convention. It was a real connection with God that truly affected the way decisions are made and life is lived. It is a matter, as he told Nicodemus, of re-birthing your life in the values and priorities of the Kingdom.

Real worship takes place when we bring our true selves to God. That was a discovery that the Samaritan woman made in her encounter with Jesus at the well. There were things about her life that she tried to hide. She tells Jesus that she hasn’t got a husband. That wasn’t the whole truth. The reality was that she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was wasn’t her husband.

Of greater consequence is simply that, as a woman, in her culture at that time, she was a person with little significance. A woman's worth was measured by her relationship to a man. A woman with no husband or male to relate to couldn’t survive. That’s why in the New Testament letters there are many injunctions for the early church to care for the single women and the widows... to grant to them an independent status and value that the world denied.

Which is exactly what Jesus does for this woman by the well. Her value in God’s eyes is not her relationship to any male, not her gender, nor her ethnic identity, but her ability to be a worshiper in spirit and truth. If you read further in the chapter you see the disciples returning from their downtown shopping trip and being totally astonished that Jesus was granting such rights to a woman.

The intent of this passage goes deeper than just gender prejudice, it is a no holds barred attack on all forms of prejudice, a caution to never prejudge any person or situation on the grounds of rumor or reputation.

Sadly it’s something we all do. Like the people Moses led through the desert, we thank God when all is rosy but complain when our immediate needs aren’t met. Our physical thirst is often a stronger driving force than our spiritual one. To often judgments are made on the basis of outward appearance.

I remember being in school and hating Richard Perry. Richard Perry was born with more muscles than I could ever develop. Richard Perry’s hair was a different color to mine and was always immaculately dressed. Even though we had school uniforms, his made him look good, mine just made me look awkward. Richard Perry was good at sports, good at maths, good at science, good at everything. He never studied for a test but always passed. He never got picked on by the bullies.

Girls loved Richard Perry. He was a babe magnet. Teachers loved Richard Perry. Parents loved Richard Perry. He was rich, he was handsome. In fact everybody loved Richard Perry. Everybody except me. Because secretly... I wanted to be Richard Perry!

How stupid we can be to measure ourselves by other people. The beautiful thing about each of us is that we are all different. We all have unique gifts and talents that we should treasure rather than envying others. For some people, if only they could let go of their desire to be somebody that they’re not and start making the most of who they are, then their lives would be so much happier.

Jesus treats the Samaritan woman as a full human being. He doesn’t talk down to her. He doesn’t treat her as any less of a full person because her circumstances weren’t ideal. He doesn’t treat her differently because she was of a different religion and a different race.

He treats her as a unique and worthy recipient of the grace of God, as He does each of us. If we can but recognize ourselves accepted and loved by God how much freer we are to be individuals that don’t have to live up to anybodies expectations except that of being the person God wants us to be.

The dilemma isn’t just self acceptance. We’ve already seen the hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans. The problem is the human preoccupation with creating fences and protecting boundaries, our limitless capacity to divide people into 'In-Crowds' and 'Out-Crowds' ; 'The Chosen people' and the 'Rejected people'.

The New International Bible Commentary points out:- “Throughout human history, people and nations have defined themselves over against other groups. The history of race relations in the United States, the notion of racial purity that was at the ideological heart of Hitler’s Germany, the ethnic wars that wax and wane across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe all have their roots in the same fears that divided Jews from Samaritans: the fear of contamination, the fear of sharing one’s gift and privileged call with others.

This passage calls us to turn the heat on our own heart, to dig deep and root out any prejudices that may be there. If we have a prejudice then let it be a passionate prejudice AGAINST all forms of prejudice. If we find our self being judgmental then pass judgment AGAINST being judgmental. If we have a bias then let it be a bias AGAINST showing a bias. If we have a preference than let it be a preference AGAINST showing a preference.

This is not rocket science. Treat others as we would like them treat us. Accept others as we would like to be accepted by them. Take down fences, not build stronger ones. Welcome strangers, for as Scripture says, by doing so some have entertained angels.

Jesus meets a supposed enemy, and accepts her. We are called to respect all people, not because they share our values, or our ethnic group, or speak our language, or belong to the same social class, not because they are ‘our sort of people’ or ‘people with the right connections’.... we are called to respect all peoples because every person is a women, man or child that Jesus Christ hung on a cross and died for as He prayed “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing”.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, Jesus meets a person whom the society of the day regarded as unimportant and insignificant. He engages her in conversation, He refuses to judge her, He welcomes her presence, He lets her know how deeply loved she was by God. He grants to her life a significance her world denied. This passage functions on so many different levels.
  • It invites us to know ourselves loved of God and so love others.
  • It encourages us to take a reality check on our own life, and if it bounces, make the right adjustments.
  • It beckons us to come before God in spirit and truth and seek for His love to be born from above in each of our hearts. To God be all glory! Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2 Are you Saved?

Readings: Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-17, John 3:1-17.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, on March 12 2017

I am not a great fan of the sort of Christianity that turns religion into an isolated decision to follow Jesus Christ. I'm not the sort of preacher who punctuates every sermon with invitations for "Y'all to come down to the front and get saved". I consciously try not to manipulate peoples guilt or emotions so as they make a misguided decision to be a disciple of Jesus.
I well remember the lady who told me that she had been saved by Billy Graham five times and she couldn't wait for him to come and preach again so she could go down and be saved once more. I believe that discipleship isn’t that easy or that shallow.

My personal reservations aside, (and being a white, middle class British male I probably have more personal reservations than many of you,) certain texts of Scripture call us to ask the most direct, searching and personal questions about our faith and our salvation. John Chapter Three is one of those passages.

In this passage Jesus tells us that unless we are born again we shall not see the Kingdom of God. That unless we are born of water and Spirit we shall not enter the Kingdom of God. Spiritual birth is related to both seeing and entering into the things of God. We are given some of the most well known verses of Scripture in John 3, verses16 and 17; "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”

These passages compel us to ask the question, "Are we saved?” Do we know the experience of being born again, or as it can also be translated being born "from above"? Have we considered the alternatives that Jesus offers? We are asked to make a choice between eternity or perishing, salvation or judgment, light or darkness, earthly things or heavenly things, to believe or not to believe in the saving work, the name and the person and the witness of Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere we are told that it is by faith that we are saved, and by implication, that where there is no faith in Jesus Christ there is no salvation. Our Old Testament passage gave us the account of Abraham's calling and setting out on his journey of faith.

Abraham’s experience was one of new birth. At birth we are born into a family, a nation and a certain heritage. Abraham is called, by the Spirit of God, to leave behind his family ties, his ties of nationality and his heritage. Those things that were naturally his by birth. He is called by faith to abandon and spiritually lay claim to a new family, a new country, a new life, a new hope, a new vision of who he was, how he related to God and all that was in the world around him.

Through the waters of birth he was born into an earthly heritage. Through the Spirit of God he is born again, born from above, to a different way of being. Just as Jesus called Nicodemus to embrace a new way of life, a way not envisioned by the natural inclinations of man but by the vision of God, so Abraham was called. We also are called to be born again, to embark on a new journey, to leave the old behind and be part of something new.

For Nicodemus it was not going to be easy. He had intellectual difficulties to work through. He had pictures in his mind of what birth was about and what religion was about and how a person should serve God and who Jesus was and what life was all about. He had thought deeply about these things. He was a man with an education, a teacher of Israel, a judge, a ruler among his people. He had his social position and political position to consider. He had economic and religious commitments to take into account.

Then again it wasn't easy for Abraham. He also was a man tied to his tradition and his position. He had commitments to things that made it hard to say "Yes" to God. How could God bless him as being the Father of a new nation when he had no child and his wife was barren? How could he leave behind his established way and venture into the unknown for places he knew not where? You’re born, you make a life for your self, you have responsibilities, you’re settled, things are good... who wants to be born again and have to face all that over again?

Abraham’s journey turned out to be, not one isolated decision, but a continuous coming to terms with all that God was calling him to be. Wrestling with tough decisions, being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, conflicts with family and neighbors, mistakes and misunderstandings, all this and so much more.

About Nicodemus we know less, but at the end of John's gospel he is one of those who, along with Joseph of Arimathea, comes to prepare the broken body of Jesus for burial; bringing spices and myrrh and laying His body in the tomb. Nicodemus, in time, came to believe enough in Jesus, to sacrifice all that he was, in order that his life may bring honor to that of Christ's.

So what of ourselves? Are we on that journey? The born from above, re-birthed journey? The salvation journey? Every journey has to have a point of departure. Earthly life begins as we depart from the waters of the womb and start to breathe the air and relate to the world around us. Until that point we are an embryo, a human in the making, an unborn child.

Likewise spiritual life has to have a point of departure. For Abraham it was a movement out from all that he held dear, to embrace a vision that he couldn’t precisely define. For Nicodemus it was having to choose between all that his life had so far taught him and to embrace the teaching of Jesus Christ.

That process of moving from a position of unbelief to a position of faith is what Jesus describes as being born from above or being born again. It is seen as a different kind of birthing to human birth, because it is a response to the work of God’s Spirit upon a persons life. It is a super-natural thing, dependent upon the initiative of God.

In Matthew’s gospel (16:17) when Peter came to make his confession of Jesus as being the Son of God, Jesus praises him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”. Simon Peter is praised for showing evidence of spiritual rebirth by testifying to those things God was revealing in his heart.

Spiritual rebirth takes place as we draw near to Jesus. It takes place as we hear His words and act upon them. It takes place as we pray and open our hearts to God’s influence. It means asking Jesus to be at our center, not as a one off and once for all decision, (although that may well be our point of departure,) but constantly seeking for His love to be at the heart of all things in our lives.

From my standpoint, which admittedly is extremely biased for I am after all a Presbyterian minister, I can only see what you have to gain by committing your life to Jesus Christ. It is a marvelous thing to have the assurance that your sins are forgiven. It is such freedom to not have to live with the guilt of past mistakes and daily lapses into sinfulness, because Christ died for our sins.

It is a liberating thing to know that my life and my death are in God’s hands. Whilst I don’t always understand and often become frustrated with God for the injustices, the personal failures, the annoying things, the things I don’t understand, it is like a rock below the surface to know that despite my questions there is a God who knows all, sees all and loves us despite it all.

At times I do become pessimistic, when I think of the state of the world, and all the stuff that’s wrong with it, but at other times I get excited at the prospect of the world as it shall be and what Scripture calls the hope of Glory. I don’t have all the answers and a lot of the time don’t even ask the right questions, but God let’s me in on all that I need to know, so even my ignorance is something God is working on.

I’ve heard people say sometimes, “Well, I would be a Christian but I can’t take all that giving up stuff... all those do’s and don’ts are just so repressive.” Personally I don’t have a problem with giving up death, which is where my life would be heading without Christ. I don’t have a problem with giving up on doing stuff that is ultimately life cheapening or addictive or sometimes just plain stupid.

May God forgive us for at times portraying God as somehow being the invisible policeman, the great Mr Kill-Joy in the sky. The prohibitions that Scripture presents us aren’t for any kind of sadistic divine pleasure, they are there because we are fallible, unpredictable and certainly misguided creatures, with a tendency to make bad choices and wrong decisions. Christ came that we may have life.... so we can really live.

I can guarantee you that as you draw near to God, God won’t force you into giving up or taking up anything that’s against your will. God's Spirit will work on you and change you. Things you once thought really mattered will become of minor importance. Relationships will form with the most unlikely of people and situations. Life won’t be the same... but who wants more and more and more and more of the same?

I said at the start that I am not a "Y'all to come down to the front and get saved" sort of
preacher. At least not usually. But a text like John 3:16 invites a response.
Because it could be you are one of those who has never consciously made the decision to be a disciple of Christ. You know others have, but you have never really invited the Spirit of God to be the driving force of your life. Don’t fool yourself.

Till you take that step of commitment you are in the womb of the world but have not yet started to enjoy the life of the Kingdom. You will neither see the point nor feel the need to do things God’s way, but mistakenly believe that you know best.

Maybe you presume your sins are forgiven, but are not really sure. You hope your headed for somewhere good when you die, but you’re not convinced. Could be you blame God for as many things as you thank God for. All this might be an indication that you have never really opened your heart, never really asked Jesus to come in, never seriously considered His call to follow.

It doesn’t have to be that way. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Maybe you have taken that initial step, but have become bogged down, like the good seed that fell among the weeds. There was a time when it all seemed so clear, but now... well time has extracted a heavy toll. Today would be a good time for renewing your commitment. Why not join me in this commitment prayer.

“Lord Jesus Christ
I ask you to come afresh into my heart this day
Forgive me and renew me
That I may know Your salvation,
To the Glory of God. AMEN!”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 1 Temptation

Every time we say the Lord's prayer we use the phrase “Lead us not into temptation.” In our reading from Matthew this morning, being led into temptation is exactly what happens to Jesus. Following His baptism by John in the River Jordan, Jesus is found in the desert traveling through a 40 day period of prayer and fasting. It is during this intense preparation for the ministry, that the Devil is pictured coming to Him with three distinct propositions, the refutation of which would shape the ministry He would offer to the world.

In Matthews gospel the temptations appear to escalate in their attractiveness, beginning with satisfying personal hunger and culminating in world domination. Words of Scripture play an important part in each, indicating that words are precious, especially God's words. Words are easily twisted and taken out of context.

What did these temptations mean for Jesus? How can they challenge us, both as a church community and as individuals? Let's think about that as we come to a table laid with bread and wine.

The tempter came to Him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'

Jesus appears to be secure in the knowledge of who He was. The tempter twice uses the phrase “If you are the Son of God” in a way that suggests... “Hey Jesus, You know who you are.. but do You really think anybody else is going to believe it? You are going to have to do some spectacular things if anybody is ever going to swallow that one!”

From the outset Jesus makes it clear that He had come to lift up the poor, heal the sick and feed the hungry. On a number of occasions, such as the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 He shows that He wasn't beyond using unusual methods to meet peoples immediate need.

But turn stones into bread? That wasn't going to happen. Jesus places Himself among the ordinary people of God. For Jesus, being the Son of God meant accepting His humanity and depending, like the rest of us, on God for daily bread. He quotes the scripture “Man shall not live on bread alone...” indicating that His mission was going to be about more than satisfying peoples physical needs.

For a church community the plight of the needy is always before us. We are doing a good and great thing whenever we seek to meet peoples physical needs. But we need to balance that, by also proclaiming that there is a Savior whose name is Jesus Christ and He alone can satisfy the deepest needs, not just of stomachs, but of souls. Throughout church history there has always been a tension between what has been called the “Social gospel” and the “Spiritual gospel”. But it should not be an either/or choice. If we are to be the body of Christ we will seek to embody both.

On the table, is physical bread and wine. We are reminded that we need to meet the needs of our bodies. Yet we know those elements are pointing us to a deeper truth. And it is here that it becomes personal.

We live in a society that is blessed beyond measure in terms of physical provision. Many of us have never experienced real physical life threatening hunger. Yet we can be so desperately empty in our inner life and seek for a myriad of solutions to meet such emptiness. 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' To reallylive” the abundant, fruitful life that God invites us to we need the Word of God.

We need to worship. We need to pray. We need to be in community with other believers. And we need to understand the temptation to deny that need is a Devilish suggestion that Jesus rebuked.

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' " Jesus answered Him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

After his first failure to lure Jesus into misusing His status, the devil tries again, taking Him to Jerusalem, to the very highest point of the temple. This time the devil challenges Jesus to prove His identity by throwing Himself down and letting the angels rescue Him. If you’re so dependent on God, he seems to say, why don’t you take it a step further? You trust God to feed you. Do you trust God to protect you from harm?

Again Jesus appears to have no lack of confidence in either His own identity or His Father's ability to take care of Him. He is not called to display, with or without angelic help, super-human flying abilities. Such would not only be a denial of His humanity, but more significantly, it would be an abuse of the power and authority invested in Him.

Notice about these temptations that although they present themselves in the wilderness, they come back to challenge Him again and again. Peter would try and talk Him out of going to the Cross and Jesus would tell him, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus pleads with His Father, “Surely there has to be some other way than this cup of suffering...” In the end He resists taking another way and declares “Yet not my will, but thine be done.” And that's why there is a cup, representing the blood of Christ and the New Covenant brought about through His death on this table. His power and authority were harnessed to service and doing God's will

Sadly, over the centuries, the church has often stepped over the line when it has come to authority. There is a reason why, in this land, you expect a separation of church and state. Religion has power. A famous quote attributed to Lord John Acton. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Whenever a church community starts to perceive themselves as gatekeepers and power-brokers rather than disciples and servants it seems trouble is not far behind. 
On a personal level maybe, for us, it comes around to this. We are all people of influence and power. This is Howard County! Happening people, decision makers, and change-bringers are our neighbors. We have a voice that others will listen to. We have a say. We have a vote. We have wealth that allows us to make choices about everything from where our children are educated to where we spend our leisure time. We are a privileged people.

And with great privilege comes great responsibility. We can abuse that power. Power can create false feelings of superiority and pride. We can feel that somehow our opinions matter more than others because we are at the top of the food pile. We can see the needs of the world around us and rather than seek to do something about them, complain to God, “Am I my brother's keeper?” We can presume that because we are already blessed, God will, naturally, continue to bless us. 
What was it Jesus said? "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' Jesus was given a place of authority and influence in order that He may serve. He became the Servant King who washed His disciples feet and told them, “As I have done for you, so do unto others.”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

The final temptation of Jesus points to the subtle attraction of doing the right thing using the wrong means. The devil was saying to Jesus, “Hey, c'mon, we don't have to be enemies. Achieve your objectives by facing reality. The reality is this world operates by my rules. You give in a little, and I'll give you the whole thing. Let's cooperate. Why make it hard on yourself?” But Jesus says “No deal. No way. ” "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

What's going on? The devil is saying to Jesus, “You can accomplish your goals, you can win the world, you can fulfill God's purposes, but do it my way. Do you have to be so honest and candid all the time? If you are going to get along in this world, you need to compromise now and then. If you are in business, you have to cut corners sometimes to make a go of it. After all, that is the way most of the world does business. If you decide to be a person of integrity one hundred percent, you may lose the shirt off your back.”

The challenge for the church is as to whether it will do its work in the spirit of Christ and in response to the demands of the kingdom of God, or will it operate by the policies and practices of this world? Is any style or method of being the church acceptable as long as it attracts a greater following? Do the ends justify the means?

How we treat each other, how we treat those who use our facilities, how we treat our employees and how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves speaks far more than the words can say about where our true priorities lie. Are we God-serving or self-serving?

The price that Jesus would pay for His unwavering obedience to God was incredibly high. It would cost Him His life. Why was he prepared to take such a risk? The answer is laid before you, in these elements of bread and wine. There was no question in the mind of Jesus. He would remain steadfast in His absolute obedience and surrender to the will of God. 

The Devil challenges the very first commandment. “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul” by adding a little get out clause that says... “Well, at least most of the time.” That's the temptation right there. See how far you can push it. Acknowledge that if you want to get on in this world you are prepared to play the game. You can have it all if you want it. "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

Then we read “The devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.” We should pray not to be led into temptation because temptation is quite capable of finding us without needing our help! And the temptations Jesus faced, and which the church in every age faces, are not dissimilar to those we face every day.
  • We are tempted to live by bread alone and dismiss our need for the things of God, for worship and fellowship and prayer. But we cannot live by bread alone. When we try, we forget who we are and lose sight of our status as daughters and sons of the most High God.
  • We are tempted to misuse the privilege, power and authority God has placed in our hands, by using it to serve only ourselves, rather than harness it to task of building God's Kingdom. We are presumptuous of God's grace and blessing and act as such are a right, rather than true privilege.
  • In the light of the ways of this world we easily compromise on our faith and fail to live with integrity.
Take courage. We will be tempted. We will fall. But here on this table are symbols that remind us that every day is a new day. Here are symbols of forgiveness and comfort and help. Here we are reminded that we are not alone. We are not the first to fail. Christ died for our sins that we may start over again. Set free. Made new. Clean. Fresh. Righteous. Not through anything we have done, but through His death upon the Cross for us.

Come to this table and nurture your life for temptations that lie ahead. Consider these words from Hebrews 4:15-16 “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

To God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 20, 2017

6. “The Temple of You”

 The Conundrums of Corinth
(And their legacy in the Church)
Readings; Psalm 119:33-40, Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18, Matthew 5:38-48, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 19 2017
I was on a youth retreat in West Virginia, and as sometimes happens, the kids were making comments about my accent being a little different to theirs. They took great amusement at the way I pronounced certain words and would say 'Say it again'. Then one of the guys looked me straight in the eye and asked “What's it like... being you?”

I have to say that I really wasn't sure how to answer. Never been asked that before, never been asked it since! 'What's it like being you?' The strange thing is, sometimes on a Sunday morning when we're here in church, it seems to be the sort of probing question that God would ask us, both as individuals and as a community. 'What's it like being you?'

I'm sure, given time for reflection, we could all come up with some kind of answer. 'Actually' one may say, 'Not to good being me right now, got a lot on my mind'. Another may say 'Couldn't be better, can't complain'. There would be as many different answers as we are different people. Maybe as a church community we'd respond; “Well weare going through some changes right now!”

'That's how you are,' God may reply, 'But do you know what you are?' “Do I know what I am?” 'Yes' says God , “Tell them what they are Paul!” At which point somebody could read for us from 1 Corinthians 3:10, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?” Or as it appears in the Message bible “You realize, don't you, that you are the temple of God, and God Himself is present in you?

And that's what I want to talk about today. The temple of you. Because if we are temples, then there are implications to be faced. Temples need maintaining. Temples have a mission. The temple was the place for meeting with God, a sacred place, set apart and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

1. Temples Need Maintaining

Temples, be they a small pagan temple in Corinth, the grandest of temples in Jerusalem or your local Presbyterian Churches have one thing in common. They always need taking care of. I know I could invite any of our deacons or our treasurer to come up this morning and tell you what a time consuming and expensive job that can be. You have to care for a building.

This text reminds us that we also have to care for ourselves. 'You realize, don't you. That you are a temple...' Historically Christianity has often created a divide between spirit and body, as though somehow the body was profane, and only our spiritual needs were sacred.
We are beginning to re-learn that body, soul and spirit are intimately related. That not all our diseases can be treated by administering a tablet. That prevention is better than a cure, that a healthy diet and physical life results in health benefits all round.

As I was doing some reading for this sermon I came across this, which though it is written primarily for an African-American context, I'm sure you'll see applies to other contexts.

“For African-American youth, re-imagining themselves as 'sacred' would mean praying for God's wisdom to avoid the kinds of risky behaviors which leave the temple vulnerable to all manners of sickness, disease, violence and other forms of physical harm; such as (but not limited to) unprotected sexual activity, illegal drug and alcohol abuse and gun-play. Also adults need to see our youth as 'sacred bodies' and not as 'Gangstas', thugs, lost causes, future prison inmates and absentee baby-daddies. If we begin to see them as young princes and princesses, future presidents, engineers, teachers, parents, preachers and more, then they will more likely see themselves and treat themselves in the same way”

One can apply such an illustration to almost any group of people. To recognize our bodies as scared means cherishing them. It means not being taken in by the lies the media tells us that certain body types and age groups are so much more significant then others. It means recognizing that God has made you 'you', and being thankful for that unique physical creation that you are!

If God says we are temples then we need to ask ourselves, how well are we doing in the area of personal buildings and grounds! Not so we can compare ourselves with others, or compete with people different from us, but so that we can have the physical well-being God desires for our lives. Temples need maintaining.

2. Temples have a mission.

When He was 12 years old Jesus took a trip with His family to Jerusalem and we find Him in the temple debating with the teachers. (Luke 3:41-50). The temple was a place of learning. The body may well be a temple but the person who lives inside it needs more than just the physical. God gives us a body and a mind.

Presbyterians have always been strong promoters of education. There are 65 colleges and universities nationwide related to the PC(USA), 10 seminaries and 2 further seminaries in a covenant relationship. For a denomination of our size, that's a lot! And the majority have a reputation for holding to high academic standards.

There remains an emphasis within our theology that all truth is God's truth. That the sciences and the arts are just as important as the theology and philosophy one traditionally associates with religious institutions. We believe that one of our callings in life is to grow in knowledge and wisdom. We are not happy with simplistic answers, easy solutions or simply offering the comment “Well, I think it says in the bible.”

We believe God has given us a mind and expects us to exercise it. That's why in many of our churches we host nursery schools or after school programs. That's why we have adult classes and bible studies. We recognize that we all have a lot to learn!

It also means we often hold to different positions on a whole variety of issues. This led to somebody quipping; “What do you get if you put two Presbyterians in a room together?” Answer? 'A disagreement!' Our Presbytery meetings can become quite volatile when opinions are strongly and deeply held.

Yet, for much of our history we have agreed that although we differ, we can still travel together. That the truth is so much greater than any of us can ever fully discern, and that sometimes we are the ones that need to listen, rather than those who have the answers. Sadly, there are times when peoples differences cause them to separate, but often when historically those situations are viewed retrospectively, we wonder why they were such a big deal!

Where I'm going with this is to say 'Keep asking Questions'. Keep your mind in gear. Never be afraid to think outside of the box or look beyond the confines of ones own comfort zone. Having said that I would also encourage you to make that journey of inquiry in tandem with God, and make the best use of the insights Scripture can offer. Bear in mind of course that in order to know what they are... you are going to have study the scriptures!

I like the way the Message Bible transliterates verses 18 and 19. “Don't fool yourself. Don't think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God's fool—that's the path to true wisdom.Temples have an educative component to their mission.

3. The Temple was THE place for meeting with God.

a. The temple was the dwelling place of God. The Jews believed that God dwelt in the temple, took possession of it and resided in it.Don't you know” asks Paul in verse 16 of our reading today “That you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?

I remember as a young person being invited to “Ask Jesus into my heart.” A little confusing if you take that image literally! What is actually meant by such a phrase is that we invite the Holy Spirit to be a central force in our lives, invite the power of resurrection to invade our time constrained existence, invite God to make a kingdom perspective the lens through which we view everything else around our lives.

Notice as well that this verse is both individual and corporate. “God's Spirit dwells in your midst”. Our lives individually and the life we share together as a church community are an arena for the activity of the living God. In Matthew 18:20 teaches His disciples “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.". The temple is a dwelling place of God.

b. The temple was set apart from common use for a holy purpose. Our call as Christians is not to be the same as everyone else and go along with the crowd. Jesus invites us to be in the world, but not of the world. (John 17:14) We are set apart for God's service, to live for God's glory and bring glory to God's name. How that works in our life and within our experience is something we work at with God!

c. The temple was a sacred place. This brings us around full circle to where we began talking about looking after our bodies and nurturing our minds. Just as the temple was sacred to God, so our lives are sacred to God. Sacred enough to send His son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for us. Sacred enough to be a place in which God wants to accomplish the work of the Kingdom, within and through and all around us.

Returning to the question I was asked at a youth camp. 'What's it like being you?' Let's rephrase it and ask ourselves “How are we doing at being a temple?”

Being a temple requires a number of things. It takes maintenance. We need take care of ourselves physically. Exercise, diet, health, these are important. Being a temple means we have a mission and a mind to discern what that mission is. Being a temple means that our lives are a meeting place with God. We welcome the Spirit's presence and activity. We recognize that the call to be a disciple is a high call and a great privilege. We see our life in it's totality, body, soul and spirit as a sacred trust.

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?

May God help us to live into our calling!
And to God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 13, 2017

5. Solid Food

The Conundrums of Corinth
(And their legacy in the Church)
Readings; Psalm 119:1-8, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Matthew 5:21-37, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 12 2017

I'm sure as you were growing up your parents said it to you when you were in the midst of a squabble, and I'm sure if you are a parent you have at some point had to say it to your children. The phrase “Why don't you just grow up!”

Such is the tone of our reading today in which Paul tells the church in Corinth to stop their quarreling and grow up. As the first verse reads in the Message Bible: “Right now, friends, I'm completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You're acting like infants...” He says of the teaching that he has given them; “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

He chastises them for the infantile way they have lined themselves up to support a particular preacher. 'One says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos,” (1Co 3:4) Didn't they realize that Paul and Apollos were on the same team, about the same task and served the same Lord Jesus Christ? “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (1Co 3:6 )

His concern is that of a father in the faith to them. He calls them friends and sisters and brothers. He's not bullying them or disparaging them. Rather his love for them compels him to speak out.

Most concerning of all is that he discerns that they are not acting in a way consistent with spiritual growth. They are behaving according to the spirit of the world rather than the Holy Spirit of God. By their jealousy, by their partisanship, by their quarreling, they were betraying the trust placed in them as recipients of the great and good news of the gospel.

This gospel was a message that had been sown in their hearts through his work, and through the work of Apollos. Both had been reliant on God's grace. They needed to move forward, not be stuck in the midst of senseless quarrels and disputes that prevented them from receiving sound teaching. They needed solid food.

Reading between the lines in this passage we can see how Paul, whilst chastising them for being milk drinkers, is also offering them solid food, by teaching them what spiritual ministry looked like, using himself as an example. As we move forward as a faith community, we do well to take note of Paul's teaching about the nature of Holy Spirit motivated ministry.

1. Spiritual Ministry is Servant Shaped.

Verse 5a “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-- “ Paul uses the Greek term 'diakonos' to describe both his own ministry and the ministry of Apollos. It is from 'diakonos' that we derive our term 'Deacon'. The traditional role of the deacon is one of service and the offering of care and support. From Paul’s perspective we are called to be 'deacons' ...'servants'... to one another.

If you have ever watched Downton Abbey then you will have observed what it was like to be part of the staff of a large country estate. When the Earl of Grantham or any of his family tells them to 'Do something', they do it. They don't argue. They don't complain that it's not their task or that it's not convenient right now. They don't say, “Sorry I have other plans this weekend.”

If Mr. Carson, the chief butler, suspects any quarreling or dissension in the ranks downstairs, then he nips it in the bud. They either shape up and get on with doing what they are meant to be doing or they are out of a job.

Being a Christian is not a job, it is an assignment. It is a spiritual task. Essential to the nature of the task is the attitude that we are not part of a church community to simply get out of it what we can, but that we are called to give what we can, sometimes sacrificially. Our pattern is that of Jesus Himself, who gave His life for us on the Cross, in order that we may be freed to serve others. We serve because that is the right response to make to Jesus who died for us. We love because He first loved us. Continuing with verse 5...

2. Spiritual Ministry is Task Orientated

“… the Lord has assigned to each his task.” (1Co 3:5b). Or as the Message Bible has it, Paul describes the servant ministry of himself and Apollos by saying “We each carried out our servant assignment.

Congregations are made up of people with different gifts and talents and abilities. Stewardship is determining how we are going to use our particular gifts and influence to enhance the spiritual community God has invited us to be a part of. We sometimes speak of stewardship as being about money. But what's the point of having a bank balance that balances if nobodies actually moving from being babies in the faith to mature believers?

Staying with the Downton Abbey imagery, everybody has an assignment. Be they in the kitchen or a personal maid or a butler or a gardener... everybody has a job to do. If any one of them fails to function effectively then the whole thing becomes out of balance and you find jealousy and quarrels erupting, precisely the ailments that were so troubling Paul about the church in Corinth.

It can be hard to find exactly where you fit in. Sometimes we can feel like a square pin in a round hole. Sometimes we become frustrated because we can see what needs to be done but we are not asked our opinion. Sometimes we observe that people occupy positions that are beyond their capabilities, but there's no way they are letting go of those positions because they have too much of themselves invested in that task or that position.

Do you know why that is? It's because God doesn't call us to be a business or an enterprise or a corporation or a company. God doesn't call us to be the staff of a country house. God calls us to be a family. “And there ain't no dynamics quite as curious as family dynamics.” There's our working relationships, there's the relationships we have with our friends and then there's the relationships we have with our families. There are times when it seems that we can get along with everybody, except those we were actually born to get along with.

Family relationships take all the grace, patience, understanding and tolerance that we are given... and then some. Loving people we don't know is a piece of a cake. Loving those God calls to be our spiritual family and with whom we share a space we describe as our spiritual home, that's another story.

Such is the reality we deal with and can only travel through with prayer, with lots of deep breathing and by focusing on each others needs more than our own. Yet, please be assured, there is room for us all at the table. There will come those moments when it makes sense and falls into place. It takes time. Things that matter always do. Solid food has to be chewed. You can chug a bottle of milk, but if you eat a steak dinner to rapidly is that you risk the chance of choking and get indigestion.

We are invited to center on the things that need doing and bring to them what we can. Spiritual ministry is always task orientated.

3. Spiritual Ministry is God Focused

I Corinthians 3: 7 in the Message Bible reads;It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.”

Growth requires the planting and the nurturing. There have to be people in place to faithfully accomplish the assignments God has given them. But at the end of the day, we cannot predict the outcome. It is 'God, who makes things grow'.

Spiritual ministry is servant-shaped, task orientated and focused on what God can do. We build upon the heritage that those who have gone before us and we recognize that we are not alone in the task. We have each other and we have God to lead us and guide us. If it were entirely up to us, I don't think we'd have a hope.

Thankfully God promises to be with us and encourages us to go beyond spiritual infancy, to go beyond being in a place where we are nourished on milk alone and move to a place of being fed with solid food, the meat of God's Word, the knowledge of God's ways that allows us to take risks and make mature judgments.

At the commencement of our reading Paul appears frustrated by the Corinthian Church. “For goodness sake, grow up!” As we dig deeper into the passage we realize he is expressing parental concern and offering solid guidance as to what it takes to be a Holy Spirit centered congregation.

That it takes the willingness to be servants of each other, in genuine and realistic ways. He uses the term 'deacon' to describe that servant relationship he had with them and prayed they would have the desire to be 'deacons' for each other.

He reminds them that being a family could be hard. People had to find their place and do what needed to be done Spiritual maturity required time and effort and focus upon the tasks at hand.

He also, in his own unique way, reminds them at the end of all things, it wasn't about what they could do or be, but rather about allowing God's love to grow within them and minister to others through them.

Though this passage in Corinthians Paul invites us to grow in faith, in love and in hope; to grow up into Christ, into being people shaped less by the attitudes and shallow perceptions of our every day world and be transformed by the values of His Kingdom, where everybody matters and the little things we do count for a lot... and where the bottom line is always love.

Keeping in mind the Downton Abbey imagery I shared earlier, I leave you with Paul's words, as transliterated in the Message Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:7-9;

It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes it all worth doing is the God we are serving.

And to God's name be the glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 6, 2017

4. The Deep

The Conundrums of Corinth
(And their legacy in the Church)
Readings; Psalm 112:1-9, Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 5 2017

One of the biggest movie hits of the late 1970's was about a killer shark called 'Jaws'. In an effort to capitalize on it's success numerous follow ups were made including a lavish production in 1977 called 'The Deep'. The Deep was about a young couple who discovered a World War II wreck, called Goliath, that not only has a valuable cargo, but lays over a Spanish galleon with an even more valuable cargo upon it.

Not surprisingly other people, of dubious character, find out and are out to get their hands on the available wealth, and what with the presence of mutated sea creatures, the action becomes deadly. The posters advertising the movie contained the phrase “Is anything worth the terror of the Deep?”

In our bible reading today we heard Paul speaking of ' “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love Him... The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God ' (1 Corinthians 2:9)

There is however no terror involved in the deep things of God. On the contrary, the deep wisdom of God is pictured as a treasure to be highly desired, and available to all those whose lives are being recreated by the action of God's Holy Spirit.

The only terror expressed in our passage comes through Paul himself, who explains to the Corinthians “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling”

We sometimes picture Paul as a fearless, bold, extrovert of a guy; on a mission from God and afraid of nothing. Yet here he pictures himself as a stumbling and not-very-gifted speaker. As Christians, one of our duties before God is to share our faith with others. But often, even the thought of speaking about we believe, paralyzes us. We feel insecure, we feel inadequate. We are worried about doing more harm than good.

Maybe then we can take comfort from the fact that even Paul felt ill-equipped for the task God had laid upon him. He claims to have no power, other than that which the Spirit of God blessed him with, to present the gospel message. “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God” (1 Cor 2:1)

In the last chapter he spoke about the 'foolishness' of the gospel and how it's power didn't lie in words or dazzling philosophical insight, but was something that people would witness as they observed the church in Corinth practicing love and hospitality towards each other, crossing boundaries of culture and tradition, breaking down centuries old practices of exclusion and privilege and seeking to be One in Christ. That went against the spirit of the age. Still does.

He rejoices that the good news of God's love is delivered through cracked and damaged vessels. That's how he felt he was. Later in his letter he writes We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2Co. 4:7)

'Jars of Clay'. We, who are nobody special, just fallible and frail humanity like everybody else, are commissioned by God to be the good news for others. Those whom God calls, God also equips with the blessing and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We are called to do God's work, in God's way and in God's power. That way, glory goes to God and our service becomes an act of worship.

But how do we do that? “Is anything worth the terrors of the Deep?” How do we find the sterngth and courage to go deep?

It is interesting to note that Paul never describes people who put their faith in Jesus as being 'Christians'. In the Book of Acts we do read that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26). But most scholars suggest that the term was used in a derogatory way and not meant as a compliment. Rather like calling them 'Jesus Freaks' or 'little christs.”

Only later in church history did the word become associated not just with individuals but a phrase that carried sociological, cultural, and political, as well as religious meaning. Only later did the word have worldly status and become a positive.

For Paul a disciple of Jesus is a 'spiritual' person. But he makes a distinction between being spiritual, in some vague sense of the word, and a person whose life is being molded and shaped by the action of God's Holy Spirit. In verse 12 he writes “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

Paul found his strength, not in any vague notion of spirituality, but in his Hloy Spirit relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

There were many in the Corinthian community to whom Paul wrote, who could rightly describe themselves as 'spiritual'. Corinth was one of the broadest minded, eclectic cities in the whole Roman Empire. If Corinth had a theme tune it could have been “Anything goes” - and that applied to their religious life as well as their cultural life.

So Paul is quite specific in stating that what he had in mind was not any vague notion of 'spirituality'; “What we have received is not the spirit of the world”, but a spiritual nature formed by a persons relationship with God, through Jesus Christ and in tandem with the work of the Holy Spirit. When Paul speaks of 'Going Deep' he does not visualize the process as some individual quest for meaning, but tells us in verse 10 that 'The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.'

“Is anything worth the terror of the deep?” declared the movie poster. In the movie 'The Deep' in order to plumb the depths and reach the treasure, those who desire the prize have to work at it, to put on their diving suits and search for it. Paul is in no doubt the gospel is worth diving for. In verse 7 he speaks of the gospel as 'A mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began' . At the end of verse 9 he talks of the things “God has prepared for those who love Him”.

His whole emphasis is that there are things about life, about ourselves, about each other, about God, that we have yet to discover. That we cannot afford to stay as we are but need to go deeper and deeper and deeper in our discovery of the love of God.

If there was anything to be feared, it was staying as we are. He cautions us that if we fail to go deeper, we will stagnate, we will fail to appreciate just how greatly God loves us, we will become disconnected from each other and from our church communities and even from God,

Just as a diver has to reach different levels in order to discover what they are looking for, Paul envisages spiritual life as a quest, and a journey of discovery that involves all of our senses.

In verse 9 Paul speaks of the deep things of God being perceived by our sight, “What no eye has seen', by our listening 'what no ear has heard' and by our thinking 'What no human mind has conceived.'

So here is what Paul invites us to.

We are invited to a deeper vision. We know that we see ourselves in certain ways. But we also know that another persons perception of our lives can be entirely different. Paul takes it one step further and tells us that God's perception of our life is something different again.

If only we could envision God's perspective on our relationships, on our problems, on our finances, on our worries, on our temptations, on our struggles as a nation and as individuals, on our hopes and dreams.... well things would look different. Bear in mind that God looks at us as people whom He loved enough to send His Son Jesus Christ to die on a Cross for. That God’s love is so powerful that Christ was raised from the dead. How we need to see that resurrection perspective over and above our narrow visions of what can and can't be!

We are invited to listen. Through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah 28:23 God addressed the people: “Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.” In John 10:27 Jesus, the Good Shepherd, describes His relationship to His people in this way; “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

But how do we hear God? Matthew's gospel suggests we hear God's call when we witness the plight of the hungry and homeless, the naked and the prisoner and decide to take action. That's what separated the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)

We hear God when we approach Scripture in an attitude of prayer and humbly seeking God's guidance. The Holy Spirit is with us to interpret the written words in a way that they become the Word of God to us.

We hear God in worship as we open ourselves up to the music and the hymns and the words and the giving and the fellowship. We hear God when we actively engage in listening!

We are invited to understand 'What no human mind has conceived.' When we have an uncomplicated trust in God we witness unexplainable things happening in and around and through our lives. I can't put that into words. I can't explain it. But I do understand that God's love is so much greater than we dare imagine. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “What no eye has seen,what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” the things God has prepared for those who love Him”.

This passage has taken us a few places this morning.

Firstly, that we have no need to fear that we are not good enough, or clever enough, or ideally suited to share with others the treasure of the gospel. God promises that such is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Secondly, that we are invited to dig deep into our heritage of faith. We are prompted to dive deep and discover hidden treasures within the love of God. Though being aware and involved in the struggles of others, though scripture and prayer, through opening our hearts in worship

Finally, let us recall that for Paul a disciple of Jesus was somebody, not spiritual in any vague sense of the word, but one who was being changed and inspired and renewed by the action of God's Holy Spirit.

Today there's football game. First time I ever attempted to play football was with some of the youth in Fayetteville, WV. I was standing there and one of them shouted “Go Deep, Go Deep” I had no idea what they were talking about. They explained that if went deep, I could catch the ball and maybe get it over the line before somebody pulverized me. “Is anything worth the terror of the deep?”

With the help of the Holy Spirit may we travel deeper and deeper and deeper into an understanding of the love of God as a treasure that changes everything. Here around a table laid with bread and wine is a great place to do that! And to God's name be the glory. Amen.