Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Faith, Hope and Fulfillment (Advent Communion)

Readings: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Hebrews 11:1-3, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Luke 1:39-56
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 4 2016

The Christmas season means different things to different people. For some it is simply a welcome break in the midst of winter. For others, a time of reflection and sometimes sadness as memories of those we have lost easily surface when a family gets together. For many it is a time filled with wonderful sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Christmas Carols, a celebration meal, evergreen trees... presents to be shared.

As Christian people, while we have joys and sorrows that we share with all people, we also have a deeper message and more glorious vision upon which to focus our thoughts. Central to our vision, and central to every celebration of communion, is the love of Jesus Christ. As we gather around a table laid with bread and wine I would like to focus on three particular aspects of the Christmas story... “Faith”, “Hope” and “Fulfillment”.

FAITH

The prophets declared that out of Bethlehem would come one whose influence would extend to the ends of the earth. Visions are cast and in the land things begin to stir. Elizabeth greets Mary as “The mother of her Lord”. Mary responds to an angels visitation with a magnificent song of praise to her God. By the time Jesus is laid in the manger we realize that there is a lot riding on His shoulders. In Jesus a new age will dawn.

It is hard for us to fully capture the picture. The hope of the world is coming to us as a child, vulnerable and dependent on those around Him. In our imagination we can stand by the crib, and look into the face of the child. We can look around at the people who are there and see that there is nobody of any earthly significance here... just a carpenter and his bride and their newborn child. We can imagine what it was like to be housed in a stable amid the thronging crowds of a town bursting at the seams.

If we fully enter into the scene there should also be a part of us thinking; 'No. Wait a minute. This isn't right! The King of Kings shouldn't be born here, not to these people, not in this town! This isn't the stuff legends are made of... this cannot be the dawn of a new age!” It is at this point that faith comes into the picture. Humanly speaking, it does not make much sense to pin our hopes upon such a scene.

But then, along come some shepherds talking of visions of angels and calling the child their Savior. You see in the lives and faith of the Mary and Joseph that they believe the shepherds to be right. If you stick around long enough there will be strange visitors from the East bearing symbolic gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, claiming to be guided by a star and coming to herald the birth of a new born king.

But it still takes something personal.. There is something in us that needs to make a response of faith and say... yes... I believe that in the coming of the Christ-Child a new age has dawned. I believe that through Him can be found meaning and purpose and life and love. Faith, of course, is not just to do with the Christmas story. It has to do with the whole of life and to do particularly with what we are doing here around a communion table.

As we share elements of bread and wine, so in us, there must also be faith. Faith that by receiving normal bread and wine, amid a group of ordinary people, we are actually in the presence of the living God. That God is here to bless us and to extend God's Kingly rule into our hearts and lives through the work of the Holy Spirit. We need faith this morning, to see beyond the very ordinariness of our situation, and glimpse in these things the loving intent and hand of God. Such was the faith present at that first Christmas time. A second element was...

HOPE

The nature of this hope was that it changed the way people looked at their personal circumstances. Again, it is helpful to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary and Joseph when Mary became pregnant. Joseph's family, angry and protective, all gave him advice at the same time. “Put her away while you can – You marry this woman and you are in for a long time of trouble – nothing good can come out of this!”

Mary's family are heartbroken and confused over a pregnancy that made no sense. They almost had their daughter all grown up, happily married, well established with a hopeful future, and now this happens!

Some suggest that Mary and Joseph were quite relieved to travel to Bethlehem and make a new start, away from the pressures of home and family expectations! One thing is very clear from the song that Mary sings, the Magnificat, Mary's great song of praise – however everybody else felt about what had happened to her, her heart was overflowing with joy and she knew that God was with ther.

The song speaks about the mercy of God to the hungry and the humble and those who were wholehearted in their commitment to God. By implication, as Mary is the composer of the song, that is exactly the sort of people both she and her husband Joseph were.

They were living under the oppression of the might of Rome and local rulers who were little more than puppets in Rome's hand. They had little prestige socially. Religiously it does not seem that either them occupied a particularly prominent role in their faith communities.

For Mary and Joseph their hope had nothing to do with their external circumstances but to do with what was happening in their hearts. It was a hope centered upon God. “My spirit” sings Mary “Rejoices in God my Savior!”

As we come to the communion table, where is our hope? Is it resting upon the salvation of God? There's a hymn in our books, #379 that declares “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name... On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

In our lives we may see prosperity or we may face struggle, we will find both joy and sadness, life and death. We need something that anchors our present circumstances in something that transcends them; something that gives meaning and value. That something can be found through placing our faith and hopes upon Jesus Christ.

The thing about faith, is that it is not a finished product. That doesn't take away it's reality but it does tell us about it's nature. The author of the book if Hebrews puts it this way... “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). We need faith. We need hope. Within the Christmas narrative there is a third element.

FULFILLMENT

Writing about fulfillment, and it's relationship to both faith and hope, pastor and author, Rev. Thomas Conley, writes about how, when he was very young his father died. It was left to his mother to hold family and home together. Many times, he recalls that things were pretty bleak, and he often wondered what kept her going. One thing she always did, no matter what the week had brought their way, was insist on getting them dressed up every Sunday morning and going to church.

He realized later in life that there were a lot of things that he could have got up to on a Sunday in his neighborhood. But the influence of being taken to church had a good effect upon him, despite his kicking against it! He trained and graduated from college, became a pastor, counselor and writer.

Years after his graduation and while his career was blossoming, he went home and was surprised to see that his first book, one that had not sold particularly well, or that he thought was his best work, was on his mother's bedside table. He joked with her, “Mother, haven't you even finished reading my first book yet?”

His mother replied “That book was the fulfillment of every thing I worked for. I keep it there to remind me that it was all worthwhile!”

Relating that thought to the Christmas story, there must have been days when Mary and Joseph wondered if it was all going to be worthwhile. Was it worth the effort, the struggle, the journey to Bethlehem, facing their critics and opponents. Should they do what was easy or do what was right? Could they hold on to their faith and hope when everything seemed to go against them?

But when it came time to go to Bethlehem, they went. As Mary cradled the infant Jesus in her arms, she knew it had all been worthwhile. Here was the fulfillment, not only of her personal hopes, but of her peoples hopes and indeed the hopes of all the world.

For Jesus it was just the start of the story. We meet around a table of communion which speaks of the fulfillment of His earthly mission. “Do this” he invites us “To remember me.” To remember how He was born, how He lived, all the He did , how He died and how God raised Him from death. To recall how His love is always available to each of us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Every Communion service is a milestone on our spiritual journey. We are currently traveling though Advent, on our way to celebrate the glorious day we call Christmas, the day the love of God broke h into the circle of time and creation, and we declare a new day had dawned though the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and our Savior.

Let us be mindful this morning of these three aspects of the Christmas story, Faith, Hope and Fulfillment.

Let us approach this table in faith, faith that looks beyond outward, ordinary circumstances and sees the purpose and will of God

Let us approach this table in hope, hope that transcends personal situations and sees in Jesus Christ the possibility of our lives being transformed and renewed by His loving purposes.

Let there also be with us a sense of fulfillment. Let us echo Mary's song, “My heart rejoices in God my Savior.” Let us rejoice that all Jesus came to accomplish in His earthly ministry was completed.

For ourselves, well we still have a lot to do. Christmas is coming! But we can at least be thankful … we have made it this far... and pray God will strengthen us for whatever lies ahead.

For to God's name be all glory, honor and praise! Amen.


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Story 31. The End of Time

Readings:  Psalm 37:1-13, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Acts 1:1-7, Revelation 21: 1-4
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 20th, 2016

Are any of you here fans of the TV program “Extreme Makeover – Home Edition?” If you have never seen it, the premise is simple. A family in need is chosen and a group of generous folk go into their house and totally renew it, while the family are sent on a vacation. When the family return a bus is parked in front of their new home, blocking the view. The highlight of the program is when the crowd begin chanting “Move that bus, Move that bus!”  When the bus is moved, the new home, usually with tears of joy and excitement, is revealed.

We have reached the end of our journey through 'The Story” and arrived at chapter 31, a summary of the Book of Revelation, titled “The End of Time.” In the liturgical calendar it is also Christ the King Sunday, a day when the church celebrates that at the end of all things, Christ will be enthroned as Lord. Revelation pictures the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, where all is well. Revelation could be described as “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”

Revelation is a vision attributed to John on the island of Patmos, given to him during a time when the early church was undergoing great persecution. It begins with seven letters to seven churches. Each church is evaluated for its weaknesses and strengths and given instruction as to how it should move forward. Following this there is much talk of angels and horsemen and seals being broken. There is judgment and and the casting out of evil.

It's like a 4D movie invading the senses. All the things that make the world such a terrible place; war and famine and plague and disaster come to an end. All the forces of empire and violence and persecution are silenced. And at the center of all things is God... and the Jesus the lamb of God... and endless waves of praise and wonder that emanate from the Holy Spirit.

I've printed in the bulletin some of the final words in all scripture, and invite you to say these words with me, as they give a wonderful taste of what the future holds for the people of God. Join me in reading Revelation 21: 1-4;

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with all people. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.


The whole Bible leads us to this picture in Revelation. The seed that was planted in Genesis reaches full bloom. What is promised in the first pages of the first book of the Bible is accomplished in the last pages of the last book of the Bible.


  • Genesis tells us God created the heavens and the earth - Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth.
  • In Chapter 1 of Genesis, God makes  the sun and the stars. In the last chapter of Revelation, the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it because the glory of God gives light and God's presence is its lamp.
  • The lost paradise of Genesis - is the found paradise of Revelation.
  • Satan appears in the first garden as a treacherous snake but in this eternal garden, evil is banished.
  • The tree that couldn’t be touched in the Garden of Eden becomes one we are  invited to eat from in the garden of heaven.
  • In Genesis, humanity hides from God, but in Revelation, God dwells with people.
Right from the start of “The Story” we saw how God’s desire is to be with us. The story of Adam and Eve pictures for us how each of us rejects that idea, preferring to go our own way and vainly presuming we know better than God.

Yet God had a plan from the very beginning to get us back. As we have been journeying through “The Story” at times it it has looked bleak in the “Lower Story,” but God has never taken God's eyes off that “Upper Story” plan.


In the Old Testament God established a brand new nation called Israel. What begins as a an act of faithfulness on the part of Abraham and Sarah, grows and moves forward so that eventually the Hebrews become a nation whose whole purpose is to demonstrate what living as God's people could look like.


But people, even God's people, are fickle and wayward, and the ability to turn away from God, never leaves. Through laws, through prophets, through Judges, through Kings, through times of blessing and times of judgment, through times of great expansion, and through times of exile and abandonment, the message is proclaimed, “Come Home. Trust Me. Serve me and I will bless you.”


All of this is a preparation for an awesome moment when, in Christ, God steps into the world of time. Jesus came to us. His life is a demonstration of awe inspiring love. He heals, He delivers. He teaches lessons we still struggle to get our minds around. 


And on that day, when He hung on the cross, the claim was made that He was taking our sins upon Himself, that we may live free and forgiven. In case we doubted God could do such a thing, on the third day He was raised, demonstrating the absolute victory of life over death, of hope over despair and of love over hate.


Jesus does for us what we can never do for ourselves. He reconciles us to God. He opens the doorway into God's nearer presence. Following numerous resurrection appearances, Jesus promises, following His ascension, that the Holy Spirit will come to those who trust in Him and empower them for service, in such a way that His work will continue and the message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in Jerusalem, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.


On the day of Pentecost, amid flames and rushing wind and a mingling of tongues, the church is born. God takes those first disciples, a random group of fishermen and  everyday people, and they become the vanguards of a movement that will change the world. He takes a character called Saul, and so turns his life around that he becomes this new movements great spokesperson, the apostle Paul, uniquely positioned through his background and circumstances to share the message with Jew and Gentile alike.


Despite incredible opposition and persecution the church grows, the message is proclaimed and over the centuries thousands upon thousands upon thousands bear witness to the saving power of Christ's death and the empowering resurrection presence of the Holy Spirit that enables them to achieve things they had never dreamed of.


And part of the churches vision, part of the message of the 66 books of the Bible is that “We ain't seen nothing yet.” That life on earth is but a prelude. That, though it be a slow train coming, there will come a time when all is well, when Christ will take His rightful place as ruler and Lord and King over all.


The Book of Revelation offers this amazing perspective of “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”  A new city, a new garden where fellowship with God will be complete and the vision of the “Upper Story” will be fulfilled.


Church... thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel through “The Story” with you. I know that not everybody has been engaged, not everybody has been as excited about it as I've been. As with any attempt to offer a summary, there have been moments when I've thought, “Well, why miss out that story” and times when I've not really identified with the authors theological perspectives.
But overall, for me it's been so worth it. If I take nothing else away, then I will at least recall that there are two stories that flow through our lives. The “Upper Story” of God's purpose and the “Lower story” of the way we perceive things. 


Discipleship happens when our story becomes part of that “Upper Story,” when our life becomes connected and empowered by the vision that this life is not all there is, that through Christ, and in the power of His Spirit, we have an opportunity to live faithfully, purposefully and meaningfully. 


When John was on the island of Patmos and it seemed like all he had hoped for was coming to an end, God gave him this mind boggling vision that he passes on to us in the Book of Revelation.  Many years from now, I'm pretty sure that scholars will still be trying to figure it all out, people will be predicting that the end of the world is near and claiming to know all the intricacies and ins and outs of the end times.


I say “Good luck to them!” So far everybody who has gone down that path has been united by one result. They've all got it wrong. Jesus tells us in the Book of Acts, 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”


The book of Revelation was never intended as a pre-emptive calendar to chart the end of the world. What it is... is a gift of grace. What it is... is an amazing picture of hope that tells us that at the end of all things, love wins.  What it is.... is a document that encourages us to believe that, in God's time, in God's way, even though it it may not look like that right now, all things will be made beautiful.


To John it was an assurance that Rome did not have the final say in the world in which he lived. To us it can remind us that wherever we perceive power to be invested, be it Washington, or Moscow or London, or Wall Street, or the media or the big corporations, they will never have the last word.
Justice will come. Peace will come. God's Kingdom will come. Christ's love will reign. And it is for us to embrace that message and do everything in our power to hasten that day by involving ourselves in actions that proclaim the reign of God is alive in our hearts and lives, through acts of compassion and care and deliverance that reflect the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. 


Our calling is not to stand back and chant “Move that bus. Move that bus.” Our task is to get busy on the next restoration project God places before us. And to do so with overflowing hope and expectancy and passion, because we know that “The Story” is a story of amazing grace that neither began with us, nor will end with us. 


Again, I thank you for the opportunity of exploring the great sweep of the Bibles 66 books with you over an extended period, and I pray that as we look to the future we have a greater grasp on who we are called to be and what we are called to do... all to the glory of God, in whom it all began and with whom our destiny lies.  To God be all praise, for the wonder of the Word, for the testimony of the 66 books of the Bible. 


Maybe you remember what the very first words in the first book of the bible are? Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But do you know what the final words of the final book of the Bible are? Revelation 22:21... and I'll read them as they are in the King James version...  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” 


In that grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our forgiveness, our hope, our purpose and our mission. We were created by grace, for grace, in order that we may share that grace with God, with each other and all creation. 


It is through grace that we live into the promise that there will come a day when “God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
And with that thought in mind I have only one more thing to say... the bibles final word... Amen!
 

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Story 30. Paul's Final Days

Readings: Psalm 32, Lamentations 3:22-33, 2 Timothy 1:3-14, Matthew 16:24-27,
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 13th, 2016

Sal Hepplewhite made his fortune directing and producing budget movies in Hollywood. None of them were huge, many were made only for TV or limited release but he made enough of them to earn a lot of money.

Enough money to have a house in L.A. and an apartment in New York. He liked flashy cars and had a habit of trading them in for new models, a habit he replicated with his wives, his latest being a Puerto Rican beauty half his age. Sal Hepplewhite wasn't expecting to die in a restaurant whilst contemplating whether or not to have the cheesecake … but that's what happened.

Sal found himself at heavens gate standing before a rather ordinary looking angel holding a guest list. “Name” asked the angel. “Well... y'know me” said Sal, “Sal, Sal Hepplewhite.” The angel scanned the list in his hand. “Hmm. Not seeing you on the list.”
“Look...” said Sal “I know how this goes. Gotta be some way I can make it worth your while to let me in. That's how it works, isn't it?”

“No entrance fees here, Sal” said the angel. “Everything's already paid for.” “What d'ya mean, already paid for?” “Jesus paid the entrance for us all,” replied the angel, “All we have to do is trust that He has everything taken care of. You do trust in God, don't you, Sal?”

“God” said Sal “Never really needed God. Always taken care of myself. I've done all right. Look at my houses. Look at my cars. Look at the ladies who hang out with me. The movies I made, the people I've met, the places I've been... trust me, I worked hard for all of that!”

“Sal” said the angel “You worked hard. But for what? Where does all of that leave you now? Only way here is trusting in God.”

In our journey through “The Story” we have reached the penultimate chapter titled not “Sal Hepplewhite's Final Days” but “Paul's Final Day's.” Sal Hepplewhite is a fictional character but there was nothing imaginary or fictional about the Apostle Paul. Chapter 30 of “The Story” continues the account of his life from the Book of Acts, and includes excerpts from many of the letters he wrote to the churches.

We read about his visit to Jerusalem where he reiterates his conversion experience and sets the whole place in a spin. We are told of his arrest and transportation to Rome. On the way the ship in which he is traveling becomes shipwrecked and offers an unexpected opportunity to preach the gospel on the island of Malta. He eventually arrives in Rome where, whilst under house arrest, he composes many of the letters that form such an important part of the New Testament. For Paul, his trust in God enables him to see every setback as an opportunity.

Chapter 30 of “The Story” finishes by speaking of Paul's friendship with a young man called Timothy. Historically, this is when Nero becomes the emperor and a great persecution of the church begins. Timothy fears for Paul's life. His fears are well grounded as it is thought that Paul was executed by Nero around the year AD68.

In what is thought to be one of his final compositions, his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes to encourage his young friend not to be disheartened by the persecution they were enduring, but to continue soaking up sound teaching that built up faith and love of Jesus Christ and to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:14).

When we began looking at “The Story” at the beginning of the year, we spoke about there being an “Upper Story” and a “Lower Story”. The “Upper Story” is the way God sees things. The “Lower Story” is the way we see things. The challenge is to take our own story and relate it to the “Upper Story” of God's purposes for the world, rather than constantly reverting to a “Lower Story” perspective, in which life is simply a matter of doing our best and hoping that the worst never happens.

Going back to my opening illustration of Sal Hepplewhite, a man who in the eyes of the world may have had a lot going for him, from an eternal perspective he totally lacks any sense of trust in anything but his own ability to save himself. Time and time again we have seen in “The Story” that when we seek to be our own salvation, that nasty little thing called “sin” trips us up every time. It is a twist of our nature not to pursue God, but to head in the opposite direction of trust, faithfulness and commitment and believe we can do much better without God's help!

The lives of Paul and Emporer Nero, which overlapped in Rome, make for an interesting comparison. While Nero was making headlines, Paul was a nobody. Late night chat show hosts would have wanted Nero on their show. Heads of State would invite him to dinner.

Paul was an annoying preacher who kept talking about Jesus all the time, as though Jesus were alive and as if believing in Him was what really mattered in life. He so upset the religious folk of his day that they had him locked up on ridiculous, unfounded charges.

If you asked anyone in Rome at the time, “Who will have the most impact on the world, Paul or Nero?” they would pick Nero. At age 25 Nero erected a 120 foot tall statue of himself. People looked up at Nero, they looked down on Paul. Paul was beat up. He was a fanatic. He was in prison for crimes they were still trying to concoct.

But while in prison Paul was busy writing letters that would change people lives and bring them to a faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He had an “Upper Story” perspective about things. He believed that as he trusted in God, God's purposes would be achieved.

Paul anchored his life to a hope out of this world. He talks a lot about grace. To his young friend Timothy he writes that grace “... has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Paul entrusted his life into the hands of God, even when, from a “Lower Story” perspective, things were totally messed up.

Paul ended his life well. Nero did not. Paul's new life had begun on the Damascus Road when Jesus stopped him in his tracks and turned his life around. He ended his days giving his life for what he believed in. Nero, at the age of 29, was lonely and paranoid. His second wife killed his first wife and then, while she was pregnant, Nero assaulted her and she died. Four years after Paul's death, Nero committed suicide. Nero was no hero. Paul still impacts us today.

There are no Saint Nero cathedrals. People tend not to name their children Nero, though many call them Paul or Pauline. Who are the real difference makers in the world? Throughout the whole of “The Story” we have been given the perspective that it's not the rich and powerful and those who are important in the eyes of their peers who make the eternal difference, but humble people of faith, who trust God to lead them and guide them, and who prayerfully seek to live lives that honor God, evidenced in the way they live out their calling.

I hope that as we have traveled through “The Story” there have been characters and situations and moments when you have been seriously challenged to consider why it is you were put on this planet.

Probably not to be a Saint Paul or an Emporer Nero. But it's easy to be a Sal Hepplewhite. No... I don't mean to be a multi married, fairly successful, fictional movie producer with homes in L.A. and New York, but to adopt a philosophy of life that, at the end of the day, leaves us spiritually bankrupt.

If we take scripture seriously there will come a moment, beyond this life, when we have to account for what we've done with the time God has given to us. Many, many times in His teaching Jesus points out that the way the world does things, doesn't work. That much of what people value and place their trust in is empty and vain.

Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in Matthew 16:24-27. “Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.

The phrase used there, that each person will be rewarded “according to what they have done.” has nothing to do with earthly achievement but has to do with what has been achieved in a persons life through allowing the love of God to direct them and guide them.

Earlier in Matthew 6:33 Jesus encourages us “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Most of the time we ignore how deep and raw that commitment really is. Jesus is telling us that His commandments, His desires, His love, should be at the center of what we are and desire to be. That if we do that, then everything else in our life will line up in the right way.

Remember that little story at the beginning? Sal Hepplewhite trying to buy his way into heaven? That's how he made it through his earthly life. That's how it was meant to be.

No entrance fees here, Sal” said the angel. “Everything's already paid for.” “What d'ya mean, already paid for?” asked Sal. “Jesus paid the entrance for us all,” replied the angel, “All we have to do is trust that He has everything taken care of. You do trust in God, don't you, Sal?”

This is the 30th week this year we have looked at a chapter from “The Story.” Chapter 30 has been all about a guy, who at one time trusted in his own understanding and ability to get him through. God changed him. Saul the persecutor of Christians, became Paul, the unashamed, unapologetic, apostle of Jesus Christ.

Time and time again the challenge that has come through these chapters has been, “You do trust in God, don't you?” The only person who can give an honest answer to that question is ourselves. We have a choice. Go it alone or go with God.

I believe that, at the end of the day, the second option makes most sense. In my own imperfect, stumbling way, that's how I'm trying to live out my life. I know that without the love of Jesus, available through the Holy Spirit, it's not even an option. But every moment I place my trust in Him, it seems like everything else starts to fall into place.

I believe Paul is right on. It's all about grace. It's all about love. It's all about what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. It's all about what God can do through God's resurrection power. That's the only way the “Lower Story” of my life can ever connect with the “Upper Story” of God's purpose. And my prayer as we near the end of our journey through “The Story” is that we'll all discover that living God's way is the best way to live.

Next week, in the liturgical year, it is Christ the King Sunday, we'll be taking a look at the book of Revelation. Chapter 31 “The End of Time!” Hope you are ready for it.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Story 29. Paul's Mission


COMMUNION SERVICE
Readings: Psalm 116, Deuteronomy 11:8-21, Matthew 26:26-30, 1 Corinthians 11:14-24 & 14:4-7
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 6th, 2016

As we continue our journey into the latter chapters of “The Story” we will focus the next couple of weeks on the apostle Paul, a one-time opponent of the Christian faith who became it's greatest interpreter. In chapter 29 we are given an account of Paul's visits to cities such as Philippi, Ephesus, and Corinth, names familiar to us because of the letters he would later write to them that became Biblical books.

We observe how he follows a pattern of going firstly to preach in the local synagogue, to draw a congregation from the Jewish population, but then moves on to the town square, where he seeks to address the Gentiles and let them know that the message of Jesus Christ was also for them.

He receives opposition from both secular and religious authorities. Secular, because he is outspoken against idolatry and pagan practices, activities that formed a significant part of the financial and social structure of many Roman provinces. His message was seen as being bad for business. To the orthodox religious authorities it was a challenge to their power. They brand his “good news” as heretical and dangerous, ironically a position that he himself, when known as Saul, once totally ascribed to.

In many places Paul visits, he barely survives. He experiences arrests, beatings, and imprisonment. Yet God's Holy Spirit is mightily at work through him and we witness miraculous escapes, and testimonies of miracles and healing. At one point the local residents believe that Paul and his colleague Barnabas are gods, something he is anxious to refute!

The second part of Chapter 29 offers excerpts from the letters Paul wrote to the churches. These writings become the bedrock of Christian theology. Many of the letters are written as answers to questions that arose in the earliest life of the church. Important themes shine through.

  1. Paul is keen to present Jesus not only as the promised Messiah of the Hebrew people, but as a Savior for all people of all places for all time.
  2. Paul often focuses on the theme that we are saved by grace through placing our faith in what Jesus has done for us upon the Cross. In Jesus we find reconciliation, forgiveness, freedom and peace.
  3. He, unashamedly, even in the face of ridicule and disbelief, maintains that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the Holy Spirit is God's way of indwelling our lives with resurrection power. No resurrection, no hope. No Spirit, no power.
  4. The most important thing of all, declares Paul, is love. He offers a definition of love that is a pen portrait of the life of Jesus. Love is the source of unity that binds all things together and ultimately God's love is the one thing that nothing can separate us from.

He answers questions on church order and practice and behavior, some of which seem universal in application, others that appear to be associated with the cultural context of the community being addressed. Because of that he can at times seem obscure. He is easily misinterpreted and misrepresented.

Though this chapter in “The Story” is given the title “Paul's Mission” I suspect he would be the first to say that whatever he achieved, all glory was to be given to God, for without the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ within him and around him, he could do nothing. That is not to say that he was not an incredibly gifted, able and uniquely placed individual, rather that Paul's mission was the same “Upper Story” mission we have been reading about since we looked at the first chapters of Genesis.

What was new and radical about Paul's teaching was that kingdom life was not confined to any chosen group of people or through obeying a particular set of rules. God's love was available to all though faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul often speaks in his writings about the importance of coming together in fellowship around a table laid with bread and wine, as we are doing this morning. He saw communion as one of the most special gifts Jesus gave to His church.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul asks a question; “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share one loaf.” The context of the question is that in Corinth, an extremely multi-cultural, multi-faith environment, sometimes at meals, or even down at the market when folk were out getting their groceries, the food on offer had been dedicated and offered to idols.

There is a division of opinion in the Corinthian church. Some suggested that if they ate the food, they were doing something terrible that compromised their spiritual lives. Others were saying, “Ah. Forget about it. Doesn't matter what you do. Didn't Jesus die to set us free from rules and regulations?”

In characteristic fashion Paul recognizes that the problem they were having was nothing to do with food. It was the way they were judging each other and treating each other. In verses 23 and 24 he writes, “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

To help them reconcile their differences he offers an invitation. “Come to the table.” In chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians he gives them the words of institution we say every time we meet for communion. “The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

People,” he says “Think about what you are doing when you eat this bread and drink this wine! Church? It's not about you and your rights and your opinions. It's not about “Oh they shouldn't be doing that” or “Get off my case, I can do what I like.” It's about demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ. It's about participating together, in the life of Christ, who died that we may be as one body, sharing His love with a needy world. Look at this table? What do you see? One loaf. “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share one loaf.

It's an appeal for unity, unity based on consideration for others. Unity found through allowing Jesus to be the measure of our actions. Jesus who came down from heaven, denied Himself all kingly glory that was His, and lived and died and went through hell for every one of us in order that our lives may be reconciled to God.

Paul's Mission? Because he understood what Jesus had done for him, he was prepared to go through all the troubles that presenting the gospel brought his way. Because he believed with all his heart, that the salvation of humankind depended on the gospel being preached to all the world, he was prepared to give his all to seeing that churches were planted and grown and became vibrant power houses for spiritual renewal and communities where people got to experience the life changing love of Jesus Christ.

So when Paul writes “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? he is not sayingIsn't it nice to think about Jesus by sharing bread and wine?He is pleading with his readers to be a part of what Jesus had started, part of a revolution that began in Galilee, to be people who change the world by participating in actions and deeds and programs that the Holy Spirit had placed within their hearts and upon their lives. “That” he says “Is being church.” That's what participating in the body of Christ is about.

He recognized that in communities (yes, even God-birthed church communities) it was so easy to become caught up in arguments and disputes that had very little to do with the gospel. He saw it happening time and time again and his answer was, “Come to the table... consider what Jesus has done for you and participate in doing that for each other. Maybe, if you can do that, then this world that so desperately needs the love of God will sit up and take notice!”

Paul's mission, like the mission of Jesus, can be summed up in one word. “LOVE.” I've sat in bible studies where people have said, “Well, didn't he say this” and 'Wasn't he wrong about that” and I'm thinking; “Look when you have the courage to lay down your life for the gospel like he did, then you can get on your high horse.”

But that is very much the kind of thing Paul wouldn't say. I think what he would say was “Come and sit with me at this table. Come and participate in breaking bread and drinking wine. You see that bread? That's the body of Jesus. You know He died on a cross, allowed His body to be tortured and broken, because He loved us. And there was I doing everything in my power to destroy His message. I even helped others kill and persecute His followers. Can you believe that someone like me could be forgiven and used in His service?

And that cup. It's His blood. His life. His love. A man called Isaac Watts wrote a song about it. “See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” What kind of crazy love is that? When we bless the cup of blessing we are sharing in the blood of Christ. When we break the bread we are sharing in the body of Christ.”

And” Paul would insist “You do know, don't you, that Jesus didn't do that just for me? He did that for all of us... which includes you. I don't know what you may be struggling with or going through right now, but my Jesus lives and loves and I know He can help you through whatever it is. You're in the right place at the right time!”

Paul's mission. As we gather around this table let us pray we are granted a glimpse of the love that so inspired Paul to give his life in the service of our Savior. Let us seek for God, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, to empower our lives with the resurrection presence of Jesus Christ. And to God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Story 28. New Beginnings

THE STORY – CHAPTER 28
Readings: Psalm 103:1-13, Joel 2:22-32, Acts 2:1-4, John 12:26-36
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 30, 2016

Although we are only a few chapters away from finishing our journey through “The Story” we have reached one of it's most important intersections. If you divided the Bible into three sections they would correspond with our understanding of God as Trinity. The Old Testament focus is upon God the Father. The New Testament begins, with God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The third section of the Bible begins with “Acts” of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, during His earthly ministry teaches the disciples about how He would be betrayed and be taken from them. Yet He promises, “I'm always going to be with you!” How could that be? In John 14:26 He outlines how it was going to work. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit would be for them the eternal resurrection presence of His love, all powerful and always available. It was in the power of His Spirit that they would succeed and with the guidance of His Holy Spirit they could proceed. But first they are told to wait. To wait in Jerusalem. And so they do. On a day we celebrate in the calendar as the birthday of the church, the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them, with tongues of fire, like a mighty rushing wind.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” As this Spirit praise party flowed out into the streets, Peter, now gifted with the ability to preach in a way like no mortal had ever preached before, explains to the astonished crowds; “"Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:"'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2)

Peter then offers up this amazing sermon pulling together Old Testament passages, the things that had happened to Jesus, including His death and resurrection, and imploring the crowd to repent and believe. About 3000 do. They develop into a community of sharing and caring unlike anything that had been seen before. Jews and Greeks, male and female, rich and poor. The new age of the Spirit, the birth of the church.

Do things go smoothly? Of course not. Many of the powers that be are horrified at the developments. The disciples are scattered throughout the region, new congregations spring up, opposition intensifies and the first Christian martyr, a man called Stephen, loses his life.

One of those who holds the coats while Stephen is murdered is Saul. Saul is later to have his own dramatic conversion experience. On a road to Damascus on a mission to persecute Christians, he is stopped by an experience of Jesus that so turns his life around that he becomes one of this new beginning movements greatest spoke persons, the apostle Paul. The birth of the church. A new beginning. An age characterized by the activity of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

One significant development in the growth of the church is that no longer are God's people defined by race or geography. As we traveled through the Old Testament we saw how God chose the Hebrews to become a people who would be a living embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth. God did not choose them because they were better than anybody else. God did not choose them because they had more chance to succeed and fail than anybody else. They were chosen to be a light for the world. Sometimes they were amazing. Sometimes they fell, tragically, from grace.

God's choice of the Hebrews was a preparation for the tremendous act of love revealed to us in Jesus. As John 3:16 and 17 so beautifully explain,”For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

As a congregation here at Mount Hebron the phrase “New Beginnings” has taken on a particular significance as we have been seeking to discern what ministries God is calling us to in the future.

This chapter of “The Story” - speaking as it does about the birth and earliest days of the church offers great insights. It reminds us of why the church exists. To continue the ministry of Jesus Christ. It points us as to how we are to operate within the guidance and with the power of the Holy Spirit. It lifts up what needs to be be central in our lives; Seeking God through worship, prayer, study and service. Allow me to lift up those three things.

Firstly, this chapter reminds us of why the church exists. To continue the ministry of Jesus Christ.

We are not here to be an alternative to the local country club, community association or local chapter of the Lion's Club. We exist to proclaim the life changing message of Jesus Christ. Whenever we allow ourselves to be sidetracked from that central purpose, we cease being a church, and morph into something other than what God intended.

That is not to say we should not provide services to the community, such as our amazing Nursery School. That is not to say we should not use our resources, such as Hebron House to help folk celebrate weddings and baby showers and hold scout meetings and all else that takes place. That is not to say we should not be diligent in maintaining this great green space at the center of a community that seems increasingly being swallowed up by development. These are good and great things to do.

But we can easily lose sight of our main purpose for existing, which is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. That is why the church came into being. To continue His mission here on earth. Through our mission enterprises, our support of everything from youth programs to Operation Christmas Child, we recognize our calling to proclaim His love to a hurting world.

But let us be aware how easily we can be sidetracked. Isn't that what “The Story” has taught us through out the Old Testament? The people of God were called for a purpose, to lift up the name of God and live into God's ways so that they could be a light for the world. But so often they lost their way and became embroiled in activities that reflected not God, but their own self concern and self importance. They lost sight of their whole reason for being.

We are called for a purpose. In John's gospel 12:32 Jesus tells His disciples;And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." We are to lift up the name of Jesus over and above all the things we do. That does not mean pushing the gospel message down people's throats. That does not mean being “deer-in-the-headlights” about presenting our message. But it does require that we are intentional about being the church and unashamedly acknowledging that we are are here for one main purpose – declaring and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ to all people.

Secondly, this chapter points us as to how we are to operate. With the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I genuinely believe that the Holy Spirit works through our processes and committees and meetings and discussions. I get it. They can seem tedious, time consuming and sometimes become bogged down and lose their way. Yet from the start that's the way the church has worked. They met together to discern where the Spirit was moving them. To discern who were the people to deal with specific tasks. I'm sure there were days when Peter looked across the room at John and thought, 'Is this really what Jesus called us to do?”

They didn't stay in committee. They didn't believe that because they'd talked about something, the problem was solved. They went out into their communities and did amazing things. Acts of healing. Moments of encounter that brought others into the faith.

To me that is what we need to know about the work of the Holy Spirit. That the Spirit is just as active when we leave this place as when we are here within these walls. That our calling is to take the message wherever life takes us. To our workplaces. To our homes. To our schools. When we drive around. When we go the Mall. When we are online and in conversation. In our Tweets. On our Facebook page. The Holy Spirit will guide us and lead us, if we remain attentive. There are no areas in our lives that God does not want to guide us and lead us.

We, like the Hebrews before us, keep trying to put God in a box. A little church box. God does not ask us to go to church or attend a church or participate in a churches activities. God wants us to be the church. All day. Every day. 'Where ever you are. Whatever you are doing. Be my people. Be my body. Be my representatives to this harsh, hurting crazy lost world. I'm here with you. I dwell in you through the presence of my Holy Spirit. There's a lack of love out there. I place my love in your heart so you can share it. I'm depending on you.. My future mission is in your hands.'

We need the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit. That's why this chapter thirdly lifts up ...

Seeking God through worship, prayer, study and service.

If we truly understand what Jesus is asking of us, we are never going to hesitate in making the most of opportunities to be in worship together, to study scripture together, to be in a place where we can open our lives and hearts and pray to our God and Father, “I can't do this without You! I need You! Help me deepen my love towards You!”

True worship comes out of a heart that truly understands what Jesus has done for us and what God is calling us to do. The early disciples as they gathered together in the upper room, to worship, pray, break bread and study God's word, they knew what Jesus had done for them. They saw Him crucified. They witnessed His empty tomb. They were there at the Ascension.

They knew their only hope was to wait upon Him for power on high, in order that they could be the people God was calling them to be. So prayerfully, they waited. And when the Spirit came they were filled with purpose and boldness and power to do everything God asked of them. To heal. To preach. To deliver from evil. To carry on the work Jesus had begun.

Through their lives the world would be changed, people came to know that Jesus was alive and that the love of God could change everything. The world still needs to hear that message and we are the ones God is counting on to share it.

The Story” Chapter 28. New Beginnings. The birth of the Church. The Acts of the Holy Spirit. As we continue to seek God's purposes for our own lives, we do well to remember that every day lived in God's love is a day of new beginnings, every moment spent in God's service is sowing seed for God's kingdom and that the deepest need of our world today is the love of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit has placed in our lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Story 27. Resurrection

THE STORY – CHAPTER 27
Readings: Psalm 40:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:3-19, Acts 17:22-33, Luke 24:13-34
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 23, 2016

This week we reach Chapter 27 of 'The Story” which is all about what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Apostles Creed, our belief in resurrection is clearly stated. “On the third day He rose again.”

This belief, that Jesus defeated death, is where Christianity and other religions separate in their understanding. It is one thing to have a great religious teacher that comes to an unfortunate end, but quite another to suggest that such a teacher then returns to life. That, for many, is beyond what they are prepared to accept.

It has been that way ever since the gospel message was first proclaimed. We read in Acts chapter 17 of Paul going to one of the most religious diverse cities of his day, the city of Athens, and preaching eloquently, using illustrations from their own Athenian gods, about what Jesus taught and how Jesus died. But when Paul speaks about God raising Jesus to life, this happens; Acts 17:32 “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."

Paul is utterly convinced that without belief in resurrection, then Christianity is the most hollow, useless, empty philosophy that could ever be concocted by feeble human minds. He tells the church in Corinth; “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Chapter 27 of “The Story” does a wonderful job arranging the scattered stories of resurrection that appear in the final chapters of each of the gospels into a sequence of related events.

We read of appearances of the risen Christ to Mary, Mary and Salome, to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, to Thomas in an upper room, to disciples gathered at the sea shore and finally to the gathered apostles on a mountaintop where they are commissioned to go and tell the world the gospel message and baptize people in Jesus name.

We also hear of events surrounding the resurrection... Mary and Martha's desire to anoint His body, Joseph of Arimathea generously donating a burial place, of a sealed tomb guarded by soldiers, of Jesus appearing through walls like a ghost, yet eating a fish breakfast in a very un-ghostly fashion.

Within the gospels themselves these stories are scattered in such a way to suggest that, even though Jesus had taught His followers that He would be raised to life on the third day, they really could not grasp what He meant and truly struggled to comprehend what had taken place. Yet slowly, and gradually, the truth dawns upon them. He was alive.

Thomas sees the scars and is convinced. Peter is led to re-evaluate what love actually means. Disciples in Emmaus have hearts that burn with vitality and understanding as Jesus interprets the scriptures to them, even though their eyes are not truly opened until Jesus breaks bread with them and they momentarily glimpse the reality of His presence.

The resurrection appearances are random and fleeting and temporary. For the disciples they come to an end after the Ascension. The only exception is an appearance of Jesus on the road to Damascus to a disciple called Saul, that so turns his life around that he becomes the greatest architect and spokesperson for this new movement that would capture the world.

Over the centuries since then have been countless numbers of folk, myself included, who claim that their lives have been influenced by the risen presence of Jesus Christ in such a way as they are convinced that the resurrection is neither a fairy tale nor a story but a truth about Jesus that should change the way we view and live our lives.

I well recall, from some of my earlier days in church, Ray, a wonderful gentleman with a booming voice, who used to love to sing a chorus well known in the Pentecostal Church circles at that time, called “He lives”. As I repeat the words to you I can still see his radiant face as he testified in his own unique way:- “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today, and He walks with me and He talks with me, along life's narrow way, He lives, He lives, salvation to impart, You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

Something common to the gospel accounts, even to the predictions that Jesus Himself made to those who were His closest followers, is that the experience of resurrection is incredibly hard to describe, to frame, to put into words, but that it is a truth that once it touches you, leaves you never the same again.

We can argue it, we can contemplate it's unlikeliness, we can even, as some have done argue against it and find ourselves converted to it. That's what happened to author Frank Morrison who in the 1930's wrote a book called “Who moved the Stone.” His original intention was to disprove the resurrection but his book ended up as a defense of it's reality.

Likewise Lee Strobel, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who set out to disprove Christianity, but ended up becoming a Christian and created a series of books under the title “Case for Christianity.” Then there's Josh McDowell, who set out to write a paper in college to expose Christianity as a myth, but ended up being so convinced that he became a Christian himself and wrote an influential book titled “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.”

For myself, one of my favorite resurrection accounts is that day, recorded in Luke's gospel, not long after the crucifixion has taken place, when a couple of disillusioned followers are making their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.

There are many elements present in this story that others who have come to a belief in resurrection can identify with. It begins with disillusionment and disbelief. Then we see how the Spirit works on their understanding of Scripture in such a way that they later declare that as Jesus explained the scriptures to them, their “hearts were burning.” It concludes with an act of recognition that takes place during a time of fellowship and breaking of bread.

I like the way the story begins where we are, with all our misconceptions and hurts and doubts. Belief in resurrection is not an easy thing. Life teaches us that good, wonderful and hope filled things don't happen. We are hurt and compromised and often expect the worse. We read that the two travelers were so despondent that they failed to recognize Jesus even when He came and walked alongside them. There eyes were cast down.

As we have been reading through “The Story” we have talked about there being a “Lower Story” and an “Upper Story.” The “Lower Story” is the way we experience life, and the view our experiences give to us.

These travelers had put their faith in Jesus because they really believed He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. But now look at what had happened. The powers that be had murdered Him! That's life. The reality. We knew it was to good to be true. The “Lower Story” doesn't get much lower. Everything you hoped for is shattered. All your plans are scuppered. It's back to, well “We'll just get by, because tomorrow we die.”

That's how they feel. But notice something. Where is Jesus when all this happening? Right alongside them. Walking with them. They don't see it. They don't feel it. They don't recognize His presence. Can't we be just like that? The last thing we expect to hear in the midst of our doubts and confusions is that Jesus is right there with us.

Jesus does something for them. He starts to engage them with Scripture. We read “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” He starts sharing the 'Upper Story”, the one about God's purposes and God's plans and how the Messiah would suffer and be crucified and be raised again on the third day.

There is power in the words of scripture when we allow God to interpret them to our hearts. When we take the time to look and prayerfully listen to what God wants to share with us, it is a transformation experience. God sends the Holy Spirit to interpret God's word to our hearts. That is what was happening on that road. The “Upper Story” was invading and transforming the “Lower Story” of their lives. And they are starting to get it. They are starting to see. So much so that as they near the end of their journey, we read “They urged Him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over."

Jesus stays with them. They are at table. “When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight.”

At that point they know that Jesus is alive. Though He disappears from physical view they now know that He will always be with them. That experience is verified when they later speak with others who likewise have come to a place where their hearts testify; “He lives, He lives, ... salvation to impart, You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

Such a belief seems to reach people in as many different ways as they are different people. For the likes of folk like Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell it came as they were trying to disprove Christianity. For two travelers on the Emmaus Road it was as bread was broken, that their eyes were opened.

For C.S Lewis, he says that it happened as he was taking a motorcycle side car ride to the zoo. After months of intellectual struggle and the gradual realization that God was there, he writes “I was driven to Whipsnade Zoo one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion…. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

My own testimony is that, whilst on a youth retreat as a teenager, a friend prayed that Jesus Christ would become a living reality in my life. The next day, I woke up and it was just there. A sense of God's presence, that my life was headed somewhere new, that there was more to existence than that which could be touched and tasted and seen by the naked eye. And I knew it was all related to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the story that the scriptures relate to us of God's purposes and plans.

I pray that when those times of disillusionment or despair come to us, that we will discover that God is actually right alongside us. I pray that as we study scripture together the Holy Spirit will continue to reveal God's purposes and plans. I pray that as we worship and break bread together our eyes will continue to be opened and our faith continually enlivened. I pray that, wherever we are on our spiritual journey, wherever we may be along our own Emmaus roads, that we will know Jesus walks alongside us every step of the way.

May such knowledge empower us for service and enable us to commit our way to letting others know that Jesus lives for them. This is great and good news. Death has been defeated. Despair has been cast away. No matter what may come, eternity will have the last word, hate will be vanquished by love and what was thought to be lost, will be forever found. Resurrection is all of this. And so much more! To God's name be all glory. Amen.


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.