Sermons for Study 5

THE GOOD NEWS (2) – 1978 LENT SERIES – St Peter’s Wellington – Godfrey Wilson

During Lent, we are exploring the theme: “The Good News and how we share it”.

We are doing this in Sunday morning sermons and in a Wednesday night study group with the idea that the discussions will feed into the preaching, and vice versa.

Last Sunday morning I tried to set out what the ‘good news’ is that the New Testament writers are proclaiming – what it is they are talking about when they refer to ‘the Gospel’ – and you will remember we noted that the same word, ‘gospel’, is used for Jesus’ message of God’s Kingdom as he went about preaching, teaching and healing, and also for the early Church’s message about Jesus himself – the crucified and risen Lord through whom God’s Kingdom came.

The Church’s ‘good news’ was (and is) that, in Jesus, God has shown who he is and who we are intended to be.

Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God has shown that he rules … that evil is not able to thwart his purposes. Through Jesus, he has broken the grip of sin on human life and opened for us the way to a new life lived in union with him and our neighbours (not estrangement) – a life rooted and grounded in love and made possible by the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us.

Q 1. Do you have any thoughts on reading this summary of the last sermon?

That is the essence of the message. But I said last time that we needed to dig into it to see more clearly what it means for human life in this world – for people like ourselves and the folk in our street or the office we work in.

So the Wednesday night study group has been looking at passages in the New Testament in which someone is bearing witness to the impact of the ‘good news’ on their life and their view of reality and telling of the difference it has made.

And they have now moved on to reflecting on their own lives and their own spiritual pilgrimage and have begun to share with each other the ways in which the ‘good news’ has affected them.

And in looking at a variety of texts and in sharing our personal ‘stories’, we are beginning to ‘unpack’ the words of the gospel message in terms of human experience.

However, I want to concentrate mainly on the New Testament again today, and on what the writers say is happening for and to them as they respond to the ‘good news’, are baptised into the Christian fellowship and begin to live the life of faith.

Here are ten important things they are saying about the difference the gospel makes. Most of them (though not all) were brought up in the Bible study last Wednesday.

You would describe these as New Testament ‘voices’, saying “This we know, and rejoice in!”

  1. FIRST (they are saying), we know we are accepted and loved by God.

Paul says in Romans 5: “Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually brave death; but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s own proof of his love towards us.” (5: 7-8)

The same sense of God’s loving acceptance comes through in Ephesians 2: “In our natural condition, we, like the rest, lay under dreadful judgement of God. But God, rich in mercy, for the great love he bore us, brought us to life with Christ even when we were dead in our sins. It is by his grace you are saved.” (2: 3-5)

And you get the same certainty again in 1 John “God is love; and his love was disclosed to us in this, that he sent his only Son into the world to bring us life. The love I speak of is not our love for God, but the love he showed us in sending his Son as the remedy for the defilement of our sins … (4: 9-10) … We love because he loved us first (4: 19)

So, we are on the receiving end of an unmerited gift – God’s loving acceptance of us, sinners though we are.

They found that a very liberating experience.

Q 2. Has this aspect of “the Good News” been important for you. Would you quote it as an important part of your Christian belief?

  1. SECOND (and really this is closely related to the experience of loving acceptance) we are brought into a new and intimate relationship with God and with one another. ‘God the remote judge’ is seen to be a myth; he draws us to himself and in this drawing overcomes old divisions and hostilities and makes us one with each other.

“God has reconciled us to himself through Christ”, Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor 5: 18)

The Ephesians are reminded of the gulf there was between Jew and Gentile but now, through Christ, the two have been made one. (2: 11-16)

“Through faith you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus” Paul tells the Galatians (3:26) … “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Jesus Christ” (3: 28)

“You are sons of God” (and daughters we would want to add); not “slaves to the elemental powers of the universe”, but sons of God, having an intimate and loving relationship with him; and to prove this is what you are (and how things are) “he has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (4: 4-6) urging us to approach God with the same trustful, intimate, ‘family’ word as a Jewish child might use to his father.

Alienation and enmity are at an end. We are being drawn into a unity with God and our fellow human beings.

This is a profoundly exciting experience, they say, altering our whole approach to life.

Q3. “Alienation and enmity are at an end. We are being drawn into a unity with God and our fellow human beings.” Is this an exciting experience for you?  How much do you experience this in your life?

  1. A THIRD thing the New Testament writers are saying, out of their experience of the Gospel, is that we are forgiven our sins.

As far as the past is concerned, God has wiped the slate clean and offered us a new beginning.

“God was in Christ” Paul tells the Corinthians, “reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding men’s misdeeds against them” (2 Cor 5: 19)

“He has made you alive with Christ” we read in Colossians; and in the next sentence “He has forgiven us all our sins.” (Col 3: 13).

And this is a continuing reality. It is not that one load of garbage has been got rid of but that another is now accumulating. No, forgiveness of our sins continues to be freely available.

We sin against God and our neighbours still – no doubt about that – and we deceive ourselves if we claim otherwise. But, the writer of 1 John tells us “If we confess our sins, God is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong” (1 John 1: 8-9). The penitent soul can begin again every day, secure in the knowledge that his sins are not being held against him.

  1. And that links closely into a FOURTH thing they are saying: We are released from bondage to sin.

Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to this sense of bondage is in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he says “When I want to do the right, only the wrong is within my reach. In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin – miserable creature that I am! Who is there to rescue me out of this body doomed to death?” (7: 21 – 21)

Then he goes on in the next chapter (Chapter 8) to tell how this bondage is at an end for those in whom God’s Spirit dwells – we need no longer be slaves to the law of sin if we let our lives be directed by the Spirit rather than the inclinations of our selfish and carnal nature.

Q 4. Is the forgiveness of sins a powerful part of the Good News for you? Is it an easy concept to introduce to non-Christians?

  1. This passage in Romans is also a good example of a FIFTH thing that the New Testament writers are saying about the impact of the good news in their lives.

Our lives now have a new centre, they say, and a new and marvellous source of power.

This centre is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, powerfully at work in the lives of those who respond to the gospel.

Paul puts it this way in Galatians: “The life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me” (2: 20)

To the Corinthians he says “I am what I am by the grace of God”. (15: 10)

Again to the Galatians, he says “If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course” (5:25) and bring forth his harvest … “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control.” (5: 22)

Notice how love stands at the head of that list – the Spirit of God, who is now the centre of our lives, is above all the Spirit of Love. Paul underlines this in his famous ‘hymn to love’ (1 Corinthians 13) where he says that without love we are nothing. And the writer of the First Epistle of John makes love for others the acid test of our profession of love for God:

“If a man says ‘I love God’ while hating his brother, he is a liar. If he does not love the brother whom he has seen, it cannot be that he loves God whom he has not seen.” (4: 20)

So there is a new centre and organising power in our lives: the Spirit of God, who is love, and who brings forth the works of love in our dealings with others.

Q 5. Have you had experience of this “organising power” (the “Spirit of God, who is love”) in your life?

  1. The experience of having our lives organised around this new dynamic centre, in which the old, self-centred nature is being done away and a new self is being created in the image of love, is an experience of profound change.

This is a SIXTH thing the writers are saying about the impact of the Gospel in their lives.

The experience is one of reversal, of being turned around.

They use various images – emerging from darkness into light, as in the first letter of John.

  • being raised from death to life as in Colossians 3.
  • laying aside one nature (like a suit of clothes) and putting on a new nature, as in Ephesians 4.

But it all comes to the same thing: profound change in the way you live.

Q 6.  Is this “experience of profound change” real for all of us?

  1. And the change is such that a new confidence is born in us, in the face of life’s difficulties and sufferings. Here is a SEVENTH thing they are saying:

The Power at work in our lives gives us strength to face anything!

At the end of Romans 8, where he has been talking about the transforming power of the Spirit, Paul says:

“What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or hardship? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril, or the sword …? I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits of superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths – nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (8: 35 – 39)

That confidence does not make pain any less painful, or suffering easy to bear; it is simply saying ‘we know we can face whatever life throws at us because God is with us to uphold us; even in the experience of death itself, mysteriously, we experience strength in weakness’.

Q 7.  How do you relate to the idea of being able to “face anything” as a Christian, in the power of the Good News?

  1. And that touches on and EIGHTH thing the writers are saying:

‘The hope we now have in Jesus Christ is a hope that cuts death down to size and opens up for us and all mankind a real future’.

It is a hope of resurrection beyond death.

“We know” says Paul “that if the earthly frame that houses us today should be demolished, we possess a building which God has provided – a house not made by human hands, eternal, and heaven”. (2 Cor: 5).

And it is not only a personal hope about our own destiny beyond death, but a hope for the world – a tremendous vision of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ – a destiny for all creation, summed up in the vision of the Book of Revelation, in which the One who sits on the throne says “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev 21: 5).

This is a future which I can make my contribution; a vision I can help come true; insofar as my life is being transformed by the divine Power who is even now working to make all things new.

Q 8.  As a Christian, how important is hope for you, personally and also in terms of the vision for “a new heaven and a new earth”?

  1. ‘And this knowledge brings a new moral seriousness into all our choices’ – that is a NINTH thing the writers are saying. They have a sense of divine judgement, present and potent in every situation, as God works out his purpose. Their choices on what to do, how to act, can help or hinder God’s work, and in the end they will have to give account for what they have done, or left undone.

‘Accountability’ is the deep, sobering note struck in the midst of the joy and thanksgiving and confidence which abound in the New Testament writings:

“We shall all stand before God’s tribunal” says Paul to the Romans (13: 10).

And to the Corinthians:

“We must all have our lives laid open before the tribunal of Christ, where each must receive what is due to him for his conduct in the body, good or bad” (2 Cor: 5 – 10).

Q 9. How does “‘Accountability’ … the deep, sobering note ..” fit into the theme of Good News?

  1. And lastly, a TENTH thing they are saying about the impact of the ‘good news’ on their lives is that they must share it. They long for others to share their liberating vision and experience. The first Christian evangelists we read about in the Acts of the Apostles cannot keep the ‘good news’ to themselves. They must share it, even if it constantly gets them into trouble.

“Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!” says Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9 : 16) … “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9: 22).

Well, it has taken rather a long time to cover these ten things that the New Testament writers are saying about the difference the gospel has made to their lives. And I am sure you would all give up if I were to take time now to recapitulate! Do not worry – I will have the sermon run off, and you can go over the ten points at your leisure.

In plain language, though, they seem to be saying this:

‘Because of the good news of Jesus Christ,

  • we can deal with the burden of our past – the burden of guilt;
  • we can live in the present creatively, courageously and purposefully;
  • we can face the future with real hope, for ourselves and for the World.

Surely news which produces that kind of testimony is as good today as it was to those who first heard it?

Q 10. [from Godfrey] “If our testimony is much the same – why are we not more noticeably sharing it in our Society? What are the difficulties, and how might we overcome them?”

More next week.  



Sermons for Study 4

THE GOOD NEWS (1) – 1978 LENT SERIES – St Peter’s Wellington – Godfrey Wilson

What is the Gospel … ‘the Good News’?

It seems a rather superfluous question, doesn’t it? I mean, we are all Christian, members of the Church. Surely we must already know what the Good News is? After all, the Church’s life and mission are a result of it, are based on it …

Well, I am not so sure that it is a superfluous question.

Q 1. What do you think about the question – “What is the Good News?”  Superfluous or not?

One of the things each member of our Lent study group had to do for last Wednesday’s meeting was to find a passage in the New Testament in which someone was stating what the Good News is.

The results of this research were extremely varied.  Some produced passages from the Gospels, others from the Acts or the Epistles. While most of them had some bearing on the Good News, they tended to stress particular aspects of it, rather than be complete statements in themselves. In fact, we began to feel that the various passages were rather like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle which, only when put together, gives a full picture of what the Good News is.

And of course, even when we began to see the full picture, the full statement of the Good News, we still had the problem of understanding just what it means.

Well, the study group is going to dig deeper into this in coming weeks – trying to arrive at an understanding of the Gospel which makes sense to us here and now; which we can say with confidence relates to our experience; and which we can therefore communicate to others with some authenticity.

I think that what is likely to be happening in the Sunday morning sermons is a kind of picking up of the threads of our weekday discussions and weaving them into something which you – a larger audience – may find helpful to your understanding and sharing of the Good News.

This morning, I want to try to lay out, as simply and briefly as I can, what the Good News is in the New Testament. Without worrying at this stage about its meaning, for us, in our lives today.

Let us just try to get clear what people were talking about then, when they proclaimed or preached ‘The Gospel’.

A few points to note.

First: the English word ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament, comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘godspell’ (meaning ‘God-story’) and is used to translate the New Testament Greek word ‘ouangelion’ meaning ‘good tidings’ or ‘news’.

A second point: the New Testament books are all, in one way or another, the product of people’s response to what they perceived as the ‘good news’ in their time and place.

  • The Gospels present the person who is at the heart of the Good News.
  • The Acts of the Apostles gives an account of what happened as the Good News was spread.
  • Most of the Epistles show people who have already responded to the Good News now wrestling with its implications for their daily living and thinking and so on.

A third point is that the word, Gospel, does not refer everywhere in the New Testament to the same message. The easiest way to appreciate this is to compare two verses at the opening of Mark’s Gospel.

Chapter 1, verse 1, says: “Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” In other words, ‘here is the good news about an historical person whom God sent’ … Good news about Jesus Christ.

But, at verse 14 we read: “After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel’.” Here Jesus is not saying ‘listen to the good news about me!’ He is saying ‘listen to the good news from God … his Kingdom is being established and here is what you had better do: repent and believe!’

Jesus’s ‘good news’ was about the Kingdom of God. The early church’s ‘good news’ was about Jesus, the person in whom the Kingdom came.

Q 2.  Have you ever thought of the Good News in this way? Is it helpful?

Now of course the content of those two messages is closely related, but … it is not the same. So let us look at them both in turn.

First, Jesus’s good news of the Kingdom.

For generations, the Jews had been expecting God to establish his ‘Kingdom’ … his sovereign rule in the world – through a sudden dramatic initiative.

They had visions of glory for themselves when this happened. God would vindicate his people and they would be at the top of the heap.

It was a spiritual vision of a new dispensation which had got all mixed up with nationalist longings and ambitions.

The good news Jesus brought, and which (as Mark tells it) he came into Galilee proclaiming was that the time of God’s dramatic initiative had come … right now he was acting to establish his Kingdom, his rule in the affairs of human beings, beginning with his ancient people, the Jews.

But it had nothing to do with their nationalistic hopes.

It had to do with the territory of the human heart and mind, with spiritual rebirth from our existence crippled by selfishness and sin, in to a new life controlled by the Spirit of God who is love.

‘God is calling on you to respond to his initiative’ said Jesus. ‘You have to act! To decide what you are going to do … believe that this is so, repent your sins, turn around and willingly accept his rule in your life … or … accept God’s judgement on your indifference to the good news or your rejection of it. This is a time of crisis for everybody … what are you going to do as God’s Kingdom comes?’

Q 3. What do you think about this summary of Jesus’s message to them, and us?

As you know, Jesus called a group of disciples to be with him to learn more of the implications of what he was saying, and to help him spread the message.

  • In his teaching, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount and his parables, he described what human life is like when truly lived under the rule of God.
  • In his acts of healing he became the means by which people experienced not only something of the wholeness of life in the Kingdom, but also something of the incredible power of God.
  • In his challenge to the legalism and pietism of his day he showed that the goodness and greatness of God could not be contained within the religious systems of human beings.
  • In his forgiveness of people’s sins he broke the vicious circle in their lives and pointed them towards the freedom and hope of new life in the Kingdom.

Good News, all of it, to those who saw and heard, and believed, and followed.

Q 4. Does this correspond to the understanding you had before, of what the Good News is?

But many did not see it or hear it as good news – only as a threat, indeed as blasphemy. They wanted him dead. And they got their way.

They thought they would put an end to both Jesus and his movement, and they would hear no more of this so-called ‘good news’ of the Kingdom which had been disturbing the status quo.

  1. 5 “Disturbing the status quo” – is this a good explanation of why many people wanted (and still want) Jesus out of the way?

But they were wrong.

And that brings us to the Church’s ‘good news’ – and the other main use of the word ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament.

The Church’s ‘good news’ focussed not on the ‘Kingdom of God’ that Jesus had proclaimed, but on Jesus himself.

The ‘good news’ now was about what God had done through Jesus.

First it drew attention to events concerning Jesus, as when in Acts Chapter 10 Peter relates to Cornelius and his friends who Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil … “    how “he was put to death by hanging on a gibbet …”  “how God raised him to life on the third day …”    how he appeared to “witnesses”.

Or as when Paul says in 1 Cor 15 how he handed on the facts as he had received them: ‘that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised to life on the third day, and appeared to a variety of witnesses.’

So at the heart of the Church’s gospel was the mind-blowing good news that the Jesus who had been crucified had been raised to life again.

But that was only part of the good news. There was also the claim that God was in these events, accomplishing a very special purpose for humanity, and that he had been preparing for it and dropping hints about it for a very long time.  This is why the phrase ‘according to the Scriptures’ keeps recurring along with the recital of these events; they believed that God had foreshadowed in his dealings with Israel, the things he had now done through Jesus. Paul puts it quite bluntly at the beginning of his letter to the Romans:

“This Gospel God announced beforehand in sacred scriptures through his prophets.”

But just what did the Early Church say it was that God was doing in these events which involved Jesus and which the Church proclaimed as ‘good news’? They said he was:

  • overcoming the estrangement between us and God.
  • Bringing forgiveness of sins, and
  • opening up a way by which we can be released from sin’s bondage and enter into our true inheritance – which is a life of love freely given and received.

Perhaps Paul puts it best in 2 Corinthians 5, when he says:

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding men’s misdeeds against them … Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sins God made him one with the sinfulness of men, so that in him we might be made one with the goodness of God himself.”

The essence of the Church’s ‘good news’, then, was (and is) this:

God has shown who he is, and also who we are intended to be, in Jesus.

Q 6. Is this a good summary of the Good News?

Through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, God has shown that he rules, that evil is not able to overcome him. Through Jesus, he has broken the grip of sin on human life, and opened for us the way to a new life lived in union with him and our neighbour (not estrangement); a life rooted and grounded in love, and made possible by the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us.

  • The invitation is: to believe this ‘good news’, to repent our sins and turn around and enter into our inheritance.
  • And the way is: to be baptised into the fellowship of those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord over their lives and who are being changed through the power of the Spirit.

Now I guess what I have said needs quite a lot of “unpacking” when we begin to ask what it means. But let us get onto that next Sunday.

Sermons for Study 3

Feeding the 5,000. St Peter’s – Edrick Corban-Banks.

Nine-year-old Danny came bursting out of Sunday. His eyes
were darting in every direction as he tried to locate either
mom or dad. Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his
Daddy by the leg and yelled, “Man, that story of Moses and all
those people crossing the Red Sea was great!” His father
looked down, smiled, and asked the boy to tell him about it.
“Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his
army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could
until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was getting’
closer and closer. So Moses got on his cell phone and told the
Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. While that was
happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the
people could cross over. They made it!
By now old dad was shocked. “Is THAT the way they taught
you the story?”
Well, no, not exactly,” Danny admitted, “but if I told you the
way they told it to us, you’d never believe it, Dad.”
Give general discussion miracles.
Peter mentions it in one of his letters:
. . .I want to remind you that in the last days there will come
scoffers who will. . .laugh at the truth. This will be their line of
argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then
where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as I can
remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the
first day of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4, TLB). 2 Peter 3 The
Message (MSG)
3-4 First off, you need to know that in the last days, mockers
are going to have a heyday. Reducing everything to the level
of their puny feelings, they’ll mock, “So what’s happened to
the promise of his Coming? Our ancestors are dead and
buried, and everything’s going on just as it has from the first
day of creation. Nothing’s changed.”
5-7 They conveniently forget that long ago all the galaxies and
this very planet were brought into existence out of watery
chaos by God’s word. Then God’s word brought the chaos
back in a flood that destroyed the world. The current galaxies
and earth are fuel for the final fire. God is poised, ready to
speak his word again, ready to give the signal for the judgment
and destruction of the desecrating skeptics.
We tend to ignore the miraculous and the supernatural yet to
believe scripture we musty believe in the miraculous..and, of
course, to leave no space for the miraculous. How do we even
define the miraculous when we can s easily ask why did God
not intervene…in whatever situation we want to place there.

And yet God did intervene but the faith that we have is also
the miracle
And in relation the faith we have Charles Spurgeon There are
few people who think what a solemn thing it is to be a
Christian. I guess there is not a believer in the world who
knows what a miracle it is to be kept a believer.
Charles Spurgeon

So thi is the only miracle of Jesus repeated in all four gospels.
We know that if something is given once in the Bible, it is true
and we should believe it, yu could almost say the Holy Spirit
repeats himself, and so it must be important .
multitude came to Jesus in the wilderness, he was moved with
compassion because he saw they were tired and hungry. Late
in the day his disciples suggested that he send the people
home so they could find something to eat. Mark 6:35-37
(NKJV) tells us what happened next:
When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him
and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the
hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the
surrounding country and villages and buy themselves
bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
But He answered and said to them, “You give them
something to eat.”
You know the rest of the story, how the found the lad with
five loaves and two fish and how Jesus blessed that meager
lunch so that it fed 5000 men with 12 baskets left over.
This is one of the great miracles of the Bible Suppose you had
to feed 5000 men tonight. What would you do? Well not a
problem really if you have enough paella pans. Well if it was
a spanish village they would get a 5 metre paella pan that
would feed 10000. But that’s hours of preparation hauling in
the ingredients but Jesus short circuits that.
You may know of George Muller of Bristol” I was watching last
night a short documentary on Mueller you can find it on you
tube its called a cloud of witnesses. George Muller was a
celebrated Christian evangelist and the founder of the ‘Ashley
Down Orphanage’ in Bristol, England. During his lifetime he
cared for more than 10,000 orphan children. He is considered
as one of the most revered Christian evangelists,
Mention Dickens here and his support, and his influence on
Hudson Taylor DI Moody Spurgeon etc
“ The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is
no food for them to eat,” the housemother of the orphanage
informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300
children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables.
He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God
would provide food for the children as he always did. Within
minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said,
“last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would

need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for
you. I will bring it in.”
Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the
milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage.
The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He
asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as
the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just
enough for the 300 thirsty children.
Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is
no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith
begins where man’s power ends.
George Muller

So its late pizza deliveries haven’t been invented yet,The
disciples make a very practical suggestion: “Send them away
and let them find food.” That’s logical. The suggestion is not
made from bad motives. In themselves the disciples had no
resources to meet this enormous need. What else could they
All they saw 5000 problems they couldn’t solve.
but they forgot that the Son of God was standing right there
with them.
The Grand Adventure of Helping Others
Then Jesus says, “You give them something to eat” (verse
37). It’s funny because the disciples have just gotten through
explaining why they can’t feed this massive crowd. One
wonders if they were thinking something like this: “You want
us to feed this crowd? You must be joking ! We don’t have
any money and we don’t have any food.
This is how Jesus often works with us Over and over again he
puts us in positions where we are helpless, and then he says,
“Do something!” In our desperation we cry out to heaven,
“How?” and he replies, “I’m glad you asked.” It’s not that
Jesus wants us to fail, but he does want us to know that
without him Our success depends totally upon him, John’s
account of this miracle tells us that it was Andrew who found
the young boy with the five loaves and two fish and brought
him to Jesus. We should not miss the obvious lesson
here: Don’t ever despise the day of small things. Just because
something is small or seemingly insignificant doesn’t mean
God can’t use it. David used one smooth stone to defeat
mighty Goliath. Now Jesus is about to feed 5000 men with five
biscuits and two fish. Size doesn’t matter with God. He can use
anything we offer to him.
One commentary covers the moral of the story If you like, call
this the moral of the story: God often puts us in situations
where we are doomed to failure in order to force us to

depend totally on him so that when the miracle comes, he
alone gets the credit. the story of Gideon whose army was
reduced from 3000 , which in numerical numbers would have
given him certain victory but was reduced by God to 300
which, as strange as it may sound gave him even more certain
of a victory. This is a divine strategy repeated many times in
the Bible and in our own experience. We often find ourselves
in desperate straits with no way out, no good options, and no
human way of remedying our situation. God allows this to
happen so that we will cry out to him. And when the
deliverance comes, we are obliged to give God the total credit.
You know one thing we were never taught in our ministry
training, and I reflect on this a lot, Sooner or later we will
come to the end of our knowledge, our wisdom, our skill, your
strength, our eloquence, our creativity. ministry has a way of
stripping away our self-sufficiency and showing us how weak
we really are.
When that happens, you will discover what you really believe.
Some people have a faith crisis, some just totally succumb to
despair, some cant cope with responsibility and marriages
break up. I have seen that happen with so many of my
colleagues. One particular friend, has now gone through 3
marriages and three changes of denomination. He was one of
the most brilliant students at College. We only got theology
from our teachers , but we discover what we actually believe
when the moment of crisis comes and Jesus says to you, “Give
them something to eat.”
The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning
of true faith is the end of anxiety.
George Muller
Lesson 1: The fact that something is impossible is no excuse
for not trying to do it. All too often we conclude that
something can’t be done so we don’t bother trying to do it. If
Moses had taken that attitude, the Jews would still be in
Egypt. If Joshua had felt that way, the walls of Jericho would
still be standing. If David had adopted that opinion, Goliath
would still be terrorizing the Israelites. We never know in
advance what God may do so don’t rule out the possibility of a
miracle coming your way.
Lesson 2: God asks us to do the impossible and then he gives
whatever we need to do the impossible… obey his
command. Jesus often told people to do impossible things. To
a lame man he said, “Rise, pick up your bed, and walk.” To a
dead man, he cried out, “Lazarus, come forth.” There is a
sense in which every command of God is impossible for us to
obey. We always lack what we need to obey God’s commands.
But God is faithful to give us whatever we need when we ask

him. What God demands, he supplies. He “bids us fly and gives
us wings.”
Lesson 3: When we offer our meager resources to God, we
discover that the impossible isn’t. Ive used this quote from J.
Hudson Taylor, a great man of faith whose missionary efforts
helped open China to the gospel. Time and again he saw God
do amazing things in the face of hopeless circumstances .
Reflecting on his experiences, he remarked that “there are
three stages in any work attempted for God: Impossible,
Difficult, Done.” I am very encouraged by that because there
are many moments when we all seem to be stuck in the
“impossible” stage of life. Cheer up, you never know but your
impossibility may simply be “Stage 1” of a mighty miracle God
will perform on your behalf.
One commenator summed it up this weay God will give you
whatever you need in order to do his will. And he will do it . .
In his own time,
In his own way,
According to his own will.
So using the analogy When he says, “Give them something to
eat,” he will give us whatever we need so that “no one goes
away hungry”. Exactly how he will do that, no one can say in


Sermons for Study 2

The Truth of the Resurrection Luke 24:1-12 Edrick Corban-Banks

Sunday 21st November 2021, St Peters Akaroa.

     I wasn’t to thank Clive for sharing the letter to Jesus written by Lloyd Gering last week when I read it through it seemed to me as though if could have been written by someone whose on journey to learning more about Jesus. I know a few of you found it challenging but its also good to flex the brain muscle and to reflect on our belief and understanding. Christianity is not learn by rite religion. It is challenging and reasonable. And we do not leave our brains at the door when we come into church. We know of course that Geering was a member of the Jesus Seminar, and denied the death and resurrection of Jesus. I think the main reason he was tried for heresy.  But the w question that arises from Geerings stance, as a professed Christian, , ,

Can a person who calls himself a Christian like Geering, ever doubt the resurrection of Jesus Christ? can we believe the in the resurrection.

Well the answer is simple I if Jesus had never been an historical figure.  The resurrection never happened and now of us would be here. The world would not exist as we know it.  Tu can be s certain it will be dramatically worse. 

  the question itself is very crucial. Let me put it another way. Suppose that Jesus did not rise from the dead, how do you explain what happened that first Easter morning?

That is the question that has fascinated great minds for 2000 years. 

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the ‘first fruits,’ the pioneer of life,’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.

  1. S. Lewis

I know that the vast majority of us believe in the resurrection … and we hardly think about whether it really happened. What I’m going to say may surprise you, but there are other explanations, some of them quite brilliant, for the apparently empty tomb. If we stick our heads outside our doors and listen to the men and women of the world, we will find that there are many sincere people who have questions. Easter questions.

This supreme question is this: Can a person who calls himself a Christian ever doubt the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Yes or no, what do you say? More importantly, what does the Bible say?

 The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fact of the Christian faith and is therefore open to every kind of question.

Michael Green said it this way:

Christianity does not hold the resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without belief in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all. The Christian Church would never have begun; the Jesus movement would have fizzled out like a damp squib with his execution. Christianity stands or falls with the truth of the resurrection. Once disprove it, and you have disposed of Christianity.

 In our society there are two great religious holidays–Christmas and Easter. Christmas is the time of year when we gather with family and friends to sing carols, decorate the tree and exchange gifts. Christmas is the climax of the whole year. Easter? Well, for most people it’s just another long weekend, another chance to get away for a few days.Even Christians view Easter as a second-rate holiday!

I think  we’ve gotten our thinking badly mixed up. If Easter had not happened, Christmas would have no meaning. If the tomb is not empty, the cradle makes no difference. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he really is just a misguided Jewish rabbi with delusions of grandeur. If Easter is not true, then Christmas is only the story of an obscure baby born in an out-of-the-way village in a forgotten land 2000 years ago. It is Easter that gives Christmas its meaning.

Note this  In all the New Testament no major doctrinal point is ever built upon the virgin birth of Christ. Not one. It’s true. It happened. But it’s never discussed or mentioned. In fact, two gospels don’t even say anything about it.

But the resurrection? That’s a different story. In every part of the New Testament, it comes up again and again. Read the sermons of Acts. As another commentator pointed out When the first Christians preached, they didn’t mention Bethlehem; they talked about the empty tomb. They never got over the fact that on Easter Sunday when they went to the tomb, Jesus was gone.

This week I’ve been reading I Corinthians 15, that famous passage where Paul reasons out loud about the resurrection and the implications if it did not happen. Evidently some believers in Corinth were teaching that Christians would not rise from the dead when Jesus returns to the earth. Paul answers by saying, “That’s foolish because if Christians do not rise from the dead what you are really saying is that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because those two things go together–his resurrection and ours.”

Then he says it twice: “If Christ has not been raised.” (I Corinthians 15:14,17) So what, Paul?

  1. Our preaching is vain. (14)

    2. We are despicable liars. (15)

    3. Our faith is vain. (17)

    4. We are still in our sins. (17)

    5. Dead Christians have perished. (18) 

    6. We are to be pitied more than all people. (19)

That is precisely my point: The resurrection is the central fact of our faith. Disprove it and nothing is left.

That’s why from the very beginning, skeptics and doubters have attacked the Christian faith at this very point. It’s not the virgin birth, it’s not the miracles, it’s not his death. The resurrection is the touchstone.

And that’s why questions are welcome on Easter Sunday. This is the heart of what we are all about. Everything we do rests on this fact–Jesus rose from the dead. If it weren’t so important, no one would bother to doubt it . You can doubt some miracle of Christ if you want and the only loser will be you … but if you doubt the resurrection of Jesus, the foundations begin to crumble.

 So it is that sincere men and women ask hard questions about Easter–and well they should. It all begins or ends right here.

Lee Strobel and investigative journalist and atheist whose wife became Christian decided in order to rescue her from this “cult “that he would investigate the Resurrection utterly disprove it and get his wife out. He knew that if he could disprove the historicity of the resurrection, he would shatter her beliefs. Didn’t happen. He spent 2 years investigating and the result was Strobel became a Christian and an amazing apologist. “ he wrote the book” the Case for the resurrection” went on to write “The Case for Christ”


All of this raises another question:     if we had been there that first Easter, would we have believed or would we have doubted?

To put it another way, what would it take to convince you that someone you loved had come back to life after being dead three days? Suppose it were a close friend or a family member and you had seen them die? What would it take to convince you? Rising from the dead is not a common thing. At best, it hasn’t happened for many generations.

If we had been there in Jerusalem with Matthew, James and John … would we have believed the strange rumors that Sunday morning?

Let us for the moment, consider the evidence.  Jesus died on the cross. No one ever survived roman crucifixion. How did the people who knew Jesus best react to the news of his resurrection?

Here’s a simple observation  They were not expecting a resurrection. That was the farthest thing from their minds. Forget his predictions. Forget all that brave talk. Forget those wild dreams. They had given up.

Strange fact. Who really expected problems? Who was afraid that “something” might happen? Hear the words of Matthew 27:62-66. The Jewish leaders had more faith than the disciples. So did the Romans!

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ’After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting a guard.

The believers had no thought of a resurrection. Who came first to the tomb that Sunday morning? The women. Were they looking for a resurrection? No. Mark 16:1 says they came to anoint the body of Jesus. In those days a body was prepared for burial by covering it with spices and then pouring on a sticky ointment. In the confusion and hurry late Friday afternoon, the spices had been places on Jesus’ body but not the ointment. The women came to finish the job of embalming!

And what did they find when they got there? The stone rolled away and an empty tomb! All four gospels agree on this fact. The women did not have the slightest clue as to what had happened. They were not looking for a resurrection. 


An angel told them what had happened and still they did not believe it.

Mark puts it this way: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (16:8)

And John says that when Mary left she found Peter and John and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)

Luke adds the final detail that when the women told the rest of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11)

Nonsense. Of course. No one rises from the dead. Not after three days. Not after being beaten and scourged. Not after being crucified. Not after hanging on a cross for six hours. Not after having a sword thrust in the side. Not after being covered with 150 pounds of spices and wrapped in a suffocating burial cloth. Not after being sealed in a tomb.

No. The odds are against it. It’s impossible.

And Mark says, “When they heard that Jesus was alive … they did not believe it.” (Mark 16:11)

Simple. It’s too hard to believe otherwise. It goes against nature. So they didn’t. We all know the rest of the story. But I don’t want to get to that just yet. I want to point out that the people who knew Jesus best and loved him most had grave doubts. They could not and would not believe it.

Alfred Edersheim, author of perhaps the greatest book on the life of Christ written in the English language: wrote this

What thoughts filled the minds of Joseph of Arimathea, of Nicodemus, and of the other disciples of Jesus, as well as the Apostles and the women about Jesus death?

They believed him to be dead, and they did not expect him to rise again from the dead.  The evidence is over whelming  from the moment of his death, in the burial spices brought by Nicodemus, in those prepared by the women … in the sorrow of the women at the empty tomb, in their supposition that the body had been moved,  the confusion of the disciples, , in the doubts of so many, and indeed in the express statement, “For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”

What does this tell us?  The people who knew Jesus’ best and loved him the most did not expect a resurrection and had to be convinced against their own will!

What finally convinced them? Jesus did! The tomb was empty … the angel said he had risen … all that could be explained. But Jesus himself appeared to them … alive from the dead. The same Jesus … the one they had watched die … he appeared and they saw him, talked to him, touched him, heard his voice, looked into his face, watched him closely. It was true! Jesus had come back from the dead. Against all their expectations, the truth came home to them … Jesus had risen from the dead!

And that brings us back to our original question: Can a person who calls himself a Christian ever doubt the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Yes indeed, for the ones who knew him best and loved him most doubted at the first.

.We can understand this, The first disciples loved Jesus so much they refused to believe the truth at first because they didn’t want to be disappointed. You can’t blame them at all. Love made them doubt … and then it made them believe.

Thomas missed that first meeting on Easter Sunday. I think he was so heartbroken that he simply went off by himself to suffer alone. When the news came of Jesus’ resurrection, he couldn’t believe it. After all these years, Thomas has gotten a bad reputation, but he’s really no worse than the others. They didn’t believe at first, either. He said, “Unless I see him and unless I touch him, I will not believe.”

We tend to look down on Thomas … but Jesus didn’t. He said, “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” Then he said, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Doubters are welcome at the empty tomb! Our Lord welcomes Easter questions!

I was looking through a list of church ads and found one from a Lutheran church that I liked very much. It said, “The tomb is empty … No bones about it.” That sums up it, doesn’t it?

Jesus himself asked this question of those who come to him, “What do you think of Christ? Whose Son, is he?” Before you answer, as one commentator pointed out , here is the evidence for you to consider. Go to the tombs of the founders of the great world religions. Call the roll:

Mohammed … … “Here”

Buddha … … … .”Here”

Confucius … … . .”Here”

Moses … … … . . “Here”

Jesus Christ … . . .

No answer … Because he is not there. The tomb is empty!!! Doubt if you will, but the tomb is still empty because he is not there. He is risen, just as he said.”

In the early church Christians greeted each other this way: One would say, “He is risen.” Another would answer, “He is risen indeed.”

It is true … and we have staked our lives upon it!

Then John said, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

No one can remain neutral forever You can bring your doubts to the empty tomb … but you have to make a choice! You can’t stay on the fence forever.Doubting is no sin, but at some point you’ve got to stop doubting and start believing. “Do you believe this?” ‘ 5In the end truth must always become personal. Here are   six vital questions:

  1. Do you believe with all your heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came from heaven to live on this earth 2000 years ago?

    2. Do you believe that when he died on the Cross, he died in your place, bearing your punishment, and paying for your sins?

    3. Do you believe than on Easter Sunday morning, he literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead never to die again?

    4. Do you believe that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God the Father?

    5. Do you believe that Jesus is truly the resurrection and the life and that he is able to remove the terror of death for those who trust him?

    6. Are you willing to stake your life on your answers to the first five

    Either you believe or you don’t!

You know that Jesus died … there is no doubt about that. You know that he died for you. You know that he rose from the dead.

Jesus said, “Stop doubting and believe.”


Sermons for study 1

Choosing Church Pt 1 – Marilyn McEntyre


5 reasons for not going to church,

and 5 reasons for going to church


Appears in Autumn 2017 Issue: A Church for the World

by Marilyn McEntyre


MARILYN McENTYRE is a writer and professor of medical humanities at UC Davis and the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program.

Some of us remember Enid Strict, the infamous and wildly popular “church lady” played by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live. Enid was a caricature of the busybody finger-shaking moralist no one would want to share a pew with. Her routines included condemnations of all things sexual, judgments on the rich and famous, and a little “superior dance” she performed to music played by an organist named Pearl.

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to having watched SNL, let alone laughed at the antics of the church lady. But I did. I have also shared Jane Austen’s wry amusement at the Reverend Mr. Collins’s obsequious panderings and laughed out loud at Stella Gibbons’s portrayal of Amos Starkadder, pastor of the Church of the Quivering Brethren in Cold Comfort Farm, who delivers stock hellfire sermons in Scottish brogue. Figures like these continue to amuse readers and viewers by exposing the false pieties and self-serving practices of Christians at their worst.

Caricatures of Christians and their churches go back to Chaucer and beyond, some finding their inspiration in the Gospels themselves, where Jesus not only rebukes the Pharisees but also makes them look ridiculous. We’re an easy target. Churches have never occupied an altogether comfortable place in culture, even where they have borne the state’s imprimatur.

Yet churches have survived the potshots of satirists and, more consequential, internal disorders and diseases that have afflicted them for centuries: pride, envy, anger, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth—just to review the short list. A lot of them not only survive, but also thrive. Many are repositories of great spiritual wealth hidden behind flaking paint and dated amber windows. They are a last resort for people who have tried bars, bowling leagues, service clubs, and block parties and still find themselves lonely and directionless. They offer surprises to people who come as pallbearers to their mother’s funeral only to find themselves wanting, for reasons they can’t quite name, to return the following week. They preserve language that lifts the mind out of the muddy waters of media-speak and into unnerving encounter with the Word that was in the beginning. Some of them. Not all of them.

Q1. How do you react to caricatures and satires of church and clergy?

By virtue of moving around a good bit, I’ve had occasion over the years to visit churches, choose among them, and change my mind occasionally. What I want and need from church now isn’t at all what I hoped for at fifteen, when I spent Sunday evenings in earnest Bible study with the youth group, or at twenty, when I emerged from years of camp songs into the quiet dignities of liturgical worship, or at thirty, when I found deep respite in the sturdy silence and simple practices of Quakers.

There were stretches of time when, afflicted with church fatigue, I didn’t go at all. I was a cradle churchgoer, child of missionary parents, and the very idea of sleeping in, reading the Times in my pyjamas, and heading out for a Sunday morning bike ride was both tempting and unsettling. Ultimately, it was unsatisfying, so I returned, but my stretch of churchless Sundays did give me some understanding of and sympathy for the inertias that keep people away from church.

Q.1A  What is your history of churchgoing (or not going)?

There are a number of reasons not to go to church. At risk of stating the obvious, here are a few:

Q.2  Check out the reasons below, and see which ones may apply to your own church?

1. Some churches are clubby and exclusionary. They have a house style. Long-time parishioners know all the moves, liturgical and social. They refer to their favourite person of the Trinity in a socially correct way. There appears to be a dress code. They shake hands with visitors at the “coffee hour,” but don’t exhibit much real curiosity about what might have brought them there. The dominant demographic is painfully apparent. Those who don’t fit the profile might consider going elsewhere.

2. Some churches offer easy, oversimplified preachments that provide scant help to those grappling with the complexities of contemporary life. Sermons tend to reiterate familiar condensations of the gospel message, but only the parts of it that pertain to a rather insular range of concerns, with a heavy emphasis on comfort rather than challenge. The intention seems to be that people leave feeling affirmed, though it also seems likely that some leave feeling hungry, restless, and unsatisfied.

3. Some churches’ efforts to be relevant lure them into imitating popular culture in language, music, and technology, all rather less effectually than their secular counterparts. Sometimes this involves screens and electric guitars. Sometimes it involves adults attempting awkwardly to sing along with swaying high school vocalists. Sometimes it involves banners and slogans. Some notion of a common denominator appears to determine worship style, but the result is a confused mix of media and a diluted message.

4. Some churches are boring. Their sermons, websites, and congregational enterprises tend toward the predictable. They play it so safe, seeking not to offend anyone anywhere on the political or theological spectrum, that they become lukewarm. And we know what Jesus does to the lukewarm.

5. Some churches are partisan. They support candidates and single-issue voting. Rather than nuanced reflection on doctrine they become doctrinaire.

The list is depressing. I edited it down. But here’s the thing: the list of reasons to go to church is longer and more interesting. Compelling, even. It’s a list I’d be glad to share with the cynical, the indifferent, and the uninformed. It’s not an indiscriminate invitation to hasten out next Sunday seeking the nearest steeple, but a challenge to find, even if it takes some church-hopping, those places where the Spirit is working quiet wonders among ordinary people. Read on below …

Here are five reasons for going to church, not necessarily in order of importance, which I would give the reluctant and the skeptical to check out church, despite their reservations:

Q3. Examine each ‘reason’ and see how it could be applied to you/our church

1.       A healthy church will help you get over yourself. One of the primary aims of good preaching is to invite us into a story much larger than our own. In a healthy church, conversation about what the privileged owe the poor will be made local and urgent every time the story of the rich young ruler is read. Personal wealth and the wealth of the nation will be re-examined with a critical eye every time the parable of “bigger barns” comes up, or the camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. Shared prayers of thanksgiving will not only reflect but also awaken gratitude. In a healthy church people’s needs are made known and other people organized to help meet those needs—deacons, elders, volunteers who take food to the housebound or take people who can’t drive to doctors’ appointments.


In a healthy church you begin to recognize yourself as someone with gifts to give—time, money, energy, expertise—and you begin to want to give them, because the grace that comes with giving is suddenly so startlingly apparent. You find a compassionate curiosity growing in you that leads you into conversation with people you might otherwise have avoided. You take a second look at them as you reach out to exchange with them a peace that sometimes passes understanding.

In an urban church we attended for a time homeless people came regularly to worship. Some were disruptive; one mumbled, one snored, one wandered around the back of the sanctuary. They were familiar folks who weren’t getting nearly the help they needed. One was unwashed, and smelled. Sharing a pew with him was challenging, but when he happened to sit close by the thought never failed to occur to me that next to him is exactly where Jesus would be. By choice.

God loves you with infinite, unconditional love, we learn in church, but to experience that love fully, you have to get over yourself—excessive concern with your own welfare, your own family, your own ambitions or failures. When you enter into the life of a church, you are freed to be a servant. It is true that you can discover the joy of generosity and service elsewhere. But healthy churches are reliable places to find those opportunities, every week at the back of the bulletin or in the newsletter or on the website, to witness the fruits of the Spirit, who brings humble efforts to fruition, and to be reminded by story, song, and your neighbour’s example what Christlike looks like.

Q 3a  Can our church help us get over ourselves?

2.       A healthy church will allow you to acknowledge guilt and experience forgiveness. As Toni Morrison’s wonderful character Baby Suggs puts it to her congregation, here you can come to “lay it all down.” It may not seem that acknowledging guilt would be a particularly attractive reason to attend church, but you find, if you do it, that it’s amazingly restorative. Most of us carry around guilt like a stone in a pocket. Sometimes you get so used to its weight you stop even noticing it. So it can take a long time, if you’re leading what seems to be a decent and innocuous life, to get to a place where guilt becomes pain and you long for forgiveness.

When you do get there, a healthy church is a good place to go. Of course, the first place to go might be to those you’ve offended, to ask directly for forgiveness or make amends. Jesus endorses that bit of common sense, as does every Twelve-Step program. But if those you have offended have died, or are unavailable, or if your guilt has metastasized into pervasive unease or a troubling awareness of complicity in culture-wide injustice, it requires a different kind of healing—one pastors and priests are trained to help with. In churches one may discover how significantly pastoral care differs from psychotherapy, and why one might need both.

Guilt is hard to release on your own. I’m often puzzled when I hear well-intentioned advice to “forgive yourself,” since in my experience that would be a lot like pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. When I do manage to “forgive myself,” it looks suspiciously like rationalization. I can shift the stone from one pocket to the other and relieve the stress on one aching muscle, but it’s not the same as “laying it all down.”

Q3b    The Anglican service includes the words “forgive yourself”. How do you relate to them? “Guilt is hard to release on your own” – Do you have any comment about that?

Until you’ve tried it, it’s hard to imagine the complete release that can come with full, open-hearted confession. And though the act of corporate confession repeated weekly in many churches may seem rote, speaking it creates an opening in the heart that widens over time into willingness, even eagerness to be “cleansed,” released, forgiven, and to find that energy begins to flow again that has been tied up in the arduous business of ego-protection and self-deception.

It’s certainly possible to give and receive forgiveness without benefit of church. But within the church a dimension of forgiveness is taught and practiced that is peculiar to Christian worship. Forgiveness, as the church understands it, is a mystery: we are, as Luther put it, completely justified, and completely sinful. The forgiveness Christ offered and the church makes available is absolute. Though there may be work to do on a human level, once we are “clothed” in Christ’s righteousness, we can walk in freedom, straight to those places where we have amends to make, and make them with lighter and more hopeful hearts. We can afford to confess because confession doesn’t mire us in shame, but lifts us into sure and certain hope and a life of gratitude.

These are theological truths that can only be grasped in faith, but they’re worth exploring even for the unbeliever, especially when therapy has worn thin and relationships are frayed and you find yourself pretty sick of your own addictive habits. Kneeling in a healthy church and reading with others that we have sinned “in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” may both reframe the pain of guilt and relieve it.

One form of confession seems to me an especially rich reflection on the nature of sin (a word we’re unlikely these days to hear spoken without irony anywhere outside the church). It includes these lines:

We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will.

The first time I heard it, I thought of the drone strikes, white-collar crime, and shady corporate practices I like to condemn, and took instant account of my own complicity. One dimension of sin is the general pollution we all live with. I look at smokestacks spewing toxins into industrial communities or at contaminated rivers or orchards where pesticides leave residues on human skin and realize that the “goods” I take for granted involve me in evils I need to recognize—not with personal shame, perhaps, but with determination to work, once I am “forgiven, restored, and strengthened,” to help stop the harm and heal the earth we share. These concerns are large and weighty. A healthy church equips us to tolerate an awareness that could be crushing if we tried to sustain it all alone and then to act.

Q.4  How important do you think the acknowledgement of guilt and experience of forgiveness is in a church service?

3.       A healthy church will invite you into countercultural community. It won’t be an extension program in civil religion. It won’t (and I know there are faithful folk who disagree) fly the national flag in the sanctuary. It won’t stamp its seal of approval on “our way of life,” whatever that has come to mean to comfortable North Americans. It will “afflict” the comfortable. It won’t offer cheap grace. It will help you share—and want to share—accountability for practices that affect the vulnerable. It will expand the repertoire of questions you raise about what is “normal” in the culture you inhabit. A healthy church will look at norms with a critical eye, holding them up to the light of Christ, which involves deep reading of Scripture and deep engagement with biblical ethics. It will lift you out of your cultural landscape enough to take a long, even transcendent, view of it. It will lead you to identify with and act on behalf of the disempowered—migrant workers, prisoners, people with no health insurance, people whose lands and water have been expropriated or contaminated, underpaid labourers, victims of domestic abuse. The list goes on. A healthy church will have the conversation and invite you into it. It will provide you with dates and local leaders and action plans. It will teach you to pray as you go.

Some churches are sanctuaries where immigrants and undocumented workers can find safety and compassionate help while they figure out survival strategies. Some churches participate in projects organized by Habitat for Humanity or the International Rescue Committee or local homeless shelters. Some organize their own versions of such endeavours. One example of imaginative, humble service is our church’s taking over a laundromat once a month, arriving with stacks of quarters, letting it be known that homeless folks can get two loads of laundry washed and folded while they wait. Some pack lunches. Some repair and distribute bikes. Some supplement medical care through parish nursing. The list is long. Many of these things are being done outside churches, of course, but when church people do them, even if they say nothing about Jesus, and often they don’t, the love, humility, convicted consciences, and real joy in service that animates their efforts rarely goes unnoticed.

Where government falls short, the church often steps in. If you look into the  “breach,” wherever it gapes, you’re likely to find church people who have leapt into it once more.

Q.5  Should the church invite us into a ‘countercultural community’? Does our church do this?

4.       A healthy church will give you access to a treasury of words and music. It will bring you into a centuries-old conversation that includes the whole “communion of saints.” Where else are you likely to encounter words like “blessing” or “grace” or “parable” or “holy” or, for that matter, “shibboleth” or “Sabaoth”? Where else are you likely to encounter a conversation that takes you to the ancient world and back, bearing gifts for the present, sometimes wrapped in antique language?

Among the most memorable sermons I’ve heard are a few that focused on a single word or phrase from Hebrew or Greek. One drew attention to the word schizomeno—meaning in Greek “ripped open.” It occurs twice in the Gospels: once when the temple veil is torn the day of Christ’s crucifixion. The other is when “the heavens opened” upon Christ’s baptism. But they didn’t just “open.” They were ripped open. God broke into history with a voice and an act of salvation unlike any other. The drama of that moment would be easy to overlook without the guidance of someone who struggled through seminary Greek in order to help us read more deeply the challenging, mysterious, much-maligned text we call holy.

In that text the church is guardian of a cultural treasure like no other. There are sacred texts in other traditions, to be sure, worth study and reflection. But this one is unique in its multiplicity of sources, its rich, ragged stories, sometimes riddled with gaps, its many literary genres, in the way it gives access to a God who will not be reduced to human dimensions and in the simple fact that it’s a taproot of Western culture. It is the source of archetypes, conceptual structures, metaphors, and mythic symbols that give our psychological and social lives shape and depth. Seventy-five translations of the Bible still exist in English. One can spend many months in Bible study considering what difference the differences among them make.

To study the Bible with people of faith is to see it not only as an object of academic or antiquarian interest but also as a living word, a source of intellectual challenge, inspiration, comfort, uncomfortable ambiguities, and endless insights for people who gather in willingness to accept what seems to be God’s invitation: Wrestle with this. Healthy churches wrestle, working out their salvation over coffee and concordances, knowing there is nothing pat or simple about the living Word, but that it invites us into subtle, supple, resilient relationship with the Word made flesh who dwells, still, among us.

Q.6  Do you see church as a place where you can find ‘a treasury of words and music’?

5.       Healthy churches are places of divine encounter. The disenchanted who have suffered from warped pieties and the skeptical who haven’t met a believer who meets their standards of intellectual integrity may simply not believe this. Nor might a person who has a thriving meditation practice rooted in non-Christian tradition: it’s become distressingly easy to point to churches that don’t, in fact, foster the silence, contemplative practices, or sustained, unstinting prayer that deepens and widens awareness beyond rationality or convention. But a healthy church does those things. It provides a place, a way, an invitation, and a sacred space in which, if you come with an open heart, you may find yourself, in spite of yourself, practicing the presence of God.

Q.7  The author says churches should be places where ‘silence, contemplative practices, or sustained, unstinting prayer’ can be experienced. How important do you feel this is?

Singing is one way to “enter into God’s courts.” Few places are left where people gather and sing. Yet neuroscientists say that singing together promotes integration of brain functions, alleviates depression, and promotes mental health. When we sing we learn viscerally and audibly what it means to be “one in the Spirit.”

Hearing sacred texts read aloud also brings us into alignment with others who inhabit the same story. It is our story—all of ours—available to be entered and explored like a great territorial preserve. I have sometimes found that hearing a familiar phrase read aloud—”Be not afraid,” or “Come and see,” for instance—suddenly emerges in the context of a service as personal address. We gather in church because private, silent reading is not enough: we need to hear the living word breathed by a human voice.

Q.8 Singing, hearing sacred texts read aloud – how meaningful are these for you?

And the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion—whatever name it is given in a particular denominational tradition—has become, for me, Protestant that I am, the moment of encounter I most eagerly await when I go to church. When I walk forward and kneel at the Communion rail, though other ways of receiving the sacrament have their logic and legitimacy, I make, each time, a new act of consent to God’s invitation to participate in divine life. I am reminded again of the shocking intimacy expressed in the words “This is my body. Take. Eat.” The message each time seems to me something like, “Do you get it now? How utterly I enter into your very being, your body and breath, to make you a Christ-bearer?”

Q.9  Is the Communion the high point of a service for you?

I know a number of people who hesitate to talk about Jesus or Christ, but are comfortable with the term “Christ-consciousness,” meaning a higher state of awareness and awakedness to divine presence within and all around. Many mystics have testified to extraordinary moments of vision, transport, being subsumed in the Light, filled with the Spirit, empowered in sudden, inexplicable ways. As far as I know, none of them, Christian or non-Christian, has experienced the benefit of such experiences without two prerequisites: humility and community. We gather in churches because our combined will and willingness, our collective energy, our voices attuned and our attention directed toward God, enable something to happen that is far less likely to happen alone or at random.

Q.10 ‘Humility and community’ – do you agree that these are prerequisites for meaningful and empowering experiences in church?

Distracted, reluctant, confused, or apathetic you may be on any given Sunday, but if you go, something will happen. A word, a phrase, a flicker of candlelight, a gesture, an image, an extended moment of silence—all these have their effects. On Sundays, and they are not infrequent, when I don’t really feel like getting dressed and going to church, but do it anyway, I invariably leave with a gift I could not have foreseen. It’s not always the sermon—a good sermon is hard to find. And sometimes the readers read poorly or the person behind me can’t stop coughing or someone won’t take the crying baby outside. But underneath the distractions and irritations runs a current so strong it carries me in spite of myself. I float in mighty waters.

Not all churches are alike. Not all churches are healthy. The troubles that afflict unhealthy churches are nothing new: they are dishevelled or diseased or fatigued or torn by infighting. But even those churches contain within themselves the seeds of renewal. They aren’t simply dying institutions, irrelevant and poorly run; they are cell and tissue of the body of Christ. Within them people we may not enjoy but must engage with are, in very fact, brothers and sisters who belong to us and to whom we belong by a tie stronger than blood. All of us who labour and are heavy laden come to receive “the gifts of God for the people of God” and find that God’s people are also ours.



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