Saturday, 25 June 2011

1st Sunday after Trinity: Resonance and Chaos

Romans 6:12-23
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 10:40-42
Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

“No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”

I bought my first drum kit when I was sixteen. It had been on loan to a friend of mine who’d let me play it and decided he didn’t want it and was at least third hand. It cost me the princely price of £45. I still don’t know if that was a good deal, but I was happy, even if my headache prone father was perhaps a little less so. Now £45 back in 1982 was a reasonable amount of money, but not huge, and I soon began to realise some of the problems with my purchase.

You see this really was a very cheap drum kit, and the place where it most showed was on the snare drum which was barely controllable. By that I mean that it buzzed a great deal. If I hit any other drum in the kit, the snare drum buzzed, or rather the snare, which is a grid of metal wires on the bottom skin of the drum, would rattle.

And of course, if I played the drums with other musicians, which is after all the whole point, then it seemed that whatever tone was played by whatever instrument, the snare would buzz. Why? Well let me give you a short lesson in physics. The snare buzz was down to something called resonance.

If you have two strings from a guitar, and they’re both, say E strings, if you pluck one of them then the vibrations it sets up in the air will make the other E string vibrate in sympathetic resonance. So long as the string is tuned to the same note, plucking one will make the other vibrate. But if you have a D string next to and E string, and you pluck the D string, the E string will more or less ignore it. It’s the wrong frequency.

But my snare drum wasn’t like that. Whatever frequency instrument you played, that rotten old snare would vibrate sympathetically along with it producing this really annoying buzz that got in the way of the music we were trying to produce. Everything we played was tarnished by that background ‘Bzz Bzz’ rattle. The question is, why?

The answer is quite simple actually. As I said a moment ago, the snare I had was really a very cheap one. It was made of wood and if you took the top skin off you could see that the plies of wood that make up the shell were beginning to separate. In other words, rather than being a fine musical instrument that was tuned to one note, my snare vibrated across most of the musical frequencies.

The result of that was that it resonated with absolutely everything. Play it an E and it could find an E somewhere in its chaotic construction and would vibrate along in sympathy. Play it a D and it would have one of those too, or an F, or a G. It was a cheap instrument and because it vibrated with everything it buzzed the whole time and ruined the music.

Now you may be wondering why I’m telling you this. It’s all to do with the nature of sin. St. Paul tells us not to offer our selves to wickedness and here, in my old drum, is an example of what happens if we do. Sin is very easy. It’s like being an old untuned drum. Whatever temptation comes along we vibrate in sympathy to it. A bit of gossip? Bzzzzt! A pretty girl walks past? Bzzzt! Not making time to pray because you’re in a rush and didn’t get up early enough? Bzzzt!

It’s so easy to do what we want. We just get on with being undisciplined and we’ll resonate in sympathy with any temptation that takes our fancy. So what then is the cure? Well actually it’s two-fold. If I think back to my old drum, it wasn’t just that it was badly made; half the problem was that I didn’t know how to tune it. Around the drum are little tuning screws, and by carefully tensioning them you can bring the drum skin into tune with itself.

Mine was out of tune so different parts of the skin were tuned to different notes, so would resonate with them. Once I’d learned to pull it into tune with itself by making sure the same tension was applied all around the skin, the drum became much more controlled. It resonated much less with other notes because it was only tuned to one note. That equates with spiritual self-discipline. But it’s only a part of the story.

You see it didn’t get around the fact that the drum shell was old, cracked and not fit for purpose. It didn’t matter how often or how carefully I tuned the skin, the drum shell was so bad that it would resonate with loads of different notes. Eventually I got the message and bought a new snare drum, and the one I now have has a much better shell. It is beautifully made and resonates only where I tune it to.

And that is what needs to happen to us. We can work really hard at self-discipline which is the equivalent of spending a lot of time tuning ourselves so that we don’t succumb to every temptation that comes past us, and that is really important to do. But it doesn’t get us past the sense that within us there is an old drum, and old self, that needs to be renewed.

But if we present ourselves to God, so by his indwelling Holy Spirit, so he gradually begins to renew us from within. As with so many things, God works with us in collaboration, so as we offer ourselves to him, so he begins to change us from within so that instead of vibrating in resonance with our own desires, we resonate in resonance to God’s desires.

The result of that is exactly what we see in the Gospel reading. If we welcome Jesus, we resonate with the one who sent him, the Father, and so we begin to resonate with the others that the Father sends. We will recognise prophets because our hearts will be in tune with their hearts. And we will recognise the righteous because our hearts will be in tune with their hearts.

We will resonate with them when they are in our midst, and we will become like them. So ultimately this message is very simple: We need to study and pray to learn more about and become more like Christ himself. And we need to ask to have our old self renewed. Then when his notes are played we will resonate with them because we will have presented ourselves to him as finally tuned instruments. We will be in tune with the song he is playing.

And that has to be worth doing, because the alternative is a cacophony of sound, resonating out of tune with every passing fancy; blown this way and that my our every whim. We have a choice. We can become more Christlike, or more chaotic. In the end there are only two directions in which to move. Amen

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Trinity - Perechoresis: The Dance of God

Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31
In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.

Then God said, "And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small." So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, "Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. 29 I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat; 30 but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food" - and it was done. 31 God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased. Evening passed and morning came - that was the sixth day.

Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus drew near and said to them, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."

Today is Trinity Sunday and I’ve heard those who are superstitious say that things come in threes. However, when it comes to God we have great difficulty because we know in our heads that God comes as both three and also as one. What I want to do this evening is to give you another way of imagining the Trinity, in terms of relationship, and then we can ask what that means for us.

However I also want to add a note of caution. When it comes to thinking about the nature of God, although we are in his nature, something I’ll talk about shortly, he is also totally other to us. So I can give you logical pictures to help think about the nature of God, but these are pictures, mere illustrations to help us start the process of thinking. The truth will be much deeper.

But because we make such a meal of understanding the Trinity, we are often apt to get it wrong and we have unfortunately done that on a number of occasions, and many of us often give up thinking about it because, well frankly we don’t know what we’re supposed to think. So let me tell you what the Trinity is not like, before we consider what it is like.

The most common mistake that is made is that it is one God who sometimes reveals himself as Father, sometimes reveals himself as the Son and sometimes reveals himself as the Spirit. The idea is that behind the Father, Son and Holy Spirit masks there is just one person. But that’s wrong. There is no one behind the three masks. The Father is the Father and is God. The Son is the Son and is God. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit and is God.

Incidentally, that’s a heresy called modalism; one God operating in three different modes. But it’s wrong. The Father is God, but is not the Son or the Spirit. Likewise the Spirit is God, but is not the Father or the Son. And the Son is God, but is not the Spirit or the Father,

Another one is that God is actually three separate gods working together as if they were one. That’s what Jews and Muslims tend to accuse us of believing. But that’s called Tritheism, three gods, but it’s wrong. God is one God. But God has revealed through scripture that within the one God there are three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So if that’s what the Trinity isn’t like, what actually is it like? To explain that I want to introduce you to a theological term that may be new to you, perechoresis. This word is really important because it describes something about the character of God as Trinity. But what does it mean? Well bear with me and I’ll come to that in a minute, and I’ll show you a visual description of perechoresis which tells us something about ourselves.

But first let’s lay the foundations by thinking about the readings and how they are relevant to the Trinity. Both of our readings are tied to this. In the second one we heard Jesus expressly telling the disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, perhaps one of the first times the Trinity was named, and certainly before a deep theological understanding had been put together, but if we go right back to the beginning I think we find a suggestion that all three persons are present right at the beginning of Genesis too.

In the beginning, when God began creating, the writer of this section tells us that the Spirit of God was moving over the water. But this isn’t the only description of the Creation. John wrote the most amazing preface to his Gospel with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

Now I can promise you that John intended that we read his Gospel in conjunction with the creation story from Genesis. How do I know that? It’s because there is a mistake in Genesis, but not in the Hebrew. However in the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, the translators missed out the definite article.

If you do a word-for-word translation of the first few words of Genesis 1 it actually says, ‘In beginning’, not ‘In the beginning’. It’s an error. But guess what you find at the beginning of John’s Gospel? Exactly the same error! So John is saying, ‘Look, that story that has God the Father as creating with the Holy Spirit brooding over the waters; well the Word of God, the Son, he was there too and his were the hands that the Father used to create with’

But what I find so interesting about the creation stories is that when God is about to create humanity God says to himself, ‘Let us make human beings in our image.’ This isn’t meant to be a Trinitarian statement, but it’s certainly rather interesting that the word ‘us’ creeps in!

So there is something about us which is very like God, which is exactly what God intended, and that brings us back to the big word, Perechoresis. So now let me tell you what it means. The word Perechoresis basically translates as intermingling. It’s important that we see there is a difference between mixing and intermingling.

In mixing, you take two or three things and mix them up and once they’re completely mixed you can’t separate them. That’s a bit like taking an egg yolk and egg white, and when you mix them up you have a mixture of both.

But intermingling is different. What it means is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one essence, ie God, but they intermingle very closely. They are in an intimate relationship. Now that’s not easy to understand which is why I’d like to do a chemistry experiment to show you what I mean.

Now I said this morning that this only deals with two aspects of the Trinity and not with three but actually, tonight I can explain why this is about three parts. But first let me show you the demonstration.

What I have here is some blue water and some clear oil. They are of the same essence in that they are both liquids, but you can’t make them mix. You can, however, make them intermingle.


See how they move in and out of each other. They are in intimate relationship. They are one essence, one type of thing, a liquid, but two characters intermingling in an intimate dance, a beautiful colourful relationship, and that, my friends, is what perechoresis is, and that is what the relationship is like between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now at this point you may be thinking, ‘But I can only see two things. Where’s the Holy Spirit?’ Well the Holy Spirit is present. We often think in theological terms as the Holy Spirit as being the One through whom the Father and the Son express their love to each other, just like when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we also receive the love of God.

So the Holy Spirit is present right at the boundary between the Father and the Son, or here between the pink and clear liquids. The Holy Spirit is the contact between Father and Son. This is one of the reasons why a nickname given to the Holy Spirit is, ‘The Go-Between God’

So what is God like? God is one essence, and three persons. They are all one God, but they are intermingling in a beautiful dance of intimate love and fellowship.

And that, I believe, is what God intended when he made human beings like us to be in the image of God. God, the Holy Trinity, is a community and we were created to be a holy community too. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all in an intimate dance of love. They intermingle closely.

We can’t be quite like that because each of us are separate individuals in separate bodies, but the image within us that is God’s nature inspires us to live and love in community. We are meant to be engaged in a loving dance with each other in a network of friends and family, and that is what is meant by being created in the image of God.

What’s more it is the Holy Spirit through whom we love each other. It is the Holy Spirit who is the loving bond between us and through whom we communicate. God is a community of three who are one. We are a community of many, but we need to remember that Jesus also prayed that we, too, would be one, just as he was in the Father and the Father in him.

So my message to us tonight is this. We are like God, and we are meant to love each other too, and if we’re not sure how to do that, then we also should pray to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit, that She may minister the love of God through us to each other, and then out into the wider world. Amen.

Pentecost - a new reality


Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

When I was very little, and I mean five or six, I can clearly remember asking my parents where I came from. Maybe it was because they were well practised at fielding this one, having had to deal with two older sisters asking the same question, but I clearly remember Mum telling me, quick as a flash, that they found me under a gooseberry bush!

Now that’s not the kind of biological answer one might expect, but at five or six years old that was all I needed. I had come from somewhere and been given to them so that they would take care of me. Of course when I was a little older I asked the same question again and was this time told in more detail what actually had to happen in order for there to be a ‘me’.

Two different stories but actually conveying the same truth, that I was a gift. In the first instance they found me where I had been left for them; in the second they had a share in God’s work of creation, but either way, I was still a gift. The central truth was I was given into their care, and that was the same regardless of the mechanics or the philosophy of how I came to be.

And when we look at the two accounts of the gift of the Holy Spirit we find once again that there are two stories. The reading from the Gospel of John is, I think, the philosophical one, the gooseberry bush version, that the Holy Spirit was given as a gift, breathed out from the lips of the Son of God, whereas in the Acts reading we are told the mechanics, if you like the biological equivalent of how it happened that the Holy Spirit filled the apostles.

John tells us the philosophy, that the Holy Spirit is a gift from Jesus. Acts tells us how it happened, but the central truth remains the same: the Holy Spirit is a gift from the Father through the Son into the depths of our being. But why? Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

Turn your minds back to John’s Gospel, and this comes from John 16:5-7
Jesus said, ‘But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [or Helper] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’

The disciples had begun to realise that Jesus was going to die and return to his heavenly Father. They had grown so much in the three years they had spent with him that the thought of him leaving them was tearing them apart. How on earth would they continue to grow and learn and become better disciples if he wasn’t there to teach them?

And so he explained that it was better this way because if he went then he could send the Holy Spirit who would actually live inside them and direct them from within. In many ways this is a much more adult way of God treating them. When the Son was alongside them they could not avoid his voice, but when the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us, we actually have to learn to listen.

So the reason we need the Holy Spirit within us is because the Spirit is our connection with the Father. When we pray, our prayers are not just going out into the spiritual ether, they are being heard by the Spirit of God dwelling deep within us, and I think that this is the spiritual truth I most want to convey.

You see when we get to Pentecost each year what we find is that people get hung up on the practical story of how the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. We get worried about the tongues of flame, the sound of a mighty roaring wind and we especially get hung up on the gift of tongues. And we do all this for what reason? Are we scared? Is it the lack of control that our inherent Britishness rails against? Or is it because we don’t believe it?

Or is it because we have seen on TV or maybe experienced services for ourselves where people have indeed seemed drunk on God and we either dismiss it as emotionalism or fear it because we don’t want to be changed like that? Dealing with the first one, yes it is possible for ministers to whip their churches into a frenzy, but don’t dismiss the giving of the Holy Spirit because of that.

Of the people I know who speak in tongues, whilst there may be occasion when using that gift will bring about ecstatic feelings, for the most part it is a prayer tool that they switch on or off at will. They are in complete control of when they speak in tongues, and to be honest they are quite ordinary Christians. They don’t glow like a ready-brek advert.

So don’t get hung up on the mechanics. Hang on instead to the ‘found-under-a-gooseberry-bush’ philosophy that the Holy Spirit was given to you all that you would be able to worship God from the depths of your being and find the presence of God in prayer. You see St. Paul makes it quite clear that no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit who reveals that truth to you. It is then up to you how much more space you want to provide within yourself for the Spirit’s work to grow and develop. God respects your privacy and right of self-determination. If you want no more than for the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus as Lord, then the Father won’t push you. But if you wish to go deeper then let me reassure you that the infinite resources of God are already dwelling within you.

Elsewhere (1 Cor.6:19) St. Paul also makes the point that every one of us is a Temple to the Holy Spirit. By that he is referring back to the Old Testament reality that God descended on to the Temple built for him and resided in its inner court; the Holy of Holies. But later on in the Old Testament the divine presence left the Temple in judgement on it.

But now there is a new reality. That very same divine presence has descended and is now residing within you. You are all small temples housing the Holy Spirit, the divine presence, sitting deep within you creating a new space that is the Holy of Holies. That means that wherever you go in the world, God’s temple is in that place.

However, that brings with it responsibilities. The temple was a place of worship, and sacrifice and of meeting with God. It was also a place of teaching, where the Rabbis would sit in the Temple courts and explain the truths of God to the people. All of that is still true. You are a place of worship, of sacrifice, of meeting with God and learning about God. You are a temple, and you have a responsibility for what takes place within you.

So don’t get hung up on the mechanics of the presence of God within you, simply accept it. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t been brought by the Holy Spirit. Now recognise you are a temple to the living God, and start exploring the temple courts and the Holy of Holies, and be excited by what you find there, because it is nothing less than the presence of the living God. Amen

Sunday, 5 June 2011

7th Sunday of Easter: Time for some serious Ascension theology!

7th Sunday after Easter - Sunday after Ascension Day

Acts 1:6-14
So when they had come together, they asked Jesus, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17:1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

I’d like to begin with a story. It was a windy evening that was hovering on becoming stormy, and Joel was standing on the station at Moor Street. Although well sheltered from the worst of the elements he wrapped his coat tight around him, listening to the rain slamming into the platform roof. His worst fears were concerned when the sky was suddenly lit up by the first of many flashes of lightening.

He counted the seconds off, just as he had done so since being a child. ‘One elephant, two elephant, three ele...’ And then a huge crash of thunder arrived. The storm that had been threatening for hours had now arrived in full force. Panic stricken Joel looked again at his ‘phone with the message from his mother-in-law in bold letters saying, ‘Come home now, Jenny has started labour’.

Again he looked up at the message board hanging over the platform but still it said the same thing, ‘Dorridge 19.22 - Delayed.’ Again he texted his mother in law and his beloved Jenny to say he was stuck and could someone come and get him. Suddenly his phone bleeped and he looked down to see a message saying....

And now you all want to know the ending. Who was the text from? Was someone coming to fetch him from the station? Did Joel get home in time for the arrival of his first child? We all hate it when a story is left on a cliff-hanger and we don’t know the ending because we want things to resolve. We want to know what happens.

Yet having said all that, by and large as a church we ignore the story that wraps up the ending of Jesus’s earthly ministry. We’ve done all Christmas birth, the Lent preparation, the Good Friday horror, the Easter Day glory of the resurrection, yet the end of the story, the conclusion of Jesus’s life on earth barely gets a mention.

Ascension day falls on a Thursday, last Thursday, and so we never really get to grips with the impact that event has on everything. The Ascension of Christ closes the circle and so it’s really important that we think about what happened and what it means. So let’s do some theology together because there are important implications for us as believers, and about how the ascension changes us too.

Let me start by saying something pretty obvious, but also quite radical. Before the birth of the Son of God on earth, he already existed. We know this from that famous passage with which we’re all familiar from our Christmas readings, the beginning of the Gospel of St. John. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Jesus also speaks about this time before time in the words of the Gospel reading, when in his prayer he prays:
“So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed.”

That word, ‘World’ is the Greek word kosmos, which is a word you may be familiar with. In this context Jesus is probably referring to the whole universe, not just the world as in this planet. So, just as it says in the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking about the time before anything was created, when it was just God the Holy Trinity.

So far, so good. This is the kind of stuff we talk about at Christmas and isn’t really new. So now let’s open it up a little to one of those things which is quite obvious when you think about it, only it’s not something we normally think about. The Word of God, the Son of God, was always divine, that’s what we’ve just said. However, he wasn’t always human.

As I said, that ought to be fairly obvious really. If we’re referring to a time before creation, then we’re thinking about a time before there were any humans. So if Jesus is God, and was existing before there was any creation, then it’s actually pretty logical and obvious that he cannot have been human in that time before time.

The humanity of the one we know as Jesus was not there in the beginning. His humanity was not a part of him until he was born as one of us, as Jesus Son of Mary. That’s what we celebrated back at Christmas.

In Jesus we see an intermingling of our humanity and God’s divinity. Jesus was unique because he was completely and totally human and yet he was also completely and totally divine. The only reason we didn’t see his humanity overwhelmed by his divinity is because he emptied himself of it when he was conceived, yet even so there were echoes in his life, such as the transfiguration, when his glory began to shine through him, and Peter, James and John received an inkling of what he was really like.

So grasp that fact because it’s vital to what we’re learning this morning. Before he was born, the Son of God had no humanity in him, his divinity was all. Now that’s very important in comprehending the significance of the Ascension. Only after he had been born as Jesus, the son of Mary, did he take on our humanity.

The next significant event was his death and resurrection, the events we celebrated just a few weeks back at Easter. Jesus suffered pain as one of us. He suffered the separation from his heavenly Father on the cross, and then he died as one of us.

It was only when he was raised that we see things had changed a little. We know that he was raised as one of us, but he was quite clearly raised with a superior humanity to the one we have. His body didn’t seem bound by the same laws that bind ours, since he was able to do such things as arriving in a room without walking through the door. Yet he demonstrated that he ate food, so clearly wasn’t just a ghost.

In that sense Jesus was the first-fruit of a new humanity, showing us what we will be like after our own resurrection. This new humanity is still human, only more so. Nevertheless, he was raised as a human. But what makes all of this so significant is that it was this Jesus, the one who was both fully human and fully God, who ascended into heaven.

What makes this so remarkable is that I believe this ascension changed something within heaven, indeed within the Godhead itself.

Let’s recap. Before he was born as one of us, the Son of God was divine, but now the Son of God is both divine and human, and when Jesus returned to the presence of the Father, he didn’t leave his human part behind, he returned to the Father as both divine and human. In other words, he took our humanity, which he had made perfect, into the very heart of God, incorporating our humanity into the Godhead.

That has some startling implications for us. You see if we are baptised believers, then the Ascension of Jesus means that in some way, we are already in the heavenly presence of God the Father. Let me say that again. If we are baptised believers, then we are already in the heavenly presence of God the Father.

No ifs, no buts, no reason left to fear. It’s a simple truth which is delivered to us because of the ascension of Christ.

How is this so? Well, if we are baptised, then we are baptised into Christ. In other words we are ‘in’ him, we dwell within his nature. So if Christ is in the presence of the Father, and we are in him, then we must also dwell in the presence of the Father. Let me say that again. Jesus, both divine and human, is in the presence of the Father, and if he is in us, then we, too, are joined to that presence with the Father.

Now I hope that’s clear, but before I go on, let me recap. Before being born on earth, the Son of God had no humanity within him, but by being born as the Son of Mary, he took our humanity and intermingled it with his divinity.

When he died and was raised, he was raised with his humanity perfected in the resurrection, the first fruit of the resurrection that will be given to each of us. When he ascended into heaven he took our humanity with him, right into the heart of the Godhead, and so if we are baptised into Christ, then we are in him, just as he is in the Father. And so we, too, are in the presence of God the Father through him.

Now, that’s the theology, what are the implications for us? Well first of all this is good news for us, the kind of good news that we really should be inspired to share. We don’t deserve this treatment, yet we are fully known and accepted by the Father as we dwell in his presence through his Son. And consider this, what do you see when you look into your own heart?

I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly keen on what I see in myself. I have no right to be loved by the Father; quite the opposite to be honest. Yet if I am in Christ because he took our humanity into the Godhead at his ascension, what does the Father see when he looks at me? He sees Jesus.

All of the things that we do wrong, all our inherent weaknesses, the Father is able to see past those right into our hearts because he sees us through the lens of his perfect Son. And not only that, Jesus stands in the presence of the Father, constantly interceding for us, knowing our needs because we are in him. This is the firm hope that we have as Christians.

Jesus, stands in the presence of the Father, drawing us with him, and as he stands there he talks to the Father on our behalf. If you have ever doubted that God could love you, please realise the implications of this. You and I are loved more than we can imagine, with God both within us, as the Holy Spirit, and in the presence of the Father, as Jesus the Son, on our behalf.

We’re not worthy of this, but that doesn’t matter. Those of you who are parents will know that you don’t judge whether to love your children dependent on how worthy of it they are.

But there’s one more thing to be considered. There is also a movement implied here. Jesus is leaving the disciples physically, moving back to heaven, but he tells them that soon they will receive the Holy Spirit, and will then be his witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem but then travelling throughout the world. This ending of his first earthly ministry is also the beginning of his new earthly ministry.

As I have said, just as we are in him, and so in the presence of the Father, so he is in us, through the Holy Spirit, something which will be celebrated next week at Pentecost. And if he is in us, then Jesus Christ is loose in the world. We’re present to the Father in him, but he is present to the world through us. Two thousand years ago he had only one pair of hands. Now look around. Even in this one church there are many pairs of his hands, all waiting to be used.

It is only a week to go now to Pentecost, but we don’t need to wait until then to recognise how intimately the two are tied to together, and what the implications are for us. Our Lord Jesus is making us present to God the Father, but we also have a duty, a missionary duty, which should be in the hearts of every one of us here. We are called to make Christ, who is within us, present to the world.

And so the obvious question which we must take from this is; what are we doing to make Christ present in the corner of the world in which each of us has been placed? That, finally, is a mark of the reciprocal nature of the ascension. Jesus Christ is loose in the world, through us, but can anyone see him?

What are the gifts God has given you? Those are the ways in which he is to be made obvious to others. People should know who God is because of the way he works through the gifts he has given us, which obviously means we should be thinking about what we do with what we have and who we are.

So, when the dismissal is given at the end of this service, take to heart the word, Amen, so be it, which we will say. That is our agreement to make the risen ascended Christ present to those with whom we share our lives, as we give thanks for the way he makes us present to the Father. We are in the Father’s presence through him, and he is loose in the world through us. Amen.