Text: Acts 2.1 – 21.
Rev Paul Cannon
Do we really want the Holy Spirit to come among us?
This text raises three words for me. Vulnerability, speaking and listening.
You can’t really be vulnerable behind closed doors, nor can you speak with or listen to the world behind closed doors.
Behind closed doors we can find comfort and security in the familiar. We the church can crave the safety of closed doors, but which leads to locked hearts, and closed minds. Yet Jesus breaks through those doors challenging and calling us to go into the world around us.
As Jesus said (John 14.12) “… the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
These are words of promise. Come Holy Spirit we intone, but are we ready, do we understand?
Come Holy Spirit means we are saying yes to God, to being utterly vulnerable, having a willingness to be challenged and changed, not once but daily.
Those first disciples were holed up in that house, waiting for something to happen, not knowing, timid, grieving, confused.
I’m struck by the movement from verse one to verse two.
Verse one shows us the pre-pentecost community, they are together in one place, they are indeed united, but yet they are waiting, fearful, expectant, but they’re not going anywhere, they’re behind closed doors.
In verse two the unthinkable happens, the Spirit bursts in disrupting everything. The Spirit shoves the community beyond closed doors into the world, the Spirit enables mission. So, the disciples go from hiding and waiting, to speaking and doing.
In verse eighteen it is worth noting that the true translation is not “I will pour out my Spirit, but rather: “I will pour out of my Spirit. “Out of.” God is self-giving, and this is a gift direct to us. It means an ongoing bursting into life, an ongoing bursting into our lives. Luke isn’t speaking of a one-off moment, but that the Spirit is now constantly roving and bursting onto the scene, constantly being poured out of God into the world.
Is that the Spirit we are ready for?
The sound of the Spirit rushing in carries a series of meanings in the Greek.
The sound of the Spirit is in fact conveying that this moment is an echo of other moments in the past and a vision of moments to come in the future. The Spirit involved in the act of creation in the very first instance, upholding the universe in the present, and bursting into our lives tomorrow and the next.
The presence of the Spirit as tongues of fire, as a rushing wind is, in the Greek, a force of power. The Spirit undertaking the Herculean task of kicking us out the door and into the world.
The sound of the Spirit also conveys a sense of upheaval. That nothing is straightforward, comfortable, predictable, safe, or in our control.
The Spirit is unpredictable, uncontained, wild and free. In fact, the Spirit is often referred to as the great disturber.
And through this irruption of the Spirit, the disciples are pushed beyond their fear and their comfort to action. Are we ready for that Spirit?
And then comes the moment of engaging with the world, are they drunk, are they babbling, are they mad, what are they saying?
The closest I have come was standing in the Doha airport terminal and hearing what I suspected to be not only Arabic, but also Urdu, Indonesian, Turkish, Bulgarian, French and more judging by dress. It was so different to experience such a myriad of languages in one place.
But I had no understanding of what was being said. So, when I occasionally heard English it was a sense of joy that I was not alone.
This moment in Jerusalem is different.
There are two movements as the Spirit acts and forces the disciples out the door.
The Spirit enables the disciples to go out and speak what God desires for those they encounter. If you remember, all heard in their own language, their own dialect and their own idiom, as Luke puts it. There is no mistaking the message as it is made clear for them. The Spirit meets the people where they are.
As we go out into the world we are invited to speak God’s message into the lives of those we encounter. Not to burden them with some fearful message of our own or some moral obligation, but the message of God’s love and forgiveness.
It is important to note verse 21 which is often deliberately translated as “shall be saved”, but which in English gives the wrong slant. It would better be translated as “shall be made whole, shall be healed.”
Meeting people where they are and as they have need.
But the miracle of speaking would have no value if the even greater miracle of hearing didn’t correspond. Those who listened on that day were drawn by the Spirit and they were able to understand God’s call to them.
The listening is two ways, the disciples are enabled by the Spirit to hear what to say, and the people hear the message.
In some ways we don’t need a miracle of speaking at all, we need a miracle of listening. We need to listen to the community around us. Who needs to receive understanding in our broken world?
That day the Spirit burst in and enabled the disciples to meet the people where they had need. Is that the Spirit we want?
We are asked to make ourselves vulnerable to the Spirit, that we might be lead or pushed into new experiences and places. To be united, to wait expectantly, though not behind closed doors.
Can we, dare we, listen to the needs of others? To be vulnerable is in fact, to listen. Are we listening?
Is that the Spirit you want? The disturbing, unsettling, pushing, Spirit? The Spirit who counsels, enables, disturbs and stirs. Come Holy Spirit and fill our hearts
Easter 7/Ascension: 24.5.20
Text: John 17.1 – 11.
Rev Paul Cannon
John 17 is one of five chapters that are part of Jesus’ teaching and prayer in the upper room prior to his arrest. The Upper Room segment comprises 24% of John’s gospel account, and are one continual flow.
The segment begins with the gathering in the Upper Room, there’s a meal, a teaching, washing of feet, a prophecy of betrayal, and a new command (13.34), that Jesus’ disciples should love God, and should love one another just as he has loved.
It is verse 35 of John 13 which tells us what is important throughout the Upper Room teaching: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The theme is not love in itself but that our love shows Jesus to the world. The world will know who we belong to and by knowing that they will have opportunity to know Jesus for themselves. The key is love. Love is a verb, so Jesus wants us to do love, a robust and real love that resolves conflict, that can hold difference, that can live with disappointment, that can delay gratification, that can include our enemies. This is big love.
Then throughout the rest of the segment Jesus talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit will enable us. Again, love is the key: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth …”
The Spirit is given to us when we follow his command. What command? To love one another.
We get that wonderful imagery in chapter fifteen, the vine and branches. Jesus talks of how we are in him and he in us, we are in a spiritual relationship. And again, Jesus returns to how this relationship bears fruit if we keep his commands and abide in his love. He picks this up yet again in chapter sixteen.
And then he comes to chapter 17 where Jesus prays for his disciples, for their peace, joy, work and protection.
Jesus uses the word glorify some eighteen times in reference to his heavenly father and his work on behalf of the father, but he also includes his disciples in the work of glorifying the father. By this he joins the disciples into his work. But the important connection for us is that Jesus is referring to all disciples, not just the twelve, so Jesus is referring to us.
This is known as subsidiarity, where God has given power to the Son, and where the son has given roles to the disciples. Jesus is the face of God to the world. And we show Jesus to the world.
We are part of the team, we too are disciples who are called to glorify the father. And we are called to share that role with others, it is not ours alone, it is not a singular role, it is a community process of bringing Jesus to the world.
We are the face of Jesus to the world. We are the face of love. When we love as Jesus loves, we glorify him. Jesus continues “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.” We must not miss the quality of
The father is in me and I am in him, and he is in you as you are in me. This is the eternal dance, the trinity and us together, presenting Jesus to the world. There is a sense of more than togetherness, this is more than obedience, this is
more than following. Jesus speaks of unity. This is mutuality, partnership, respect, agreement, oneness, trust, and love.
What is this dance of oneness? What is this unity? Living the love of Jesus to the world. What is this love? That we serve each other. That we bear much fruit. That we lay down our lives as those willing to be the face of Jesus to the world. Love is the key to Jesus’ work and life, the Spirit is the energy that empowers us to love as has he has loved.
Love and Spirit enable our oneness with Jesus, our oneness with Jesus enables our love, a circular, rhythmical dance.
For Jesus unity is important because it is a visible and tangible expression of being a disciple. For Jesus this is not uniformity, it is to be unified in purpose. Which leads to the conclusion that the opposite is disunity and therefore not
of Jesus at all.
Paul and Barnabas had a falling out when Paul refused to take John Mark back on the mission team after he had bunked off on the first trip. Barnabas and Paul argued strongly. It was mutually resolved that Barnabas would take John Mark up to Antioch and Paul would go with the others to Asia Minor. Both groups had success because they were at one with the Spirit in discerning the
We need to be very careful that we don’t cast ourselves as Jesus, or cast a direction as being the one that is right. And Jesus doesn’t mean that fake unity of following the loudest voice, the charismatic leader, the credentialed one or
even the patterns of the past. Jesus means that unity is discerned as the truth of the Spirit guiding us in bearing fruit together, it also means working through our differences, disagreements, and disappointments as well.
This is a picture of the mature disciple, the one who is able to hold these things in tension as they work with others towards the goal of unity through love.
This is a picture of a discerning disciple.
That’s why Jesus says, without him we can do nothing. As he dwells in us we can do more than we imagined.
There’s something about a Jesus who prays, the one who is God incarnate, showing us that prayer is real, that discernment is possible, that unity can be real.
If we want to bear fruit it begins with love and prayer.
Are we that determined to love?
Easter 6, 17.5.20
Text: John 14.15 - 21.
Rev Paul Cannon
Our journey through John’s gospel continues.
Jesus returns yet again to his main teaching emphasis, love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” Jesus asks his disciples.
In chapter 13 he has already said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey, it would be really nice if you could love one another” or “I have a nice suggestion for you” he commands his followers to love one another. This is Jesus’ mandate, it is a must, a have to
do. It is non-negotiable.
This is not an easy thing to hear because it is a command. We are being asked to love others whether we like it or not. “Love your enemies” is the most challenging of all. Perhaps it jars because it is a command and commands are to be obeyed. Perhaps too we don’t connect love and being obedient to a a command to love.
In our modern world we have been trained, mostly by the movies and television to think of love simply as an emotion. Don Francisco, a known Christian musician wrote a song about this in the early 80s called ‘Love is Not a Feeling', and the chorus goes - “Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the
Francisco is drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus is using a verb form, for Jesus, love is a doing word, you have do love. Jesus doesn’t say, “O, love is so nice, it is a wonderful thing.” Jesus says do it “love one another.”
But Jesus takes it a step further. If we do love, we become love because love becomes a living part of us, in that sense we are love, just as Jesus is love.
When we do choose to love, then we are keeping the commandments. Jesus says this in the plural. Meaning, if we keep the command to love, then we are in fact doing all ten commands. Because to love God and each other denies any form of evil, any sense of negativity, any spite or revenge. It means that we cease to covet, to desire what is not ours, to live falsely, to cheat or steal. You can’t do those things if you love.
In a technical sense love is important to all humans. Without it we don’t thrive, and the research clearly shows that a lack of love early in a child’s formative period from womb to early young adulthood can impair their sense of self and confidence.
There is a correlation to dysfunction in some people who have not been
loved. In a deeper way this goes right back to what is called attachment theory and how the bond between mother, father and child is created. Without a positive attachment the child will not develop a positive self image and can develop negative behaviours.
In that sense, Jesus is wanting us to have a positive attachment to him, by way of adopting and adapting his way of love. “If you love me you will keep my commands.”
The beauty of the command is that it is not just an act of the will, it is a partnership with the Spirit of God, the one Jesus names as an advocate between ourselves and God. We cannot possibly maintain a facade of niceness, but we can engage the fullness of life in copartnership with God’s
Spirit. The Spirit is not a bad parent who does it all for us, no, the Spirit is that part of God that calls to us to take a certain path or action, who encourages us, hints and prods. The Spirit lies on us to listen, and then to act, but always in the Way of Jesus, always the motivation is love.
Paul eloquently sums it up for us this way: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13.4 - 7)
Paul goes on to say that “Love never ends.” Everything else ends, but love never, ever ends, it is eternal.
We are invited to an eternal attachment where love never ends. We are called to live that love in serving others so that they too experience what we
It isn’t perfect, Jesus knew that, we are human, we fail, we fall, we miss the
mark. But the beauty of God’s love is that we can always return, like the so called prodigal, like the maligned Samaritan, the leper, the prostitute, the thief, the tax collector, the adulterer, the fundamentalist, we have the benefit of the love we are called to share.
Once we enter into loving others we become part of the perpetual love God. And as we do we show Jesus to the world though our love.
Easter 5, 10.5.20
Text: John 14.1 - 14.
Rev Paul Cannon
John 1 - 14 is a discourse on knowing, on certainty, dealing with anxiety.
Thomas and Philip ask Jesus questions that seem odd to us. We might think, they were with him, surely they knew what he was saying. But remember, this was all new, we have the luxury of 2,000 years of commentary, we know, or, do we know?
Thomas says to Jesus - how can we know the way? Philip asks Jesus to show the Father because then they will know for sure.
Who hasn’t had moments of doubt, or struggled with knowing, or had some sense of missing the point in reaching out to God?
Jesus takes these two questions as an opportunity to teach and expand on meaning. Jesus sounds a little bit exasperated, but I think this is only because he is so aware that his time is short, he has to get his message across.
His answer to Thomas is direct. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” And to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 1Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
The way is of course the lived experience. Jesus is inviting his disciples to know that the way to the Fathers house is to live his way.
Did we think it was any other way, by wealth, being good, doing the right thing, obedience, lawfulness, moralism? No! Jesus is inviting us to a revolution of spirit.
The Way is not a philosophical code, not a doctrinal pathway, not an institutional methodology, it is pure and simple the humility of self emptying, as Paul says in Philippians 3.7, Jesus emptied himself taking the form of a servant. Kenosis (κενωσις) is the way we let go of all the clutter of want to be and the moment we let God draw us to a desire to follow.
Jesus set the example for us. Emptying meant setting aside the capacity to do everything, taming the ego demands of I want, and settling for serving. Jesus spectacularly demonstrates this when he washes his disciples feet, saying, this is, as he says, “An example that you should also do as I have done to you.” An invitation to do as he has done.
Washing feet is a metaphor - it is merely an example of a beginning. None of us are going to go down town and offer to wash other people’s feet. Powerful as that might be, no, what we are invited to is the core of its meaning - to serve.
So when Jesus replies to Thomas and Philip he is saying well, you do know the way, you do know the Father!
How? Jesus is the Father in the flesh, God incarnate. Jesus behaves no differently to the Father, they are the same. I love the way Bishop and author John V. Taylor framed his book “The Christ Like God” meaning that Jesus behaves as God behaves, there is no difference.
And the way of both the Father and Jesus is serving, washing feet, going the extra mile, giving the coat, trusting, healing, setting free.
This way is the Oikos (οικος) the house of God, Oikos is the root word for ordering, how we set our house out, which gives us too the English word economy. The economy of God is based on love and service.
Which comes back to John 13. 34, love God, love one another, which has a diverse application. How many ways can we love and serve God? Of course the thing to remember is that Jesus is not speaking to a moralistic western society, he is speaking across time to how we behave ethically.
Moralism is the way we cheapen everything to a rule, a law, a regulation. Ethical behaviour is how we apply the principles of Jesus teaching, setting aside the cost, even the rules, whatever they are. This was his constant battle with the Pharisees, setting aside the power and control of moralisms and giving people freedom to be as they explored following in their own way.
In our own time this has played out so painfully for so many people. Those who have been excluded are legion, the disabled, ethnic groups, LGBQTI, women, children. Everyone was forced to follow by a moral code. But Jesus asked none of that. He simply says that the way to the Father’s house, the way to eternal life, is not like buying a stairway to heaven, it is living the way Jesus examples for us. The economy of God is the Way of Jesus
The Father’s house has a dual meaning, of course, it means an eternal hope, but it also means a community living God’s economy now.
The key to both the path to the house, and the door of the house, is Jesus.
Do you want the code, the key? It is Jesus. How might we ground that? The Way of Jesus is the economy we are called to set out for our living. What might that look like? It looks like compassion, loving, care, inclusion, serving and so much more.
The Way is simply being Jesus to the world, and in so doing we make Jesus known to the world, by our love.
This is the path we are called to tread, this is the door we enter, the house we are drawn towards, the eternal economy of God’s love for all, which begins now.
Easter 3, 26.4.2
Text: Luke 24.13 - 35.
Rev Paul Cannon
This is the only time we learn of Cleopas, a disciple of Jesus. His companion is unarmed and I’ve often wondered if his companion was a woman, that perhaps this was a married couple on that road to Emmaus.
Cleopas reflects his grief when he speaks to the unrecognised Jesus: “We had hoped …” clearly Cleopas’ expectations had been dashed, Jesus had been crucified, everything Jesus had promised and stood for was in ruins, it was over.
Isn’t that a road we all know well? Haven’t we entered times when our expectations have been horribly dashed? Haven’t we hoped that things might have been different?
Perhaps we’ve hoped that we would have no debt, no cancer, no unemployment, a good relationship with our children, a happy marriage, good health, a close relationship with God. We had hoped!
Cleopas says to Jesus “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
I wonder how many times we’ve missed what Jesus is really all about?
Have we hoped that Jesus is the one who will fix the world, everything?
This Emmaus exchange is significant because it reminds us, through Cleopas, that we sometimes lose sight of what Jesus is about.
The Emmaus road is a sacred road of broken dreams, harsh reality, failure and disappointment.
But it is also a walk of resurrection.
Jesus, on the eve of his resurrection, chooses to take a walk with two of his disciples. He doesn’t go and fix things, he doesn’t go and challenge Pilate or the Chief priest, he doesn’t shake things up in Jerusalem, he just takes a walk.
Perhaps you had always anticipated that Jesus would do something dramatic, perhaps this is not what you’d hoped for?
Jesus lets the two disciples talk out their grief and disillusionment, interrupting at one point to correct their pessimism by again teaching them all that the prophets had told. He seems to be saying, wait, you’ve missed the point of the story. You’ve left bits out, let me fill you in.
And Jesus covers the whole arc of the prophetic vision in regard to the Christ, that all these things must happen because they pointed beyond tragedy to resurrection. Jesus tells the story back to them, and shows them where they fit in the story.
The two disciples later acknowledge on reflection, that as Jesus had taught them along the road, their hearts had been burning within them.
When we’re on that Emmaus road we can be quite self-focussed, quite narrow in our vision, and like Cleopas and friend, we need to remember the whole of the story, the sweep of history, the visit of God, the grace of resurrection.
“We Had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Ironic, because Cleopas hopes for the grand story, but that is exactly what happens, Jesus redeems the world, not Just Israel.
The recognition comes in the moment of eucharist. As Jesus breaks the bread the two disciples recognise exactly who Jesus is. A piece of bread, some wine, a blessing, a shared meal, so simple.
God is in the moment with us on whatever our road is right now. God is in the cake you send to a friend, the text you send, the email you share, the conversation you have at the shop or on the path, on Face Book or Skype, God is wherever we engage in acts of love and care, journeying with those who despair, and sit in grief, those who are ill and those who struggle to glean hope.
The Emmaus road is a reminder that our little world is not all there is, and that God is bigger than our conceived world and bigger than our personal hopes. Whenever we invite, whenever we make room Jesus is there. Whenever we share a piece of bread and a sip of wine Jesus is there. Whenever we share stories or pray, whenever we walk alongside someone, Jesus is there, the one who journeys with us on the road of broken dreams and opens us to a greater vision of life.
Emmaus is a call to recognise Jesus in everyone and every moment, to be constantly surprised that he is with us.
Easter 2, 19.4.20
Text: John 20.19 - 31
Rev Paul Cannon
I wonder what it was like for the disciples gathered in that room. We know that they were grieving, also that they were fearful, who wouldn’t have been? So the doors are locked.
Is it any wonder that doubts and questions arise?
Thomas is presented as doubting Thomas which is a little unfortunate because he merely questions his fellow disciples. He never questions the possibility that Jesus could or has risen, but he does question that his friends have actually seen Jesus. That is a different type of doubt, or really a skepticism about his friends. Perhaps he’s annoyed they’ve had the experience and he’s missed out.
But if we stop and think about it, the whole resurrection matter is amazing, and I think it was even more so back then that first time. It would have been so difficult to take in.
The grief collides with surprise and joy, what a confusion that must have been. To begin mourning Jesus’ death only to have him arrive in the room. A total shock.
The experience of grief is different for each of us. There are too many books and pat answers about grief, we need to make space for each reaction without boxing people in. Thomas certainly feels Jesus’ death strongly, the loss is deep and perhaps that’s why he behaves the way he does, this is his way of coping with his grief.
There is more. Notice that Jesus shows his wounds. The wounds remain. Don’t our wounds remain? Sure we can heal, but the scars are still there, body, mind and spirit. In that sense Jesus once again identifies with our humanity, he knows the pain, he knows the suffering and he knows the after effects too.
The greatest effect of the resurrection moments are that the future is changed. In defying or defeating death, Jesus offers this life changing, cosmos changing opportunity to everyone. Our future is changed, we can live free now, we can live anticipating eternal life. This is life changing, literally. The future is not ours to see, but we can confidently live into it in Christ.
And John reminds us that Jesus commissions the disciples. In v. 21 Jesus says “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He doesn’t offer a ten point plan, or a schema, he simply says that he is sending them. The clue is the gift of the Spirit that he breathes on them, filling them, a taste of Pentecost and the great sending into the world. Where the Spirit leads there we find ourselves.
Jesus invites us to consider our grief, our hurts, and our doubts and confusion, and asks that we feel and acknowledge those things knowing that he is indeed with us in our experiences, he has been through the same things. But also not allowing these feelings to hold us back, that in the Spirit we can indeed boldly go into the world where the Spirit leads with all that grief and confusion and doubt.
Thomas did. While the records are inconclusive as to his ministry in India, the records do not disprove it either. And the local tradition of stories and hymns based on his life are numerous and quite consistent. So if we take the tradition as true, Thomas ended up in a part of the world he would never have dreamed of going and doing things he could never have imagined.
Are we any different? I don’t thinks so! So take heart in this gospel story, it can speak into our everyday lives and bring hope in the chaos of our circumstances and feelings. It also gives us permission to be fully human, to feel our grief, to not fear doubts, to ask questions, and to be willing to be sent.