Introduction: A criticism which one sees in the public arena of politics is that some political leaders appear to lie. Of course, that is not the same as changing one’s mind; one hopes that genuine reflection and listening happens which should, at times, lead to a changing of mind of our political leaders. That shows an integrity. So, it’s a shame that such apparent U-turns are sometimes seen as a lack of integrity; they may not be. However, the anger of the public when lies do appear to have been told is an encouraging sign; for it shows that people still care for the truth and expect leaders to have integrity and the courage to uphold it.
Integrity in following Christ: There is a rather sad comment, by a non-local person, on All Saints’ Facebook page in which she wrote, ‘My Nan used to say that all Christians are hypocrites’. That may, of course, be a statement by someone who believes that they can freely judge others because they are faultless. However, their statement is a challenge to those of us who choose to follow Christ. Do we walk the talk, or at least try to? We all know that we fail to at times, which is why we acknowledge our sins and commit ourselves to being better people.
Today’s Gospel passage is our Lord’s call to integrity in following Christ – to ‘keep his word’. And it’s that integrity which he says in the evidence of loving him. To love him is to love God – they are synonymous, as he is the very incarnation of the Word of God – his words, he explains, are God’s words.
And the first commandment is, as we know, to love God with all our being. It’s by this that Christ’s followers are known. As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel: ‘By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. To love God is to keep Jesus’ word, and he reminded his followers that love is the fulfilling of God’s Law.
So we can conclude that, loving Christ shows its integrity by loving one another. It’s in our actions towards one another and our neighbour that our authenticity is revealed.
Living an authentic Christian life: I do believe that all of us here genuinely want to be authentic in our following of Christ, but it’s not that easy. We know that we fall short just as the religious people of the Old Testament were unable to keep the law and the religious leaders were called, by Christ, hypocrites. So how can we, in fact, live an authentic Christian life if we fail so often to walk the talk?
Our extract from John’s Gospel today comprises comforting words in this respect. Firstly, Jesus assures his followers by saying, in effect, if you keep my words, God will love you and not only that He, and Jesus, will come to you and make their home with you. So, we won’t be alone in the struggle for authenticity. But how can that happen when God the Father and Jesus are in heaven?
Jesus explains: The Father will send his Holy Spirit who, in being received in one’s heart, becomes the means by which God the Father and the Son make their home with us. The Holy Spirit connects us directly to God the Father and the Son in heaven; perhaps a bit like the way we are connected to each other by our mobile phones, wherever we are in the world.
Being led and taught by God: This is the means by which the church is governed and guided by God: not primarily by human reason or deduction, even if that is in using the Scriptures – many have been led astray and acted wickedly using the scriptures to justify their actions. To be authentic as Christians, we need to receive this gift of the Holy Spirit sent by God to enable an authentic Christian life. Even when we read or listen to the Scriptures, we must be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the church. By this the church continues to be guided and taught. And sometimes, God leads us into new ways of thinking and seeing the world. ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you everything’, Jesus told his disciples, and will remind you of his words. When we receive and keep Jesus’ words in our heart then the Spirit of God brings them to our attention when we need to be reminded of them.
Attentiveness usually comes in prayer, especially corporate prayer. So please don’t forget the crucial role of prayer together in discerning the direction of this church as you move forward into the next season of Christ’s work here.
Receiving God’s peace: One Gospel account has Jesus breathing on his disciples (clearly not in Covid days :) and he says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’. In this way he imparts his peace; that is, the peace of God which surpasses understanding. He continues, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid!’
Having received the Spirit of God we are to be careful to resist the temptation to be troubled, anxious, or afraid. But rather to trust in God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, to guide and keep us in the nexus of his will.
So, let’s ask the Lord to fill us, individually and corporately, with his divine Spirit that we may be guided, taught and kept in God’s wonderful purposes for us; for he is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine by the work of his Spirit with us, and we will receive Christ’s peace.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
I want to begin this week by saying a bit about the human voice. It’s something hugely significant in scripture – God speaks the world into being, God dictates the ten commandments to Moses, God’s voice splits cedar trees and triggers lightning in the psalms, the Spirit of God speaks through the prophets as we hear in the Creed, and Jesus the Word of God comes to verbalise the announcement of the kingdom of God and eternal life for all who follow him.
We don’t know much about the origins of language itself, but spoken languages with structure and intent do seem to be unique to humans. Most of us use our voices to communicate, and those to whom we speak are equipped with ears and all the right decoding apparatus to hear and understand what we say – at least when we share the same language. And of course, for some that means using a sign language to do the speaking and the ‘hearing’ too.
The other thing I find fascinating about voices is how unique they are – we each have our own voice which grows and develops as we get older. But voices are recognisable throughout our lives. I have a recording of me chatting to my grand-parents when I was aged 14, and I think if I played it (which I’m not going to) you’d find it instantly recognisable as me.
We remember peoples’ voices very clearly. I wonder – can you recall or imagine the voices of a few well-known people? Margaret Thatcher? Nelson Mandela? Judy Dench? Danny Dyer? Brian Blessed? Claudia Winkleman? Ian Hislop?
If you know them at all you’ll recall how their voices sound. We can remember voices we haven’t heard in years – I certainly remember the voices of my parents and grand-parents and many more.
And if we add singing to spoken voices we find we can recall words much more easily – I’m sure we all have our store of song lyrics we can sing along to. It’s much easier to remember words if you sing them – that’s one of the reasons we like to sing together in church, and why it’s important to join in even if you don’t feel you have much of a singing voice. Personally, I often feel a strong sense of the presence of God as I sing – whether that’s plainchant or a choral anthem or a contemporary worship song.
But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
So how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we learn it so it is recognisable?
I think perhaps this is one of the things people worry about most as they begin to be part of a church community. How is my prayer answered? What sort of superpower have these Christians got who can hear Jesus speaking to them?
Well, perhaps some people do literally hear the voice of Jesus, but I don’t think that’s usually what we mean when we say we hear Jesus’ voice – mostly we mean developing our relationship with Jesus. So here are a few ways we do get more familiar with that voice, and with a sense of being close to Jesus and recognising him as friend:
First, the tradition of the church is that we can find God in silence. We are bidden to be still, to listen. Having time in our day to put aside the noise and bustle of daily life and simply be with Jesus in prayer is pretty important.
That’s why it’s so good that Mollie is starting up the new contemplative prayer sessions a couple of times a month. I’m sure that will be a really helpful way in to that stillness if you can make it. Quiet Days and Retreats can also be great for giving yourself this space.
Then second, of course there is the bible itself. As we explore the written word so we come to know the living Word of God – Jesus. You might do this in daily reading, and there are plenty of apps or printed notes that can help with that, or you might take a gospel and read it through in the course of a month.
Or, of course, you’d be welcome to join our All Saints Plus zoom group on Tuesday evenings when we explore the gospel passage for the following Sunday. That’s an informal way in – no experience is necessary, and you’ll find a warm welcome as we simply chat through what might be important about the passage, and what that prompts in us.
Or thirdly, you might combine some of that and spend time praying before the Blessed Sacrament kept in our Lady Chapel for that purpose – praying in a space where Jesus is close really helps us focus.
As we do those things, we start to know Jesus better and better, and so we begin to be able to realise in what ways he is calling us to follow him. So whilst we may not directly hear his voice, little by little on our journey as disciples (followers) we have a closer relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, we are able to share our joys and sorrows more easily, and we are more able to feel, to know in our hearts, his loving assurance in response.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I confess I don’t find the whole sheep/shepherd image all that helpful – I think all those pictures of white Jesus holding a cuddly lamb rather put me off it in my youth and the reality of middle eastern shepherding is rather different.
But this Sunday is a reminder that we are supposed to be listening out for the voice of Jesus, and then to follow his call.
So to end with, as we pray for a closer relationship with our Saviour, I want to use a well-known traditional hymn lyric as we invite Jesus to be heard in our lives more clearly…
O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten, or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou Guardian of my soul.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Acts 9:1-6, John 21:1-9
Introduction: Shortly we’ll baptise Mikayla Rose into the household of the Christian faith, when she’ll become a baptised member of the worldwide, multicultural, multinational Christian church. Although very diverse in its local manifestation, the church is just one thing: it’s the Body of Christ, that is, a living organism working together in the world, guided and filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, the powerful presence of Jesus. When one is baptised, this gift of the Holy Spirit is not only available to each baptised member of the church but also the essential aspect which makes us one with all other baptised members of the church around the world who have received the Spirit of Christ Jesus. It’s that which makes this amazing and perpetually growing church the Body of Christ – the physical presence of Christ in the world. So, we say ‘We believe in one holy and catholic church’ – ‘catholic’, meaning all embracing and including a wide variety.
The Gift of Faith: This is such a wonderful thing to be a part of. But how does that happen? What leads people to want to get baptised or have their children baptised? It happens because of the gift of Faith; this is not something we are just persuaded about through clever arguments but rather a revelation by God. It is, indeed, a gift. As the Jesus put it, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’
How does it feel to know that Jesus chose you and called you to be his disciple – his witness in the world to make God’s ways known in word and deed?
Faith is an amazing gift which leads us to want to follow Christ and to be part of this thing which Christ founded: his Church, his one, incredibly diverse multicultural body called to transform the world; not in isolation as individuals but as active members of a local community; that is, the local church. Each church acts as a hub for the work to which we’re all called – a community which enables us to grow in love and understanding of our calling – a community which sends us out at the end of each gathering ‘to love and serve the Lord’ – to fulfil the purpose for which we were called.
Faith Changes everything: I remember being strongly influenced by someone called Vic Jacobson: he was a convicted armed robber who, when in prison had a visitation, as he put it, from Jesus, who said, I’m calling you for a new and divine purpose in your life. This experience completely changed his life’s direction and purpose; he became an extremely fruitful Baptist minister whose story continues to impact me, some 50 years after I met him. This gift of faith, which God initiates and gives us, changes us and is the means by which we receive the power and heavenly gifts we need to fulfil our calling.
This is what happened to Saul of Tarsus who, whilst in the actual process of hunting down believers in Jesus to imprison them, encountered the risen Jesus in the most powerful of divine experiences. He became known as Paul – St Paul - and his letters to early and diverse Christian communities in what is now Turkey, Italy and Greece have had, and continue to have, a powerful influence in shaping the church.
Similarly, the disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus of which we heard in our Gospel reading today, fundamentally changed them. And their witness and writings still change the hearts of those who read their words which are found in the New Testament part of the Bible. Let’s not neglect to read them and allow them to change us all our life.
Conclusion: So, I pray that today, not only will Mikayla’s life have a new and wonderful, divine purpose; but also, that the Faith God has given each of us will be powerfully rekindled, that this church, going forward, will flourish and be fruitful beyond our imagination. Amen.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector