Sunday, 1 May 2011

Be the person God meant you to be and set the world on fire!

John 20:19-31 and Exodus 33:12-23

Each one of us will have a special memory from this week.

What’s yours?

Was it the wedding?

Within the wedding was there a special moment?

Does sharing in something like that take you back to special moments?

What special moments are there that you look back to?

What about Easter … our celebration of Easter? Was there a special moment?

For me the special moment has to be in the quiet – playing that Mahler’s fifth symphony – and then the connections – from Livingstone Fellowship, through Daniel Harding, to the awfulness of the Japanese earthquake, to the strange experience of the ending of CF Youth as it began with a conference here at Highbury to the thought that these youngsters are doing as we did and shaping a future for youth work in our churches. And then through this week another special moment – worship at our conference led by Roberta Rominger, General Secrretary of the URC, a very special moment in itself. Through her worship she invited us to reflect on what kind of Easter people we should be.

Each morning she had a wonderful children’s story to read and to tell. And in the evening she told us of her experience of playing under Benjamin Zander, the conductor, and going to his annual master class on conducting. She read from his The Art of Possibility each evening.

And on the last evening, she spoke of an occasion when he was conducting Mahler’s 9th Symphony. Do you love Mahler, she asked? Well, I found myself nodding, not from a longstanding love, but from a warming kind of love that is discovering Mahler, thanks to having listened a number of times last week.

One of the second violinists was not engaged in the final rehearsal. Sitting back, uninterested. He went up to her aftrer and asked. Is there anything troubling you?

The response was not what he expected. But he listened.

She loved Mahler. She loved this symphony. But she found he was taking it too quickly for the bowing to work in the way she as a violinist knew it should.

He thought. A string player himself, he knew how important getting the bowing right was. He did not that afternoon do as he usually did before a concert. Have a rest, a shower, a good meal. Instead he went through the score again. He identified those passages where maybe he was inviting the orchestra to go fractionally fast and he decided how he could take into account this one player’s thoughts.

He did. She was engaged. And it was a wonderful performance.

So pleased was he with the performance that night that a few weeks later Zander rang the Violinist up, a trans-atlantic call. When she picked up the phone and he introduced himself, she was so taken aback … no conductor had rung her at home before. Neither had any conductor adjusted the tempo in response to her comment before as well.

For Roberta it said an immense amount about the nature of leadership, the understanding it calls for. Perhaps it speaks more than anything of else of the need for servant leadership.

In her worship she took us through John’s account of the Resurrection and invited us to think of ourselves as Easter people.

It was good to read through John’s account of resurrection.

I found myself going over the whole story once again … and I found myself drawn to one moment in that story that stands out for me among many.

I wonder whether any moment in the story of Resurrection and the story of Easter stands out for you?

The moment that stands out for me is that moment in the upper room when only 10 are present, Thomas the doubter is not with them and Jesus appears to them.

Peace be with you, he says.

And then he goes on to say this.

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.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up with the hymn, Breathe on me, breath of God, that that moment is special for me.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love,
And do what thou wouldst do.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with the Narnia Chronicles, and that wonderful experience of being joined on the top of Earl’s Hill, Pontesbury at a dawn service when we actually saw the sun rise – a wonderful experience. And Robin returned to his studio and re-designed and re-drew the pictures for the final part of his wonderful pictorial version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to have a vibrant double page spread of Aslan bounding into the air with Lucy and Susan clinging to his mane. Turn the pate and he leaps over the wall of the Wicked Witch’s fortress where so many of the great beasts of Narnia have been turned to stone, and he breathes on them … and they come to life.

Breathe on me breath of God

The wonderful thing about being Easter people is not just that we can bear testimony to the resurrection of Christ, but that the very essence of Christ, the Spirit of Chist is breathed into our innermost being.

We have a new strength within us, a power from God, infused into our very being.

The risen Jesus breathes into us, each one of us and we can hear him say, Receive the Holy Spirit.

But as were those apostles long ago, so are we then sent – Easter people don’t just stay put … we are sent just as Christ is sent – into a world of need to bring something of the love of God into that world.

What is it we bring?

One thing is very special. WE can bring into people’s lives the reality of the forgiving love of God in Christ.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

It’s not just that we are to say, ‘That’s OK.” When someone says sorry to us.

It’s much more than that.

So much of the Books of the Law, the Torah, are all about bringing God’s forgiveness into people’s lives. The whole story as it unfolds is a story of people tasked with following God, who continually fall down on the job.

That’s the wonderful thing Moses did. The people have just gone their own way and abandoned God once more. This time they have made a Golden calf.

And Moses intercedes on behalf of the people to God. “Consider too that this nation is your people,” he pleads with God.

God is wonderfully gracious to Moses – Moses longs to see God.

And God responds – I will make all m y goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name ‘The Lord’.

I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,
I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

But you won’t actually see me. Hid in the rock as I pass by.

The story that unfolds is of that very experience, the making of new tablets for commandments, a renewal of the covenant ensues. And then there are all sorts of laws that are outlined about making the Tabernacle, appointing priests, carrying out sacrifices. And as you read on in the rest of Exodus and on into Leviticus, it is all about recognising that people fall short of what God requires, that they need forgiveness and a strength from beyond themselves, and it sets out things to help that happen.

A place – the tabernacle which was later to become the Temple, particular people, priests, a set of sacrifices the priests only can carry out in the Temple, to bring about the reality of that forgiveness that is God’s.

This is the basis of being the people of God.

But we stand the other side of Jesus. We look to the risen Christ, and Jesus breathes into us and says to each of us, Receive the Holy Spirit.

Now we, like those apostles, are sent to bring God’s love into the world. And it is our task, the task of each one of us, to declare God’s grace, to declare God’s mercy and to make real God’s forgiveness.

This is our task – this is what we are called to share.

It isn’t that we need a place to go to, priests to turn to, sacrifices to carry out. God breathes his very being deep into us, and we too receive the Holy Spirit. WE are sent by him into the world to bring God’s forgiving love into the world and into the lives of people all around. We can declare the forgiving love of God … and prompt people to start anew.

What an exciting task we are called to share. And we each have our part to play, and we are called to play it to the full.

The one part of the wedding that caught my eye was a quotation from Catherine of Sienna, whose Saint’s day yesterday was, quoted by Richard Chartres in his address.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day this is.

He was thinking of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they set out on marriage together.

It speaks also to each one of us … and especially to each one of us as Easter People.

Be the Easter people God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!

It was a very personal prayer, William and Kate composed for their wedding day. But it is one we too may adapt as the Easter people God calls us to be.

God our Father, we thank you for all you have given us; for the love that we share and for the joy of Easter..

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union with you help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

[Original: God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.]

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