Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff


Sunday 26th April

We often hear the phrase ‘get real’, usually when we are expecting a good outcome when the odds are stacked against us and in a world where we are constantly being ‘measured’ against some notion of perfection or are little more than a number in a target somebody has to meet; when our needs are not taken into consideration because they are in conflict with those of somebody who wields the power..... the reality spoken of is a place where there is little or no love or compassion and putting somebody else first is seen as a weakness.   And, there is no getting away from the fact that it does reflect the world around us. 

 But, do we believe that this is ultimately reality? 

 It is an important question which we need to be able to answer because ‘our reality’ our own story if you like is what influences our whole life – our thoughts, words and deeds, to coin a phrase.

 Do we acknowledge that God’s kingdom offers a different reality to the world we experience around us?  And if we do, is it something we embrace - or is it in a resigned ‘oh that’s all well and good but......’ sort of way?

 We listen to readings from the scriptures each week – hopefully we read them in between as well – readings that tell us all about God, about his steadfast love and grace ...... but what do they really  mean to us?

 Are they alive and relevant and have a bearing on our day to day lives ...... or are they perhaps, just stories that happened a long time ago, in a different world, to people who were somehow ‘special’ ...... stories that don’t relate to us today, that have no place in ‘the real world’, in our reality?

We know that Jesus died for our sins and destroyed death and that by believing in him we have eternal life.  Today’s readings tell us that He is the shepherd who calls us by name ........ our Easter windows depicted beautifully the Jesus ‘I am’ sayings.  And we are very familiar with the words of today’s Psalm – The Lord is my Shepherd – but how do we feel about ‘I shall not be in want’?

Does it sometimes feel as though it’s all something God did 2,000 years ago and which, if we believe in Jesus, will mean that we go to heaven when we die ....  and in the meantime we just have to get on with it the best we can ....... under our own steam, in the real world.

 You will all, I am sure, be delighted to know that our friend Tom Wright has written another book!  Do you know that that man is so much part of our family here at St B’s that I’m tempted to put his name on the electoral roll ...........

 Anyway his new book is entitled Simply Good News and in it he says that it is the fault of the likes of me that has resulted in any lack of understanding of what is real - for not actually preaching The Good News. 

 He says that what is mostly being preached is good advice ..... about the need to build a relationship with Jesus, about praying, reading the scriptures, how we should love one another – which is all very well - and good advice and teaching but it is not The Good News – The Gospel.

 Now when the Gospel is preached, he says, then the words of the preacher won’t actually matter because God’s Good News will touch hearts and minds in a way that the most powerful sermon cannot.

 So, what exactly is The Good News?  What is it that Jesus himself preached to the poor? Tom Wright explains it very comprehensively but if I had to use just one word it would be Emmanuel – God with us. 

 No longer sending prophets, no more laws that we are unable to keep, God knew that the only way to rescue us from our brokenness and mess was to come Himself.

He established a New Covenant ........ the difference this time, the reason this one cannot be broken, is that He keeps both parts of the contract.  For His part he offers us the freedom of unconditional love, a place within the relationship of the Trinity for all eternity, the relationship he had always intended us to enjoy ....

 and for our part He became incarnate, became a human being in Jesus and dealt, on the cross, with all the world’s sin, fulfilling the law, claiming back the whole of creation.  He reconciled his world to himself on our behalf.

 God didn’t accomplish that and then go away ....... and he’s not waiting for us in some faraway place behind some pearly gates where, if we’re good, we’ll get in when we die. 

 He is Emmanuel, He is God with us! Jesus said ‘I am with you always’......that means each and every day, all the time‘......until the end of the age" when his kingdom is finally fully established.  As Ian said last week, when heaven and earth become one.

 God so loved the world ...... that means each and every one of us ...... He didn’t come and then go away and leave us.  Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us – not a hired hand who would desert us.

 Jesus even ensured that we have something tangible to reassure us that He is with us – He broke the bread and poured out the wine and said ‘this is my body, this is my blood’, do this in remembrance of me – do this to feed on me, to reassure yourselves that I abide in you.

 Under the Law we have to take responsibility for our actions, we have to live up to expectations ...... God, in Jesus, has fulfilled the Law, the only thing we have to do is respond and be expectant.  Do you see the difference – not responsibility and expectation but response and expectancy.

 When Peter and John were on their way to the temple – they responded to the need of the beggar with God’s love.  They weren’t afraid when they were dragged before the Sanhedrin because they expected the Holy Spirit to be with them.

 As John’s letter says, if God’s love abides in us then we will obey his commandments – respond to them.

 If we have responded to the love of Jesus, then, because he lives within us, his love lives within us ..... and if his love lives within us then our response to others is his response.  

 See, no responsibility to behave in a certain way, to live up to expectations, simply responsiveness to him.

 Knowing that the Holy Spirit is always at work ..... expecting her to act, knowing she is present, enfolding and encircling ..... even when what we are experiencing suggests the opposite.

 That is living in the real world, that is living in God’s kingdom, that is being alive.  That is the Good News, the Gospel.  Emmanuel, God with Us ..... it’s what Jesus preached – he was saying - I am God, I am here with you, I’ve come to put all things right.

 It’s what the Apostles preached .....  God has come and put all things right and abides in us and we are able, therefore, to demonstrate his love and power.

A verse in Chapter 5 of the first letter of John, taken from The Message, says ‘The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.’

 How does that compare with our own experience though?  I don’t think I am alone in often feeling overwhelmed by what I consider to be my responsibility and what is expected of me.   But I have come to realise that this is not what God wants or expects of me – that way leads to resentment and feeling crushed when I don’t live up to expectations ..... Give it to the Lord who is waiting to shoulder the weight of the burden

 When we are faced with tragedy, with suffering, it can again be easy to forget that God is with us.

 That is a time when the things we have put into practice before hand can strengthen and reassure us ....

 When trees and plants shed their beauty and abundance in winter and appear to be gone for good, remember that as long as their roots are deep in the earth they will burst forth with life again in the Spring, often more beautiful and abundant than ever.

 Our roots need to be planted deeply in God’s grace and mercy and love, in our understanding of who God is, so that in times when our faith is a cold comfort and all we can do is focus on taking the next step, we will nevertheless survive and come, once again, to recognise the hand of God who was steadfast throughout and be full of thankfulness and praise.

So let us rejoice in the Gospel – rejoice in Emmanuel, God with us ..... embrace His reality