All posts by Nicky Harvey

7th Sunday of Easter Sermon

7th Sunday of Easter 2020Acts 1: 6-14, John 17: 1-11

“…so that they may be one, as we are one”, Jesus prays in verse 11 of our Gospel reading this morning. “…..so that they may be one as we are one”.

On this last Sunday of Easter, we are invited to listen in as Jesus makes a “High Priestly Prayer” to his Father.  The setting for his prayer is the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, and the mood in the room as Jesus talks to God is heavy and poignant.  After all He has just said goodbye to his disciples, and every word, deed, and gesture he has offered them is weighted with grief.  He has washed their feet, fed them bread and wine, promised them the Holy Spirit, and commanded them to love one another.  He has spoken to them with both tenderness and urgency, as if time is running out.  Because it is.

Now, in the last moments before his arrest, he looks up to heaven and speaks of his heart’s deepest desires to God. 

Jesus is praying, and he is praying to his Father. and our Father. He prays for us, and he asks our Father that we would all become one as he and the Father are one.

If Jesus is praying for our oneness, then he is also recognizing and rejecting the boundaries and differences that divide us. There are divisions within ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our churches, our nation. We live in a world full of divisions – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Protestant or Catholic; north or south; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. I am sure you could all list many more divisions in our world than the ones I’ve just mentioned. We could probably go on and on listing the boundaries that we encounter, and all too often establish or promote. They are not just divisions though, as they have become oppositions. These divisions exist not only out there in the world, but primarily and firstly in the human heart. We project onto the world our fragmented lives.

For every boundary we establish, there is a human being. Ultimately I suggest, boundaries and differences are not about issues. They are about real people, who have names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like us and I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is often easier to deal with an issue than a real person.

Whether or not we admit it, the boundaries we establish and enforce are usually done in such a way as to favour us; to make us feel okay, to reassure us that we are right and in control, chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. In order for me to win, someone must lose, in order for me to be included, someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.

We often deal with the boundaries and differences that divide us by writing agreements, covenants, treaties, and legislation that govern how we will get along with each other and behave in the midst of our differences towards each other. But that is not Jesus’ prayer. His prayer is “…so that they may be one, as we are one”, (v11)

Jesus does not pray for our tolerance, our getting along, or just being nice to each other. He does not even pray that our differences would be eliminated. Instead he prays for our oneness. He prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that our oneness would be the revelation of God’s presence to the world. Oneness in the midst of difference becomes a sacramental presence of God’s life in the world.

That does not mean, however, that we lose our identity or individuality. Jesus does not stop being Jesus and the Father stop being the Father because they are one. Oneness is less about numbers and quantity and more qualitative. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other. Oneness is a quality of life – God’s life. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is ultimately that we would be and live like God.

Oneness is not about eliminating differences. It is about love. Love is the only thing that can ever overcomes division and over and over again, Jesus tells us that in his teachings.

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbour.
  • Love yourself.
  • Love your enemy.

Our love for God, neighbour, self, and enemy reveals our oneness. And the measure of our oneness, our God-likeness, is love. In love there may be differences, but there is no division or boundary.

God’s love knows no boundaries. God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, north and south. God loves Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated. God loves young and old, heaven and earth, divine and human. God loves sinner and saved, orthodox and heretic.  All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely as each one needs.

God does not even draw boundaries between Jesus and us. If we think God loves Jesus more than anyone else, we have missed the point of the Gospel. God loves you the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your neighbour the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your enemy the same as he loves Jesus. If that is how God loves, how can we do anything less and still call ourselves Christians?

For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. And you can see the situations that has got us into. You need only look at the world, read the newspaper, or watch the news to see it. When we deal with others through our divisions we label, we judge and exclude, we can end up resorting to war and violence, and then take shelter to defend our position. There is no oneness in that.

Although Jesus is praying to the Father, you and I will in the large part, be the ones to answer Jesus’ prayer. That is because we answer his prayer every time we choose how to love, who to love, where to love. It is now time to really answer Jesus’ prayer and deal with one another in love. So, in these coming days, I wonder who are the boundaries, what are the divisions that await our love?

Amen

5th Sunday of Easter Sermon

John 14: 1-14

So on this fifth Sunday of Easter, the setting of our Gospel is grim and sombre.  After all Jesus has just finished a last supper with his disciples.  He has washed their feet, given them a new commandment, predicted Peter’s denial, foretold Judas’s betrayal, and told his friends that he is about to leave them.  “Where I am going,” he tells them, “you cannot follow now.”

Needless to say, the words of Jesus hit hard, and fill the bewildered disciples with fear and concern.  What on earth is Jesus talking about?  How will they survive if he leaves them now?  Where will they go and what will they do?  What will happen to their hopes, their dreams and their plans?  Why is the ground shifting under their feet?  Why is everything changing?  

Many people – you and me included I expect – in these last few weeks of lockdown and isolation due to Covid -19 pandemic, sheltering at home, reading the daily headlines or listening to the news, are probably fearing to varying degrees what life in general, and indeed our own lives are going to look like during the next few months or years. Therefore, we can all probably relate to the disciples’ questions.  Why is the ground shifting under our feet?  What’s going to happen to our families, our towns and villages, our nations, our world?  Will the centre hold and where is Jesus in all of this pain, fear, death, and loss? How will we find him if he’s gone to a place, we “cannot follow now”?

It is no surprise then that, the anxious disciples respond to their new predicament by demanding and wanting some certainty and security.  A natural reaction when we feel things slipping from our grasp or feel we are out of control. Thomas asks Jesus for a roadmap or some kind of pointer, a list of directions, as to where to go. He is looking to Jesus to tell him straight: “How can we know the way?”, he asks him. 

Then Philip asks for evidence and proof: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  What they want — and what we all want, if we are maybe honest with ourselves — is the religion and faith with a Global Positioning System. The GPS that tells us the exact position on the ground that we want to be in or need to be in. The secure five point plan neatly printed off for ourselves, the twelve easy steps to get us where we need to be without getting lost, the ten commandments of direction.  The formula if you like that if you do A, followed by B, and then C, and you will unerringly arrive at the correct destination D that you were aiming for. 

But that wasn’t Jesus’s response.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says because “I am the way, the truth, and the life and if you know me, you will know my Father also.”   There it is. There is no roadmap.  There is no master plan or any form of satellite system to use for direction. There is just Jesus himself.  Just the messy, intimate, ever evolving, and often confusing business of relationship.  Of trust, patience, and vulnerability.

I expect most of us could come up with a whole list of things that trouble our hearts at the moment. Things that are close to home such as illness, family concerns, financial worries or in the wider world those of war, famine, and global warming.

Maybe it feels at this moment in time, the place you find yourselves in, like a tall order right now, to “not let your heart be troubled.”  To trust in the fact that you do in fact know the way — the quiet, unglamorous, risky, but ultimately life-giving way of Jesus.  But you do.  Like Thomas, like Philip, like Peter, like all the others, you do know Jesus.  You know his life and ultimately you know his love.  You know his death and above all you know his resurrection.  You know what it is to hunger for him, to seek him, to listen for him, to hope in him.  You do in fact know the way.  

No, the way is not what we thought it was going to be.  It is not a straight path free of any kind of obstacle, neatly signposted with clear sight of the destination. The way is demanding and costly to us.  The way is precarious sometimes taking us via the cliff edge, through the thorny wasteland, showing us many twists and turns and at times makes us wonder if we are just going round and round in circles.  The way takes time.  But the invitation of this Gospel reading we have heard this morning is still an invitation to confidence.  Not because we are experts at finding God, but because God has always, and already found us.  With every unknowing we embrace throughout our life’s journey, God finds us one more time and shows us the way.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his forlorn and worried disciples.  And what does Jesus mean by this? Well he means that God is roomy.  God is generous.  God is hospitable.  God can handle your doubts, your fears, and your questions.  And God’s offer of belonging extends far beyond the confines of this mortal life.  “I go and prepare a place for you,” Jesus says this as he stands in the shadow of his own cross.  I am telling you that you have a place with me.  You have a place with God.  You have a place.

So, a grim and sombre setting.  There are real questions from real people.  Yet an offer of comfort.  The promise of home.  The Way.  

This is a Gospel for our time.  The story — your story, my story, our collective story of this precarious, overwhelming moment — will not end in death.  Though we might feel alone and frightened right now, the Way is open before us.  We know it.  We know Jesus, and because we know Jesus, we know God.  The Way will safely bear us home.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Amen

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday 2020John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Usually at this service on Maundy Thursday, in normal times at St. Marys, we have during the service washed each other’s feet. Easy for some to do, and others like me have found it a difficult task for many reasons. Many of you may have participated but felt uncomfortable, this is what we should do. Without the worry of Covid 19 we had already planned to do things differently this year, to end this service in a different way. To encounter the shadows of Jesus grief and pain. Whatever we feel, it is important to realise the significance of what Jesus did on that final night with his disciples.

“You will never wash my feet,” Peter says to Jesus.

What is going on with Peter, and I suspect so many of us who say the same. 

I think it is about more than having his feet washed. In fact, I don’t think it’s even about his feet. I think it’s about feeling vulnerable, exposed, and uncertain about taking his share in a new life. I guess that there are parts of Peter that he is withholding not just from Jesus, but also from himself. My guess is that Peter has something he wants to conceal, a past that haunts him, a brokenness that terrifies him, a memory that is too painful to deal with; and that it feels easier and less risky to say no, push it all away, ignore it, try to forget it, and hope it will leave him alone. Besides, who knows what might happen if he was to open the door to any one of those things?

I say this for two reasons. Firstly, because I am human too and have parts of my life that I just don’t want to face or deal with; parts of me that I have alienated and exiled; memories and experiences that do not have a seat at my life’s table. Secondly, because I have seen and heard that same thing in the lives of many others. Through ministry, chaplaincy and in the lives of those I care about. If what I am talking about resonates with you, then you get it too. 

Let’s not back down this time, not on this night. This is our night. So let me ask you:

  • What is one thing you have about yourself, something you’ve done, or something that has happened to you? Something you have never uttered to another and that you never want anyone to know. It leaves you in fear of being found out. It’s the kind of thing you wish you didn’t know, the kind of thing you can ignore, but can never forget.
  • What are the memories, hurts, and griefs that are too painful to talk about? The very thought of them makes your stomach churn and your eyes well up. The ones that when mentioned you quickly change the subject about because you’re afraid you’ll just lose it and never get yourself back together again.
  • What guilt, shame, embarrassment, or failure do you still carry? I’m talking about the kind of thing about which you fake a smile and say, “I’m over that. The past is the past and let’s just keep it that way.” But deep down you know the past is a ghost that still haunts you.
  • What are the same old arguments, feelings, and patterns that continue to repeat themselves in your life? The ones that you excuse by blaming someone else or saying, “That’s just who I am,” or “That’s just the way it is.” What’s really behind those things begging to be acknowledged and dealt with?  
  • When have you said, “You will never wash my feet?”, and what’s that really about?

Let’s not back down this time, not on this night. This is our night.

This is our night to take our share with Jesus.

This is our night to bring all that we are and all that we have.

This is our night to eat and drink in remembrance.

This is our night to lay it all on the table. 

This is our night to come clean.

This is our night to strip bare the altar of our life. 

This is our night to let the healing begin. 

This is our night to enter into the shadows of our lives with Jesus as he enters into the shadows of the pain that is to come.

Let us remember that this is our night.

Amen

1/4/2020

Wednesday Homily 1/4/2020 – John 8: 31-42

Posted by St. Mary's Hadlow on Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The word.  What is so important about the word?  Why the emphasis over and over again?  Does Jesus literally mean the words?  Or is it what they represent?  How do you continue IN the word?  You continue in the word by following the teachings of Jesus and by living according to his word.  That is how to continue in the word.  If you do this the truth will be revealed to you, and eventually you will be freed from all that enslaves your body and your mind.  This is true freedom.

Here Jesus tells the Jews, “my word has no place among you.”  There is no physical space for the word of Jesus in their lives.  And not only was their no physical space for the Word, his word threatened their way of life.  We know that Jesus disagreed with many of the customs and Laws that the Jews held sacred.  If the word became part of their lives, their lives would be forced to change dramatically.

How many people do you know today that have no room in their lives for the Word?  How many people do you know who if they allowed the word in their hearts, that word would threaten their lifestyles?  I expect too there are many, people who are so busy with the details of their life that the word of God literally has no room to take root in their hearts.  No room to exert its transformative power and as a result they remain enslaved by their lives and the all unimportant details that consume them.

One thing in this life is important:  To continue and remain in the word.  Everything else is secondary, and once you begin to live the word everything else falls into place.  The word truly frees.

Jesus told us the truth of God, our salvation lies in continuing in his word.

So today, take a moment and ask yourself:  Do you “continue in Jesus’ word” and how do you do this?  At times, it may be difficult to know what it means to continue in Jesus’ word.  Today I invite you to choose a phrase or sentence of this Gospel and slowly repeat the phrase or sentence aloud or in your mind for five minutes.

After you have done this, sit quietly for another few minutes.  When you are ready, open your eyes and thank Jesus for being with you today.  Allow Jesus’ word to remain and continue in you throughout your day.  Amen

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday 22nd March 2020

(Exodus 2: 1-10, John 19: 25-27)

Choosing readings for today, Mothering Sunday, is never an easy task. To be honest, none of the choices the lectionary offers us for today are particularly easy or happy reading. In fact, they all seem to be very distant from the images we see on the Mothering Sunday cards in the shops. I also expect that for many of us today, this is a very different Mothering Sunday to ones we have celebrated in the past. We are separated from loved ones and those we care about, because the Corona virus has put many into self-isolation, care homes are in lockdown and family gatherings in restaurants are not possible. So, what is it that we can take away from our readings today?

In the Old Testament reading from Exodus 2: 1-10, Moses is left to take his chances in the bulrushes after his mother hides him there to escape Pharaohs decree to throw all baby boys into the Nile. The alternative Old Testament reading would have told us of Hannah, desperate and childless, who when she does bear the child she has longed for, gives him up to be raised in the Temple. For the Gospel reading there was either the choice of Simeon warning Mary that her child will one day cause her pain, or the reading we read in church this morning, which is Mary watching that prophecy come true as Jesus dies on the cross John 19: 25-27. These stories are powerful reminders of the cost and pain of parenthood within family life.

There is another way in which the set readings are often hard to reconcile with the popular view of Mothering Sunday. That is because they challenge the idea of what it means to have a family and what Godly families might look like – families where God can be found and known. These stories do not give us the classic picture book pictures of mum and dad and two children gathered happily eating a meal together or contentedly playing a board game. They are stories of groups of people – related or not – managing somehow, to create family arrangements that work for them in the situations they find themselves. These arrangements often seem somewhat haphazard. Fostering out your child to the daughter of a Pharaoh that has decreed the killing of so many innocent children for example. Yet despite the circumstances Moses finds a safe enough place in which to grow up – and perhaps in doing so learns the skills which God later needs him to have as a leader – because he has grown up in Pharaoh’s court, rather than his own home.

And in the Gospel reading I chose for this morning we see Jesus entrusting his mother to the keeping of John the beloved disciple. Not to some male relative, which would have been the respectable thing to do at that time. Not only that but Jesus does not stop there either, because he entrusts John to his Mother too, creating a new family for them now that he is dying.

The early Christians would have found this image particularly helpful to them. Many of them had had to leave family ties behind, or perhaps had been pushed out of their families as they followed the teachings of Jesus. Often too they knew that following Jesus would expose their families to danger and so they had to make the choice between keeping their families safe or being true to their commitment to Christ. Hopefully a choice we will never have to make but I am sure we are all aware of those that have had to make such decisions. Or those in our world who live in fear that their faith will bring pain or even death to their families and loved ones.

That is why this new community, this new family that Jesus called them into, was so important to them, despite the fact that it seemed so unorthodox to others. When the early Christians met together slave and free, men and women, Jew and Greek, rich and poor they were all drawn into one family, and it was every bit as close and committed as any of the families they can come from and so utterly essential to them.

Quite often Christianity is seen as the model of traditional family values, but actually, a lot of what we find in the Bible is very far from the stereotypical image of a mum and dad and 2.4 children. There is a huge variety of ways in which families are expressed within the Bible. After all polygamous marriage was perfectly normal and accepted, for example, up to and well beyond the time of Jesus. It was the pagan Romans and Greeks who gave us monogamy, and it is only because the Church developed first in their cultures and societies that we think of it today as being the norm.

The Biblical writers are, above all I believe, realists. They recognise that what matters is that people love and care for each other. As Jesus said to his mother, “Woman here is your son” and to John “Here is your mother”. Whatever pattern that love and care comes in is of very little consequence, so long as it works. This is worth remembering this Mothering Sunday as I expect there are many of us who have experienced the care and love that has come from those outside our own families. The love and care from Godparents, or friends and neighbours or our church family for example. 

So, the Biblical picture is that families come in many forms, and the ones that work may not look the way we expect them to. So, on this Mothering Sunday –  this very different Mothering Sunday –  whatever form our family takes, let us remember that what matters is that in God’s family each one of us can find a place to belong, people to belong with, where we can be clothed with love, and where the peace of Christ can rule in our hearts.

Amen