Thank you for all of your very positive comments on last week’s service. This is still a learning curve but I think I’m making some progress, improving techniques each week. I seem to have settled into a routine of planning worship early in the week to enable the sending out of about 30 service sheets by post to those of our members and wider community who are not able to access the internet. Then I can proceed with recording during the later part of the week.
I’d still like to involve more people in the services, so if you have a mobile phone or camera that you could use to record a reading or prayer, or even a song if you are musical, then please let me know. I have set up a link for sending the video to my Dropbox and this seems to work well, so if you make a video I will send you the link with instructions.
We do seem to be reaching more people each week, so if you enjoy the service and are new to our fellowship then do leave a comment. Please enjoy this week’s worship – you can download the service sheet here, and also the hints I gave last week on watching on YouTube:
Reflection: Do you know Jesus?
Today’s Readings: John 14:15-21 Acts 17: 22-31
Some of you will say ‘yes’, of course. Some will say ‘no’, and some will not be sure. The question is: How can we know Jesus when he is not with us in person? We can’t see him or touch him as the first disciples could – like Thomas who insisted on seeing and touching his wounds before believing that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus said to him at that time “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20: 24-29).
Later this week, on Thursday, we celebrate Ascension Day. The day on which, having blessed the disciples, Jesus was taken up into heaven (Luke 24: 51). From that moment on we no longer had his physical presence on earth. But Jesus did not leave us alone, and he made it possible for us to know him and know God through him.
In the gospel reading from John 14:15-21, Jesus is speaking with the disciples at the Last Supper, his farewell words on the night before he is to leave them. He promises that even though he will not be there in bodily form he will leave the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, Counsellor or Comforter (depending on how you interpret the word ‘paraclete’), who will be there to sustain them in every way.
It is unlikely that the apostle Paul ever met Jesus in person. But even if he saw him from a distance it’s clear he never really knew Jesus until that moment on the Damascus Road described in Acts chapter 9 when he had an experience that changed him from a persecutor of christians to one of Jesus’ most devoted followers. So it is possible for us to know Jesus and to love him even without being able to see or touch him.
This morning we also read a story from Acts 17. Paul is in Athens speaking at the Areopagus – which is a big rock used for trying disputes, including religious disputes. He was accused of being a ‘babbler’, going on about ‘foreign divinities’. He had been distressed by seeing all the idols in the city of Athens and so he had gone about proclaiming the Good News about Jesus. So the religious leaders and philosophers said “What are you going on about?” and they took him to the Areopagus and asked to explain what all this new, strange stuff was that he had been babbling on about!
Paul tells them that among all these idols and shrines in the city, he had found one with an inscription dedicated to “an unknown God”. So Paul said to them “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you”. What Paul is saying is “You might think I’m talking about something that is unknown to you, or not even relevant to you, but actually I’m talking about something you already know all about”.
He says “You know about the world and all that exists within it. Just look around. God is Lord of all of this and he doesn’t live in shrines made by human hands.. Nor does he need human hands to bring him food and offerings because it is he who gives us life and breath and everything we need to live.”
Paul goes on to describe how God orders things in such a way that people would be strongly motivated to search for God “Perhaps grope for him and find him” is how he puts it.
I like that idea: that picture of us ‘groping’ for God, reaching out wildly for him here and there, until eventually we find him. And where do we find him? We find him in the world all around us. As Paul says: “For in him we live and move and have our being”.
In other words we can find God in the world all around us wherever we are. We find him in the home, in the garden, in the woods, in the fields, in the towns and villages, and in our places of work as well as in our places of worship. He is there and so are we. And he is also in us because we are his ‘offspring’. He made us and breathed life into us. So I don’t find it surprising when people tell me that they find God in the leaves of the tree, the flowers, the hills and valleys and mountains and rivers and streams, all kinds of places. If we look, then we will find him. He is not confined to anything we have made or created, not in our church buildings or even in our own ideas or images of him.
As Paul moves on in his speech he says “Now, because we are his offspring, God has until now overlooked our ignorance”, now, he says, we must be different. Because now God has sent someone against whom we will be judged justly about how we have lived This someone is, of course, Jesus. Furthermore, he has given us the means to make this change by raising Jesus from the dead. So Jesus is the one against who we will be judged on how we have lived this life, but he is also the one who enables us to pass judgement! If we know him and love him then we only need to have faith in him that any blemishes on our record will be absolved through his death and resurrection.
We then come back to our need to truly know Jesus. And going back to the gospel, we hear Jesus say to the disciples: “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me ; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them”
In other words, he seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit will live on and will provide us with all that we need to follow Jesus and live according to his teachings. Not only that but through the Holy Spirit Jesus himself will dwell within us and the world can know him through us, if we allow that to happen.
So, do you know Jesus? If the answer is ‘no’ then I encourage you to get to know him now. Invite him into your life and learn what he has to teach us through the gospels.
If your answer is ‘I don’t know’ – then look around you – maybe you can see him at work in the world through those who follow him. You may find you know him better than you think! And if the answer is ‘yes’ – then don’t be complacent – continue to be vigilant in listening to what he has to say to us through the Holy Spirit.
Rev Andrew Biggs