SAP RISING

FAITH IN FOCUS: SAP RISING

Jesus has just told his disciples that he is to undergo suffering and death and that he will be taken from them. He encourages them not to get downcast and says that he will remain with them. Then he says, “Come, let us go”. It’s time to carry on.

If we were one of the disciples our natural inclination would be to panic. What are we going to do without him? How will disciples be able to challenge the political and religious authorities with the message of Christ if he is nowhere to be found? How will we be able to bring his message to the world? So Jesus teaches them about the vine and the branches.We cannot be effective Christians if we rely only on our human effort. Our strengths may be outstanding but they’re not even close to the mark when it comes to communicating to the world who God is and what God wants for us.

That’s why part of Jesus’ reassurance to them was about sending a helper, the Holy Spirit. It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives can witness to God’s power and presence. Anything else is mere altruism, pure natural philanthropy.

It is our union with Christ that allows us to share in his continued mission on earth. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit if it is not attached to the trunk of the tree, so to we have to be united in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is the way that Christ remains with us here on earth even though he has ascended to heaven. And, of course, we have to remember that we are not intended to be the vine, just the branches. It’s the vine that gives us the sap to produce fruit on our branches.

God is very close to us, closer than we could ever imagine. Our work will bear fruit if we realise our dependence on God and allow God to work through us. This naturally involves knowing God, talking to God and listening to what God has in mind for us.

All of this takes place if we let the Holy Spirit into our lives. When did you last have a word with him?

 

A BETTER OFFER?

FAITH IN FOCUS: A BETTER OFFER?

A well-known American preacher, Eugene Walsh, once finished off his sermon with the remarkable words, “Jesus only promises you two things: Your life has a meaning. And you’re going to live forever. If you get a better offer, take it!”

Much copied by other preachers who disguise them to try and make them their own, these few sentences seem to sum up the whole business of faith in Jesus. They encapsulate the Easter message in a simple and direct way.

So what was Jesus’s body like after the resurrection and what is the afterlife like? What will happen to us and will we meet those loved ones who have died before us? Will we see God or will it be total blackout?

People with no faith ask the same questions and they often are left with the desperate trek to mediums and spiritualists who claim to contact the dead and to offer comfort and solace to the bereaved. No matter how many times this practice is exposed as a sham, people still turn up in the hope of “getting through” to the other side.

St John was aware of all these questions that people ask. The difference for him was that he had an unshakeable faith that Jesus had conquered death and had offered that same glorious post-resurrection life to those who believe in him. He says that what we are to become in the future has not yet been revealed.

So if your life has a meaning, then it is that you were made for love. Made to be loved by God who like a shepherd guides you into a life that will reap benefits. You are made to love others and to have that love returned. Your life’s purpose is to grow in knowledge of God and the wonderful universe created for our delectation. You are here to learn how to serve God by serving others, to enjoy life to the full and at the end to join God in the unfathomable happiness that no ear has heard nor eye seen.

This is the promise that the Easter season brings. So, as the man said, if you get a better offer…….

 

FISH SPECIALS

FAITH IN FOCUS: FISH SPECIALS

What do we know about Jesus after his resurrection? Well, we know at least that he was hungry! Both Luke and John report after-death appearances of Jesus where he wants something to eat. And in two of the stories he ends up eating grilled fish. So he wasn’t a vegetarian either!

On one level we can see these two accounts as just simple stories that give us a bit more extra detail than we normally have about Jesus’ social habits. But there may be something else going on in the two gospel writers’ minds. How do we meet the risen Jesus today?

Clearly the most obvious way is through other people. Through our baptism we are called to become “other Christs”. We are called to be Christ to each other and we see the face of Christ in all people who require our care, our concern and our service.

We meet the risen Christ in the liturgy when ministers and congregation gather, for Jesus said that wherever two or three gather in his name he will be present.

We meet him in the words of scripture. Far from being some ancient book of religious formulae the scriptures are the living word of God. When the scriptures are proclaimed in church it is God who speaks.

And while we are ready to say that Christ is present in the sacraments, it has to be the Eucharist that takes pride of place for meeting the risen Lord. For it is in eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ that we come closest to him. St Augustine never tired of telling his congregation that they would become what they ate: the Body of Christ, which is also the name we give to the Church.

At what precise moment did the two Emmaus disciples realise that they were in the presence of their risen Lord? It was when he broke the bread for them to eat. What was it that Jesus asked the apostles for in both Luke and John’s gospel? Something to eat!

Not surprising really, because when we eat that bread and drink that cup we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again.

A BOUT OF DOUBT

FAITH IN FOCUS: A BOUT OF DOUBT

Sounds like the flu, doesn’t it: a bout of doubt? Yet we all suffer from it from time to time. It’s as natural as catching a cold and is one of the trials we have to put up with once we take our first steps of faith.

We can doubt whether our Christian faith is worthwhile when we see the way that others behave, inside and outside the Church. Yet we know that if we shoot the messenger then we are not going to hear the message. The Church has always been full of sinners; that’s what it’s for. And although we sometimes wish it were otherwise, we realise that a Church of sinners means a ragbag of individuals who, no matter how weak they might be, are committed to making Christ known. And of course we are part of that ragbag.

At other times we can experience confusion about the basis of our faith. Does God really exist? How do we reconcile the fact that God is creator with all the new discoveries of science and the many theories that seek to show the origins and development of the world and human life?

And then there are the tragedies of our existence. Perhaps we wonder about the role of a loving God when we read about natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis or famines. And has there ever been anyone who has not had their faith tested as they witnessed the slow death of a loved one, the sudden shock of losing a friend or the heartache of marital break-up?

Doubt does not attack faith. It’s actually part of faith. It’s a sign that we have not left our brains at the church doorstep and are mature enough to want to reconcile what we believe with what is happening around us.

A faith that has not experienced doubt is a faith that has not learnt to walk, to be bold and to think for itself. Yet, like Thomas in today’s gospel, we have to learn that at the heart of faith is belief in the unconditional and unbreakable promises of God. We are all called to our Calvaries but we ascend the mount trusting in the knowledge that God will never leave us in the grave.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again.

 

HARD EVIDENCE

FAITH IN FOCUS: HARD EVIDENCE

Easter’s a time of faith. It’s a time for deepening our faith and a time for reflecting on it. It’s easy to have faith when we’re together in church. Like the early Christian community we feel the support of other people, we feel part of the family and even when we’re a bit low we can be carried along in faith by the words of the prayers, by the songs we sing and the music we hear.

When we renew our baptismal faith in the words of the Creed it’s easy to believe. In fact, believing in things, in facts and events is not hard at all. You either do or don’t believe that Christ was born for us and that he suffered for us and rose from the dead. The same goes for believing what we claim about one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church etc.

But as we see in today’s gospel with Thomas, it can sometimes be hard to believe when belief involves trusting in a person rather than just agreeing to facts. Thomas wanted some hard evidence before he would believe that Jesus really had appeared to his friends after the resurrection. He found it difficult to trust.

We too have to learn to recognise Jesus, not as the disciples did physically, but through the sometimes dimmer light of faith. We are called to the light of the resurrection, to learn to recognise Christ and follow him in that trusting faith whose shadow we glimpse both in desolation and consolation. Jesus himself tells us that we will be blessed if we can believe with this type of faith. And so we look for the light of the resurrection not only in its obvious religious haunts, not only in the robust expressions of confidence but also in the unexpected recesses of our lives.

We can see it even in distress and disaster, in the faces of those who shine with its light, in the glimmers of new hope that so often flicker after seemingly overwhelming distress. 

Faith is Easter’s gift; and it is also Easter’s quest. We never fully exhaust it and we always need to pray for it to persevere in us. Today, in the echo of last week’s tumultuous events surrounding the resurrection, Jesus approaches us more quietly and invites us to renew our faith and trust.

Doubt no longer, but believe.