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Sermons - May 2020

Sermon 3rd May 2020, Easter IV

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 03 MAY 2020, EASTER IV

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. Acts 2:46-47

Two reflections received this week, from people who know this building well.
“We were watching the live stream today in our sitting room
and instead of the great rose window of St Columba's
we had a window overlooking an almost equally blue sunlit North Sea.
Across which were streaming long lines of gannets heading home to the Bass Rock.
As you talked about all the troops in the WW1 who were drawn to St Columba's
the gannets heading homeward made me think of all those who like me
have headed home to St Columba's our mother church
certain of a welcome and a sense of belonging.”

A distant ocean, birds in flight, eloquent of longing, and a sense of home;
that is a beautiful meditation and heartening to think
that our joining together by live stream, somehow refreshes that thirst within us.
But another message conveyed another reality, a differing reality.
Reflecting on the lockdown, up until this past week:

“The weather was fantastic which made people feel in holiday mood all the time,
whither working from home or simply retired,
children on school holidays for a wee while! and so it continued.
Then (for me) Wham! woke up to a very wet dull Tuesday morning
which persisted all day.
No gardening, no walks around the fields, shopping a possibility but maybe others would think likewise, wet day, empty shops!
[Though I also made use of the time to correspond and 'phone more friends.]
Was the good time over now,
had the sunshine lulled us into a sense of false security
in difficult and tragic times?”

Home learning meltdowns or isolating despairs,
hospital vigils or griefs borne without the customary comforts of fellow mourners
and physical embrace.
Each household will know something of the ups and downs of these days.

In the training of Army recruits time is given to the so-called core values –
courage, discipline, loyalty, respect for others, integrity, selfless commitment.
Sceptical recruits sometimes question why the need for such discussion.
Explained by the maxim:“Training to the right thing on difficult days.”

From our own training manual, the scriptures,
are there insights for the right thing on difficult days?

In the Book of Acts there is a description of the earliest days of the new community in Jerusalem, in the aftermath of the first Pentecost.
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles,
the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
[Everyone around was in awe - all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! ]
And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common.
They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources
so that each person’s need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple
followed by meals at home,
every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.
People in general liked what they saw.
Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. [The Message]

It sounds magnificent; vibrant, practical, prayerful, joyful.
And it runs the risk of making us feel miserable.
Nostalgia – biblical or congregational - can be disheartening – de-spiriting.
We should guard against it.

It is important to recognise that, as the Book of Acts records,
it is no time at all before the community experiences
both external opposition and internal dispute.
Goods held in common and sold for the relief of those in need – yes.
But also, in short time, (Acts 5) the tale of Ananias and Sapphira
who seek to withhold what they have sold.

Acts describes the best of what a church community is capable of,
but also spells out, that as flawed human beings,
we will always struggle to live up to that best capability.
Unity and woundedness, victory and failure
struggle to do/be the right thing, on difficult days;
characteristics of Christian living.

What were marks/core values of the early church?
Scripture – allowing ourselves to be engaged
by words of poetry, challenge or comfort, from Old and New Testaments;
shaped by the stories we tell –
of Christ and centuries of inherited faith.

Fellowship – the quality of our relationships;
the willingness to always keep an eye out for the newcomer,
the shy or the silent one.

The breaking of bread, in the sacrament of communion
the domestic kitchen table and the Night Shelter –
appreciating the gift of food and its particular blessings when shared.

And prayers.
Communal and private. Stuttering or eloquent.
Speaking to and listening for God.
Shouting room and still waters:
The response to sunny days and difficult days.

Two groups who know the normal St Columba’s:
Hill House School who come for a weekly assembly
and the support groups of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Both have prayers that they say each week.

O God give us courage:
Courage, to try new things and not to be afraid of making mistakes.
Courage, to get up when we are down and to go on again.
Courage to work with all our strength
and to know that it is not the beginning
but the continuing until it is completely finished,
that yields the true glory…

And Reinhold Niebuhr’s (1892-1971) Serenity Prayer,
which we will prayer in full later, but opens with the well-known:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Finally, let me circle back to the two correspondents, where we started:
Was the good time over now, had the sunshine lulled us into a sense of false security
in difficult and tragic times?”
Her own answer:
“No, the dull day was reminding us that life throws many different challenges
and it is up to us to accept and beat them in the best possible way
to everyone’s advantage.”
A rallying cry from within our own ranks.

And for the observer of birds streaking across the North Sea,
for any who yearn for the things of God,
closing lines of American poet Mary Oliver’s lovely poem, Wild Geese:

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Sermon 10th May 2020, Easter VI

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 10 MAY 2020, EASTER VI

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. John 14:1-2

On Friday morning, 75th Anniversary of VE Day I received this description of how one World War II veteran spent the original VE day:
“(On VE Day) I was stationed in a small town near Belsen. (in Germany)
I was the orderly officer for the day - my main duties, admin and security.
With regard to the latter, at the time, we were guarding a British Army Captain
from another unit. He was awaiting court martial, back in Britain, on a charge of murder,
having shot a major in his own unit.
(In those days, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had not been recognised.)

Earlier, we had not only liberated France, but also her champagne,
so, each member of the company was issued with a bottle of champagne to celebrate victory.
On VE Day, there we were, in Germany;
him on a murder charge, and me guarding him –
the pair of us drinking our champagne. Macabre!”

At St Columba’s, from the pages of the Church Magazine of summer 1945,
minister and congregation were proud to record that throughout the war
worship took place, every Sunday – the only exception - Sunday 11th May 1941 –
the morning when worshippers gathered to find the church in ruins
following its destruction by enemy action, during the night.

Almost exactly four years to the day, on 8th May, 1945, at 5pm,
a Service of Thanksgiving to mark VE Day
was held by the congregation, hosted at neighbouring, St Saviour’s, Walton Street.
After four years of worshipping in the Jehangir Hall one worshipper remarked:
“It was grand to have an organ again.”
The sermon began: “It has come at last. Germany is defeated.”
The congregation of the day would not have needed it,
but the prayers that day, remind us that the war touched every part of society;
the war effort undertaken, not just by those in uniform:
“For the tireless bravery of merchant seamen and fishermen.
For the loyalty and labour of men and women in factory and field:
for the good guardianship of the Civil Defence
and for the spirit of unity and devotion among all our people
which triumphed over weariness and danger.”

Following years of blackout, one of the central images to VE Day,
was the restoration of light.
A symbol of release, from fear into freedom - a great deliverance.
The gospel reading from John 14 is spoken in time of blackout.
They are words that inform a Victory Day – yes;
but first, they are words for the difficult days of unknowing
either how long, or how much, must still be endured.

In the gospel, friends gather to share a special meal.
An upper room – discrete, for fear of discovery.
Loathe to voice it, each one there senses the sands of time draining away.
The one whose company they have kept these three years –
their compass and companion, is – they fear –
about to be torn from them.
Though he could make good his escape,
he seems intent on a collision, he surely cannot survive.
Beyond the closed doors, darkness circles and closes in.

After kneeling down and washing the disciples’ feet at this Last Supper,
Jesus makes his farewells.
(These chapters of John, 14-17 are known as the Final Discourse.)
But as well as saying goodbye, he promises to see them again.
At the edge of his own grave,
Jesus says that what he is about to go through, is the beginning of the “way.”
Despite what they fear most,
Jesus assures the disciples, that he and they, disciple and master,
will remain connected, neither abandoned, nor alone.
Love - relationship – will not be severed;
changed – perhaps – but continuing.
Death, neither God’s last, nor lasting word.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
I go into a future you cannot see, but into which, you can follow.
If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
In the shadow of his own cross, Jesus says:
You have a place - with me and with God.
God has not chosen to be God without us.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.

Familiar at funerals, these are not simply afterlife words.
They are for the now life.
In the clarion call of Christian Aid, whose special Week starts today;
“We believe in life before death.”

In the immediate aftermath of World War II Christian leaders in Britain and Ireland met,
determining to do all that they could to alleviate the plight
of the millions of refugees displaced by war.
Initially known as Christian Reconstruction in Europe we know it now as Christian Aid.
Its aim was not to evangelise, but to respond to need,
believing that compassion transcends all borders.

Twelve years later, Christian Aid Week began.
For over sixty years, individuals and congregations have gone door to door
or shaken cans on the high street to raise money for the world’s poorest -
believing poverty, an outrage against humanity, that can and must be eradicated.
Christian Aid works in partnership to provide urgent, practical assistance
where need is greatest.
Through campaigning advocacy, it also seeks to address the root causes of poverty.
It meets need, regardless of people’s faith –
though it undertakes its work as an expression of its own faith.
“Truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me, will also do the works that I do…
John 14:12

Currently operating in thirty-seven countries, across continents.
it is responding to the coronavirus outbreak in Africa, Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Details are in our newsletter or via Christian Aid website.)

The charity itself addresses its supporters:
“Over the last few months, you’ve shown love to your neighbours in so many ways.
You’ve picked up the phone. You’ve brought them food. You’ve prayed for them.
You’ve shown that you’re by their side. And they’re not alone.
And while this Christian Aid Week will feel a little strange,
we know you will do what you can in these unusual circumstances
to reach out to your global neighbours too.”

Neighbourliness is echoed in the words of Dr Scott’s sermon on VE Day 1945:
“Now that the threat of bombs and blasting is past,
it is a joyful thing to bear testimony
to the steadfastness, courage and loyalty of a sorely harassed congregation.
But while the enemy caused grievous harm in the destruction of the church –
the truth is, these stern years have strengthened and deepened
the fellowship of St Columba’s.
If we have known as never before the horror and misery
that the works of wicked men can bring,
we have also known as never before, how wonderful are the works of God
and how sure is the promise: “Lo, I am with you always!” (R.F.V.S)

And finally, footnote to our VE Day veteran.
In his diary is the label from his bottle of champagne: Moet & Chandon Brut Epernay 1937. A church friend researched it. “You shouldn’t have drunk that champagne –
the bottle would be worth £5000 today!”.
On Friday, the former soldier reported:
“The label is back in its rightful page in the diary.
This evening, I will remember with love my younger brother Bert
who died on an RAF raid on St Nazaire. I will also have a wee dram.”

In my Father’s house are many dwellings.
God has not chosen to be God without us.

Sermon 17th May 2020

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 17 MAY 2020, EASTER VI

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” John 14:16, 18

A dispatch from the Hebrides arrived yesterday; the author reflected:
“On this morning's run along the lochside I was very aware
of the salty tangy seaweed, the vanilla scent of the gorse
and the sweet perfume of bluebells near Rose Cottage.
Tranquil birdsong in the Castle woods, the clang of a boat in the bay
and the insistent penetrating call of the cuckoo on the strong breeze.
Nature hanging on - perhaps thriving - in lockdown.
… … …
I've also been struck this week by a couple of examples of how people
are hanging on to humanity - or at least their sense of humour –
in the ongoing pandemic.
First, hearing the BBC Moscow correspondent, Steve Rosenberg,
playing requests on the piano of past Eurovision hits –
he can play every winning tune in the history of the competition!
From the piano in the Dutch embassy in Moscow
he played whatever songs people requested.”

Second, this morning on BBC Radio Scotland.
The sports correspondent, instead of talking about the impasse in Scottish football
which has been dominating every bulletin since the lock-down,
he got his rather surprised colleagues to choose a random number from 1 to 18
and then allocated them a team in the German football league
to engender interest in the games over the weekend!
He was so enthusiastic and cheery about it, he made me smile.

Indeed, this weekend, a handful of fixtures for Germany’s Bundesliga.
mark the first return of professional European football –
When teenage sensation, Erling Braut Haaland scored for Borussia Dortmund
instead of being mobbed by jubilant team-mates,
he made sure they all kept their distance
as he performed a little dance on the side-lines,
observing the strict hygiene rules that the league has to follow.
Described by fans, watching on television, after a nine-week absence –
“Surreal. Eeerie. Odd.”
The German phrase that accompanied yesterday’s return – Geister spiel - Ghost Games.

Ghost games.
Last week as part of the 75th Anniversary of VE Day celebrations, Katherine Jenkins,
Forces sweetheart of this generation, sang a wartime repertoire
to 5,000 empty seats in our neighbouring, Albert Hall.
Today at St Columba’s - Ben, Liz, myself – empty pew, upon empty pew.
Are recorded hymns and imaginary children, just Ghost games? Wishful thinking?
To borrow a phrase – Has Jesus left the building?

Yet we are here.
Longstanding church members, newly arrived, friends of friends –
from many different places, new and old.
If the messages that we have received via the office speak truly:
for some, the sense of connectedness, the awareness of others praying has actually been strengthened by the enforced distancing.

These virus days are educating a great deal about connection and disconnection.
Moments of exasperation with Wi-Fi, and disappearing Zoom callers!
More grievously, the isolation of loved ones.
The inability to give a hug when most needed –
Care Home, hospital bedside or crematorium.

Presence and absence; empty space and intimacy,
ghost games or new awareness of unseen, powerful realities?
Such questions permeate the gospel reading.
Continuing on from last week’s – In my father’s house are many dwelling places
it emerges from locked doors and rising fear.
Gathered together with the disciples, on the night of Last Supper and betrayal,
Jesus stops to explain things.
The disciples are already grieving Jesus,
struggling with his likely death and their loss, wondering what will become of them.

Knowing he must depart, guessing they will be torn apart,
Jesus predicts how the sheep will be scattered when the shepherd is struck.
Bewilderment, fear, guilt and despair - orphans in the storm.
But, in that beautiful phrase: Having loved them, Jesus loved them to the end;
delivering the promise: “I will not leave you orphaned.”

To disciples, fearing abandonment, Jesus promises:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, [KJV – comforter]
to be with you forever.
Not orphans, bereft; but part of a world-wide family;
the Spirit of God present everywhere –.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139
No time, no place, where God, Father, Son and Spirit is not with us.

Wishful thinking? Evidence? What difference does it make?
From the big picture – Christian Aid Week, just concluding - but still open to support.
It’s global vision of shared humanity and responsibility;
it’s mobilisation of faith, to counter the obscenities and injustices of poverty,
while bringing relief to those most in need.

In the small picture, ordinary folk – some church, some not –
making the phone call, running the errand, offering a little contact and reassurance –
often surprised and delighted that they receive much more in return,
than the small amount they feel they have given.

From long before Covid-19, it is Scotscare’s - Blether Buddies;
a telephone companionship scheme staffed by volunteers.
For us perhaps, it is the invitation this week, to Sunday Schooler and church old-timer
to become pen friends, corresponding our way to enhanced connection.
It is the Comfort blankets of the craft group – every stitch a prayer.
Jesus promised: “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Then commissioned each of us to play a part to make that promise true.

To finish; two more scenes played out behind closed doors:
Yesterday, the online installation of the new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – Revd Dr Martin Fair –
“We find ourselves in uncharted territory, having to re-imagine church.
The first disciples were given no blueprint, no detailed plan, radical or otherwise,
But rather the promise that through every circumstance and change,
God’s love remains. And from love, flows peace.”

And the church member – who has loved our church for many years
but for too long has not been able to attend, due to ill health:
in response to my hope that she would always feel connected, replied:
“I will never stop being part of it.”

Abiding presence, unseen as the wind,
Nature hanging on; humanity hanging on:
Ghost games…Yes. Holy Ghost games.

Sermon 24th May 2020

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 24 MAY 2020, EASTER VII

(Jesus prayed to the Father) And now I am no longer in the world, 
but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. 
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, 
so that they may be one, as we are one. John 17:11

A poem/meditation that has circulated from early days of the Corona Virus pandemic by Donna Ashworth, entitled History will remember:
History will remember when the world stopped  
And the cars parked in the street, and the trains didn’t run.
History will remember when the schools closed, 
and the children stayed home,
And the medical staff walked towards the fire and they didn’t run.
History will remember when people sang on their balconies, in isolation,
But so much together in courage and song.
History will remember when people fought for their old and weak,
And protected the vulnerable by doing nothing at all.
History will remember when the virus left, and the houses opened
And the people came out and hugged and kissed and started again.
Kinder than before. 

Kinder than before?
We appear to be in a time both of transition and of unknowing.
Whether it is big picture governmental guidelines 
or the domestic readjustments to family, work or school, 
there is the refrain; easier to go into lockdown, than to come out of it.

The longer we live with Coronavirus 
the clearer it becomes how differently we experience it.
For some it is inconvenience; for others it is life and death.
History will remember – beautiful as it is,
feels to me, a little premature.
Part of me longs to think, we will emerge from this kinder,
more aware of life’s gift, 
the precious fragility of our planet and our relationships, 
But, I also wonder if we aim to hurry on, to get back to normal,
to replicate what we have always done,
because to linger in the unknown is too uncomfortable?

Perhaps appropriately, today, the 7th Sunday of Easter,
is something of an imposed pause
falling between Ascension Day (last Thursday) and Pentecost (next Sunday.)
as one commentator says: Before the work of Pentecost begins, 
the church, not quite ready to be church. 
In a time of ambiguity and uncertainty we are asked to wait, 
as the first disciples were commanded to remain in Jerusalem.
without the bodily presence of the Resurrected Christ.
To practice loving when the end is not yet in sight.
Though not quite the same; as I once read in a graffitied portaloo in Iraq:
“Due to government cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.”

Waiting is hard; life is difficult; hope essential.
Reverend James Mathieson, from the Isle of Skye,
a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland 
was for many, the embodiment of strong, but gentle, Christian faith.
As a young man he served as a chaplain with the British Army during World War II.
Captured in North Africa, he was held in a POW camp in Italy, 
before making his escape. Boys’ Own stuff. 
Though, so self-effacing, one would never have guessed the half of it.

From his POW days, he remembered with sadness one pastoral encounter.
As the war progressed, the allied prisoners knew their own forces 
were now fighting their way up through Italy. 
Relief, freedom was surely coming - but when?
A soldier he encountered eagerly asked him when that might be – 
the soldier expressed the thought that it might be just days away.
The Padre recognised it was unlikely to be imminent.
so counselled that in reality, it was likely to be some months.
It was true, but as soon as he said it, 
he could see that he had extinguished the hope of his fellow prisoner.
It was a regret, he always remembered – and tried to learn from. 

So how do we sustain hope in these days of ambiguity – for ourselves and for others?
We can draw from the well of scripture.
The gospel reading from John 17 is known as the High Priestly Prayer.
[In the letter to the Hebrews, Christ is described as the High Priest, Pontifex Maximus.
Pontifex comes from the Latin word for a bridge.] 
Recollected from the night of last Supper, 
it is Jesus’ response to time running out; the clarity of final things.

In those final things, Jesus promises his abiding presence in time to come – 
the gift of the Spirit, which will come, after waiting time.
And he prays for them - those frightened, unsure disciples – 
prays for them then on the night of his betrayal and abandonment;
and promises, that in time, those prayers will continue, 
even at the right hand of God.
The pre-Easter gospel anticipates the Ascension – 
though the way a disciple knows Christ will change, 
Christ will still be with us, far and wide, near and far. 
Then in ways beyond our understanding,
Christ prays for us, now and always.
I’m not sure I even begin to understand what that means 
but I think it changes everything.

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, 
so that they may be one, as we are one. 

A second source of hope, is unity. 
In the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea a statement this week from the Interfaith Forum: “We recognise the hard work and dedication of many of our local residents and organisations. This may be by making and delivering food, reaching out for a friendly conversation, providing a listening ear, ensuring that the homeless have a cooked meal or collecting vital prescriptions.  There are many acts of kindness being shown by people of all faiths and those of no faith  as we stand together and are committed to continuing this work for as long as we are needed.”

Or the recent Hospital documentary, filmed at London’s, Royal Free.
The community nurse, who has worked for the NHS for some forty/fifty leaving the ward having recovered from the virus that took her close to death.
Defiantly walking out of the hospital, declining offers of a wheel chair.
Thanking the assembled staff who had assembled to applaud her departure.
Her telling them: thank you for everything you have done.
“I am proud to be a nurse”

Mental Health Action Week: this year highlighting the effect of kindness 
on those who receive it and also those who provide it;  
positive effect on the mental health and wellbeing of both parties. 
Our own initiatives: (Lucy Llewellyn)
Curry and Chaat – Don’t Stew Alone. Food and friendship.
Virtual coffee – post service phone calls.

This week a church friend related, the isolation 
of feeling like a bird in a cage 
and not seeing a single person I know for weeks and weeks…
it has been challenging, 
“After agonising and struggling, I am now learning to be still 
and know that God reigns and is in control as always 
and will turn even this for good for His people.”

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, 
so that they may be one, as we are one. 

Eastertide ends with the great feast of Pentecost. Birth Day.
All is made new. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 
The Spirit, the great mender of broken relationships, 
the great builder of community. 
The bridge-builder – across which we will find our way into the new normal.
Let us not be too quick to replicate old ways.
Let us not that it is all done by us – we cannot do it, in our strength alone.
But let us find hope in the promise of the Spirit 
and the prayers of Christ for us.

Then in the words of one who history has remembered: 
English mystic Juliana of Norwich (1342–1416) 
“The greatest honour that we can give almighty God 
is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”
Then, by grace, we will be kinder.

Sermon 31st May 2020

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 31 MAY 2020

How many times have you asked someone or maybe even been asked the question “what was it like in the war”?

What about “Do you remember where you were when JFK was shot”?

“Do you remember where you were when Princess Diana died”?

“Do you remember where you were on 7/7”

And now will future generations ask, what was it like 2020 when there was no Church? Or maybe the question will be grandad do you remember when people used to go to Church buildings to worship?

How will we answer?

For now, Let me go back to the Princess Diana question, I remember where I was, but more so I was struck by what happened next.

You may recall the outpouring of grief, the crowds milling in the Mall putting down flowers just being there and wandering around. I certainly remember how strange the atmosphere felt.

Then the funeral and the flowers being thrown on the hearse. All because someone came to say goodbye to a princess. Someone they did not know but someone whom they felt had touched their lives.

Do you remember the commentators, asking people how they felt, how many times did you hear someone say, I don’t know what we will do without her.
Such is the way of the British people.

Whether or not we knew Diana, whether or not we feel any connection at all, we in the church know what it feels like.

For, in a far more profound sense, we too have lost someone one who has been the centre of our lives, the source of our joy, the wellspring of our celebration.

Like those people on the Mall. Each week we come together whether it be in a building or now virtually via the internet or on a telephone line but we come together in the name of someone, no not just someone, a friend a leader who is not here. And whether or not we realise it, our Christian faith is the attempt to answer the question, "How are we going to live without Jesus?"

Now, somebody will probably say, "Wait! Jesus hasn't gone anywhere. He is still present with his church. He's right here, present in our hearts." That certainly sounds like a cosy thing to say. But how dare we say it?

This morning reminds us that the fundamental crisis of the church was the departure of Jesus.

We did not choose Jesus; he chose us, and appointed us to be faithful followers. Yet he is gone.

It is most likely that the disciples continued to meet in the upper room where the Last Supper had been held. But they met in dread. They knew the bitterness of the Jews who had ordered the death of Jesus, and they were afraid that their turn would come next.

So they were meeting in terror, listening fearfully for every step on the stair and for every knock at the door. As they sat there, Jesus was suddenly in their midst. He gave them the normal everyday eastern greeting: "Peace be to you”.

As Fred Craddock says in his commentary on John, "Before the departing Christ, the disciples had been as children playing on the floor, only to look up and see the parents putting on coats and hats. The questions are three (and they have not changed): Where are you going? Can we go? Then who is going to stay with us?"

Where are you going? "I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer".

Can we go? "Where I am going, you cannot come".

Then who will stay with us? "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf".

How are we going to live without Jesus? The answer, according to the Gospel of John, lies in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

John calls him the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate. Eugene Peterson in the message translates Advocate rather nicely and uses the word Friend.

In the absence of Jesus, his presence draws near to his followers. If he had not left us, the Spirit would not have come. Since Jesus has departed once and for all, he can now come and be with us through the presence of another Advocate or a friend.

It is difficult to talk about the Holy Spirit.

Outside the church, whenever people talk about a person's spirit continuing on, Like they did about Diana, they usually point to those people left behind who hold the same values as their hero and who extend the impact of what their hero did or said.

Inside the church, we find it hard to talk about the Spirit of Jesus.

It's easy to say, "Jesus has left us and his Spirit is here," but that doesn't necessarily mean we hold his values or extend his impact. Sensing a spiritual void, the church frequently turns to more administrative matters.

For the past few years I have sat through the backside numbing administration at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
On one afternoon which was particularly trying, I was sat beside a former moderator who had just returned from probably a liquid lunch. As the convener of the particular committee droned on.

I turned to him and said, “this is a struggle”. His reply in what was a stage whisper, was, “she has just mentioned Jesus, that means she is about to finish”. And sure enough she did.

How true that as a church, like that convener, we concentrate on the admin and then tag Jesus on at the end.

In the Great Commission of Jesus to the disciples that Ben read this morning.

"Peace to you. Even as the Father sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them: " Receive the Holy Spirit.

That was not Jesus saying lets just do the admin and tag me on at the end, Jesus was giving us, a vision, a mission. Dare I say he was giving us a radical strategic plan.

Brooke Westcott, theologian and Bishop of Durham called it "The Charter of the Church." It means three things.
It means that Jesus Christ needs the Church which is exactly what Paul meant when he called the Church "the body of Christ" .

Jesus had come with a message for all people and now he was going back to his Father. His message could never be taken to everyone, unless the Church took it. The Church was to be a mouth to speak for Jesus, feet to run his errands, hands to do his work. Therefore, the first thing this means is that Jesus is dependent on his Church.

It means that the Church needs Jesus. A person who is to be sent out needs someone to send him; they need a message to take; they need a power and an authority to back the message; they need someone to whom he or she may turn when they are in doubt and in difficulty.

Without Jesus, the Church has no message; without him the Church has no power; without him the Church has no one to turn to when up against it; without him the Church has nothing to enlighten her mind, to strengthen her arm, and to encourage her heart. This means that the Church is dependent on Jesus.

There remains still another thing. The sending out of the Church by Jesus is parallel to the sending out of Jesus by God. The relationship between Jesus and God was continually dependent on Jesus' perfect obedience and perfect love.

It follows that the Church is fit to be the messenger and the instrument of Christ only when she perfectly loves him and perfectly obeys him.

What we only too often forget is that The Church must never be out to deliver its message; The Church must be out to deliver the message of Christ.

She must never be out to follow man-made policies; she must be out to follow the will of Christ.

The Church gets into difficulties whenever she tries to solve some problem in her own wisdom and strength, and leaves out of account the will and guidance of Jesus Christ.
We struggle in the church to wait for the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, who has many things to tell us that we cannot yet bear to hear. It is difficult to wait for a Spirit that we cannot touch or see. That is faith.

No wonder, then, that sometimes in our impatience the church itself fills the absence of Jesus with its own false certainty and pretends it has all the answers.

Jesus breathed on his disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit. When John spoke in this way, he was thinking back to the old story of the creation of man. In Genesis we read "And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being".

This was the same picture as Ezekiel saw in the valley of dead, dry bones, when he heard God say to the wind: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breath upon these slain that they may live"

The coming of the Holy Spirit is like the wakening of life from the dead. When it is blown upon the Church, she is recreated for her task.

Wherever you may be today where you join us in worship, whenever you are asked that question what was it like when there was no Church to go to, answer by saying you had faith, not faith in the Church the organisation or the buildings, but you have faith in Christ.

We trust what we have heard him say through scripture, yet we remain open to hear him still speak through the Holy Spirit. In the end, we trust God will sort everything out, for the primary role of the Spirit is to point to Jesus and guide us.

The Spirit of Christ will lead us into the life that Christ has come to give. The Spirit will teach us; the question is whether we are willing to learn.

On this day of Pentecost in 2020. What is required is a new openness to the Spirit. God is free to speak, even if the words are not yet written down in our ancient Bibles. Even if we don’t meet together in buildings. And throughout these challenging days of Covid we are required to have faith.

Faith requires us to remain open to any act of God. That, it seems to me, is how we live without Jesus. That is how we live by the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, the Spirit blows when and where it wills. We have no control over what God is doing in the world. But if we wait for the wind of Spirit to blow and divert our course, we find ourselves directed into the face of grace.

It is difficult to trust God like that. Sometimes it is easier to look elsewhere for our security and approval.

"When the Spirit of truth comes," said Jesus, "he will guide you into all the truth."

"When the Spirit of truth comes," Jesus said, "he will testify on my behalf." And if we remain open to that Spirit, we may discover that, even in his absence, Jesus has been with us all along.

The spirit is here, and now. Not tagged on at the end.

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Monday to Friday.

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St Columba’s is located on Pont Street in Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Church is within easy reach of three London Underground stations – Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line), South Kensington (Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines) and Sloane Square (Circle and District Lines).

St. Columba's
Pont Street
London SW1X 0BD
+44 (0)20-7584-2321
office@stcolumbas.org.uk

Getting here by tube

Knightsbridge Station

Take the Harrods exit if open (front car if coming from the East, rear car if coming from the West). Come up the stairs to street level, carry on keeping Harrods on your right. Turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on into Walton Place with St Saviour’s Church on your left. At the traffic lights, St Columba’s is to your left across the street. If the Harrods exit is closed, take the Sloane Street exit, turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on past Harrods with the shop on your right, into Walton Place as before.

South Kensington Station

Come up the stairs out of the station and turn left into the shopping arcade. Turn left again into Pelham Street. At the traffic lights at the end of Pelham Street cross Brompton Road, turn left then immediately right into the narrow street of Draycott Avenue. After just a few yards turn left into Walton Street. Carry on walking up Walton Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn right and after a few steps you will be at St Columba’s!

Sloane Square Station

Cross over the square into Sloane Street. Walk along Sloane Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn left into Pont Street. St Columba’s will then be in sight.

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