Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Easter 7 2016

Acts 16.16-34
Revelation 22.12-14,16,17,20,21
John 17.20-26

Come, Holy Spirit, meet us at our crossroads.
These nine days between Ascension and Pentecost are traditionally kept as a period of prayer for renewal in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We remember that in Acts the infant church is described as being constantly at prayer during those nine days, the Apostles and others with the Mother of Jesus waiting in the upper room for the promised gift.
The Church always needs to be depending, waiting on God, living in expectation of the Spirit. This year the Church of England has produced these excellent little booklets as a resource to help us pray in these days. Do please take one with you if you haven’t already got one.
The theme of these short meditations is God meeting us at the crossroads, moments of choice where we move forward to a different future. There are nine short biblical stories with accompanying artwork to meditate on.
The crossroads in these stories is a point of departure and uncertainty. At the beginning of each story the characters do not know how it is going to unfold. But in one way or another the Spirit of God is present in those situations to change possibilities and open up a new future.
Going forward into God’s future means letting go of the certainties and securities that we want to hang on to, and learning to depend on God alone. The crossroads is where God meets us, and that is risky, because God changes us and takes us into a future different from the one we thought we had pinned down. But at that crossroads we also discover the true identity that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel reading, our unity with him in the Father. That is a truth we can depend on whatever the circumstances, whatever change or uncertainty is before us.
We can read today’s extract from Acts as a story of God meeting people at the crossroads. The poor slave girl and her owners – how horrible to speak of “owners” in relation to a human being – are about to encounter God and be changed, though they don’t know it. She was a fortune teller. Fortune telling was an attempt to determine the future, and so reduce its risks. But to do so closes off God’s different, risky, future and all he has prepared for us. And in the 1st century world view of Acts this opposition to receiving God’s future is attributed to a demon, a lying spirit of oppression and bondage.
The girl is freed from her bondage by the Holy Spirit acting through Paul. Now what is going to happen to her? We don’t know, but her former owners now have no use for her. For her, the Spirit met her at the crossroads and God’s new and different future opened before her. Perhaps she’ll tell us what happened next when we meet her in the Kingdom. But her owners refuse that future. They are angry that their handle on the future, their possession and control of it, has been taken away. Not only their fortune telling girl, but also their money, which is another way of controlling the future. They resort to violence, casting out the ones who brought the message of liberation that they have refused.
Then the jailer. What a crossroads he found himself at, when he thought Paul and Silas had escaped. The only way ahead he could think of was the dead end of suicide, but perhaps he thought that a preferable option to what the Romans might do to him for letting prisoners go. But suddenly, unexpectedly, the Spirit met him at the crossroads and a new way opened up. These prisoners who do not run away and seek no revenge show him a completely new way of living in the world. Salvation, faith in God, discovering his true identity in Christ. Suddenly a glorious new way ahead from the crossroads opens up for him, filled with the light of the risen Christ, and not just for him but for his whole household.
Paul and Silas too are at a crossroads. Their situation frankly looks dire, chained in a horrible prison and perhaps facing torture or death. At that moment they don’t know where the road from this crossroads will lead them. But they do know their identity in Christ which can never be taken away. They do trust that the Spirit is with them to lead them into God’s future, filled with light, even if in this world that future seemed dark. So what are they doing? They are singing hymns. Come, Holy Spirit, meet us at our crossroads.
What about us? We are always at the crossroads, in one way or another. Choice, chance and uncertainty face us. We do not know what the future will bring. But we do know our identity in Christ, one with him in the love of the Father. We do know that the Spirit meets us at the crossroads to lead us on. We do know that God’s future, which we do not possess or control, is the path from the crossroads that leads us on in the end to the heavenly city where Christ is all in all. In our lives, especially at moments of crisis and uncertainty, come, Holy Spirit, meet us at our crossroads.
So also in our life as a church. Here at St Peter le Poer we are awaiting the new vision and strategy for the Edmonton Episcopal Area. What will be our part in that? Our parish is in some senses in a temporary state, with the living suspended and no resident parish priest. What will the future bring? Well our task is not to try and pin that down, but to trust in God. In our church, come, Holy Spirit, meet us at our crossroads.
And in our city. A city of all nations and religions, in which our newly elected mayor, a Muslim who chose to take his oath of office in a Christian cathedral, speaks of hope instead of fear, unity instead of division. Those ideas are not strange to us as Christians, either. In all the diversity of our city we find much recognition and common ground.
Jesus preached the kingdom of God in person in his life on earth. After his ascension the Church, the community of disciples, took his place as the visible sign of the Kingdom, and it is to the Church that the fullness of the message of salvation is committed. But the ascended Christ fills the cosmos. He is not confined to the boundaries of the visible Church.
What is he doing today, in our city of many faiths? Our city where there is such opportunity and culture but also so much poverty, deprivation and exclusion.  How is the Spirit working, the Spirit who renews the face of the whole earth? We may be sure he is at work; God’s future is present as possibility and gift for all. How can we as Christians best engage with others in a way that opens up for all that possibility and gift? Our city is at a crossroads. So, in our city, come, Holy Spirit, meet us at our crossroads.

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