Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow on 26th May 2019 – 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 16 vv 9 – 15 Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia. Lydia’s conversion.
John 14 vv 23 – 29 The promise of the Holy Spirit
Text “2 Timothy 1 v 7 “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind”, or in other translations,
“God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power and of love and of self discipline”.
1. Introduction. I have invited you, without any pressure to do so, to complete the slip provided with your service books, by stating one, or possibly two, significant fears that you have. These slips will be confidential so please do not put your name on your slip but rather fold it over and they will be collected at the end of my sermon. I will shred the slips and then say a general prayer of deliverance, with no reference to a particular slip.
2. Disciples’ fears. I begin with the disciples’ fears. The Apostle Peter’s fears, probably of arrest and perhaps even of death had caused him to deny three times that he was a disciple of Jesus. As we have been going through the Eastertide season we have heard gospel readings relating to the resurrection appearances of Jesus, beginning with Easter Day when he appeared to 10 disciples and women gathered at the same house with the doors barred for fear of the Jews. I think that this is quite natural and understandable. Their leader had just been arrested and put to a cruel death. They must all have foreseen the possibility of a similar end, despite the various protestations which they had made. By the time we get to Jesus’ appearance to 7 disciples at the Sea of Galilee, the third appearance for 6 of them, they were really coming to a firm belief that Jesus had risen. They were out of immediate reach of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. They felt safer in the familiar activities
of fishing. Our gospel reading today takes us back to teaching in John 14, prior to his death, as he prepared them for what was to come, and in particular for the promise of the Holy Spirit. It is the combination of a firm belief in Jesus’ resurrection and the experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit which really takes away their fears. God had by Pentecost given them, in place of a spirit of fear, a spirit of power and of love.
3. Fears today. Today many Christians live with fear, not just in Sri Lanka following the bombing of three churches and three hotels on Easter Day. Many churches in that country closed the following Sunday and invited members to pray at home. Probably, in the circumstances, a wise temporary precaution. But now, with security precautions, the Sri Lankans are going back to their churches on Sundays. It is not just there that Christians are targeted and persecuted. According to research by the Pew Research Centre, Christians are the most persecuted of religious believers in 144 countries, up from 128 in 2015. Yet, thank God, in many of these countries Christians are standing firm in their faith and churches are growing. All that can seem fairly remote, unless you have been involved in a terrorist attack in say London or Manchester.
Our two granddaughters, as with many other children of 15 and 16, are sitting their GCSE exams. For many teenage children, exams can be stressful and a source of fear, chiefly of failing or just not getting the grades that they expected to get. I did say to our granddaughters, what my father said to me, “There are far worse things in life than failing an exam.” Later on, as young people finish education it may be their fears are of finding a suitable job. I know that it is more difficult now than when I was a young adult or even when our sons were young. Having got a job, people fear being made redundant. There are other fears such as relationships and marriage and as we get older, fear of illness and incapacity. Today, at the beginning of dementia week, we are particularly asked to remember those people suffering from dementia. Probably many of us have a family member or friend suffering from dementia. It can be as much of a strain for close family members as for the person with the affliction. As we get older perhaps it is a fear for us. The ultimate fear is that of death or maybe just the process of dying.
4. Answer to fear. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says again and again ‘Do not be anxious’ about the ordinary requirements of life, of food and clothing, and he goes on to say, “Your Heavenly Father knows your need of all these things.” Supremely it is in Jesus’ resurrection that the ultimate source of fear, that of death, is countered. On Easter day we recalled the 10 disciples fearful, behind locked doors, meeting the risen Lord Jesus. Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion. In any case it needed more than one meeting to really convince them. A week later Jesus appears to the disciples, now with Thomas present. In the gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter we had the gospel account of Jesus appearance to 7 of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee. This was the third meeting for 6 of them, the second for Thomas. In the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus repeats an event at their call 3 years before. Their belief is really firmly established. Their fears are receding but not completely removed. It was not until Pentecost a few weeks later with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that their fears are really abolished such that, the disciples are back in Jerusalem, preaching the resurrection of Jesus and healing people, not in Galilee but right in the heart of Jerusalem, in the temple, despite the threats of the authorities. Today we had as our first reading Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia inviting Paul with his companions, Luke, Silas, and Timothy who had joined them at Derbe, to come over from Turkey to Greece to help them. Perhaps Paul was surprised that his first convert of note in the Roman colony of Philippi was a woman, Lydia, not a man. It was Paul who later wrote to his assistant and young pastor, Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
5. Ourselves. “God has not given usa spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures we find an experience of fear removed, with an implicit invitation for us to enter into a similar experience. King David says, in Psalm 34 verse 4, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” For our fears to be removed it needs more than an intellectual belief that Jesus has risen, important as that is, it needs an experience of the presence of the living God in our own lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit. I am glad that the Apostle Paul couples power and love. Power without love is very dangerous; it leads to self aggrandisement. We have seen it in some rogue dictators of countries, but it occurs at all levels in society, sometimes bosses at work, sometimes in marriage in a controlling partner. Power with love is the ability to serve others rather than self. Fear undermines our ability to serve. The Holy Spirit can take away your fear and release you to serve others, whether in the Church or in the community locally in Hadlow and hereabouts, or in your work, or in your family. Be prepared for surprises! God is a God of surprises who leads us into unexpected opportunities of service.
What then of the ‘sound mind’ or ‘self discipline’? It is not an easy Greek word to translate – or for that matter to pronounce. It has a sense of being sober minded, not just in a sense of avoiding overindulgence in alcohol, but of making sensible decisions. This couples well with the previous characteristic of love, which is the more familiar Greek word, agape, in the original, a word that has acquired a particular nuance in the New Testament of sacrificial love, associated with Jesus’ sacrificial death, a genuine and practical concern for others.
All three characteristics of the mature Christian arise from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we commit ourselves in openness to God’s calling, his prompting to the way forward, as we seek to serve. They are the antidote to fear, to timidity.
As we come towards the end of the Easter season and to Pentecost in two weeks time let us seek the Lord, praying for the coming of his kingdom in which fear is removed and replaced by a holy boldness to be Christ’s witnesses in today’s world.
While the slips are now being collected, I invite everyone to think of any fears that you have, even if you have not completed a slip. Pause
I am now going to take the slips with your fears and shred them, symbolic of these fears being taken away and then finish this sermon with a prayer and the Easter greeting, in which to remind you, your response is “He is risen indeed, Alleluia”.
Our gracious God and Heavenly Father we commit the fears that we have named, either in writing or in our hearts, into oblivion that we may be free to serve you more fully in the power of the Spirit in the name of our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
1670 words Christopher Miles