by Reverend Matt Harbage
(Genesis17. 1-7,15-16 & Mark 8. 31-38)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am very grateful for my body. Generally speaking, it does what I want, when I want.
If I want to work until midnight one evening, I can.
If I need to run through town to make an appointment I can (as long as it’s not too far).
I can skip a meal or two, or stuff myself silly, and still my body copes.
I must admit however I do get aches and pains and I’m discovering I have more limitations than I’d like. We all have our limits of course, and our bodies don’t always do what we want them to. Over time cracks start to appear and then, in time, we die.
This might not sound like the most up-beat of sermons but actually, this morning, I want to remind us of perhaps the most exciting aspect of our faith – the confidence in life after death. And not just any old life but eternal joy. Life spent with our creator God, and with each other, in that paradise we call the Kingdom of God.
As we reflect on our bodies, our aches & pains and our illnesses in this life we will sometimes cry-out for God to heal us and those we love. Indeed, as we read the Bible we come across some rather incredible miracles and acts of healing. It was a miracle that Abraham and Sarah could conceive a son given that Abraham was 99 years old and one would imagine Sarah was not far off either. Reading the New Testament we see Jesus and the disciples frequently healing people: opening the eyes of the blind, freeing bodies from life debilitating demons and making the paralysed to walk.
I wonder if you’ve experienced physical healing in your life. I believe God continues to perform miracles today, sometimes through medical care – and sometimes supernaturally – but not always. Sooner or later, for all of us, we will face death.
The question then becomes, will God do the greatest miracle of all for me and raise me from the dead, to share in his eternal life.
This is a key question. Will God raise us from the dead?
During this season of Lent, as the ministry team, we are focusing our sermons on the Creed. The Nicean-Constantinope creed, to give it its proper name, is a remarkable text. It’s ancient, put together around 381 AD and is held to be true by all Christian denominations. If you’ve ever wondered why it says what it says, someone once summarised it something like this:
“The creed doesn’t say everything that could be said but rather given the mind-blowing historical event that is Jesus Christ and all that took place, what must we say”
This week the focus is on “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ” and although you’re probably so familiar with the creed you could say it in your sleep, I’d like to slowly read to you just that part:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.
I’d like to pause here for a moment because we might have some work to do to convince people that Jesus really did exist. Recently the church did some research on people’s beliefs in the UK. [The short version of the report is available here: http://www.talkingjesus.org/research/booklet.cfm]. It found only 60% of adults in the UK believe Jesus was a real historical figure, and only a little over half of our youth do.
One of our tasks therefore, if we are to share the Good News of faith in Jesus Christ, is to offer historical evidence. Experts tell us the four Gospels were written while eyewitnesses were still walking around [for example, see a very convincing argument by Richard Bauckham http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/Denver.pdf ]. Likewise the epistles (some of these were written even earlier than the Gospels). Not to mention the references to Jesus by the Jewish writer Josephus and Roman Tacitus.
This statistic has certainly got me thinking about how I communicate my faith.
Returning to the creed, it continues:
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
The creed reminds us that God became just like us. Jesus’ body was real just like ours. As a child, he will have collected his fair share of bruises and scrapes and, as an adult, just like us he would have known aches and pains.
And like us, death was there on the horizon for Jesus, but perhaps the most radical line in the creed, attested to by all four Gospels is this:
On the third day he rose again.
Jesus rose from the dead and offers us a share in his life. Jesus’ pattern of life, death and resurrection can become our pattern too. I cannot imagine anything more incredible. And our hope in resurrection isn’t wishy-washy. We can have confidence that we will share in the resurrection because of the promises Jesus made.
One of the most popular texts I’m asked to read at funerals is the following from John’s gospel, chapter 6, which is one of the places where Jesus makes such a promise. I suspect you’ll recognise it:
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’
As we today come to Jesus, the Bread of Life, he instructs us how to live. His teachings could perhaps be summarised as:
“Repent and believe the Good News” (cf. Mark 1.15, Matt 4.17)
It’s why we need the season of Lent, to help remind us to take seriously our sins and throw ourselves on God’s mercy. It’s why we need to celebrate Easter and our belief in the resurrection – not just at Easter, for one day in the year, but every time we gather together as God’s people.
It is an incredible promise that Jesus makes us: The promise of eternal life.
Finally, at the end, I want to meet my death well and unafraid. Jesus’ promise to us puts this life in context and teaches us that we, like him, can love without fear, even giving up our lives for the sake of others, and walk following him wherever he might lead.