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Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter

Sunday 12th May 2024 Psalm 1

Acts 1 15-17, 21-end

Ezekiel 36. 24-28

1John 5: 9-13

John 17: 6-19

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.

 

What does it mean to be a follower of  Jesus? That’s the question that today’s readings invite us to reflect on, and together they help us see that following Him isn’t in any way the same as ‘following’ in the everyday sense of the word as we might use it today. It’s nothing like being a follower of  a football team, or a celebrity influencer or any of the other things which we might follow in the world today.  In a world where people boast about how many followers they have on Instagram or lose their individual identities chanting their support for their idols at football matches or rock concerts, our readings from Psalm 1, from Acts and from John’s Gospel offer us a much richer definition of what it means to be a follower, one where ‘following’ Jesus is about much much more than giving up our individual identity in the way that followers of football teams and online influencers are encouraged to do.  Today’s readings tell us that following Jesus is about living life to the full through sharing in a vision for all creation which is loving, inclusive, creative  and prayerful, a vision which offers us what Jesus himself defines as ‘eternal life’ and which celebrates and sanctifies our individuality whilst at the same time inspiring us to see how we can love and serve others.  

 

Half a mile or so away from where we are now the Winterbourne stream runs between the A27 and some neatly kept allotments.  You can follow a rather scruffy path through banks of wild garlic until suddenly you come to a pool of the most intense azure blue, with water that’s so clear you can see right to the bottom.  It’s deep and clean enough for you to swim in if you’re prepared to brave the cold, but just being there, in a place which is more like a Swiss mountain stream than the scrubby fringes of an English town lifts your spirits.  I thought of that crystal clear pool when I read Psalm 1, which describes those who ‘delight in the law of the lord’, as being ‘Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper.’


We might see today’s readings as being like those streams of water-just as the clear waters of the winterbourne are bringing life to the banks and allotments of what otherwise might be a grubby urban wasteland so the words of today’s Bible readings offer us new ways of seeing the world, new ways of understanding what it means to be a ‘follower’ - ways of seeing God at work in the world which can bring us alive in new ways and which in turn enable us to ‘bear fruit’ of our own.

 

Being a follower of Christ and at the same time being ourselves, being part of a community and yet also being a unique individual loved by God are important to all our readings. The community of believers in Acts appoint Matthias as Judas’s replacement; and then we don’t hear anything else about him. He’s never mentioned again after Acts1. But perhaps that’s the point; he is remembered solely by his name-he is a follower, but he is also unique.  Perhaps we can see him as being our representative -like him we can’t share with the 11 disciples the privilege of being called by name and in person by Jesus, but like Matthias we can still be followers with our own unique identities. . 

 

Our uniqueness as  followers of Christ is something Jesus himself stresses in his prayer to God His Father in today’s Gospel.  Although it’s a deeply intimate and personal moment the extraordinary thing is that as his followers today in 2024, we are included, along with all his disciples, now and in the past. There is a deep and loving intimacy to these words; we know the terrible events that are just hours away, we’re conscious of the love Jesus is expressing for God His Father,  but this prayer makes space for us as well. Jesus is praying just hours before his death, yet his words express the love and compassion he feels for those who follow him now and in the future. The words  ‘all mine are yours and yours are mine’ tell us that following him is to be welcomed into that intimate and eternal love which is at the centre of the relationship between God, Jesus, and Creation.  His words are a prayer for all of us, encompassing as they do the whole history of creation.   Prayer is a powerful force in all our readings today; those who are blessed in the psalm and bear fruit are those who ‘meditate on his law day and night,’.  Matthias is chosen after the community has prayed for guidance, and Jesus Himself uses prayer as a means of sharing his deepest hopes and desires with God His Father.  Being a follower of his and being prayerful are connected; we need to pray in order to find a way of listening to God, a way of discerning what our following should look like.

 

Following Jesus is challenging. It can be hard and difficult because, as he himself tells us,  the world can be a hostile place for anyone who rejects its earthly values and chooses to follow Him, whether 2000 years ago or now.  This hostility is growing.  The World watch List for 2024  reports that  365 million Christians are experiencing “high levels of persecution and discrimination”, compared to 340 million in 2021 .  5621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2023, and that number has been growing year by year, making being a follower of Christ an increasingly dangerous calling , especially in North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, and Yemen, which had the highest rates of reported persecution against Christians last year.

 

Following Christ today, just as in the time of Peter, Jesus, and John, has the potential to be dangerous, even fatal. ‘The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world’, says Jesus of his disciples.  But we don’t need to experience the world’s hatred to find ourselves falling out of that loving relationship which we’re being offered as Followers.  Belonging to the world, acting for ourselves rather living by what Psalm 1 calls ‘the law of the Lord’ means that we can lose touch with God just by living for ourselves rather than for others.  John’s gospel reminds us that this was Judas’s great mistake.  Jesus says that during his ministry ‘not one of them was lost except the one who was destined to be lost’. Judas was the one ‘destined to be lost’, and  he is ‘lost’ because he puts his own material gain first; he goes, as the reading from Acts puts it, ‘to his own place’.  This is a place defined by  rejection of the trust and love of Jesus and his fellow disciples, a place where selfishness, greed and disloyalty drive actions which lead ultimately to loneliness and despair.

 

In today’s reading from 1 John everything we need to know about being followers of Christ is summed up in the words 'God gave us eternal life, and this life is his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the son of God does not have life'.  Eternal life, in the sense of life as lived in the fullness of God’s love, is open to everyone who chooses to say yes to taking up the challenges of following Christ.  And we can do this through our prayers, through exploring readings like todays, and through discovering how to listen to God even in the midst of a world which appears hostile, unstable, and intolerant.  Being followers of  Jesus involves living our lives in ways which are loving, inclusive, creative  and prayerful.  This he tells us today is ‘eternal life’;  life as unique beings known and loved by God who give ourselves to the love and service of others in His name.  And this, in the end, is what being a follower of Christ is all about.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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