Sacred Triduum 2017: Sermons on John 17

Sacred Triduum 2017

Parish Church of St Mary, Prescot

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

[With thanks to the congregations at Most Holy Trinity, Ettingshall and St Agnes, Toxteth Park, who endured less digested versions of some of these sermons earlier in the week.]

 

John 17

These words spake Jesus,

and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said,

Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son,

that thy Son also may glorify thee:

As thou hast given him power over all flesh,

that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

And this is life eternal,

that they might know thee the only true God,

and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

I have glorified thee on the earth:

I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self

with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

I have manifested thy name

unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world:

thine they were, and thou gavest them me;

and they have kept thy word.

Now they have known that all things whatsoever

thou hast given me are of thee.

For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me;

and they have received them,

and have known surely that I came out from thee,

and they have believed that thou didst send me.

~          ~          ~

I pray for them: I pray not for the world,

but for them which thou hast given me;

for they are thine.

10 And all mine are thine,

and thine are mine;

and I am glorified in them.

11 And now I am no more in the world,

but these are in the world, and I come to thee.

Holy Father, keep through thine own name

those whom thou hast given me,

that they may be one, as we are.

12 While I was with them in the world,

I kept them in thy name:

those that thou gavest me I have kept,

and none of them is lost,

but the son of perdition;

that the scripture might be fulfilled.

 

 

13 And now come I to thee;

and these things I speak in the world,

that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

14 I have given them thy word;

and the world hath hated them,

because they are not of the world,

even as I am not of the world.

15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world,

but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

16 They are not of the world,

even as I am not of the world.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth:

thy word is truth.

18 As thou hast sent me into the world,

even so have I also sent them into the world.

19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself,

that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

~          ~          ~

20 Neither pray I for these alone,

but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one;

as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,

that they also may be one in us:

that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them;

that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me,

that they may be made perfect in one;

and that the world may know that thou hast sent me,

and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

24 Father, I will that they also,

whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am;

that they may behold my glory,

which thou hast given me:

for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

25 O righteous Father,

the world hath not known thee:

but I have known thee,

and these have known that thou hast sent me.

26 And I have declared unto them thy name,

and will declare it:

that the love wherewith thou hast loved

me may be in them,

and I in them.

 

 

Maundy Thursday

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

As we heard at the reading of the Passion narrative last Sunday, Jesus was betrayed by a kiss.

I was thinking about kissing as I was preparing to talk to you this evening. Not that I am expecting to do any kissing here in Prescot tonight – or anywhere else for that matter.  I was thinking about people’s last words, and probably among the most famous must be:

“Kiss me, Hardy”

Who said that? Well done.

There are other famous last words, I wonder if you know who said them:

“I exchange a corruptible crown for an incorruptible.”?

Yes, when this church was just over 50 years old Charles I, that good Anglican.

Somewhat more irreverently: “Damn it, don’t you dare ask God to help me.” ?

The actress Joan Crawford.

How about this: “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” ?  Karl Marx.

One of my favourites, I wonder if you know who died saying “I’m bored with it all.” ?

Winston Churchill.

Well, I don’t know if you ever have a parish quiz but a round on last words might be interesting.

If you take all four Gospel writers, Jesus was quite busy on the cross with what are traditionally seen to be the seven sets of last words ofJesuss from the Cross:

  1. Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
  2. Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
  3. John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.
  4. Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  5. John 19:28: I thirst.
  6. John 19:30: It is finished. (From the Greek “Tetelestai” which is also translated “It is accomplished”, or “It is complete”.)-It is Finished.
  7. Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

It is Saint John’s tetelestai, it is complete, finished, done, that is is my favourite. When Jesus says that he refers us to all his teaching and work which Saint John’s Gospel presents to us in such poetic beauty, In the beginning was the Word, John began his Gospel and he ends Jesus’ life with the one word.

I am grateful to Fr John for inviting me to be your speaker this Sacred Triduum here in Prescot. As well as tonight’s sermon and the sermon for Easter Sunday morning I have three talks tomorrow afternoon during the liturgy of the Passion.

It is a great privilege to be able to put together five talks. I hope I won’t bore you too much and that some of you will even consider enduring all of them. There is a common theme, a common text. I am going to be talking about chapter 17 of John’s Gospel at all of them, you should have been given a copy as you came in tonight and we will hear it read tomorrow.

John 17 is not Jesus’ ‘last words’ but it is in some way Jesus’ last will and testament. It is the culmination of what is often called the final discourse, all the things that Jesus said at the Last Supper. The final discourse consists of chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel and we heard the very first part of it just a moment ago as the Gospel of the Mass. I would really recommend reading all five chapters together, but even if you haven’t got time for that over the next few days please do go away and pray the text I am using, the 26 verses of John 17.

You may have seen the programme about footballer Rio Ferdinand that was on television recently. His wife died and in the programme he talks about the last weeks of her life when she was trying to talk to him and, in denial he found it so hard to listen.

In these chapters of John’s Gospel we have a chance to listen to Jesus, what he thinks are the most important things he can say to his friends.

So many of the verses are so familiar to us that it is easy for the eyes to slip over them and not take them in. I recommend reading the verses slowly, out loud. Use your imagination to imagine the scene at the Last supper, the disciples gathered, no doubt an intense atmosphere, they know something important is happening. Image the scene in detail, the dirty dishes on the table, the wine glasses, the smell of the fire. Imagine what Jesus looks like and imagine him speaking the words. John tells us that he raises his eyes to heaven; he is praying. We are witnesses to this intimate moment between Jesus and his Father.

On Easter Sunday morning I will talk about how we too can have that intimate relationship with God in our lives, how we can experience God’s presence every day and how God wants us to feel and experience his presence.

Tomorrow, Good Friday, I shall be talking three things:

  • the power of the name
  • doing the will of God and how that will bring us happiness
  • and the conflict between Good and Evil

Tonight, I will reflect on the name that this prayer is given as the ‘high priestly’ or priestly prayer of Jesus and all of us are called to be priestly, to be priests following the example of Jesus, the only priest.

On Monday I joined Bishop Paul, the other bishops of the diocese and priests, deacons, ministers and laity in our cathedral to celebrate the Chrism Mass.

At that Eucharist, priests, among others, renewed their commitment to priestly ministry. A renewal of vows, just as we shall all, all the baptised throughout the world, renew our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Baptism doesn’t simply make us Christian, it isn’t a naming ceremony, and it isn’t just about joining a club. Baptism makes us part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. By our anointing with Chrism we are a priestly people, kings and priests of the kingdom of God.

The ministerial priesthood in which the ordained ministers of the church share, is the priesthood of Jesus, but the priesthood of all believers is also a share in Christ’s priestly ministry. We are priests because

All of us are priests. Because in baptism we are made christs, incorporated into his body, becoming him, one with him as he is one with God, as he prays in this prayer:

21That they all may be one;

as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,

that they also may be one in us:

Our baptism is our incorporation, our becoming corporate with, Jesus.

All of us are called to stand as a bridge, a Pontifex between human beings of God.

In some old hymn books there are hymns with that great doxology at the end:

“Consubstantial, co-eternal, while eternal ages run.”

In the Creed we say that God is ‘of the same being’ with the Father, a better translation is to say that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father. Or a simpler translation still they have inter-being with one another; they inter-are (‘a’ ‘r’ ‘e’). They share the same stuff, the same god-ness. Jesus in becoming human shares our stuff, the stuff that makes us human, we are consubstantial with him, and because we are consubstantial with his human-ness we are also consubstantial with his God-mess, as we put it in the Mass when we add water to the wine in the chalice:

“May we come to share in the divinity of Christ

Who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

United, atoned, at-one-ed, in Christ we inter-are with him and one another.

So what should we, all of us, do as priests?

As priests we are called to intercede.

That is what Jesus does in John 17. He intercedes, prays for, his disciples and he prays for all those who will believe through them: that’s us.

Jesus prayed at that moment at the last supper for you and for me. He continues to pray for us. One thing we can learn from this prayer that is John 17 is that it is good to use words to pray, Jesus uses 26 verses and 669 words in English translation.

“In the beginning was the Word”,

John told us at the beginning of his gospel.

At the very beginning of the Bible “God spoke” and “it came to be”.

His words are powerful and they make things happen.

Here in John 17 Jesus prays for those who have kept his word.

At every moment of our lives, but especially over the three days of the Triduum, we as priestly people are called to be keepers of the word; interceding for our world.

One of the loveliest things about wearing a clerical collar is the number of occasions people ask you to pray for them or for people they know.

On the bus, in Tescos, wherever I go, whoever I meet, people ask me to pray. I carry a pen and a set of white cards so I can write the names down of the people I promise to pray for.

People are always pleased to see me do that and often add additional names; ‘while you pray for my dad George, could you remember my cousin Arthur and his children Gemma and Tracey’. I can end up with quite a list.

Lots of people in our society tell other people that they are ‘thinking of them’, that is good, but people yearn for more than that, they want prayer.

So I really want to encourage you to do more than that, to become priestly people, to become known as people who will pray for other people by name.

Give people cards, just put some simple words on the back:

‘I am praying for you.’

When people tell you that bad things have happened, or are happening to them, tell them that you will pray for them, tell them that you will light a candle in church for them.

That’s the first step, the next is to make sure that you do pray for them; that’s why I always write the names down – so I don’t forget. Lighting a candle is always a good way of making sure I remember to pray for people, one candle for each person or each need for prayer. If you can pray for people out loud say it in words:

‘Dear God I pray for John who is ill, for Jean who needs to find a new job.’

The more people get to know that you are a priestly, prayerful person the longer your list will get: and isn’t that a lovely thing?

Once you have prayed for them, the next time you see them tell them that you prayed for them. Send a card:

‘I lit a candle for you’

‘I prayed for you.’

There are lots of other ways we can be priestly people too. If you are at work have a little cycle of prayer. Pray for people on each day of the week with a list. You could have a list of all your family members, a few for each day of the week or month. You could pray using a map and the street names for the people who live around you.

You could pray for everyone you pass on the street just saying in your head ‘God bless you’ as you pass them.

The amazing thing about this priestly ministry, which is the ministry of every baptised person, is that it changes us.

When we pray for people we become more attentive, more loving, more caring.

Pray for the people you don’t like, the people you have fallen out with, that you resent or are jealous of and your feelings will be changed and transformed, your hardened heart will be softened.

When someone tells you something about themselves and you go away and pray for them you will remember it much better and, the next time you see them, remember to ask them how the operation went, whether they have got a job.

And they will know that you have paid attention to them.

We have much time in this sacred Triduum, that is beginning, to be priestly people, to pray for those who are part of our lives.

When you renew your baptismal vows on Saturday evening, make sure that it is real, that you really are, really have been a priestly person.

Make a list when you go home this evening of all sorts of people to pray for.

“These words spake Jesus,

and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said,

Father,

I pray for them: I pray not for the world,

but for them which thou hast given me;

for they are thine.

10 And all mine are thine,

and thine are mine;

and I am glorified in them.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth:

thy word is truth.

20 Neither pray I for these alone,

but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one;

as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,

that they also may be one in us.

26 And I have declared unto them thy name,

and will declare it:

that the love wherewith thou hast loved

me may be in them,

and I in them.”

My prayer for each of us this holy night is that we may be sanctified, made holy as God is holy,

That we may be one with each other, one with Jesus and that the love wherewith he hast loved us may be in us and he in us.

Amen.

Good Friday

First Talk

The naming of cats is a difficult matter,” wrote T.S. Eliot

“It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

I had to fill in a legal form recently where I was required to enter any other names that I had been known by. I always feel slightly deflated to have to say that Richard Charles Peers is what I have been called all my life, with no variation at any point.

Although I was recently contacted by an old friend I had lost touch with who started his email ‘Hi Rich’, he is one of a small group of people I knew at a particular time of life who have been the only people ever to abbreviate my name. I was really touched to see it, and regretted losing contact with him.

In my talks this week I am thinking about the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel which we have just heard the first part of. The whole chapter is a single prayer that Jesus prays at the Last Supper.

When Jesus’ disciples wanted to know how to pray he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.

This prayer in John 17 has the same structure and the same themes. It is addressed to the Father, it asks that we hallow or sanctify the name, that we do the will of the Father and that we be delivered from the Evil One.

I am going to use those three themes for the three sections of my talks this afternoon.

I have manifested thy name”

Jesus prays.

Names are important things. At the beginning of the world in the biblical account in Genesis, Adam is invited to name the creatures. In magic lore to possess someone’s name is to have power over them. For the Hebrew Bible, and for pious Jews even today, the name of God is unpronounceable, too sacred to be uttered. When God makes himself known to Moses at the Burning Bush he makes himself known not with a name as we would know it but by saying simply: I AM WHO I AM.

Today we remember the death of Jesus,

“6 who, though he was in the form of God, 

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 

7but emptied himself taking the form of a servant 

being born in the likeness of men. 

And being found in human form he humbled himself

and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.”

The name above all names.

We are so used to hearing the name of Jesus, it is so loaded with baggage that we might easily forget that this is a real person, a person who was born, who grew up in  a home, played with his friends, learnt a trade, ate, drank, danced and did all the things that human beings do.

But most of all he is a person that each one of us can know, a person who wants to be my friend and your friend.

The key to knowing Jesus is to talk to tell, to tell him the concerns we have and the desires of our hearts. Last night I spoke about the importance of speaking to Jesus. But there are times when we just want to be with the people we love, to just enjoy their company.

One way of doing this with Jesus is to use his name as prayer. This is an ancient Christian practice simply called ‘The Jesus Prayer’.

The Jesus Prayer is not a magic formula. It needs faith in Jesus as saviour of the world and as the second person of the Trinity. But that’s not as difficult as it sounds. Faith is not about a book full of doctrinal formulas, it is simply trusting in Jesus. Even if you can’t feel faith, even if you have all sorts of mental reservations and questions, simply wanting to have faith is enough, just say “Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.”

So, here are some simple practical ways that I have used and use the Jesus Prayer.

I use the form of words:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,

take pity on me a sinner.

 

Sometimes, if I am bored, for a bit of a change I use the shorter Greek form:

Kyrie iesu christe

eleison me.

 

(Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me).

Both formulas I have shown on two lines because often I use the words silently with my breathing, the first line on the in breath and the second line on the out breath, not changing the natural rhythm of the breathing but just attaching the words to it.

Start off by using the words aloud, in a private place, as slowly as you can bear it, and repeat them over and over again. I would recommend a minimum of ten and a maximum of 20 minutes when you start. If you can find three times a day to do that great, if not even once a day will make a difference.

What you will find after some time is that you catch yourself repeating the words at other times in the day too. Perfect. I find that walking to work or even at work, are great times to practice the prayer. It helps slow me down and I walk less quickly and with less haste.

If you have a quiet park nearby, or live in the country, walking up and down slowly while you repeat the prayer may be helpful.

That basically is it, just keep on using it aloud or in your head whenever you can. It will become second nature. It is very helpful when nerves kick in, before a difficult meeting or before preaching or giving a talk or lecture; I always find some time for the Jesus Prayer – and still get nervous but it helps.

Sometimes I use the Jesus Prayer as a form of intercession. I have a little book where I write the names of people who I have been asked to pray for, I try and mention them out loud in my prayers at least once a day and certainly before I say Mass each day. But sometimes it feels like even more is needed so I pray the Jesus Prayer but add the name of the person in need:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on ANDREW. (Or whoever).

I find this really helpful when the need is acute and when distress is great. I have even used this aloud with someone, who was in great anguish and distress and it brought calm and a glimpse of peace.

The simple repetition even of just the name of Jesus is deeply powerful. You will find over time that the prayer sinks deep into your psyche, that you find yourself praying the prayer without even deciding to, that it comes as naturally to you as breathing.

The Jesus Prayer will inhabit not your head, but your heart; it will root itself in your innermost being and you will be close to Jesus at all times.

We all know many people, many names, friends, relations, collegaues, people n television or in history. But, T. S Eliot ends his poem:

“But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name”

May we engage in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of the name of Jesus.

May we now in a time of silence simple breathe in and out:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,

take pity on me a sinner.

 

Or even simply,

Breathing in: Jesus

Breathing out: Jesus.

 

 

Good Friday

Second Talk

 

If you or I were to invent a religion, how would we go about it?

We would probably want it to be convincing, to attract members and followers. We might go to a PR company and seek advice. They might suggest some logos, or visual images that would communicate the messages we want to convey. Perhaps a rainbow, some flowers, stars or cascading water.

We can virtually guarantee that they would not suggest a means of capital punishment and torture.

In John 17, Jesus prays,

17 Sanctify them through thy truth:

thy word is truth.

 

18 As thou hast sent me into the world,

even so have I also sent them into the world.

 

19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself,

that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

We are called to be holy, like Jesus;

We are called, to be sanctified, like Jesus;

We are called, to be consecrated – like Jesus.

Jesus, sanctification, his consecration, his glorification as he calls it: is to die on the cross.

I believe that the whole of life is a journey from the absolute, and rightly, selfish, self absorption of a baby, to the utter selflessness of Jesus. Most of us don’t make it anywhere nearly all the way along that journey.

Traditionally the church has given us all sorts of spiritual exercises, mortifications, as ways of rehearsing that dying to self. We can fast, give things up, go without. The trouble is when we choose to do those things they can just bolster our selfishness and self-righteousness. I also think that life is actually the greatest teacher.

Now you might think this is all a bit gloomy. You might be thinking that a but of gloominess on Good Friday is only to be expected.

But the truth is that there is no way to happiness other than abandonment of selfishness and that it is a wonderfully liberating thing when we do so.

The truth is we can’t be in control.

We want to be little gods running our own little universes where everything happens according to a plan, our plan.

On Tuesday this week I had a really good day at work, got lots of things done, my to do list was down to the last few items, my desk was looking clear. Just one thing remained, someone was coming to repair the lock on the back door.

They had rung in the morning to arrange to collect a key, I went downstairs at the office and the key hadn’t been collected,  I rang again, they would be right round, which they were. Two hours later I checked to see if the key had been returned, it hadn’t, I rang again, no answer.

By now its almost 5:15, I drive home, there is no there.

I don’t have a spare key.

I ring the company again, ‘This office is now closed. If you would like to leave a message ..’

I drive the thirty miles to retrieve a key from a friend who has one.

Return to the flat get in and see … you’ve guessed it … the lock hadn’t been repaired.

Well, you can imagine that my serene and calm composure has evaporated, I am a gibbering wreck of fury, and pour myself the gin that I said I wouldn’t drink in Holy Week.

The illusion that we can be in control is a source of great unhappiness. The practice of abandonment, of giving up self will is a powerful antidote to this.

Jesus, is our friend, our model, our example, He was obedient, even unto death.

He abandoned himself,

“Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Just that phrase can create much joyful freedom.

I don’t know what is going on in the lives of each person this afternoon.

The probability is that there are among us people going through much distress, painful situations.

We will all have had such times in our lives.

Living through those times, recalling those times, we can pray:

“Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”

 

As a practice this Good Friday afternoon, I would like us to try and pray together a prayer written by one of the spiritual giants of the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a soldier who became a monk and then a hermit, it is called the prayer of abandonment.

Here’s how it goes:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

 

I have wrestled with this prayer. Can I really say it and mean it; do I really believe that ‘I am ready for all, I accept all’?

What if that involved losing my job, facing terrible disease? What if it meant the death or the loss of my loved ones?

Could I really say ‘Whatever you may do, I thank you.’

Well, friends, I am no saint.  I have said the words, I have prayed them, but I do not really mean them.

But, but, but …

Praying them, aspiring to mean them, does help me, just slightly it edges me away from the sense that I am in control, that I am the god of my universe, that I am even at the centre of the universe.

I would like us to try and pray that prayer together now. I will pray a word or phrase for you to repeat …

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;

do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

 

These words spake Jesus,

and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said,

 

10 And all mine are thine,

and thine are mine;

and I am glorified in them.

 

Dear friends, it is a great joy to be with you today.

As each of us seeks to be saints, to be sanctified I pray that the glory of the cross may draw us to abandon ourselves to God:

Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son,

that thy Son also may glorify thee:

 

As thou hast given him power over all flesh,

that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

 

And this is life eternal,

that they might know thee the only true God,

and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

 

 

Good Friday

Third Talk

I thought I would check that you are still awake after two talks from me!

So, some questions.

Very simple, one-word answers, if you could shout them out the answers all together please, we can at least wake-up anyone who has fallen asleep:

What colour is this piece of paper?

What colour is snow?

Zebra crossings are black and …

 

What do cows drink? Milk – caught you.

 

The human mind likes patterns. The first stages of learning are about sorting things, putting the same shapes and colours together. If you go to the natural history museum you can see the rooms are arranged according to the taxonomy of animals.

Sorting, classifying helps us to make sense of things, but it can also trap us, we can fail to notice new things; we can become caught in habits of thinking and patterns of behaviour.

The church teaches that there is a pattern of behaviour, a habit of acting, thinking, in the world, in everything that exists that leads us to do things that are selfish, unkind and unloving. A tendency if you like. A bit like a car where the steering isn’t aligned properly, you have to overcompensate, work hard to stay on a straight line.

That tendency is called sin and evil.

In John 17 Jesus says,

Father I pray … that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

 

John 17 is in many ways an expansion of the Lord’s Prayer with its petitions addressed to the Father,

To hallow the name

That thy will be done

And to deliver us from evil / the Evil One.

It is very easy to dismiss belief in evil as some sort of out of date fantasy. A relic of primitive beliefs that we sophisticated people should abandon.

I believe profoundly in my own tendency to sin; I am the worst sinner, the most sinful person I know; I know that because I know myself better than I know any other human being.

I also believe profoundly that the world is not a neutral place. There is a conflict between Good and Evil.

All those Star Wars movies strike a resonance deep within us because we know that there is darkness and there is light; because we know that there is a battle, that good can seem so fragile, kindness so weak, love and life so subject to destruction. The cross is the perfect symbol for a religion because it is true. People die, terrible things happen, babies are poisoned with gas, innocent people are beheaded, stabbed, run into by cars.

The cross is the sign of all this, of all that we know to be true.

You may have noticed that mostly in these talks on John 17 I have been talking about prayer. I will talk more about that on Sunday morning when we celebrate the resurrection.

But more now too.

Prayer, the name of Jesus, the words of Scripture, the Sacraments of the church are all ways of achieving victory over evil, or rather, ways of sharing in the ultimate victory over evil which Jesus has already won. When I was in schools and pupils asked me why I had become a priest I often said it was the closest I could get to being a Jedi Knight.

Like many people one of my favourite passages in Scripture comes at the end of St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Do you know it? It is all about the spiritual conflict:

 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

 

Pray at all times,

the Jesus Prayer which I spoke about earlier is one way of doing this. Repeating the name of Jesus overand over again.

 

With all prayer and supplication

Last night I spoke about our ministry, all the baptised as priests, of interceding for others. That is a way of consecrating the world, sanctifying the world for God.

 

I really believe that Christianity is nothing other than a clever way, God’s way, of living a happy life.

That if we live this life we will experience deep happiness and deep joy.

John 17 is a wonderful prayer that Jesus gives us. We are privileged to have this intimate glimpse into his love for his Father and our Father.

But fortunately we don’t have to pray all 669 words all 26 verses every time we pray. Jesus, when his disciples asked him to teach them to pray gave them gave us that simple prayer which we all know.

I have talked much in my 4 talks so far – perhaps too much!

But the simplest way of all to prau is to do wjhat Jesus told us to do and pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Dear friends here in Prescot, I am looking forward to the fish and chips I have been promised after this, and even the gin and tonic that Rebekah mentioned – see I don’t forget.

But my last thought for you today before you leave is just to kneel and sit and pray those words that we know so well that we don’t notice them, pray them slowly and prayerfully, savour them.

They are like a good whisky, they are John 17 distilled,

praye to the Father,

that his name be hallowed,

that his will be done

that we be protected from the Evil One.

 

Now pray extemporarily beginning a line at a time of the Lord’s Prayer:

 

Our Father,…

 

who art in heaven,…
hallowed be thy Name, …
thy kingdom come, …
thy will be done, …
on earth as it is in heaven. …

Give us this day our daily bread. …
And forgive us our trespasses, …
as we forgive those who trespass against us. …

And lead us not into temptation, …
but deliver us from evil. …
And then we add that doxology, those words of praise. Because to praise is to be free. To praise God even in the midst of suffering, even when we have sinned, even when terrible things are happening, even in the midst of darkness is to believe in the victory of Jesus.

 

As the poet Rilke put it:

Tell me poet, what do you do? I praise.

But those deadly, dark, devastating ways,

How do you suffer them, bear them? I praise.

And the nameless One, beyond conjure or gaze,

how do you call him? I praise.

 

For thine is the kingdom Father, the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen.

 

Let’s stand and say that together:

For thine … 

 

 

Easter Sunday

Homily at Mass

 

Ask children/young people to come out (inc. choir). Hand out photos, give eggs to anyone who can name faces etc.

Open up to congregation.

 

Well , I am very impressed with the number of faces you can identify.

How do you know who these people are?

That’s right; you’ve seen them somewhere before and you remember them.

I began my teacher training in 1984 and have been teaching almost ever since. I’ve taught 3 year olds to 18 year olds, and now I look after the 1999 schools in our diocese of Liverpool, including the wonderful church school you have here in this parish.

I suspect there might be a few teachers in the congregation today? Go on put your hands up! [Geoff/Andrea …]

As everyone knows schooling in this country has been on quite a journey since I started teaching back in 1984.

Progressive methods were all the rage; discovery learning. I started teaching in a Reception class where the day was organised – and I use that word cautiously – under a system known as the integrated day. I would set out a whole load of activities and children could choose which activities they did.

We taught – again careful use of that word – writing through something called ‘developmental writing’, we didn’t teach any letter formation but allowed children to make any mark they liked and then we modelled to them what ‘proper’ writing was like. We didn’t teach reading or phonics, the sounds that letters make; we used ‘real books’.

Fortunately, most of the children had parents who taught them to read and write.

Now I may be caricaturing it all a little bit. But there has been a revolution in education since then. One that is still going on.

Not everyone agree with it but I welcome the change to a much more content, knowledge based curriculum.

In every human society that has ever existed memory, learning things off by heart is fundamental to passing on the stories, the big stories that define who a group of people are, but also the little stories of each family and village.

We recognised those pictures because of our memories, the ability to retain an image and information.

Jesus knew the importance of memory. At the last supper which we celebrated on Thursday evening he asked his disciples to remember him.

Do this, he said over the bread and wine: to remember me.

Today we are gathered here in this building, just as Christians are gathered throughout the world because we remember me.

I have been talking in all my sermons this week about chapter 17 of the Gospel of John. I hope you have been given a card with that chapter on and will take it home and read it slowly, perhaps even learn parts of it off by heart.

Like children learning poems off by heart or chanting their times tables, repeating the words of scripture over and over again is what plants them deep in our hearts.

The message of Easter Sunday is that Jesus is alive, that he didn’t just live once in history but that by his resurrection he is alive for ever and we can know him at any time and in any place.

Just listen to that once again:

he is alive for ever and we can know him at any time and in any place.

Jesus wants us to know him, he wants to be our friend, he wants us to feel love and affection for him.

The good news of the resurrection is that God wants each one of us to experience his presence with us.

When was the last time you had a strong, warm experience of the love of God, the presence of God in your heart?

As a teacher I am tempted to ask you to put up your hands to answer that question!

Have you really felt the presence of god in your life:

This morning?

This week?

In the last month?

The last year?

… ever ?

Sometimes we are a bit like people who expect to win the lottery…. But never buy a ticket.

Well, the good news is that the chances of winning a big prize on the lottery are one in … how many million?

But the probability of experiencing the presence of God is a certainty

  • if we allow God into our lives.

It’s a trite and probably over-used image but God is like the sun that is shining; he is constantly shining in our hearts if we only knew how to clear the clouds away that obscure him, hide him from us.

So, how do we do it?

My bookshelves are bursting with books on prayer. But when Jesus; disciples asked him to teach them to pray he gave them a quite simple method, he gave them the prayer we call, the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father.

Those of us who have been looking at John 17 have seen that the themes and shape of the Lord’s Prayer are the same themes and shape in John 17:

The prayer is addressed to the Father,

We pray to hallow God’s name,

That God’s will be done

And that we will be delivered from evil.

If you want to win the lottery of experiencing God’s presence like me you could spend a fortune in Christian bookshops, but I would recommend something much easier:

Do what Jesus told us to do and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Ideally pray it every morning when you get up, and every evening when you go to bed.

Pray it out loud if you can, and pray it as slowly as you can.

If you have children pray it with them, teaching them that prayer off by heart will be the greatest gift you can give them.

But there is something more than that,

God is a gentle God, he never wants to force us to believe in him, or force us to experience him. The gift he has created in us to know him, is the same gift that helped us recognise all those politicians and celebrities, the gift of memory and imagination.

So when you pray imagine what feeling the presence of God in your life might be like:

And to do that all you have to do is to remember moments of deep happiness in your life:

A beautiful sunset or sunrise,

A walk in amazing countryside,

The day you baby was born

Or when you fell in love.

God has made himself known to us in all of these things and wants us to know him through them. God is the creator, the source of everything, he is not something separate or distant, he is as close to us as breathing.

Jesus said, do this in remembrance of me, do this to remember me.

When we remember God, when we imagine God’s presence, the clouds that block the light in our hearts are blown away and the sun of his presence shines in us, when we feel our hearts strangely warmed with in us as John Wesley put it, that is God in us, that is what God wants.

I am going to pray the Lord’s Prayer very slowly now. One line at a time.

I am going to expand each line with prayer, that here in church this morning each of us, each one of us will feel the presence of the risen Jesus.

Please help by opening your heart, by closing your eyes, remembering and imagining God’s presence …

Our Father …

I have probably gone on too long but I am going to end with a poem, it is by a nineteenth century priest called Gerard Manley-Hopkins.

In John 17 Jesus prayed that God’s name be glorified, this poem is called Pied Beauty and it describes how in the pied, speckled, varied beauty of life we see God’s glory, God’s presence.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced –
fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

It has been such a joy and privilege to be with you this Holy Week.

I have known God’s presence in the kindness you have shown me. Thank you.

May God be glorified, known, hallowed and sanctified here in Prescot, in your hearts and in your homes, not just this Easter day, but every day.

Amen.

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