Church of England · Easter · Felixstowe · Sermon

Terabithia or Bust!

Terabithia or Bust!

Sermon for Sunday 20 May 2018 – Pentecost

St John the Baptist, Felixstowe

 Text: But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John16v13)

Without wanting to steal the thunder of next week’s preacher, who will be exploring the mystery of the Trinity more fully than me, I would like to recommend a trinity of, what are called ‘coming-of-age movies’ involving children that have touched me deeply.

Fried Green Tomatoes tells a story of friendship and reminds me of the friendship offered to each of us by Jesus.

The Secret Life of Bees tells of the comfort found in fellowship and family and reminds me of the Hoy Spirit.

And The Bridge to Terabithia tells the story of two young people carried away by the grandeur of creation and reminds me of the love of the Father.

In A Bridge to Terabithia the young heroine attends her friends strict bridge to Terabithiachurch where a hellfire and damnation sermon is in full swing. Afterwards they run off to the woods to spend time in their fantasy tree house. On the way she says ‘I seriously do not believe that God goes around damming people to hell’ then pointing to the natural beauty around her says, ‘He’s too busy running all this.’

Do you know what? I too ‘seriously do not believe that God goes around damming people to hell’. If we search our hearts we know that the idea of a loving God who created and sustains everything is incompatible with any picture of a ‘god’ who chooses to threaten creation with destruction if it refuses to comply with ‘divine’ edicts.

Somewhere during the 20 Century long history of Christianity, especially when I look at the extreme edges of our faith, it seems as if we have got the message about God a bit muddled.

It really is as simple as it sounds. God loves us and, to show our thanks, God simply wants us to love others. So why do so many outside the church (and even some inside it) see the church as a place of condemnation and rejection instead of love and acceptance.

We read in John 3v17 that ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. So Jesus is not our judge but instead is our Redeemer

We have just read in John16v11 that God does not judge people but it is ‘the ruler of this world’ who stands condemned. So the Father is not our judge but proves to be our Creator.

We have also heard that the Spirit is sent not to be a nagging guilty conscience but to lead us into truth and to be not the one who condemns us but instead our Comforter.

Hebrews tells us Jesus has destroyed ‘the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2v14-15)

The book of Romans tells us, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8v1)

I’ll say it again, and the words of the Bible back me up on this.
‘I seriously do not believe that God goes around damming people to hell’.

What then are we to do with all this freedom.

Our freedom from fear,
Our freedom from damnation,
Our freedom from death?

Firstly, we must live as people who know they are loved perfectly. This is not as easy as it sounds. I know the inside of my heart all too well and am amazed that anyone may see anything remotely good, let alone lovely inside of me. In common with many of my generation I have invested too much time in the lie that says ‘God is out to get me’.

The Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth and this is not a truth.

You and I are loved perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally.

Secondly, we must live as people who are committed to loving the other people whom God loves, and we know that means ALL the people, everywhere in the world. How many of us learnt this song in Sunday School?

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
All are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world. 

But how may of us struggle to believe that God can love people who look, speak and believe different to us?

The Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth and this is not a truth.

Because God loves us unconditionally we cannot afford to set conditions to our love for any of God’s children.

Finally, we must live as people who overflow with joy and praise for the One who loves us so perfectly. Today, until next Easter, is the final day we regularly use ‘Alleluia’ in our worship but that does not mean we have to stop leading ‘Alleluia’ lives. When I was at Boarding School for fear of being bullied, I learnt to keep quiet about my faith. I chose to hide my light under a bushel, and a time in my life that could sometimes be dark (as happens in the lives of most teenagers) became darker still. I believed the lie that faith was for Sundays only and so I spent decades of my life living one kind of life on a Sunday and a different one for the rest of the week.

The Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth and this is not a truth.

Because ‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’, (Romans 5v5) we are called to celebrate that love in our every waking moment.

Alleluia is not a word for Easter only but is a word to live by every day of our lives.

And this is where we need to be if we are ‘seriously do not believe that God goes around damming people to hell.’

Michael Perham, a friend and the late bishop of Gloucester, lived this way. He knew he was dying and before going home on Easter Monday last year he put his belief into the words of an old piece of liturgy.michael perham

We are an
Easter people
and Alleluia
is our song.

We are an
Easter people
and Alleluia
is our song.

Today, on this feast of Pentecost let’s not, as we remove the Paschal Candle and turn our vestments green, bring Easter to an end.

Instead may we;
Learn that we are not damned or condemned but loved perfectly.
Learn that God’s love covers even those we find difficult to love.
Learn to make ‘Alleluia’ our song, today, tomorrow, and to eternity.

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