Sunday, January 11, 2009

Drawing on the Power of God

What is it about our Christian faith that is of great practical help to us as face such a troubled and deeply troubling world? That’s the question I am prompted to ask as 2009 begins with such devastating tragedy unfolding in Gaza, in Israel and in Palestine, and with the immensity of the financial situation beginning to take a hold.

Last week I suggested there are two things about God that seem to me to be so crucial for us to hold on to.

First, our God is a great big God: that than which nothing greater can be conceived. As 2009 begins we mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of species; and we mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope with the International Year of Astronomy. Such scientific discoveries and insight do not phase me. Far from it, as I reflect on the immensity of the time scales of life on earth, and the infinitely greater immensity of the time scales of astronomy and the universe it prompts me to think that the God I believe in is greater still. It somehow keeps things in a proper perspective.

While the God I believe in is a great big God, this God is also a God who comes alongside us in the ordinary everyday mess of this world. Born a babe, he grew to be a man who brought healing into the lives of hurting people and mapped out a way of life for all to follow. He went to the cross and died the cruellest of deaths. But on the third day he rose again and as we meet in his name his presence is with us. He shows us that the smallest of things we do matter the world – this Great big God who comes in the smallest way as one of us asks us to do the smallest of things to real-ise the love of God.

Two sculptures come together in the Lido car park entrance to the hospital – Spa Ammonites is a reminder of the immensity of the God I believe in, and the Good Samaritan is a reminder that the smallest of deeds can make a world of difference as they make real, real-ise the love of God in this world.

The life on earth we are in awe of as Darwin’s story is told is closely related to the life forces of the planet we live on. Stand on Cleeve Hill not only can in the quarries the wonderful shell fish that once swam in a tropical sea, but look Westwards and you see in the Malvern Hills what is left of volcanoes that 600 million years ago let loose the energies within the planet in an awesome scale. Go 80 miles north and you reach a fault line that ran through the village we lived in in Shropshire – and it is still active as we found when we experienced one of the country’s biggest earthquakes as the children were evacuated from their school and chimneys came tumbling down in Shrewsbury. Tiny in scale to the much more active planet on the other side of the world. Such energy within.

I caught one of the programmes to mark the International Year of Astronomy on BBC 4 this week – all about the discoveries made by the Hubble Telescope time and again it came to the sheer energy there is in our sun, in every sun in the universe in the galaxies in the universe itself. Remarkable, awesome energy.

With the children not so long ago we took a look at Orion.

And then we traced the outline of the hunter. Just before Christmas we looked at the right hand star of his belt and one of my Astronomy books suggested it was 2,000 light years away. What a remarkable thought to think that we are witnessing energy generated in that light at the time Christ was born!

This time look at the sword that hangs from Orion's belt: with the naked eye on one of these crystal clear nights it's a fuzzy patch of light. Through binoculars it begins to look quite a spectacular haze.
Come indoors and access the public domain Hubble Telescope images and you can actually see stars in the making. The hymn, the Servant King speaks of 'hands that flung stars into space'. Here are stars being created. What a wonderful sight!

At the heart of the universe, is energy - the energy that raises the sea bed to the mountain top, the energy unleashed in volcanic ranges, as the tectonic plates move along their fault lines, the energy that brings stars into being.

Energy, power, strength is of the essence of the God I believe in. The faith that is important to me is not simply a faith in a great big God that gives me a better understanding of things; it is not simply a faith in a God who comes alongside us and asks to us to the tiny little things that real-ise God’s love in our world; the faith that is important to me is faith in a God of energy, a God of power, a God of strength who comes within me to give me the strength, the energy the power to do things that on my own I am not capable of doing.

Jesus had come to the end of his ministry. It was the night before he would be taken out to the place of the skull, to be crucified. He had gathered all his friends together. One by one he washed their feet. They had shared so much, it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. After all, that’s what he he had taught so much about – serving one another, serving others. And he had lived out that life of service making such a difference to so many people. And here they were on the night that unknown to them at that moment was to lead to their arrest.

He had talked about more and more as they had approached Jerusalem. The imminence of his death. He spoke of it once more. More graphically than ever. He broke bread, he shared a cup – he spoke of his body broken for them, his blood shed for them.

It was un-nerving. Somehow they felt he would always be with them. And now it seemed he wouldn’t. He kept on coming back to something that would mean more and more to them.

I will not leave you all on your own, he said. I will not leave you orphaned.

I will ask the Father, and he wil give you another Advoc ate, another Helper, another source of strength alongside you, another Comforter to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.

The Spirit. A power, a strength, an energy that would be around them, within them. A power, a strength an energy that would keep them going.

On the eve of his final departure the promise was even more explicit:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.

And on the fiftieth day after his resurrection, the Day of Pentecost all of them were filled with this power, this strength, this energy of God, as the Holy Spirit came upon them.

There is an energy within God that is let loose into our lives as we share this faith together.

How often do people say, I was given strength I didn’t think I would ever have. This is the energy of God within and around us.

We are not alone there is a strength and a power of God around us and within.

Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.

And the presence of God in his energy and his strength is present with us day by day.

Believing in a great big God does not just give us a better perspective. That Great Big God we believe in is the God whose energy is let loose into our lives. This Great Big God offers us a strength for the living of our lives.

That’s the first part of the prayer that Paul shares in Ephesians 3.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,* 15from whom every family* in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit

The immensity of God the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth takes its name, the riches of his glory are immense and only glimpsed in the wonderful world of God’s creation.

It is this God to whom Paul prays, and it is this God who strengthens us in our inner being with power through his Spirit.

Paul puts his finger on a very real need we each have. It is in our inner being that we need strength. Our intellect may be drawn to this great big God, our instinct may be to follow the teaching of Jesus and to do likewise, doing little things to real-ise God’s love.

But what’s going on in our inner being. The bits that other people don’t see. That’s where the doubts can gnaw away. That’s when the sense of inadequacy can get the better of you. That’s where the will to go on is lost. The inner being is all important. That’s precisely the prayer Paul prays – that from the riches of his glory this Father God who is immense will strengthen each one of us in that inner being with power through his Spirit.

But it is not only the power and strength from the immensity of God that we can draw on. We can also draw on a power and a strength from the God who is one with us, the God who in Christ lived out that life of service, experienced suffering and death at its worst, the Christ who rose again from the dead.

Paul’s prayer is that we may have the strength of the immensity of God in our innermost being

17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love

The Great God becomes one of us and asks us to follow him … but this risen Christ can then dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love.

The Spirit is that unseen yet very real force of God that brings alive today in our hearts the living Christ whose life, death and resurrection we celebrate as we now move on from Christmas towards Holy Week and Easter.

As this Spirit of God, this power, this strength, this energy is at work within us we may know on the one hand the immensity of God,

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth

On the other hand, we may know the strength, the power and the energy of the presence of the living Christ with us too …

to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge

That love of Christ is not just something from the past we read about and learn at a distance and then follow. It is something let loose into our lives by the unseen power of God’s spirit in such a way that the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge is real within our hearts.

Here we reach the essence of a faith that can really equip us to face a troubled world that is so troubling.

But the important thing is that we then are empowered, strengthened to do what God calls us to do.

The little things are important.

What about a letter to our MP in response to the situation in Gaza? What about doing something, however little, to express that horror.

What about things we might do in response to a world of need closer to home. We came up with some thoughts and reflections at our church meeting – things we are responding to with other churches with regard to chaplaincy in our town, needs of our town, day and night time, the possibilities of Street Pastors. Support for families and children – the possibility of bringing together sources of support rather like the health and well-being event for older people, but for families and children. Interesting links with Gloucestershire College – and most important of all. Sharing our faith, a faith that can make such a difference – an Alpha Course again in the Autumn.

Not in our own strength … but by his power we can do things we didn’t think we could do!

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

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