notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Ordinary 13

The presence of God in our lives

As we have seen from the General Election results things don’t always turn out the way we would expect and its sometimes necessary to adapt to the situation we find ourselves in.

Paul must have had this feeling when he went across to Macedonia, after seeing a vision of a man calling him over to that country.  Perhaps frustrated at his attempts to spread the gospel in Asia he immediately leaves for Europe once he’s had his night-time vision, perhaps in a dream.

Paul’s normal practice, once he’d arrived in a new location, was to go immediately to the synagogue, where he could meet with the men there and share the gospel with them. Places of prayer were often situated by flowing water, which is why he expected to find a men praying there.

So you can imagine his initial bewilderment when rather than Jews he finds gentiles and rather than men he finds a group of women, one of which was Lydia.

She was a woman of some standing and as head of the household was either unmarried or widowed.  The purple cloth and dye in which she traded was famous and the source of her wealth.

She was a worshipper of God, almost certainly not a Jewess but a gentile and, like many, one who followed the principle and morals of the Jewish law without converting to Judaism.  In a Roman world characterised by excess many Gentiles were attracted to the simple and disciplined moral standards as lived out by the Jews.  Indeed the Jews were characterised, and still are, not so much by what they said but by what they did, how they lived out their lives in their adherence to dietary laws, circumcision of the males, and strict following of the Torah law.

But for Lydia, although an adherent, she was an outsider looking in.  People did not become Jews by following the law and observing the Jewish way of worship in the synagogue.  People are Jews by birth; the law gives guidelines of how to put that Jewish lifestyle into practice, including how they should relate to God

The good news is that, irrespective of what Paul was expecting, he began to speak to the women who were assembling by the water and as we know, God opened the heart of Lydia to respond to the message of Paul’s preaching.

And once she did, she moved from being an outsider looking in, to someone who had a personal faith in God through Christ.  What had been signs and symbols for her before now became a living reality.

And that’s the same message we see in the reading from Revelation.  John, the writer of Revelation, is taken up to see the Holy City of Jerusalem.  And as he looks down, perhaps to his surprise, he sees that there is no Temple in the Holy City.

For years the Temple, and before that the Tent of the Tabernacle, had been signs of God’s presence with His people.  But in the New Jerusalem John sees that Gold Almighty and Jesus, the Lamb of God are present themselves.  The signs of God’s presence have given way to the reality.  God is present Himself, thre is no longer any need for the Temple. 

Throughout the book of Revelation we see a God who is involved in human affairs, a God who is involved in creating and recreating a New World in which there will be no evil of suffering.  A New World in which God will be there and with us in person as a living reality.

The gospel reading too speaks of the presence and absence of God.  Jesus says, ‘I am going away…   … but the Father will send the Holy Spirit to be with you’

And it also speaks of how we as believers can make God present for others, by obeying His teaching, keeping and preserving His word

And, just as the Jews do not become Jews by obeying the law, neither should we as Christian’s confuse obeying Jesus’ teaching with our salvation by grace.

We have salvation through what Christ has done and the grace of God, not through slavish obedience to a particular set of rules or doctrine

Rather, just as the Jews saw the law as something that enabled them to live the lives God intended, so we should see the keeping of God’s commands as something that enables us to live the way God intended, enabled through the power of the Holy Spirit

Living out the reality of our faith rather than just living out the signs and symbols.  Living out what we hear and sing each Sunday in our daily lives.

So how might we do that?  There are many ways in which it can happen, many things we can do to help us live out more fully the reality of God in our own lives.  One key way is through prayer.

Prayer, by its very nature is entering into the presence of God, to try to hear His voice and express our longings and desires for ourselves and the world.

But prayer can be difficult, especially if we’re not used to it.  Perhaps if that’s the case we should try praying for just a few moments each day as a start.

Perhaps by using a one phrase, simple, prayer and repeating it or by using one of the prayers or the collect from Partnership News each week and praying that each day

And as we pray, so the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised, will begin to gently guide and direct us as we open ourselves to the very presence of God in our lives more and more.