Sermon 23rd April 2023

Readings Acts 2, 14a and 36-41, Luke 24 13-35

My daughter and her husband have recently returned from a holiday in Greece. They had forgotten, as much of the Western world would, that Orthodox Easter is celebrated a week after we celebrate Easter in or western churches. So, they were delighted to be there during the Easter celebrations.

But genuinely surprised too.

For on Good Friday and Easter day, the streets were filled with people with public services, events, processions, plays, concerts and then celebrations, with thousands attending. They couldn’t even get close to what was happening on some occasions. The contrast, for them, of coming from England where, except for a faithful few (maybe a few more than normal) attended Easter services, the Easter period generally goes unnoticed except for Easter egg hunts and a few days off. Sark is no different. The main event being sailing boats on the duckpond on Good Friday, and even many of our regular churchgoers missing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and just celebrating Easter day.

We just read, in Luke’s gospel, of the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

Of course, it is part of the resurrection story, the proof, the revelation of the reality of the risen Son of God that Luke, like the other gospel writers has led up to in the whole of his gospel.

But it’s also a huge challenge to the western church today, with many suffering declining congregations and seen as having little relevance to the society of the day.

I wonder how many of us have been walking alongside Jesus, perhaps for years and years, a comfortable companion, listening to the gospel stories, the prophets, the epistles, al of the scriptures, but never truly recognising just who Jesus is in all of that. Like the disciples on the road, of not really understanding all that the scriptures meant, and not taking in the explanations, the deeper understanding that Jesus desperately wants us to know, whether it be through Bible study, further reading, testimonies prayer or listening to expositions in sermons.

Of not recognising the reality of who Jesus is.

As Thomas said, in our reading last week “My Lord and my God”.

And if that is true for many in our churches, is there any wonder that those outside our churches fail to see the relevance, the necessity of the gospel for the world when our own members fail to grasp the passion and personal relationship which Jesus inspires, and requires, of us.

“Were not our hearts burning within us when he was talking to us on the road” the disciples ask of each other, after their recognition of him as he broke bread with them.

When did you heart last burn within you as you explored the scriptures as you heard again Jesus’ words through the gospels, as you pray or as you come to the Lord’s table and take the sacred bread and wine? If our hearts are not burning within us, then what hope have we of reigniting the dying embers of faith that might still glow ever so faintly within our society, and within those who live and work amongst us on Sark.

It's hard to say, because the culture is very different there, but what was it in Greece that brought out huge numbers to attend services and events, to pray, to sing, to celebrate together the joy of Easter. But I wonder if it is because for many there, the walking alongside Jesus is walking alongside the one they know intimately as their Messiah, their redeemer, the source of good and love and peace, and it’s integral to their lives, every part of their lives, and they openly speak of it and share that relationship, that knowledge with those they live and work with.

And so, the fire remains, it does not die down to faint embers but is stoked by a continual passion for Jesus, a continual recognition of their need for Jesus.

In our reading from Acts, Peter, in his powerful sermon, after calling for the crowds he addressed to repent and be baptised, tells them of the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the  Greek pneuma of the New Testament, the Hebrew ruach of the Old- the Breath of God, the wind passing over the waters at creation, the reanimating, revitalising, renewing inspiration, the third person of the Trinity.

 God within us, our guide, our comfort, our encourager, the power of Christ within us, the dove, the intercessor, the paraclete, the wind and the fire.

The fire.

When did you heart last burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit as you explored the scriptures, as you heard again Jesus’ words, as you pray, as you come to the Lord’s table and take the sacred bread and wine?

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and on fire with that Holy Spirit Peter is inspired to preach and 3000 people are baptised and come to know Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit and themselves are fired up to tell the gospel such that 2.5 billion people today know Jesus as their Lord and their God.

And Peter said, in our reading For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him”.

It’s a promise for you, but not just for you. It’s a promise for all the world, for as we remind ourselves, week on week in our services, God so loved the world that he sent his Son, and his Son promised the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God within our souls to reanimate, to redirect our lives toward the love of God, that all people will know his love.

Do you recognise the one who walks beside you? The one who aches to tell you of God’s love, the one who breaks bread with you, the one who promises to breath God’s Spirit upon you? Do you know him as your Lord and your God?

For that is my prayer for you, and for all people, for that is the life God calls us to, in his love. Amen