Saturday, 27 February 2010

Pain, suffering and Joy

Joy Ellen from Glasgow in her autobiography tells of her father. He was a Presbyterian elder. She writes, “He was entirely unselfish, and in his long life never committed a pleasure.”

H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy!"

I rarely meet such people and the stereotype is a lie.

Take the 16th century Puritans for example: “Actually, the Puritans welcomed laughter and dressed in bright colors (or, to be precise, the middle and upper classes dressed in bright colours; members of the lower classes were not permitted to indulge themselves -- they dressed in dark clothes). As Carl Degler long ago observed, ‘The Sabbatarian, antiliquor, and antisex attitudes usually attributed to the Puritans are a nineteenth-century addition to the much more moderate and wholesome view of life's evils held by the [Puritans]’.”

The Christian life really is about joy: 
it is about a future joy that goes beyond anything that we can imagine; 
it is about a deep present joy (the old song that talks of ‘the joy, deep deep down in your heart’), 

It is about a joy that is so much richer than many of the pleasures that our society offers us.

And Psalm 126 speaks of this joy:
‘We were like those who dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongue with shouts of joy!’

We don’t know the specific circumstances of this joy. It might have been the return from exile. It might have been deliverance from an enemy. It might have been a great harvest after several years of famine. We don’t know.

But this was real joy: 

Forgive me if I become slightly philosophical and do a little bit of thinking aloud about joy and pleasure. (I claim no authority whatsoever here!):

I do not think that in this world, because it is a fallen world – because it is not what it should be – I do not think that we can have joy without suffering. I think that pleasure (and ‘joy’ for me is an explosion of pleasure) comes from the release of pain – emotional and physical.

Epicurus (lived 300 years before Jesus) argued: Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of physical nor mental pain present – nor of both together.”

The greater the pain, the anxiety, the pressure, the greater the joy when it has gone. To put it crudely, the person who has flogged their guts out to get to the peak of Mt Everest will know more joy than the person who flogs their guts out to get to the peak of Ben Nevis.

And there is the joy which comes when the baby is born; when the problem I have been struggling with is suddenly solved; when the beloved asks me to marry him or her or says yes when I ask her or him to marry me. There is the joy that comes from getting into a hot bath after a freezing match; or that comes from getting to the end of a good novel/film and the tensions are resolved; when the athlete wins the gold medal; when the team score the winning goal in the 5th minute of extra time; when we triumph in the interview and get the job; when the doctor tells us that the cancer has gone. Joy comes when the tension, the pain is released.

And if Epicurus is correct, then in a world in which there was no pain – physical, emotional or spiritual, there would be the greatest pleasure: we would live lives of joy.

And for Christians the greatest tragedy, the greatest pain is the fact that we are cut off from God, separated from him – and so when that separation is overcome, there will be the greatest pleasure.

And so for Christians the vision of God in the new heaven and the new earth, when heaven and earth are united, will be our greatest and eternal joy.

That vision is expressed for us in 
words like Augustine’s: ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’

Or we think of the great German hymn, which Bach turned into the chorale movement known to us as Jesu joy of man’s desiring

Jesu, joy of man's desiring 

Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring 

Soar to uncreated light 

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned 

With the fire of life impassioned 

Striving still to truth unknown 

Soaring, dying round Thy throne 

The original hymn continues with these words: 

Through the way where hope is guiding 

Hark, what peaceful music rings 

Where the flock, in Thee confiding 

Drink of joy from deathless springs 

Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure 

Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure 

Thou dost ever lead Thine own 

In the love of joys unknown

Our society lies to us. It tells us that we can have pleasure without pain or suffering. It tells us that pleasure is purely biological. It can be given us by changing the chemical balance in our body, by drugs or alcohol. Interestingly, alcohol, is a depressant. It works by depressing part of us – by taking away some of the pain caused by our shyness or sense of inadequacy, or whatever.
And our society tells us that we can buy pleasure by buying the latest music video, gadget or outfit. It tells us that holidays or sex or chocolate or food are what give us real pleasure.

And maybe they do give us some pleasure, because they do take away some pain. And so for instance sex offers us some sort of intimacy and ecstasy. It was GK Chesterton who said that ‘the nearest some men will get to a spiritual experience is knocking on the door of a brothel’. But of course those things do not really satisfy, and what happens is that we need to ratchet up the experience in order to give us the same pleasure buzz as before.

The bible also links joy with suffering, in this world.

But rather than finding joy just in the absence of suffering, the New Testament (and here I feel I am standing on more solid ground) finds that there can be joy in the presence of suffering – because we have

·         an awareness of the presence of God with us now,
·         and a hope of the greater joy that waits for us.

We have a hope of a greater joy that awaits us.

Romans 5:3ff, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”.

James 1:2f,  “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

As we grow as Christian disciples, followers of Jesus, we become increasingly aware of the tension between the world as it is - in rebellion against God, and the world as it should be.

We also become increasingly aware of the tension within ourselves – of what we are now and of what we are called to be.

So Paul writes, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24)

But in the tension, we have hope. Paul goes on to say in “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23)

And so we rejoice now – even in sufferings, even in the tension - in the hope of the joy that will be ours then – when all tensions are resolved – when (in John's vision in Revelation 21) heaven and earth are combined, when all pain is removed, and there is no longer death or mourning or sickness.

So Jesus speaks to those who are insulted and persecuted because of him, and he calls them ‘blessed’. And he tells them to rejoice ‘because great is your reward in heaven’. (Matthew 5:11)

But for the Christian the Holy Spirit also gives us glimpses of this future joy here and now:

-          the fruit of the Spirit is ‘Love, joy, peace..'
-          this is the joy that comes from the awareness that God is in control: we think of Jesus (Luke 10:21) ‘full of joy’ as he praises God for choosing the weak and the foolish to carry out his plan.
-          CS Lewis described his conversion as ‘surprised by joy’
-          Flo at St Mary Mags
-          personal dream
-     the face of Lucy in death

Paul in Philippians tells us ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4)

1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible (‘joy unspeakable’) and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.

I need to add that this experience of joy is not a constant. There are many times when we feel crushed and broken by the sadnesses and pressures of life. There will be many times when, like the Psalmist, we will go out weeping with our seed to sow. 

But if the experience of joy in this world is not constant, for the Christian the hope of joy is our constant.

And here, in Psalm 126, the Psalmist is clearly in a situation when there is little joy. But he recalls the joy that God gave them in the past, and he calls out to God for joy in the future; “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”

Again, we do not know the specifics – it could well be to do with the need for a good harvest – given the two illustrations that he uses. The Negev was in the South of Israel and was a dry and barren place. But when the water began to flow in the streams, the land became green.

And then this verse, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him”

The hope of the Psalmist is that there will one day be joy.

And our hope is our joy. It is our hope that one day God’s Kingdom will be established, that death is not the end, that what is right will be lived and will be seen to be right, that there will be justice and peace, that we will be transformed into the image of his Son.

Christian hope and Christian joy cannot be separated.

The reason that this is so important is because we were made for joy and God longs to give us joy, real joy – and the joy and the pleasure that most of us seek is a half joy.

CS Lewis writes, "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

If you want real joy, put your trust in God and live for this hope. There will be many many days when you go out with your seed weeping. There will be times when you suffer for this hope, when you are abused and ridiculed and spat upon, treated as a fool, or as a killjoy (as the Puritans were). There will be times when it seems that everything is barren, that there is no life and no hope. There will be times when we suffer the natural consequence of being part of this fallen world.

But the prayer of this Psalm can be our prayer: ‘Restore our fortunes, O Lord’ – restore them here and now, yes (that is the timescale of the Psalmist) – but restore them ultimately there and then.

John 16:24: "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete".

And to those of us who are Christians, I wonder to what extent we do live our hope. It does not seem surprising to me that the ones who take the radical steps of costly obedience for Jesus are the ones who most know his suffering and also share his joy.

If we risk nothing for God, we will know no joy. We will become the caricature of the black coated, non-smiling vulture that some people would love to draw us as. But if we are prepared to step out in costly faith and obedience, we will know life and joy.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus chose to go to the cross and to die on the cross for the joy that was set before him

And in the end Christian faith is built on the great joy:
The resurrection is the resolution of all tensions: of pain, of suffering, of separation and of death.
The tension between this world as it is and the world as it could be.
The tension between what you and me are, and what you and me are called to be.

Jesus just before he is crucified, tells his followers

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:20-22)

And that was the case:
Matthew 28:8 “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
Luke 24:41 “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?"”

So may God give us joy, real joy, a joy that explodes throughout our whole being. May he give us the joy which comes from the knowledge of his forgiveness and of his presence. May he give us a glimpse of the joy that will be ours. May that joy be our strength. And may he give us the certainty of the hope that one day we will see him as he is, and we will be filled with that joy for eternity. 

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Jesus offers us LIFE

1. Jesus is saying that he has come to give us LIFE.

This is a wedding, and it is a party. And in the middle of this party, Jesus turns water into wine. It is so life affirming.

1 Timothy 4:4 says, 'Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer'.

God is not against LIFE.

Jesus wants us to give us life to its fullest. I went to see Avatar the other day. It is in 3D. It is amazing. We can show films in 3D.

But God gave us eyes so that we can see in 3D. He created a 3D universe (well, actually it may have a few more dimensions). He created music, he created laughter, he created food and taste buds, he created jokes and conversation, he created sexuality and marriage and weddings, he created creativity and games, he created wonderful amazing unique human beings. He loves seeing his people party; he loves seeing them LIVE.

The problem is that it has gone wrong. We long for life, but we do not seem to be able to grasp hold of life. And the bible tells us that that is because we have chosen to live for the good things and not for the God who has given us the good things.

We're like children being given presents. We become totally absorbed in the gift and forget the giver.

And so we take the good things that God has made and we abuse them.

Take alcohol. A good gift that can cause so much devastation to individuals, their families and society.

But Jesus came in order to restore our relationship with his Father God.
• He came so that we might be forgiven for the way that we put our pursuit of the good things that God has given us before the God who gave us those good things.
• He came so that we might begin to live again for the God who gives us the good things.
• He came to give us LIFE, real life.

2. It shows us that Jesus can work even when we have run out of wine.

I don't know why the wine ran out at this wedding. It might have been an incompetence; it might have been someone taking a few bottles out the back door; it might have been a supply problem. It doesn't matter.

What does matter is that the wine had run out – and because it has run out the servants are prepared to listen to Jesus.

We are meant to read this story as telling us that the wine of Pharisaic Judaism – with all its rules, regulations, denials, negations and separations – had run out.

And tragically, it seems that in many places the Church in this country is running out of wine

• The number of people offering for stipendiary ministry is going down.
• The money to pay them is going down.
• The latest statistics show that the numbers of people going regularly to church continues to go down

It is affecting us a parish:

As many of you will be aware the PCC have been trying to get a second parish vicar appointed who could, within the team, have responsibility for St Peter’s. The Diocese has told us that for the time being we will not be able to appoint a second vicar to the parish.

It is disappointing - but please don't be hard on the diocesan authorities. They have been told by the wider church that they have a limited number of posts, and while we are looking at our parish, they are looking at the bigger picture.

The tragedy is that for too long the church in this country has been offering people old wine, the old life, when we could be offering the new wine, Jesus Christ himself.

It is very easy to point the finger at others. I am not going to do that. We need to recognise our shared responsibility in this.

As a church we have lost sight of God.
• We offer people an aesthetic experience, which is very nice but does not change lives.
• We preach a universal ‘fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind’ message which sounds very comforting but does not change lives.
• We preach a ‘don’t do this; do that’ morality – personal or social – which ends up condemning people and does not change lives.

Kierkegaard said, ‘Jesus turned water into wine. The church has done something much more miraculous. It has turned the new wine of the kingdom into water’.

And we need to recognise that the old wine has run out.

And there are two things we need to do.

1. We need to repent.

We need to repent that we have been living for the good things and not for the God who gave us the good things.

We need to repent that we have been peddling old wine, even though – as God’s people – we have been offered the new wine.

We need to recognise reality, recognise that the old wine has run out, and we need to say sorry to God. 

2. We need to listen to Jesus and ‘to do everything he tells us’.

It all starts when Mary invites Jesus to get involved, and when she tells the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.

They listen to him and they do what he says.

And they really need to put their trust in him

You can imagine - if it had gone wrong - the Master of Ceremonies tastes his dirty water. He says to them: 'Are you having a laugh? You did it because Jesus told you to do it. What has he got to do with this?’

They would have been the laughing stock of the village.
Capernaum Catering Company would have been out of business.

We need to listen to Jesus – I think we are quite good at emphasising that – but then we need to 'do what he tells us to do'.

I am not so sure we are as good at that.

The faith part means that often we have to step out and take a risk in obedience to Jesus. And yes, if it all goes wrong we look stupid. Paul writes that if the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen, ‘Christians of all people are to be pitied the most’. Why? We have built our lives on a lie.

But it does not go wrong for the man or woman who steps out in faith in Jesus, not ultimately wrong.

Things may not work out quite as we expect.
• I think of Moses goes to rescue the people of Israel. He had a clear calling from God, and yet for the first few months after he began speaking to Pharoah, things got much worse for the Israelites.
• I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
• I think of many of the first Christians
But when we are obedient to Jesus, when we step out in faith, he promises that 'all things work for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose'. He promises that 'nothing can separate us from his love'.

And some of us need to take that risk and be obedient to his call.

I believe that God is calling some people here to a recognised ministry in the church: whether as a reader or lay pastor or to ordained ministry (paid or non-paid). We have a great staff team but, on their own admission, they are getting older. And in the future, if we cannot look to external appointments, and it is simply too much for one paid vicar, we need to bring forward and grow our own people.

I appreciate that it is costly.
It will be costly for all of us because it involves putting our hands in our pockets so that we support people financially if necessary.

It will be costly for individuals because it involves a rigorous selection procedure and pretty demanding training.

But as a parish - indeed as a community - we will need men and women in recognised ministry roles.

And we need people who will take the risk and get involved in working with our young people.

I had a profound experience when I was playing crazy golf at Spring Harvest a couple of years ago. I won. Actually I didn't; Alison nearly always beats me. But there was a youth group on the course at the time. They came from a church up near Blackburn. There were about 20 of them. I asked who their youth group leader was. They pointed me to a lady who was about 60 years old. You don't need to be a young person to do youth work. You do need to love Jesus, to be obedient to him, to step out in faith, and to love young people in his name - and to have a clean CRB.

We grow in our faith by spending time learning more about Jesus – but only if we then take a step of faith and do what Jesus tells us to do:

As a church we need to be preaching not ourselves, not morality, not a 'everyone's OK' message - but like Mary preaching Jesus. She sees the problem, talks with Jesus and then tells the servants to do what he says.

And as individuals we need to step out in faith: whether it is caring for that elderly neighbour, getting involved with the lego club for autistic children, setting up another parent and toddler group linked to the church, inviting the friend to a PASSION FOR LIFE event, volunteering to be a Street Pastor, doing everything you can to make the difficult marriage work, going against the flow in a work place culture that says it is all about what you can get out of it, a new act of submission, or of forgiveness, or a bit of radical giving.

John Ortberg wrote a book with the brilliant title: ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat’.

Faith stands For All I Trust Him
Faith, for these servants, was spelt RISK

3. A conclusion

In the end, all we can do is repent, listen and be obedient.
It is Jesus who turns the water into wine.
It is Jesus who shows his glory.

At one level not much changes for the servants in this story.

At the beginning of this passage they are working for the Capernaum Catering Company and they have a wedding function. At the end of the passage they are working for the Capernaum Catering Company and they are at the same wedding function.
At the beginning of the passage they are serving wine. At the end of the passage they are serving wine.

But a great deal does change: They were serving £2.65 bottles of Lambrusco and now they are serving £1500 bottles of Chateau Lafite

Jesus is glorified when human beings turn to him, when they listen to him and obey him.
Jesus is glorified when he takes nothing and turns it into something

Of course it is not all down to us. If we offer the new wine we will not necessarily get a massive response, or a big increase in numbers. That is God's gift. People respond in very different ways.
The MC doesn’t see it. It has happened under his nose, but all he can do is see the good thing that Jesus has given 
The disciples see it and they see the one who gave the gift. They put their trust in Jesus.

Jesus offers us this new wine, this new LIFE

Because of him our relationship with God can be restored. There is forgiveness.
Because of him we do not need to live for the good things God has given, but for the God who has given them.

Because of him, the gift of the Holy Spirit is offered to us. He will come and live in us, will shows us Jesus, will grow a love for Jesus in us, will give us a longing to obey Jesus, will guide us and comfort us. He is the foretaste of this new life.

If we repent, listen to Jesus and do what he says, we can be the servants who offer this wine to the people.

Thomas Merton said, "This is what gives God the greatest glory - the achieving of great things through the weakest and most improbable things'.

I look at you and I look at myself. And then I look at God - and I have great hope. There is plenty of room, if we let him, for Jesus to show his glory.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Why have an exhibition about the Life of Jesus?

A talk given at the LIFE EXHIBITION in St Peter's, February 2010

This LIFE exhibition is fantastic, and I hope that you think it is really important that we do this – even if you do not believe it yourself.

At a human interest level, our children need to know about Jesus. We need to know about Jesus.
There really is a great ignorance:

He is for people, at the least:

1) A great teacher: we see some of that stuff here in the exhibition.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Why should the Samaritan go out of his way for someone who hates him? Are not the other two who pass by simply being sensible?
And yet the story of the Good Samaritan embodies so much of the teaching that was specific to Jesus: ‘Love for enemies; Doing to others what you would have them do to you; Sacrificing yourself for another person; compassion for the weak and the vulnerable’)

And so much of Jesus’ teaching has influenced us and our society far more than we think.

It has shaped our system of justice. Our justice is not just about retribution. Many people think that it should be. You lock them up and throw away the key. But the great Christian prison reformers (Elizabeth Fry), recognised that there has to be an element about redemption, and – taking her cue specifically from Jesus’ teaching – that visiting and caring for people in prison matters because people in prison matter.

It has shaped our legal system: The belief that there is a higher principle of justice has underpinned our system of justice. It is not simply about the rule of the strong or the rule of the majority.

It has shaped our notion of virtue: ideas of mercy and compassion for the vulnerable, of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek (Jesus said, ‘if someone slaps you on one side of the face, offer them the other’), of the sacredness of life, and the defence of the weak and the vulnerable (that is why Christians have cautioned society about notions of euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion on demand).

That is very different from the virtues which emerge in other cultures. The virtues of the Greek Gods are power, the ability to get revenge, the trampling down of enemies, that might is right. Nietzsche used to say that Christianity was the triumph of the pale Galilean, the triumph of a slave mentality, which cherished all that is weak and vulnerable and pathetic, everything that deserved to die.

But Jesus is important not just because he is, for many people, a great teacher. He is also

2) A great inspiration

So many people have been inspired by him: great and small. Elizabeth Fry, Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Martin Luther King, Mr Theresa.

Our own Queen says: "To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.” (Queen's speech 2000)

And today literally millions of people would call him Lord, and would claim that they are trying to live their lives in obedience to him.

And the story of Jesus has been a story that has been at the centre of our national life for about 1000 years. Christmas and Easter are our great festivals. And the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a story about self-sacrificial love, about dying for enemies, and it is a story of how there can be hope in even the darkest of all circumstances.

So it really is vital that we know about this Jesus

But is there more to Jesus? Is he more than a brilliant teacher and a great inspiration?

In John’s account of Jesus, one of his followers has asked Jesus to show them God. ‘Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied’.(John 14:1-9)

Someone asked God that question in the Old Testament. God answered Moses and said, ‘Nobody can see my face and live”. (Exodus 33:17-23)
But Jesus answers Philip, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’. 
And he says, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life' (John 14:6)

It is an astonishing answer.

And the Christian conviction about Jesus is not just that he is a great teacher and a great inspiration, but that he is also God in human form, more accurately, that he is the Son of God in a unique sense.

1. When he says I am the way he is claiming to be the only way that we will get to know the Father God.

Imagine you arrive at Bury Station. You say, ‘I wish to get to the LIFE exhibition at St Peter’s. How do I get there?’

The person you ask might say, ‘Go round Parkway, down Out Westgate, turn right at Spread Eagle’ and so on. And you might set off and try and follow their instructions.

That is how many people treat religion as: a set of instructions in order to get to enlightenment, to God. If I pray, go to church, am good, go on pilgrimage, give – I’ll get to God. And it is how many people treat Jesus. He gave us a set of teachings and if we obey them, we will get to God.

But that is not what Jesus is saying here, when he says, ‘I am the way’

What he is saying is the same as if the person at Bury station says, ‘I won’t give you instructions how to get there. I’ll give you a lift there myself. I’ll take you’

Of course you need to trust them. You need to trust that they don’t mean you any harm. You need to trust that they know where St Peter’s is. But once you’ve made that decision, they themselves have become the way to St Peter’s

And Jesus teaches us how to live life God’s way, but he does not give us a set of instructions to get to God. He simply says, ‘Follow me and I will show you the way’.

But there is one more thing. As we begin to allow Jesus on the way to God, we begin to discover that the one who is taking us with him is in fact God himself, and we begin to realise that Christianity is fundamentally about getting to know Jesus Christ better.

2. When Jesus says I am the truth he is saying something equally profound.

Truth, we are told is like an elephant in a room, surrounded by many blind people. Each person touches the elephant and tells the truth as they see it/feel it.

There are a number of problems with that:
Not everything that is said is true. The elephant is not green; it is not a mile high; it is not four trees; it is not a snake
And it all does really depend on the fact that there is an elephant in the room in the first place.

Jesus is not saying that he is one way of looking at the elephant. Jesus is saying, ‘I am the elephant’.

He is saying: I am the Truth. Not just the truth about God, but the ultimate truth about life, the universe and everything.

There is much talk about the conflict of science and religion. But there is in fact a remarkable convergence. As scientists grapple with the wonders of quarks and quantum physics, and the ambiguities of light waves and light particles, as they try to define the fundamental forces that are in the universe, they are beginning to say that somewhere in the mystery it is not about stuff, it is about relationship.

And when Jesus says 'I am the truth', he is not just saying 'I teach the truth' or 'I am totally authentic'. He is saying that the answer to life, the universe and everything is not 42 (for fans of ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’; it is not a single unified force; it is not total randomness, nirvana or nothingness or the cosmic soul. It is in fact a person who is beyond personality, who for 33 years chose to live on earth as a human being. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

3. And Jesus says I am the Life

Just as the sun is light and the source of light, so Jesus is saying that he is life and the source of life.

And Jesus says, and he is quite uncompromising about this, that if we have not put our trust in him, we are dead. Yes, of course we are physically alive, living for the physical things in this world and enjoying the physical things in this world, but as far as it really matters, we are dead.

Knowing Jesus is about living.

He says, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance’.

Real life is not about what you’ve got (possessions or qualifications). Real life is about living in the way that God made us to live.

It is about living in a relationship with God. When people open themselves up to Jesus, it really can be like learning to open our eyes. We discover a completely new dimension to life. We see ourselves and other people in a new light. There is a new course for our life, a new purpose. We are to grow in intimacy with God.

And it is about how we are. The Bible talks about how a person who is starting to walk with Jesus, who is putting their trust in Jesus, who is looking to Jesus will begin to be changed. They will begin to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Not overnight; and it involves us being constantly open to Jesus, the Son of God, listening to his word, receiving from him, repentant when we fail, and choosing to be obedient to him.

And it is ultimately about who or what we put at the centre of our lives. Most of us put a whole mixture of things at the centre of our lives: ourselves, our ambition or work, our family, our gadgets, clothes, latest ideas or trends, fear of being shamed, possessions, comfort, children, sex, drink, television, nothingness. It is the sort of thing that – if you were an onion – and we peeled off all the levels, what would we find at the centre?

When we come to Jesus, when we receive the LIFE that Jesus offers, it doesn't matter what happens to the physical, because this life goes on for ever. 

So why the LIFE exhibition? Why Jesus?

Because our society is what it is today because in the past it has been transformed by the teachings of Jesus.
Because many people have been inspired by Jesus, and call themselves by his name

But ultimately because he claims that he is the Son of God, the visible image of the invisible God, the one who is the way to God, the truth about God and everything and the source of life and giver of life.

We can talk about Jesus. We can debate his relevance to society then and now. But the business is only done when we choose to get down on our knees, say, ‘Yes, I look at the evidence, the prophecies, the signs you did, the resurrection, the people who have trusted in you, and I believe you are the Son of God. I am very sorry that I have lived up to now without you. And I now receive you. I ask you to come and be the very centre of my life. I put my trust in you.’