It was a packed house to say goodbye to our Rector Revd. Amanda Denniss on Sunday at St Mary’s Easton at our Parish Communion. After almost three years, Amanda is moving on but, fortunately, will remain in Winchester Diocese.
The Ark made a special tribute to Amanda with a wonderful thank you card. Here is a photo of them all putting it together…
and then the card itself
We are all very sad to see her go and thank her for all the many wonderful things that she has brought to the Parish.
Her last sermon reads as follows:
God’s plan is for his church to be a community with Jesus at the centre
John 1.43-51 Revelation 5. 1-14 Itchen Valley
the readings follow this transcript of the sermon
It has been a great privilege to be your Rector over the last three years. This is my last Sunday with you and I have spent much time in prayer and thought on what to say to you this morning and on which readings from the bible we should have. I felt led to keep the appointed readings from the lectionary from John’s gospel and from Revelation.
The church-the whole church-of which Itchen Valley forms a tiny part-belongs to God. It is his church. The church-not the buildings but the people-are extremely precious to God. You are very precious to God. God loves his church and he has plans for her. He has plans for the people who are already part of his church family and he has plans to gather more people in. Today is a day for giving thanks to God for all the ways he has been at work in our community over the last few years and it is also a time to look forward. What are God’s plans for the church now? Our human tendency is so often to see things from a natural viewpoint and to leave God out of the picture. We ask-what do we want to happen to ‘our’ church? Who do we want to be part of ‘our’ church? Our bible readings are a reminder that the church is God’s church. His plans for his church and the people he loves are so much are better than our plans could ever be. Our bible readings remind us that God’s plans for his church are what we should be seeking to discern and join in with. More than that, they remind us that there is a spiritual and heavenly reality that radically affects our day to day lives and the life of our church.
- God’s plan is for his church to be a community with Jesus at the centre. His plan is for God’s presence to fill his church.
In our gospel reading from John 1 we see the beginnings of the church. Jesus is gathering his first disciples. One of these was Philip. Philip was so excited at meeting Jesus that he immediately ran off and told his friend Nathanael. Nathanael is initially a bit dismissive and says, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Nathanael came from a nearby village called Cana and there was probably a bit of friendly rivalry between the Cana and Nazareth. It’s a bit like somebody saying from Easton, ‘Can anything good come out of Martyr Worthy!’ Nathanael is so impressed when he meets Jesus and Jesus tells him that he was able to see Nathanael under a fig tree even before he stood before him. Nathanael replies in wonder, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus then says these enigmatic words, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ (John 1.50-51)
What did Jesus mean when he spoke of heaven opening and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man? Jesus is looking back to the story of Jacob in Genesis and to what we now call Jacob’s ladder. Jacob was a tricky character. He managed to cheat his brother Esau out of his birth right-his inheritance-and his Father’s blessing. Understandably Esau was furious and worse than that, he planned to kill Jacob in revenge. In order to escape, Jacob fled to find refuge with his uncle Labram in Haran. It was on the journey to Haran that Jacob, all alone, settled down to sleep one night in the open air with a stone as his pillow. In the night he dreamt of a ladder or stairway leading up into heaven. Angels were ascending and descending on the stairway. God stood next to Jacob and promised him the blessing of land and descendants. When Jacob woke up he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ 17 And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28.16-17)
Jacob was given spiritual sight into the spiritual and heavenly realms. He became aware that he was in the presence of God and that angels were going to and fro to heaven. He called the place where he was ‘Bethel’ which means House of God. This encounter with the living God radically changed Jacob’s life.
In looking back to this story of Jacob, Jesus was telling Nathanael and the other disciples (although they probably didn’t fully get if at the time) that they too would experience the in breaking of the heavenly and spiritual realms in their lives as they followed Jesus. More than that, in Jesus, the presence of God had arrived in a new way. God was with them. They would see the effects of the spiritual reality of heaven transforming our world. Angels coming and going to do God’s will and see God’s kingdom coming in power.
This window into the same spiritual reality is open to us. God’s plan is for his church to be filled with his presence. Today we experience the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The church-the followers of Jesus-are God’s temple. God’s plan is to fill his temple.
I became a Christian twenty one years ago in February. Up until that time, I knew there must be more to life than I was experiencing but I didn’t know what it was. I went to church but all I seemed to hear were talks on how I ought to be a good person. I knew that I wasn’t particularly good and however much I tried to change, nothing seemed to make much difference. Everything changed when I went to a church where people really loved Jesus. He was at the centre of their individual lives and the life of the church. It made me want to find our more. It was there that I discovered that Christianity was about having a personal relationship with Jesus and about what Jesus had done to make this possible by dying on the cross. The lights came on for me and I prayed a simple prayer saying sorry for all the things I’d done wrong, thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for me and asking him to come into my life as my Lord and Saviour. It was then that Jesus came powerfully into my life by the Holy Spirit. My life was turned upside down by his presence. I was given a passionate love for God and a passionate desire for others to come to know Jesus. I later found that as I followed Jesus my character and the way I lived my life was changing. Jesus became the centre of my life.
God’s plan is for his church to be a community where Jesus is at the centre of every part of her. This is not just about our worship on Sundays and in our prayer and bible study groups. It’s about every aspect of our life together whether it’s:
- Discussions on the PCC
- Our pastoral care. We’re going to have a new team of pastoral visitors soon.
- Arranging flowers to decorate the churches
Whatever it is, whatever you do, God’s plan is for the presence of Jesus to be part of all we do.
- If you think for a moment: how am I part of the life of our church?
- Then ask yourself the question: do I pray for Jesus to be at the centre of all I do?
- Do I want others to come to know Jesus?
In the story of Jesus calling those early disciples in our Bible reading, we see the disciples rushing off to tell their friends and families about Jesus and bringing them to meet Jesus. Andrew goes to find his brother Simon Peter, Philip goes to find his friend Nathanael. God’s plan for his church is always to welcome more people in. Our part is to tell people about Jesus and invite our friends, family and neighbours to come along and find out for themselves.
We’ve looked at God’s plan for Jesus to be at the centre of all we do.
- Secondly I’d like to look at the question: where is Jesus in all the things that seem so wrong both in the church and in our world?
We live in what seems like an uncertain world. We can look around us, both at our own lives and the lives of people we love, and see so much suffering. We can see this nationally and internationally. So much pain. We can feel anxiety and worry on all sorts of fronts. We can ask: where is God in all this? Our reading from Revelation gives us reassurance and can help us have understanding of the spiritual realties of what we see all around us.
Revelation is not the easiest book in the bible. The word ‘Revelation’ and its alternative title ‘Apocalypse’ come from the Latin and Greek words for unveiling. It forms part of a body of literature that is full of pictures, numbers, symbols and vibrant imagery. Revelation draws extensively on both the Old and New Testaments. It was written at time of persecution and was written to remind a struggling church how things really stand in the spiritual realm. It can help us today to see where God is at work in our world. It can help us understand what is the spiritual reality that is at work behind the scenes of our natural world that we see all around us. We are assured that in spite of present appearances God is in control of history and the church. Even though the church will experience suffering and death, it will be triumphant in Christ who will judge his enemies and save his people.
In our reading, we are given a glimpse into the throne room of Heaven. God is seated on his throne and the elders and incredible heavenly creatures continually worship God. In chapter 5 we see that at the centre of the throne is a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered. This Lamb is the only one found worthy to open the scrolls that are going to give insight into the great sufferings in the world. The 24 elders hold bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints. Songs of wonderful worship are sung.
The Lamb of course is Jesus. He is seated on the throne and Revelation assures us that he is in control and gives us his interpretation of our world. It was through Jesus suffering death on the cross that he redeemed humankind. Jesus died for people of every nation, language and colour.
At the risk of making a massive understatement: Jesus never promised that being church was going to be easy. Jesus suffered and his people will suffer. Revelation gives us insight into the battles we will face. At many times it will be tough. We will be tempted to struggle between pursuing our own agenda and pursuing God’s plans. We will face opposition from the enemy of our souls: Satan. The agenda of our society and culture will often be totally opposed to God’s plans.
The book of Revelation assures us that God is on his throne. Ultimately God’s plans will prevail. Satan will finally be defeated. Evil will end. There will be a New Heaven and a new earth. In the picture language of Revelation, Jesus will welcome his bride the church to the wedding banquet which is today foreshadowed in Holy Communion. For now, Jesus calls us to live our lives in the light of this heavenly reality.
Jesus loves his church which means he loves you! He has wonderful plans for you and for the future of his church. We live at a time when so many people are full of worry and anxiety about personal and national issues. We have the privilege to live in the light of the heavenly realties that Jesus spoke of to Nathanael. Jesus invites us to join in with his plans for his church:
- To pray for the presence of Jesus to be at the centre of all that we do. His plans for his church and the people he loves are so much better than our plans could ever be.
- To be a people who like Andrew and Philip go and invite the people we know to come and meet Jesus so that they too can experience the joy of knowing him.
I am so thankful for everybody who in so many ways has contributed to the life of our church during my time as Rector here. I’m not going to mention names as there are too many of you. My prayer for you is that you will know and welcome Jesus more and more into your midst as your Lord and Saviour and seek his plans as we pray from our hearts, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’
‘Amen. Come Lord Jesus.’ (Revelation 22.20)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
5 Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.