24th July 2022. Trinity 6. Bargaining With God/Prayer Luke 11:1-13
How do you pray? For many of us prayer is like a bargain we try to make with God. Lord if you just do this for me, I will do this for you! God knows we usually do not keep our side.
Abraham bargained with God. If not this many, If not that many…… He pleads to God’s good side, as he sees it. Except God only has a good side. Treating people fairly, in fact more than fairly. We use this as an excuse when we are quite happy not to do it ourselves.
One of the saddest most worrying things about the Tory leadership race has been the right-wing insistence that all the rich and powerful people are the important ones and only they deserve anything at the expense of the poor. Everything is being blamed on the poor, the refugee, the migrant, and not on those who have been complicit and enabled this view and caused division among those who are trying to work hard.
For the sake of 10 good people……… Abraham says and God agrees but cannot even find 10 good people. Looking at us, Great Britain today, how many people would He find?
Prayer is not a bargain with God, it is a conversation between friends. The example we are given is the Lord’s Prayer. We use it every week, we learnt in school as children. Sadly, not the case today.
Notice the prayer begins Our Father, not my Father. Our God is father of all. Equally! No special dispensation for being British, or male, or rich, or powerful. Our Father! Every one of us. The one who cares for, looks after, provides for.
The contents of this prayer, this is what we should be praying for: the coming of God’s kingdom, a better society. The provision of our basic needs of daily bread. Not oysters, caviar, champagne. Right now, so many of our children are not even getting basic food, many of our working people like nurses, teaching assistants, care workers are having to use food banks to simply live.
Praying for forgiveness for ourselves but also the willingness to forgive others. We want to be forgiven, freely, unconditionally but are much less willing to forgive others. But this is part of our faith, forgiveness as well as being forgiven. Then praying for help in our troubles, don’t let them be too much, strength to cope, Help Please Lord.
Why? because the Kingdom, Power and Glory are God’s, not ours. We are told to ask, which tends to be the sum total of our prayers most of the time. But we are also told to seek, seek wisdom, seek understanding. Told to knock, to see where God is working and join in.
Our prayers should give glory to God, they ask for help in daily life for ourselves but also for others. They look for wisdom. They tell God how we feel and they offer Him our worship. This prayer is a conversation with a friend, our faithful God. Real honest prayer is all we need to do, there is no correct way, no one way, just as with a friend, we share our hopes, fears, dreams, needs and cares. No need to bargain, no need to twist God’s arm, just ask, seek and knock and all the rest shall be added or given to you.
Our prayers are so often answered without us seeing, realising. Prayer can be our steering wheel or as is more often the case, it is our spare tyre, only there when we are in trouble. There is no expiration date on prayer. Prayer’s summarise those who utter them. Things we take for granted others have and are praying for.
Over the years I have asked young children and students about prayer, their responses:
It is made for everyone by God.
It makes me feel peaceful and calm.
He listens when no one else does.
God doesn’t call me naughty.
God minds when I cry.
I talk to God like I talk to my friends.
Prayer is the Godliness in us coming out. Better to have a heart of prayer with no words than empty words with no heart.
Prayer is the key to each day. God can handle it all, so tell Him. If we only pray when we are in trouble, then we are in trouble.
17th July 2022. Luke 10:38-42 Trinity 5. Hospitality.
The story of Abraham and the three visitors is one of the main stories on Hospitality in the OT. It is also the first visual of the Trinity in the Bible. It is this story that Rublev’s icon of the Trinity is based on. The Hospitality of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hospitality is a gift and something we are all called to offer. Today’s gospel is about hospitality and in being so is also about choice and perspective.
Hospitality was freely given in the past. As with Abraham, People fed and cared for people who came through their settlement or village. They knew that travellers could struggle, would need food or water, somewhere to stay. The word Hospitality means love of the stranger, in Greek: Philomena. Hebrews 13:2 reminds us that in giving hospitality some have entertained Angels without knowing. 1 Peter 4:9&10 lists Hospitality as a gift of the Holy Spirit. The physical needs of people are important too! Many really successful study groups, youth groups, prayer meeting meet around food. Alpha operates around a meal together. All the successful youth groups I have been involved in have been set around food.
Hospitality serves others, opens homes and places to people, feeds people and without expecting to be paid back. Hospitality is that joyful welcoming of others into our group, home, church and welcoming them with love, providing for the physical as well as the spiritual. In our Gospel, Martha is very much about the practical hospitality, but there is more.
There is a choice, what do I do now? Do I carry on doing the practical or do I stop for a while to actually be with the person as well as look after them. Do we wash up while the guests are here or socialise and do it later? Do we expect a return invite, or to be spoken well of by others? Why do we invite people round? How do we actually treat others? Do we prepare as much as we can before hand so we can spend as much time with people as possible? Hospitality is as much about spending time together with people as providing for their physical needs. Martha and Mary had a choice to make. Martha makes a choice about duty and Mary about spending time with her Lord.
Perspective is how we see things. What or who we make a priority. Do we prioritise guests, family? In our gospel Jesus is only there for a short time, both literally at their house, but also in His short time on Earth. Jesus has physical needs, provided for by Martha, but she then makes the choice to keep doing that instead of being with Jesus. It is so easy for us to do this, to justify all we do for God but not actually spend time being with Him. What is our perspective on our Christian life? Is it all about doing or is it also about being?
Hospitality is not just the provision of food, water, practical things, it is also about spending time with people. Making people feel welcome, feeling at home in our home, at home in our church. It is about making someone feel at ease. Cared about as well as cared for.
Do we want others to see us as busy, hardworking, too busy to have time for them, but looking important? Or do we want to be a real friend, a fellow labourer. Someone others feel at ease with? Mary makes the right choice here, not because Martha is wrong, but because she allows herself to be too busy, she neglects just spending time with Jesus. It is so easy to think being busy for God is the most important thing, but actually to be able to be busy for God we must also spend time with Him, listening, learning, growing and becoming better people. Mary chose the better part; can Jesus say that about us?
Travelling Light. Trinity 3. 3rd July 2022. Luke 10:1-11, 26-20.
Gareth and I will go on our first proper holiday since the pandemic and the preparations are in full swing. Clothes put aside, cases out, purchases made and lists written. It’s me that writes the lists. We need to pack for three weeks, two in the med and one up in Norway and Denmark. We will not be travelling light, unlike flying, we have no restriction on baggage and with some formal nights we need to take the dressing up stuff as well.
In today’s reading the 70 newly appointed followers sent out by Jesus are to take no purse or bag or sandals. Hold on, that’s not just travelling light, that’s travelling with nothing at all. Not even with a 20p and hanky that scouts were encouraged to carry everywhere. These days we have our travelling necessities, must have a passport, medication, money and cards, and at least a spare pair of undies, please.
Life was different in these times and people were often looked after and fed by strangers in a village if they came and gave wisdom and teaching. Needs were provided for. But if I turn up expecting anything on my holiday to be free…. No, not going to happen.
It is true, we all pack too much, come back with unused clothes, but it’s a holiday, a special treat. The point here is about our dependence on God, not on ourselves or our world.
We can all freely spout forth about God will provide, especially to the poor and those currently finding life a real struggle to buy food for families etc. And as we tell others we still want our salaries, pensions, pay increases, to pay the mortgage, to put food on the table, to heat and light our homes. The truth is the labourer does deserve to be paid, and to be paid fairly and properly. Equal pay, no differing rules for top fat cats and politicians. The work is done, the correct and fair payment must be made.
In our faith there is a lesson to be learned on travelling light. We need to know what and why we believe. Know what the Bible says as we may not always have access to it. Richard Wurmbrand was a Christian imprisoned for his faith, mainly kept in solitary Confinement. He had nothing other than what was in his mind. Every day he would preach himself a sermon. No Bible or google, no congregation, nothing. Yet he knew his faith, his Bible, his belief, his God and could speak clearly about it. Can we? Do we know enough of our Bibles, our books, our teaching to manage without them if we needed to? He said of himself: Did I believe in God? Now the test had come. I was alone. There was no salary to earn, no golden opinions to consider. God offered me only suffering; would I continue to love Him?”
See how well these followers of Jesus did with just Jesus, speaking about Him, speaking in God’s name. Relying on what they knew. God forbid that we will never need to, but with things as they are and the erosion of our human rights and beliefs, faith in God, belief in a fair and just world is nearer now to being forbidden than ever.
May we be able to travel lighter as Christians in our faith and know who we believe in, why we believe and be able to share that freely with others.
Trinity 1. Year C. 19th June 2022. Luke 8: 26-39 Go Home and Tell
How do you feel about sharing your faith? What if someone asks you a question you don’t know how to answer? What if you get into a “sticky” situation and you need to confront a major wrong? What if someone brings up an “embarrassing” past, something we just don’t talk about in polite company? What if we or someone becomes angry?
We all experienced similar emotions which make us feel inadequate in telling people about Jesus. It can be uncomfortable, push us well beyond our comfort zone.
I also think that we make sharing our faith too hard at times. Yes, we need to share the Gospel. The Good News. But, not everyone has been so gifted as to be an evangelist. So, if you do not have the gift of evangelism, what can you do to sow the seeds of the kingdom? That’s an important question. What can we do to help people find Jesus.
When Jesus gets to the country of the Gerasenes, He is met by a man possessed with demons. This man is a sad case.
He has had demons for a long time. This man has suffered for a long, long time at the hand of these demons. He has been away from his family for a long, long time.
He wore no clothes. The demons had taken away this man’s dignity and his name.
He did not live in a house but in the tombs. Contact with the dead rendered a Jew ceremonially unclean
The demons even begged Jesus not to torment them. This was common when any demon came into contact with Jesus. They had no power in His presence. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man, and gave him his dignity and name back.
The man was so strong that he had to be bound, but he could break the bonds. The demons had completely overtaken this man’s life. The man, the demons, say that his name is “Legion,” because many demons had entered him.
The demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss. The abyss in Scripture is where Satan and demons live. Funny they did not want to go home. Demons did not want to go back to Satan. That says something.
Jesus sent the demons into the swine who caused the pigs to act in a self-destructive way and run into the lake and drown. Demons, sin, evil cause self-destruction.
The people run to the village and tell what has happened; a great crowd comes back. They find the formerly possessed man: Sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind. That is the position of a disciple. Jesus has changed Him.
The people are now afraid of Jesus. Not surprising, If this man has power over the demons, what else can He do? Jesus, respectful of their wishes, leaves. Jesus does not force anyone to accept Him. Neither must we.
The man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus had a different role for him. “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” No matter this man’s gifts or abilities, he could tell others how Jesus had healed him. Notice that the man doesn’t just go home and tell what great things Jesus had done for him. He went throughout the whole city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him. This man just could not stop talking about all that Jesus had done for him.
No matter our gifts and talents we can tell what God has done for us. How has God changed your life? What wrongs and issues you once had that you no longer carry? How different you have been made by Jesus love for you. The prayers He has answered, the weights on you that He has lifted. The strength given in difficult times. The comfort in times of grief and the provision when times have been tough. We can share how Jesus has replaced our hopelessness with hope. We can share the hope and the joy.
Understand that telling others about Jesus, inviting someone to church can have eternal consequences. Heaven and hell hang in the balance. But we don’t do it alone. Jesus says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” You will never do this alone!
The business of sharing Jesus with others is too serious not to do.
Trinity Sunday 12th June. John 16;12-15. Psalm 8. Our mysterious yet personal Triune God.
What is it that drove the great explorers of the past to risk their lives to venture across rugged and inhospitable country? They wanted to know what was out there beyond what was known, waiting to be discovered? Beyond that we have gone to explore space. To conquer more mysteries. But there are some mysteries that will always be a mystery. Today, Trinity Sunday, we come against one of those mysteries, God.
I can’t touch God.
I can’t say how big He is because I don’t know what or how to measure.
If I wanted to take a photo of God I don’t know where to point the camera.
I can’t knock on his door and have morning tea with God at his home.
I can’t imagine what God is like because I always end up using human pictures, giving him human qualities so that he makes sense to my small human mind.
I can’t think like God because if I could I would be able to understand why a young mother had to die, why thousands of people die in earthquakes, die of starvation, why some are severely disabled. Why so many died in the pandemic and are still dying.
We don’t often talk about the mystery and awesomeness of God these days. We have tried to become a bit more logical about God. We now think about God as a bigger and more powerful version of ourselves. We have fashioned God after our own likeness.
As humans, we can’t even begin to imagine what God is like. We are restricted to describing God within our understanding and so can only express what God is like in the vaguest of terms. This is the mystery of God, the great God, the only God who is three persons in one God, who is far bigger and greater than we could ever imagine, who existed before this world was made, who doesn’t need us to exist but created us and loves us anyway.
The early Christians started talking about a Triune God. Not to make God more logical and understandable to human ways of thinking. In fact, the idea of the Trinity intensified the mystery of God. They clearly saw that Jesus had a unique relationship with the Father and that the Holy Spirit had a unique relationship with the Father and the Son. Against all the odds and opposition, the Church maintained that Jesus Christ is true God, equal with the Father, and that the Holy Spirit is God, equal with the Father and the Son.
We know that God has revealed himself as a God who cares, a personal God who wants to have a relationship with his people. From the very first pages of the Bible, we hear of a God who is powerful and great, He creates the earth with just a word. We also hear about a God who wants to be close to his people. He loves the people whom he made so much that he even sent his own Son into the world to save them from the wickedness that had taken over the world.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the pouring of the Holy Spirit on his disciples and the church. Jesus said that He and the Father would send the Spirit to remind us of the truth of God's promises, to guide us, to encourage us and sustain us when the going gets tough. There is nothing more personal than the Spirit of God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not an attempt by the church to unravel the mystery around God. In fact, it deepens the mystery. It doesn’t tell us everything about what God is and who he is. It raises more questions rather than give answers. But it does tell us some important things about God – things that are life changing.
God is our heavenly Father who made us, takes cares of us and calls us his dear children.
God is Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross to re-establish our relationship with God and reveals the way to God and to eternal life.
God is the Holy Spirit in us giving us faith in God and guiding us in our daily walk as a Christian.
Faith in the Triune God acknowledges the might and majesty of God but at the same trusts in a God, Father, Son and Spirit who cares and love unconditionally.
Platinum Jubilee Pentecost. 5th June 2022. John 14:8-17, 25-27.
If you have a pound coin you will find Elizabeth II by Grace of God, queen, defender of the faith, written on it. By the grace of God, she defends the faith, our faith. She has said: Jesus Christ is the inspiration and anchor in my life. She has spoken of Jesus as a role model of reconciliation and forgiveness who stretched out His hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none. The Queen is not quiet about her Faith.
David Suchet was asked if it was wise for the queen to be so out spoken about her faith, he said yes because the basic message of Christianity is love, she leads with love and brings us all together. Much has been said and seen about her loyalty, her example and how we can see God through her example. Our Gospel reading talks about showing the father. Do we? How do we show the Father? Are we faithful to our vocation and calling as people of faith?
Service for the common good of all are the greater works our reading speaks of. Offering our self in service, staying the course, being faithful, showing love and service. These things matter. Our treatment of the other, seeing others above ourself is part of our mission. In doing that the other part of mission follows, in sharing Jesus love with others through our behaviour, care, service we point them to Christ.
This service, this sharing of love, this being faithful to our calling, is not easy. So, God provides us with the help we need. As Jesus returns to the Father to pray for us, He sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that was there at Creation, the Spirit which allows our faith to become global. Our Power Source, our strength, our encourager, our comforter, our advocate comes upon us and enables us to do the necessary service, to show the Father to the world, to do His works, to show His love and to set an example for others to follow and find Jesus.
To be consistent, to be honest and truthful, to serve the common good, we need replenishment, as we give we need to be refilled. Often called the well of faith or the fountain of faith, we need to draw deeply from this well, this fountain to replenish us, so we can keep going. The Holy Spirit is that well and that fountain, it keeps refilling us, replenishing us if we draw from it. The Spirit didn’t just come once and that was it, no the Spirit is ongoing, on filling, a well, a fountain, overflowing and spilling out to refresh us and enable us to do what God calls on us to do.
We are living in a time of uncertainty and challenge. We need refreshing, we need strength and help, we need power and understanding, those come from God, given freely through the Holy Spirit, we only have to be open, to ask and to receive.
On this Platinum Jubilee, we are reminded of the 70 years of service to God and Country. Reminded of the oath she took to serve justly and mercifully. She has said that sometimes we are in need of saving from ourselves, our recklessness and greed. God sent a saviour with the power to forgive. She has also said that service demands sacrifice. As we serve God, we too will have to make sacrifices. Each of us has a personal accountability before God. Each of us will have to answer for our actions, our service or lack of it, our faithfulness or lack of it, our care of all or lack of it.
Jesus is our true and first example, after that come others of faith who we can be encouraged by, she is one of those, and you and I, we are also people of faith that others can be encouraged by. Our faith, our service enabled through the Holy Spirit, our example in Christ is our mission to others. Our standing for our faith through the Strength given day after day by the ever-replenishing overflowing Holy Spirit.
A Platinum Jubilee, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the opportunity to worship. It can’t get better than that on a Sunday morning.
29th May 2022. Easter 7. Ascension. John 17:20 -end
Our gospel this week is a prayer, called the High Priestly prayer and sometimes the farewell prayer. Some commentators have also suggested it is like a will. Here Jesus is interceding for the church before His father, the role He is going to take when he ascends to Heaven. The role He now plays for us. We sit, today, in those 10 days from Ascension, last Thursday, and Pentecost next Sunday.
His prayers are about the unity of His followers, the unity of the church. This prayer has three parts the first is to Glorify the Son, the second is the keep the disciples safe and sanctify them and the third is the unity of His followers. Jesus is presented to us as Prophet, Priest and king. The priestly part of this role is to intercede on behalf of others. In the OT the priests offer sacrifices, in the temple, on behalf of the people. The priest as mediator, Jesus as the sacrifice, known as the Lamb of God.
Humans are saved to live for God, not in sin. We are called to be Holy through the word and Spirit in us. It is a struggle. We are Human and we get things wrong. When we do we must take responsibility for our wrongdoing. Some of us are very opinionated, make decisions that get forced on others, decisions made in church history which have caused upset, pain, discrimination, abuse. Things which instead of promoting unity actually makes division. That is not what Jesus prayed for.
We live on a daily basis, Good verses Evil. It is our faith that enables us to make better decisions, the Spirit which Jesus ascension allows to be sent to us. We live daily, striving for perfection, perfection we will only achieve in Heaven. While we strive here on Earth Jesus intercedes for us. The Spirit works within us, but we must want to do what is right.
The language of this prayer is both certain and conditional. When we pray, we can be sure that God will do what is right and best because He sees eternally, His vision is eternal, our vision is mortal and so restricted. God sees the bigger picture and Jesus words show us that although the best way would be unity, God will not force us. We have a choice and so far in history we have not chosen to work as one. Some of those who have led us in History have taken great pains to redefine faith to suit their own ideas.
The story we read in Acts is very much about those in superiority who take advantage of those below them. Those who use others to get what they want, that which benefits them, not others. When God’s people step in, these leaders abuse, complain and try everything to punish those who are working for the good of all. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. It goes on every day. That is not the right way.
Jesus’ prayer for unity is about unity in how we treat the poor, unity in our attitude to justice and fairness, unity in our treatment of the other, the refugee, the migrant, those who serve us, help us. Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension allow us to have an advocate, a mediator, one who prays for us and one who lives in us, the Holy Spirit. Those challenges we face every day, we have a choice, we can see a right way, we can know what we should do, the Spirit will prompt us, Jesus will pray for us, we make a choice. Every time we turn a blind eye, we justify the poor treatment of others, the loss of rights, we support those who benefit themselves, we are not doing God’s will. We are not working for unity, we are not fulfilling our calling to be holy.
Jesus prays for us, Jesus does not give up on us, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to help us, comfort us, strengthen us. The question is, will we listen and let Him strengthen us to always do the right thing.
8th May 2022. Easter 4. Listening To God. John 10: 22-30. Acts 9:36-end.
In our gospel reading today, we’re reminded that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our shepherd. We’re reminded that he is the voice of God, he is our teacher and our guide. But, what does it mean for us to be guided by the good shepherd? What does it mean for us to listen to the voice of God?
How good are we at listening? As disciples, we are called to listen, we must be willing to listen to the voice that speaks to us, the voice that calls us to follow. But, what does this voice sound like? Is it one voice or many? Is it loud or is it a soft voice? How do we recognise the voice of God?
In the Old Testament, Abraham and Noah hear the voice of God, strong and compelling, Job heard the voice of God from the whirlwind. Moses heard the voice of God from the burning bush. Elijah heard the still small voice of God. All heard the voice of God and they listened to it, they allowed themselves to be led to a new situation. They discover a new way of living, a new hope and deeper meaning. In our reading from Acts, we’re told that the voice of God spoke to Tabitha, though Peter. Tabitha was called by the voice of God, called out of death and darkness into the light, she was literally given new life.
These examples of God’s voice show us that we can experience God’s voice in many different ways. It can be a loud voice or a softly spoken voice, it can be one voice or it can be many. The voice can come from within or it can come from somewhere or someone else. Today we are reminded that the voice of our God can be heard all around us. It is the voice of compassion and forgiveness, the voice of reason and understanding, the voice of love and life. If the voices we hear are selfish, hurtful, bring fear or death they are not the voice of God.
We live in a world filled with voices and with noise. Some of those voices carry a message of deep meaning and life, but many of them don’t. Many of the voices we hear today tell us we should only be concerned for ourselves, to live for the moment and our immediate needs. These voices have encouraged us to strip our forests and world, neglect the poor, be selfish and to live for all the pleasure, power and wealth that we can gather at the expense of other people. Some of these worldly voices encourage terrible suffering and misery.
These worldly voices have contributed to a world where the powerful enjoy great wealth and privilege, while the poor and the vulnerable suffer in silence, because no one listens to them. Their voices are drowned out by the rich and powerful, the spreading of rumours, lies and doubts about their real needs. But, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, speaks with God’s voice, sharing with us a very different message. The voice of God tells us that wealth and power are temporary, that only love is endless. That true and lasting happiness, eternal life, can come to us through commitment and self-sacrifice. The voice of God is a voice of love and friendship and community that includes all.
We listen to the worldly voices who tell us that strength, power and wealth will make us happy and content. Our advanced civilisation, our high standard of living, our advances in travel and communication have all come at a cost, that is our ability to feel, to build strong relationships and to listen to the voice of God.
The language and voices of the modern world are not languages of love and peace and community. The voice of God is and can help us to discover hope and deeper meaning in our lives. We must listen carefully for the voice of God speaking to us; speaking from the whirlwind, the burning bush, the Bible, speaking through disciples and all the saints, speaking through the people of this church, speaking in our hearts. It can be a loud voice or a softly spoken voice, it can be one voice or many, it can be a voice that comes from within or a voice from another place or person. I pray that we will listen and respond to God’s voice that speaks to us. AMEN
1st May 2022. Easter 3. Breakfast with Jesus John 21: 1-14.
Are you a breakfast person? Cereal, toast, porridge maybe? If we are on holiday, we will have full English breakfast or sometimes kedgeree or kippers. Our story today is breakfast with Jesus, on the shore, a Bar B Q of fish and bread.
We have been here before, Jesus on the shore, the brothers after a night of no fish, then catching an abundance of fish on Jesus’ instruction, it is exactly where Jesus called the first disciples. At this difficult, lonely, low and seemingly insurmountable time they go back to what they know. We do the same. We take comfort in what we know, in what is comfortable to us, and just like with the disciples Jesus meets us exactly where we are.
Peter originally lived in Capernaum at the northwest end of the Sea of Galilee where he and his brother Andrew were in partnership as fishermen with two other brothers, James and John, both sons of Zebedee.
Peter was a passionate type of person, often speaking and acting before thinking. He could be hasty or rash, even capable of anger and denial. When Peter hears it is the Lord, he puts some clothes on and jumps into the water in his haste to get to, and see his Lord again. Peter wanted to be on good terms with Jesus again, to be forgiven, to start again.
It is the same for us. We return to what we know, where we feel in control, but we long to be with Jesus again, to be forgiven, to start again.
This breakfast interaction is really normal. The disciples have recognised him as the Christ, the one who appeared in locked rooms and shown them His wounds, and now He’s going about a mundane morning task as if everything is the same. Here we find the beautiful understanding of God about us, because after Easter, the church and we as Christians, tend to experience a “post-Easter decline.” The big celebration of Easter Sunday, the Alleluias and Easter eggs, finished for another year. The very first Sunday after Easter is called, low Sunday, it can be hard to muster the same level of energy we had two weeks ago. Like the disciples, we have returned to our everyday lives. Business as usual. But we are reminded that God is right there, too. God is in every part of our lives, the highs and lows and the normal every day.
Sometimes life with Christ looks like the dead raised, mountains of transfiguring light, feeding the five thousand with last night’s leftovers. But more often than not, it is as simple as breakfast in the kitchen or for them by the sea. It is the mundane daily life and work mingled with miracle, charcoal fires, and unbroken nets.
Having breakfast with Jesus means allowing God, through His Spirit, to lead you back and remind you of those spiritual milestones of the past. Maybe, like the disciples, God will remind you when you first responded to His invitation; or maybe He will bring back those lessons and breakthroughs of the past that you need to remember.
In the daily and mundane God reminds us of how our story with Jesus began, what we have done with Him and for Him, who we are in Him, what we have learned along the way, how we are forgiven and loved.
They say Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, spending it with Jesus would really make it so. We are invited every day to be with Jesus, as we are, where we are and that never changes. Will you take your invitation or not?
24th April 2022 Easter 2 John 20:19-31. Just A Starting Place.
It’s been one week since Easter, one week since the chaos and excitement, one week since the empty tomb, one week since our first “Alleluia. Christ is risen” It’s one week after the resurrection and the disciples are in the same place they were Easter night. They are in the same room behind the same locked doors.
So, if the resurrection is such a big deal, such a life changing event, why are they still stuck in the same place? What difference has the empty tomb made? It doesn’t look as if it’s made much difference.
One week after Easter, what has Christ’s resurrection done for us? Is our life different? What difference has the empty tomb made in our life over the last week? When we look at the world it looks pretty much the same as before.
It's easy to hear today’s gospel and be critical of the disciples. They are stuck in the same place. But we really need to look at our own lives. Why isn’t my life different after Easter? Why am I stuck in the same place? I should be doing better than that.
So, let’s set it out: Christ’s resurrection happened; The empty tomb is a life changing event; The resurrection does make a difference in our lives; and it takes time to happen.
Resurrection takes time. It’s something that we grow into, a process. By the grace of God, we evolve into resurrected people through our relationships and the circumstances of our lives. It’s not always easy and some days are just plain hard.
I think we sometimes come to Easter Sunday and the empty tomb expecting to wake up on Monday to a whole new life and world. I am guessing that you awoke on Easter Monday to the same life and world you had on Good Friday. I did. It’s not because the resurrection didn’t happen. It’s because it takes time.
The fact of the empty tomb is the starting point for the resurrection story. Whatever facts you woke up to on Easter Monday are simply the starting point for your story of resurrection.
We tend to be hard on Thomas for his reaction, but this event is not the whole story of Thomas. He brought the gospel of Christ to India. He died a martyr after he was run through with five spears by five soldiers. That doesn’t sound much like a doubter, does it? It sounds like someone who grew and changed, someone for whom the resurrection of Christ was real, someone for whom the empty tomb made a difference. It just took a little time, as it does for most of us.
For Thomas this was a starting place and we all have our starting places. What is your starting place? Whatever your life is today, whatever your circumstances are, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection. So, if you’re dealing with deep loneliness, sorrow, and loss, that’s your starting point. That’s the room which Christ enters. If you are locked in a house of fear, confusion, or darkness, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus stands. If illness, old age, disability, or uncertainty are facts of your life, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus shows up. If you feel lost, betrayed, disappointed, overwhelmed, that’s your starting point and the house Jesus enters. If joy, gratitude, and celebration are the facts of your life today, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection.
All those things I just described and a thousand others are the many ways the doors of our house get locked. Whatever it might be for you, it is just the starting point.
The great tragedy is not that the disciples are in the same house behind the same locked doors. That’s just their starting place. The great tragedy will be if the disciples refuse to unlock the doors, refuse to open the doors, and refuse to get out the house.
What are the doors that are locked in your life? What are the things that have kept you stuck in the same place? I’ll say it again, that’s just the starting place. Don’t judge it as good or bad, right or wrong. It’s just where you are and it’s the place Christ shows up. The walls and the locked doors of their house could not keep Jesus out. And the walls and locked doors of your house will not keep him out. The tragedy will be if you do not inlock the doors and get out of the house.
Jesus steps into the midst of our house, through the locked doors, and breathes peace and life and hope and courage and strength into us. And that breath of peace is the key that unlocks the door. So friends, take a deep breath, take it all in, let it fill and enliven you. Let it give you the hope, courage, and strength to unlock and open the doors of your life, and then get out of the house. AMEN
Easter Day April 2022. Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26, John 20:1-18
I have over the years grown to love Mary Magdalene. It was playing her in a passion play some years ago that really prompted my desire to know more. My studies have revealed so much more about this woman than many in the Patriarchal early church never wanted us to know. History has been unkind to her, many have cast aspersions on her character so as to remove this female disciple form the centre of the action and from being a disciple at all. Many early scholars and writers have shown her to be very important in Jesus’ ministry and some have sort to discredit her and make only men the centre of everything.
Let’s set Mary into context. She has been healed by Jesus, she has followed Him and used her own money to feed and help all the disciples including the female ones. Yes folks there were 12 disciples who were male but there were female disciples. Many of whom are responsible for providing the resources to the early disciples and early church to conduct their mission. Mary is mentioned more often than most of the 12 males in the gospels.
Mary is there at the cross with Jesus’ mother, it is she who has the job of preparing Him for burial, the role of the closest to Him. Mary goes to the tomb, the disciples don’t. Some recent theologians believe that if it had not been for the women the disciples would not have even known where Jesus was buried. While she is doing this the male disciples have hidden themselves away.
More recent discoveries of old texts show that Mary goes to the disciples and reminds them of Jesus teaching and they are rather unkind to her. It is Mary who goes to the tomb, Mary who finds the stone rolled away, Mary who runs to tell the disciples who rush there but still don’t get it, they just walk away. It is Mary who stays and sees the Angels and it is Mary who first meets risen Jesus. Mary is the first evangelist of the Good News.
By the time Mary meets Jesus in the garden she is so upset, her treatment by her so-called friends and disciples has not been good, she is grieving, she has performed the burial rituals and her Lord, the one who saved her has gone and yet she remembers His teaching, she knows something is happening. In the midst of this confusion and upset comes a voice, a voice she recognises, speaking her name. That voice that called her to healing, MARY. That are ways that people say our names, particularly those we are close to. In that one word she recognises Jesus and it all makes sense.
Jesus calls her by name and sends her to tell the disciples. She is the chosen vessel for His telling of resurrection. She goes to tell them and they still hide away.
Friends this Easter morning Jesus calls you by name. He calls you from the garden in His resurrection and tells you to go and tell. He told Mary not to hold onto Him, in other words do not keep me for yourself but tell, share the good news. He calls you from your confusion, your hurt, your upset, your mistreatment by others who are supposed to be friends and loved ones. Jesus calls your name, maybe for the first time, or the second or third or twenty third, He will keep calling your name, but will you recognise Him?
For us Easter is the centre of our faith because without Jesus’ resurrection there is no faith, no Christianity. We are Christians because of His death and resurrection, because of Easter, which has given us eternal life. Jesus calls your name this morning, will you answer, or will walk away and hide?
Palm Sunday. Luke 19:28-40. 10th April 2022.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we come to the familiar gospel readings that tell the story of Jesus’s entry into the city of Jerusalem, the Holy City. It is so familiar that in our rush to enter the story of this coming week, we miss a moment to stop and enter into what is actually taking place. Palm Sunday calls us to enter into the now.
Jesus’s journey ‘up to Jerusalem’ is a journey based in prophecy and anticipation which provide an excitement for the crowds already filling Jerusalem in preparation for the feast of Passover. The reminder of God’s great faithfulness to His people.
Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by pilgrims. These people that gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, were still awaiting the fulfilment of God’s promise to rescue them from oppression and slavery. Jesus’ rode into a city where the people desired a freedom, they had been waiting for, for centuries. Babylonian and Persian exile had been followed by Macedonian and then Roman oppression. Jerusalem was a powder-keg of expectation and longing, and it was ready to explode.
The crowds were following Jesus on the path down from the Mont of Olives heading towards the city’s Golden Gate. Out in the open, amongst the pilgrims on the path, in full view of those gathered, people were spreading their cloaks on the path, for the colt to walk upon as it carried Jesus towards the Holy City.
And they had reason to rejoice. They had seen people healed, people fed, lives transformed, those in the captivity of sin set free, the dead rise, these people had seen it all and they were rejoicing, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Hope was abounding.
For us, it is easy to rush into what is to come, we know the story, we know that the days ahead are ones that lead to the most awful grief before the most glorious hope. These people, followers and disciples, surrendering their cloaks, raising their voices have much to teach us. Their lesson is to remind us to enter into the now. The now of Palm Sunday, the now of rejoicing, the now of a reckless hope that fills our hearts with such anticipation they could burst with the joy and wonder of heaven. Why? Because as Christians we have seen with our own eyes and lived with our own lives the wonder and love of Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I am often far too quick to rush to the next thing. I often deny myself to enter the now, because I’m too busy thinking about tomorrow. To busy thinking about the what next, the what to do, the what needs to be done. Sometimes we can all be so busy preparing for tomorrow that we have forgotten what it means to be with Jesus today. So busy with the future we forget the present and the joy of now, now is the only certainty. Now, today is a gift which is why we call it the present.
Jesus is once again criticised by the Pharisees, His reply to them and us is that if we do not get involved in the now, someone else will, even creation will shout out and we will miss out! The crowds were naively milling around their Messiah. They had no idea of what was to come. But the stones did. All creation knew of the utter transformation that was coming. All creation knew that the Creator had entered His creation to rescue it from death.
This day, this Palm Sunday, this now, allow your heart to enter into the now of Palm Sunday and rejoice for all you have seen of Jesus in your life and the lives of others. Rejoice today, for yes, tomorrow is coming and tomorrow is hard, but hard tomorrows are always coming. Do not let your mind be consumed by tomorrow for your heart will lose its joy, it’s love. Enter into the now. Rejoice before your king today, experience the joy of heaven, fill yourself with the wonder of Jesus. If we take time to fill ourselves with the joy of Heaven and the wonder of Jesus now, we will have the sustenance to weather us through the difficult tomorrows.
Lent 4. Mothering Sunday. John 19:25b-27. 27th March 2022.
Mothering Sunday can be a special day for some and very difficult for others. For those who are not Mum’s, for whatever reason, for those who have lost their Mum’s bless you for being with us.
One thing all of us have in common is we are all children. Children like to be watched and seen by their parents and family. I expect many of you spend a lot of time saying Mum, Dad, come and see this, watch what I can do, look at me… and they watch and look and see and they love it. They love you.
Women, girls and Mum’s actually don’t get seen. They are often invisible. In many places girls never become visible at all, stopped from going to school or working because they are female.
Mum’s become invisible to their families, their children, husbands, partners. They become just a pair of hands to fix this, tie that, open this, wash that, clean up, feed me, get my, change me, take me, find the, shop, cook, provide and are taken for granted. Women, girls and mums get lost in a role given to them by society who rather than treasure and value them, criticise them, make them out to be weak, and keep women in the invisible place they want them. I am sad to say that the role of girls, women and Mum’s has been dictated by a male dominated society since time began. For those of you saying, that’s not me, I am not like that, well, every time you allow girls, women or Mum’s to be forgotten or treated unfairly and do nothing about it, then you are like that.
This morning, I want you to know and realise that God sees you. Mum’s, girls, women, aunts, cousins, He sees you and all you do and just how wonderful and valuable you are. God sees everyone here and if we are not right and just in how we treat each other God is not happy with that behaviour. God made the equality of everyone completely clear to us and yet so many of us have been disrespectful and have lessened the role of women, of Mum’s, of girls and made them invisible.
Being female, being a mum is not being second class, we are special and were created by God to play our part in an equal society. That society has taken that specialness away. In God’s eyes we are special, we are loved, we are valued and appreciated. Let everyone here be reminded today that our Mum’s, our daughters and sisters, all women are not invisible but are special and valuable. Make sure your Mum, your sister, your aunt, your grandma, make sure they know just how special they are and not just today but every day.
Lent 2. 13th March. Luke 13:31-35. A Mother Hen.
I love heroic stories, where the protagonist journeys along a difficult path, with adversity waiting at every turn. Stories like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. I have lived through them all with my boys. Each of these stories have an epic arc, usually starting humbly but building over time as the hero travels to the climactic finale where good vanquishes evil.
On Ash Wednesday, we began a six-week spiritual and liturgical journey, Lent. We are early on but it is a familiar path and we know where we are headed. Waiting for us at the end is the climactic finale of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The Gospels during our Lent follow the physical journey of Jesus starting at the Jordan river, as he moves through Galilee and Judea on his way to Jerusalem.
It is an epic story; one we know well. We’ve read the book. We’ve seen the Hollywood movies. Along this path ahead lie pain, suffering and death.
Here Jesus is passing through Galilee, in the territory of Herod. He is warned by the Pharisees that he should leave because he is in danger of being killed.
But Jesus has no intention of leaving. He keeps doing what he does, healing and teaching. He knows he has nothing to fear because the final act hasn’t started yet. Jesus has seen this movie.
For hundreds of years, he has watched as his prophets made this journey only to meet their end in Jerusalem. And so just as Frodo’s story doesn’t stop on the road to Mt. Doom and Harry Potter’s doesn’t end on the train to Hogwarts, the climactic scene for Jesus isn’t going happen out here in the provinces. It will end in Jerusalem.
In a classic heroic epic, our hero would be driven by anger, perhaps revenge, and settling scores on their journey to the final battle. Jesus has seen how his prophets were ignored and killed. He knows what his enemies have planned for him, but there is no anger. No attack. No revenge. Instead, Jesus laments.
He describes His sorrow with one of the most tender and loving images in the gospels, a mother hen caring for her wayward chicks.
God is like a mother hen. We are like chicks in need of gathering. Chicks move swiftly in whatever direction strikes them as interesting at that moment in time. Totally random. They are the essence of free will.
I think most parents, aunts and uncles and family members can relate to a mother hen. When kids are toddlers, it is a constant battle to keep up with them as they run in every direction, on a playground, in a park or at the store. As they become young adults, we try as best as we can to keep track of them. Like a mother hen, we run in circles trying to gather them in, circles that grow wider and wider until we can no longer keep up with them.
And we too have our moments of lament, as our chicks stop listening and go astray. But no matter where they go or how far they may drift, we are still prepared to step in front of them and spread our wings to protect our loved ones against any danger.
Jesus is our mother hen, gathering us to Him. And when danger appears, he will protect his chicks. It is a very moving image. A maternal side to Jesus we don’t discuss very often.
In a classic hero’s tale who would cast a hen in the starring role. This is not an eagle or a falcon. She is not the fighter who always emerges victorious. She can only stand in front of the danger, spread her wings, and offer herself out of complete love, in defence of her young.
Jesus is writing this story, the hero is not an avenger, righting wrongs, vanquishing enemies, freeing them from their captors. He does not even carry a sword. Instead, our hero spreads his wings on a cross and offers himself out of love, to save his children. Like a mother hen would do.
So, this Lent, as we travel with Jesus along His heroic path, let’s try to keep this image in mind. The hero as a mother hen. It is not how Hollywood would do it. But this not a Hollywood epic. Jesus is writing the script here.
And this is how it is going to happen.
Jesus in The Desert. Lent 1. Luke 4 v1-13. 6th March 2022.
At the moment of his baptism, Jesus experienced the confirmation of His calling; the Holy Spirit had descended upon him and God the Father had proclaimed his love for his Son. After that, Jesus is led into the desert to prepare for his life of ministry. The Holy Spirit can also lead us into solitary places with the purposes of making us rest and prepare for greater events to come and to contemplate and pray, to seek God. It is why those who are being ordained go on retreat before ordination. It gives time to listen and be quiet. All of us have this time of Lent to do the same. Giving things up allows a person to concentrate more upon God and to seek the way forward. It is a giving up of Earthly things so we can concentrate on our relationship with God and our calling.
In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to doubt himself and who he was. He tempted Jesus to abandon the love and calling from God. The devil tempted him with food, popularity, and power. He made it seem that everything would have been easier for Jesus if he’d just give in and take what Satan offered him. We know that Jesus did not give in. Jesus relied on God’s word to stand up to these temptations. So often we feel that it would be easier to give in and take what is offered.
Notice something; Satan says to Jesus each time, if you, that little word if, it casts doubt, it makes you wonder if you are right, self-confidence is lost. Jesus is very clear in His rebuttal, it is written, no ifs no buts, it is written or it is said. Notice too, how Satan even uses words from the Bible to tempt Jesus. If Satan does this to Jesus, he is going to do it to us. And we can say, it is written…. We don’t have to know chapter and verse, just know what God said, what Jesus said and speak it out.
We are tempted, these temptations often urge us to try to take the easy way out of a hard situation. Just a little lie, no one will know, just declare more on my expenses that I spent, no one will know. Why spend money on something I want when I can just take it? Why be nice to someone I don’t like when it’s easier to just be mean to them instead? Why do our chores if we can get away with not doing them? Why? Because we know that it is the right thing to do and it is what God asks of us. God will help us resist temptation if we ask Him, and just like Jesus, we can rely on his word, the Bible, to give us the power to make wise choices and do the right thing.
It is written we must not lie, steal, judge, hurt, get angry, dishonour, abuse strangers, cheat, abuse our bodies…. Remember, when Jesus was tempted, he turned to Scripture to help him resist Satan. You and I should do the same thing.
It isn't a sin to be tempted, Jesus himself was tempted. It is only sin if we then do what we are tempted to do even though we know it is wrong.
Jesus took 40 days; time apart to prepare for His earthly mission. Let us take the forty days of Lent to re-dedicate our lives to God. Take quiet times to read our Bibles, learn what it says about things. Giving up things so we can grow closer to God, preparing us for the mission set before us. Use this Lent to prepare, to learn, to be challenged, to seek, serve and follow Jesus. AMEN.
20th February 2022
Storms of Life. Luke 8:22-25. Year C. 2nd before Lent.
How was Friday for you? Storm Eunice came sweeping into our lives. Gareth and I had an appointment at 10 at the top of a high building and it was bad enough then, both of us nearly blown over several times. We were back home before it got worse here and apart from having to pick up a few bins and lids later in the day we were okay. Some of my colleagues reported lost sheds and broken green houses, the O2 took a battering, many trees blown over onto houses and a bus, very sadly lives were lost and much of UK was told to remain in doors and not to travel. We don’t get storms like this very often and they become embedded in our history, like the hurricane Michael Fish said wasn’t going to happen in 1987.
These storms and their destruction serve as a metaphor for the difficulties and trials of life: The Gospel tells us of terrified Disciples, a sleeping Jesus and His power to calm the storm and protect them. Jesus can and will calm the storms of life for us.
The fact is that storms will come in life. The Lake where the Disciple’s fished was prone to storms because it is below sea level and as a body of water attracts cyclonic winds. Sometimes storms come with some warning, sometimes without warning. We need to be prepared for both. As they come, we need to try and maintain our calm. Try not to be stressed with the issues of life, and this calmness comes from and is in Jesus Christ, our protector and saviour.
The storm on the Lake surprised the disciples, but it didn’t surprise Jesus.
It couldn’t surprise the One who knows every time a hair falls from our head, or a tear from our eye. There isn’t anything God doesn’t know. Our storms do not surprise Jesus today or any day.
We need to go to Jesus in our storms. Actually, we need to go to Jesus about everything, storm or not. The only hope the disciples had in this storm was to go to Jesus. Let me remind you that it’s not just okay to come to God in the storm, it is actively encouraged for us to come to Jesus in our desperation; so that He can set to work in our lives. God will never force Himself on us. We have to call on Him just as the disciples called on Jesus.
Jesus helps us in our storms. God is willing to help you in your storms? Look at Jonah, the storm caused by his disobedience. But when Jonah cried out to the God, God calmed the storm. When the disciples woke up Jesus, Jesus calmed the storm. No matter what storm you are going through today, God is willing to help you in your storm.
The greatest storm that can hit anyone of us is the storm of death, of grief. Sometimes God will heal and deliver us from death, but at other times people die in spite of prayer. But through it all God is there. If it is the storm of death, it is not easy for those left behind but in God we have the assurance of eternal life without any storms on the other side.
What are the storms you are facing today? What is shaking your world, ripping the roof off your world at the moment? Financial worries? Illness, family problems, work issues, difficult neighbours, arguments with friends or family, threat of losing a home, a family member, struggling with the price of food or bills, lonely, estranged, grieving. So many issues we all face at some time or another. Maybe the storms are in a lull at the moment but at some time they will happen.
The disciples called out to the Lord and He saved them, we can call out to the Lord at any time and He will save us, it may not be how we expect it but whatever the storms in your life, you do not have to face them alone. AMEN
13th February 2022
Roses and Thorns – Luke 6:17-26
In all performance management line managers are trained, not always well, to give a positive first and then a negative, balance the good and the bad. These are the “roses and thorns,” which remind us that within any day, any life, there is beauty and blessings as well as prickly thorns that might take us by surprise.
In today’s reading, we find a series of roses and thorns or blessings and woes, as described by Jesus.
First, come the blessings. The poor, the hungry, the weeping, those who are excluded and persecuted. Not what we would consider blessings because to us “blessing” means happiness or good fortune. But in the Greek, makarios holds a deeper meaning, it is about our unity with God, our relationship with our creator.
To be “blessed,” meant living in the presence of God. That does not mean being free from struggle, but to be living as God’s Kingdom demands us to. With each of these blessings, there is a promise of reversal: the hungry will be filled, the weeping will give way to laughter. These promises repeat the song of hope Mary sang in Luke 1, with a complete reversal of fortunes for rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, the full and the empty.
In these verses, Jesus is on our level, telling us the truth of our lives, and confronting us with our responsibility to be a part of God’s kingdom with our response to what we see in the world.
God calls us to be a part of the kingdom that Christ modelled. Jesus attending to the very real needs of the poor and suffering. Jesus acting with love and compassion in a powerful ministry of presence and healing, and calling his disciples and us to do the same. We can reach out to those who are hungry. We can offer comfort to those who weep, we can stand up for the abused and downtrodden if we choose to.
Luke pushes us even farther by punctuating these blessings with woes. These are the thorns; and are tough ones to hear, especially if they are describing us. Jesus, calls us out of our complacency and away from the safety and security of our successes and says that the reign of God, here and now, is about more than just our own accomplishments. In fact, these very accomplishments might just be our undoing.
The paraphrase version of the Bible, The Message makes it very clear.
And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games,
There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is meant to startle us out of our complacency and inspire us to action.
God does not take kindly to half-heartedness. God does not bless us as we maintain the status quo, reaping the accolades of those who hear us and follow us. God does not bless us as we bathe in respectability in the eyes of the world. God does not bless us as we protect and build institutions and empires. God does not bless us, well off, full, comfortable, hearty, and well-spoken of. (David Ostendorf)
These blessings and woes, these roses and thorns, challenge us to look at our lives and our world with new eyes. They challenge us to clarify our values and examine what are the things in life that we will take a stand for in relation to faithful living. Here is a challenge to change our relationships and reverse the social, economic, and political injustices that surround us so that we might live most fully in the Kingdom of God here and now.
Like a million more children now in poverty because of fuel rises and food prices. Like wealthy people taking more and more and telling their workers to work harder for less. Like energy companies making 70 million a day in profits while putting our bills up by 55%.
That is what the Beatitudes call us to, to challenge the ways of the world. Woe to those of us who refuse to help and challenge, those of us who would tread on others to line our own pockets. Those who would say the poor deserve poverty, it’s their own fault. We have no excuse, we must make a stand. AMEN
6th February 2022
Calling The Disciples. Luke 5:1-11. Year C. 4th Sunday before Lent.
Do you have any special hobbies or talents you like to participate in? Do you play sports, or cook or sew, or have a group that you’re a part of? Now, what would you do if someone told you that you had to give up that thing you really enjoy doing? You would be sad, right? But what if they told you that by letting go of that one hobby you love, you would be able to do something amazing? Something that will change people and change history. It might be hard to imagine what could be better than your favourite thing, but I want to share with you how following Jesus is even better.
Jesus was gathering His group of friends, His disciples. Some of the disciples Jesus chose were fishermen. Jesus came and found them working, and He told them to follow Him. He told them He would make them fish for people! They didn’t ask Jesus to wait for a two or three week notice period or make a costs/benefits analysis sheet. They didn’t even question what Jesus meant about fishing for people. These people were so inspired they left their fishing gear and their careers, and went with Jesus immediately.
They didn’t know every detail of what life in future would look like. They didn’t know this teacher was going to die in a few years, or that almost every one of them would die for their faith in Him. But they knew that following Jesus was the most important thing that they could do. They were willing to take the risk, to set aside their other priorities, and to spend time with the Jesus while they could. They knew it was better and more meaningful than anything else they would do.
So, what about us? Sometimes we might need to make sacrifices. If our job wants us to do something that goes against God’s rules or hurts our family, we might have to challenge this or even change job. If our hobby is taking up so much time and attention that it takes the place of prayer and worship, it might be time to set that aside. Priorities need to change. We need to put Jesus in the top spot of our lives. We might need to be willing to let go of some things, so that we can serve Him wholeheartedly. And as the disciples found out It is worth it!
Life with Jesus is better than anything else we can do or even imagine. Following Him isn’t always easy, but it brings us true love, joy, peace and eternal life. Jesus promises to be with us and to provide for us. He uses us to share His love and good news. So, let me encourage you to trust Him. Trust in His word, and be ready to serve Him, whatever it might take. It’s worth it! AMEN
30th January 2022
Candlemas. Luke 2. Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
Each year around this time the church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, also known as Candlemas. This feast commemorates the 40th day after Jesus’ birth, when he was presented in the Temple.
It is a time of comings and goings. Mary and Joseph have come to bring their son, Jesus has come into the world to save us; Simeon now has permission to go because:
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
You may know this as the Nunc Dimittis. Used at Evensong and funerals.
When the celebration of the Presentation was introduced into the Church in the seventh century, it included a procession with all the candles that would be used in the church that year and the singing of the Nunc dimittis, which is why this feast also became known as “Candlemas.”
Simeon was a devout man who was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guiding. In his past the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died, and on this day he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s nudging him to go to the temple and, once there, when he saw Mary and Joseph, he knew that this was the moment he had been waiting for all these years. This is how the Holy Spirit works, nudging us, leading us, directing us if we are willing to listen, to see, to recognise.
There is also another person in the temple. Anna, an elderly widow is one of those people who find a home in a sacred space. The temple is where she belongs. Where she has found a home. Unlike Mary, Joseph and Simeon, Anna lived here and was aware, nudged by the Spirit, that Simeon is holding Jesus and blessing his parents and this ordinary looking baby is actually someone very special.
Here is a strange and holy meeting of a young couple come to fulfil their religious duty and an old man who is something of a mystic and an old lady who lives in the temple. All belong in this one story. That is the gift of buildings like the temple, like our Cathedral, like this Church; they are big enough and prayed-in enough for there to be room for all who come, for whatever reason, and they can bring together the most unlikely people in God’s story.
This Church, like the temple, is a place of encounter with God sometimes one to one, sometimes mediated through meeting with other people. We offer a safe space to genuinely listen to people’s stories. To say your story is my story, my story is your story, and to respond in the most appropriate way. To allow each of us to live life in all it’s fulness.
Can I encourage you to think about how you can help to sustain St Andrew’s as a place of encounter with God? Do you enter this church expecting the unexpected? As you look around, do you expect that maybe people here could be a means of God’s blessing for you just as Mary and Joseph were for Simeon and Anna, and they in turn were a blessing for Mary and Joseph.
What can you do to help keep this church open as a place of encounter with God? How can you be Anna or Simeon for our visitors? Is God calling you to a ministry, reading, praying, administration, hospitality, warden, PCC?
Here we will tell the Christian story, the good news, so that people who come to us might find the Christian faith. I hope that this year we can continue to build our church, to strengthen each other and learn from one another and God.
This Candlemas, as we experience Saint Andrew’s as a place of light, quiet and peace, please pray that it goes on being a place of encounter with God for everyone who comes through our doors. Maybe, the place to begin is by consciously asking God to meet you here, now, this morning and then see how God leads you to help yourself and others encounter God here.
Lord, meet us here this morning, may we always be ready to meet you through others and always be open to being the way that others meet and find their way to you. AMEN
23rd January 2022. Epiphany 3. Luke 4: 14-21.
“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Jesus’ preaching begins with the word “Today.”
• Today the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
• Today I bring good news to the poor.
• Today I proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.
• Today I let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
This is one of the world’s shortest sermons, but one of the most important. The people of Israel have waited for centuries for the fulfilment of promises that God made throughout their history. Now Jesus declares that the wait is over; that the day has come; that the promises are fulfilled; that salvation is nigh! How?
The fulfilment of this scripture began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus but continues in the life of the church, us, today. All over the world, the church is bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, helping the blind to recover their sight, helping to free the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.
This isn’t simply about Jesus getting up to read the assigned scripture for the day. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him, the same Spirit that descended upon him at his baptism, that filled and led him in the wilderness, and with which he returned to Galilee. Something is stirring within him.
What Jesus reads and says here are his first recorded public words. And he speaks them in the town in which he grew up, in the synagogue where he worshipped as a child, among the people who know him and his family. He is saying, “ you know me but let me tell you who I am and what I am about.” Jesus is naming what God is concerned about in this world. He’s naming a truth and our responsibility for bringing that truth into existence. He’s describing the work and direction of his life. He’s taking a stand, a very public stand. No turning back now!
How far will we go for this gospel we claim to love and follow? What are we willing to do and what are we not? Those are choices we make every day. The gospel asks us to make a choice, to take a stand, and sometimes that will inconvenience us, be contrary to our self-interest, or put us in conflict and even opposition with others, ourselves, our family, our country, our religion. It is not easy. No turning back now!
We all have fears and concerns about taking stand, about living the gospel. We know how easy and tempting it is to let the gospel go in one ear and out the other. We also know that if Jesus’ words are to be fulfilled then we will have to change.
We tend to think that talking about things is okay but meddling, getting involved, is not. Religion has no place in politics, we declare, we easily blame the ones Jesus says we should be helping, it is their fault for being homeless, poor, in debt. The papers say it is, the government says it is and even the news coverage says it’s their fault. We use the church as an escape from, rather than an engagement with the world. We are content with just having a quiet friend in Jesus.
Well, here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t just talk, he meddles, He gets involved. He raises a question waiting for a response. Jesus is trouble for the status quo and an interruption to business as usual. He says the last will be first and the first will be last. His world is one in which the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. That’s the promise within today’s gospel. Jesus promises a new life and a new ordering of that life. And we are the keepers or breakers of that promise. There is no neutral stand when it comes to Jesus. We all have to take a stand. The only question is for what and with whom do you and I stand?
Are we actively bringing Good News to the poor; Release to the captives; Sight to the blind; Freedom for the oppressed?
That’s Jesus’ path. It’s a way of living and relating. So, what do you think; are you and I, this parish, willing to do this? And how far down that path are we willing to go? We cannot be certain of where this path will lead, or what will happen along the way, or what is coming toward us. And yet, we are being asked to make a stand.
So, we have a challenge: where and with whom will you and I stand?
9th January 2022 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22: The Baptism of Jesus
I remember hearing the testimony of a young Christian in a service of Baptism, he said that once he was baptised nothing could touch him. I admired his faith but life experience has taught me and I wish it was that easy, that clear, that simple. I wish I could say to the sorrows and losses of life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” I wish I could say to the struggles and difficulties of life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” But that is not how baptism seems to work.
Despite baptism every one of us, suffers sorrows and losses of life, we encounter difficulties and struggles, we have to face the changes of life we would rather avoid. And yet there is a deep truth, we are untouchable. At some level our existence, identity, and value are not limited to time and space; to the things we have done or left undone. We are more than our biological existence. we know ourselves as God’s beloved. We know the gift of baptism.
Baptism does not eliminate our difficulties, fix our problems, take away the pain, or change the circumstances of our lives. Instead, it changes us and offers us a way through those difficulties, sorrows, problems, and circumstances and ultimately, a way through death. Baptism transcends our biological existence and offers us a vision of life as it might be. Through baptism we no longer live according to the biological laws of nature but by relationship with God, who through the Prophet Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
That means when we pass through the waters of sorrow and difficulty God is with us. The rivers that can drown will not overwhelm us. That means when we walk through the fire of loss and ruination we are not burned. The flames that can destroy will not consume us. For He is the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Saviour. (Isaiah 43:1-7)
To know this, to trust this, to experience this is the gift of baptism and baptism always takes place at the border of life as it is and life as it might be. That border is the River Jordan. Symbolically, and theologically Jesus Baptism at the Jordan River is the border at which our baptism happens. It is the border between the wilderness and the promised land; the border between life as survival and a life that is thriving; the border between sin and forgiveness; the border between death and life. We all stand on that border at multiple points in our lives. Some of us stand there now. Some of us experience that border as a place of loss, fear, pain. For others it is a place of joy, hope, and healing. In reality it is both at the same time.
The only reason we can stand at the border of baptism is because Jesus stood there first. We stand on the very same border on which his baptism took place.
As He was baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22).
Jesus’ baptism is for our sake and salvation. His baptism makes ours possible. Ritually we are baptized only once. Yet throughout our life we return to the waters of baptism. Daily we return to the baptismal waters through living our baptismal vows.
Belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer because the Holy Spirit has descended upon us and filled us.
We are forgiven and love our neighbour as ourselves; striving for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being because that is how God has treated us and how could we do any less for another one of His children.
Sometimes our own body provides the waters of baptism, tears. St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of our eyes as two baptismal fonts. Tears are the body’s own baptismal waters that cleanse, heal, and renew life.
When we are baptised, we do not become superhuman but we do become God’s humans, spirit filled, called, strengthened, blessed and never alone because we are His. As the Book of Common prayer says We have been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever”
Epiphany 2022. Matthew 2. Isaiah 60
With no hint of a backstory, Matthew simply introduces us to the travellers from the east. The term wise men or Magi refer to astronomers who served in royal courts throughout the ancient near eastern world. They could also be kings or princes. Within the Medo-Persian Empire, for example, magi were regarded as valuable leaders due to their knowledge of science. In the Babylonian Empire, Daniel encountered, and rescued, a group of prominent wise men or magi that had been called upon to interpret the king’s dream Daniel 2:2,24.
By the 1st Century AD, magi were more broadly known as men who studied sacred writings, signs and stars. There were contemporaries of Jesus and his disciples in and around Palestine. Magi were more commonly associated with the Parthian Empire located to the east of Palestine, present-day Iran. It’s possible that the wise men who visited Jesus hailed from this area, which would explain their familiarity with the Old Testament prophesy of the king of the Jews. They would have studied Hebrew Scriptures among the many sacred writings they studied in their pursuit of wisdom.
These Magi travel because of the sign of a regal star and in a moment of weakness towards the end of their trip, allow themselves to be side-tracked, because a king, well he would be born in a palace, so they take their eyes off the prize, off the star, and go to Herod. We are also very good at taking our eyes off the prize, of second guessing ourselves and God.
When they finally get back on track and follow the star, they leave an infuriated and jealous Herod and find Jesus. They bring their gifts. These very gifts would have annoyed Herod because he would have known their significance.
Gifts of great value. Gifts fit for a king are given in an act of worship.
The walls of the Holy of Holies, where all sacrifices were made, were gold. Gold was for Kings, princes and royals.
Frankincense was expensive incense, used in worship, reserved for the special. The only incense used at the Altar in the Temple. Used to anoint Priests.
Myrrh is a perfumed anointing oil used for burial. The true humanity of Jesus is reflected here. He can and will die.
All three gifts are linked to Jesus’ life and ministry. There were also practical implications? A trip to Egypt, to save them from Herod and living as refugees in a foreign land needed finance.
The wise men and their gifts may also be seen as global mission. Israel was never intended to be the stopping point of grace; God called them to be a light for all nations. One of the clearest examples of this picture is found in Isaiah 60, we read earlier, a scene describing an age to come when the nations would be drawn to the glory of Israel, “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” V 3. The nations would come, but they wouldn’t be empty-handed: “they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, v. 6. In the wise men, we see a microcosm of the greater reality that is to come: one day, people from every tribe, culture, language, and nation will come before the throne of Jesus in praise and adoration Revelation 7:9-10.
Though the Bible’s account of the wise men’s visit is relatively straightforward, it can be viewed from many different angles. Their gifts were specifically intended to pay homage to Jesus’ royalty, deity, and humanity. Beyond that, the Temple connotations and Jesus’ global mission are all part of the Epiphany story.
What about us, today, what gift can we bring? In the beautiful carol Christina Rosetti reminds us that If I were a wise man, I would do my part, yet what I can I give him, give my heart. We may not have Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh but we do have our hearts and they belong to Jesus. Amen
Christmas Eve Sermon. Year C. Isaiah 52, Hebrews 1. John 1.
This baby we meet tonight; who is he exactly? Why are we here at midnight on a Friday night/Saturday morning?
The Prophets told us, told everyone, time and again. The messiah was coming. The one who would who would save us from Sin, corruption, evil, wrongdoing. He would announce peace, bring good news.
We are told that this baby is the appointed heir, the one with whom and through whom the world and the universe was created. This baby will reflect God’s glory all through His life, death and resurrection.
This child is the exact imprint of God’s very being who sustains all things by His powerful word.
If we have not quite got it yet, Jesus is God! Part of the Trinity.
Then this reading from John, read every Christmas sums it all up. Jesus is God’s word. Remember God spoke and the world was created. God’s word is Jesus. God’s word created life, created everything.
Jesus is also the light in the darkness. The hope, the future for all, who came but was not accepted. Came to change lives, came to bring light and hope but was turned away. Not wanted. Rejected.
Even in that rejection He makes the space for those who want to, to become God’s people, God’s children, cared for and loved by the father.
How? By this word becoming flesh, becoming human, God becomes human, lives as we do, experiences what we experience, understands exactly what the world is like, how people and society behave, what is accepted and what is not. He experiences it, lives it and changes it for us. He is full of truth, He is truth. This is the Baby we meet tonight.
This Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the son, God incarnate. Born in a pauper’s stable, born with a mission and a message for the world.
This is who we celebrate every Christmas, this is what Christmas is about, the Baby, born as one of us, born to serve, to live, to die and to provide us with our way back to God as God created us to be.
Sadly, we believe that we are the center of everything and we replace God with anything and everything. Christmas becomes partymas, foodmas, telemas, moneymas, presentmas…. Anything but Jesus to fill the gap. When God, when Jesus is not the center of everything, when He is left out, everything is out of sinc, out of step, off kilter. We try and fill the gap with everything but Jesus, with everything but God. That is why the world is in such a mess, we try everything but God and it just hasn’t worked. But God never gives up, Jesus came that first Christmas to make it all okay, to offer the way back to God. That is what Christmas is about. This is the Baby we meet tonight, tomorrow and every day.
May you know God’s first and greatest present this Christmas.
Happy Christmas. AMEN
Christ the King
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14 John 18:33b-37
Today we reach a triumphant end to our journey through the year from last Advent Sunday to this Feast of Christ the King. Through the year we’ve been hearing the stories about Jesus and his life among us. Our journey has taken us through many different landscapes.
Day to day life, reaching out to the most unlikely members of society, temptation, betrayal and death, times of despair and devastating suffering. But also the Mountain tops, healing, miracles, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This vision of Christ as King inspires and empowers us to come back next week to the starting point of the liturgical journey. Next week it’ll be Advent Sunday and we’ll begin again to prepare the way of the Lord, each on our own journey with God. There’ll be times in the journey when we’ll get lost or discouraged, confused or stuck and those are the very times when we’ll need this vision of Christ the King to give purpose and meaning to our journey just as it gives purpose and meaning to the Church’s journey of faith.
But what sort of vision of Christ the King can give us the comfort, encouragement and motivation to keep going when the going gets tough?
The “Ancient One” or Ancient of Days, a heavenly King, who takes his throne. But also one “like a human being”. Here is someone we can identify with, someone who is like us in form. This figure in human form is brought into our world of everyday life: our world, work, schools, shops and offices.
This King will inspire love, faithfulness and devotion from his followers without force or threat of punishment for desertion?
John shows us that this King is nothing like the kings of this world and his power is not the sort of power this world understands.
Not weapons, wealth, dictatorship, manipulation. Not exercising the power of wealth over nations in poverty, struggling to survive.
If Jesus kingship belonged in this world his followers would have fought to defend him and to bring down the occupying forces. Instead our world cries out for a different sort of kingship, a different sort of power and a different way of being together.
When Nelson Mandela was in prison one of his torturers said to him “don’t you know I have the power to kill you?” – Pilate asked Jesus more or less the same question. Mandela replied “don’t you know I have the power to go to my death freely?”. That, too, was the response of Jesus to the power of this world.
This King came not to establish a political sovereignty but to bear witness to God’s reign in the Kingdom of Heaven which is not of this world.
This king came into this world and in this world he faced the same injustices, dangers, threats and suffering that we all face.
The Jesus of icons and pictures is often dressed in a splendid robe, a kingly figure. But no throne just a cross to which this king was nailed. There is no heavily jewelled crown but a crown of thorns which hurt and drew blood when it was pressed down on his head. There is no gold ring of power for his finger but nails which were hammered through his flesh.
The victory of love over death was won only after much suffering. But love does have that victory over death.
Jesus is the Son of Man, who carries the marks of whips, thorns and nails. But he is also Christ the King who reigns over all in his eternal kingdom.
And if Christ the King is also a Son of Man, then so too is Christ the Judge of all and His judgment will be shown with the mercy and compassion of one who understands from experience what it is to be human. When we tell Him the story of our lives, we will find ourselves loved, accepted and healed.
Christ the King is still Jesus, the Son of Man who walks with us and reaches out to us with hands which still bear the marks of suffering.
Christ the King has been with us throughout our journey this year.
Christ the King will go with us on our journey through next year.
Today as we celebrate this eternal presence of Christ the King in bread and wine let us pray that his spirit will bring us refreshment, peace and whatever else our hearts need for the journey that lies ahead.
Third Sunday before Advent. 7th November 2021. Calling and Cost. Mark 1:14-20.
After Jesus’ baptism by John, and His encounter with Satan. John was put in prison. There is a clear message here for us that the call and commission of the first disciples and ultimately our call will come at a cost!
Jesus tells this audience and us, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good newsl” (Mark 1:15).
For centuries, the Jews and the world had awaited a Saviour. The one is to come. Now, here in Mark chapter 1 Jesus declares He was come; fulfilling prophecy and meeting expectation and hope. The kingdom of God was now among His people in the Person of Jesus. The call of the gospel goes out from God, through His son Jesus. Now it is up to them and us to listen and learn.
As Jesus walked along the shore of the sea of Galilee, He saw two fishermen casting a net, the brothers Simon and our own Saint Andrew. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). Jesus also called the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, who were mending their nets in their father’s boat. (Mark 1:19).
Jesus was not calling them to do something: ‘to fish for men’, like a day job, but to BE something: to be “fishers-of-people.” A calling to always be sharing the love of Jesus with everyone. No matter what.
Our call by God does not have anything to do with who or what we are, we cannot earn it, but rather it is to do with who and what we become in God. The first disciples, whose call to follow became a calling to Apostleship; that means to be messengers and missionaries, and a call to be “fishers of people”. Missionaries who proclaim and cast God to all. These callings belong to the whole church, to us. We are also called to follow, to be apostles, messengers, missionaries and to be fishers of all peoples everywhere.
The call of Jesus is totally authoritative. The response of Simon and Andrew was immediate, and complete: they left their nets and followed Him (Mark 1:18). And James and John, left their nets and followed Jesus (Mark 1:20).
Every Christian, every one of us has a part to play in spreading the gospel, each of us has a message to share. We, like these fishermen, are to cast our nets; mend our nets, listen, learn, grow and share. We may not be called to be missionaries in the traditional sense of going abroad, but definitely in the sense of being missionaries in our families, among our friends, in places of work, in clubs and groups we attend. Being Jesus advocate in every situation and place we find ourselves in.
The story of Jesus needs telling to everyone. You and I are called to tell Jesus’ story and our story through our life, our actions and our words where we need to. We may not literally be fishermen but we are God’s people, called to fish for people, called to share the gospel in whatever way works.
Jesus called those first disciples and He has and is calling you. Are you ready to be a messenger, a missionary, to cast your net to anyone and everyone so they can find Jesus? AMEN
All Souls Day Sermon
Today is a day of remembering, we come, possibly with some trepidation, to remember quietly those whom we have loved and who have died.
It isn’t easy to remember, when remembering brings back the pain of our loss. It isn’t easy to remember when the relationship we shared had its difficulties or when we feel that there were things we wanted to do or say but didn’t get the chance. Sometimes remembering is the last thing that we want to do or are able to do…
So don’t underestimate the courage it has taken to come here today, to gather with others who have experienced loss, to remember and honour our loved ones.
The Christian faith has a strong tradition of remembering. As Jesus approached his own death we’re told that he shared a simple meal with his friends. He urged them to remember him every time they break bread or drink together. He knew that he was going to die but he wanted his friends to know that he was always with them.
Jesus invited his friends to remember, every time they ate bread or drank wine, an act of remembrance. I know that for many of us there will be times of day or simple acts that remind us of the person we have lost; as we close the curtains at the end of the day or boil the kettle to make a cup of tea, that we still say goodnight or good morning to the one we love. Sometimes the act of remembering will trip us up as we seem to forget what has happened, at other times the act of remembering is our greatest comfort and strength.
We remember the things that made us laugh and the things that made us cross, the things that made us proud and the ways they could embarrass us, it’s the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming back together again as we grieve and remember.
When we lose someone dear to us, it’s as though a jigsaw puzzle has been thrown up into the air and all the pieces have been scattered far and wide. As we remember, the pieces start to come together, only the picture isn’t quite the same. We have to look closely at what is emerging, but there, in the new picture, is the possibility that we can still love the one we have lost and that the life we did share with them has made a difference to the people we are now.
Every time we remember we gather some of the fragments together and the new picture starts to get clearer…
We never get over loss, instead we learn to live with it, to accommodate it, we live a different life because our loved one has died. But we still live on and we still remember.
It takes courage to remember. Grief is the price we pay for love, but love is stronger than death and love is of God.
Our memories don’t just connect us with the past, they also connect us with the future, with hope and new life. As we remember, as the fragments start to come together and we see new possibilities emerging, may our remembering be a blessing and a joy.
All Saints Together: All Saint’s Sunday 31St October 2021
When we think of Saints we often think of the great Saints of old, the apostles such as St Mark, St Andrew, St Peter or St Paul. Perhaps we also think of saints who have been influential in the church and its development such as St Catherine, St Augustine, or St Francis.
Often, we think of Saints as a type of spiritual giant, people who seem to be closer to God than we can ever hope to be. We also think of saints as those people who have helped us, perhaps in an unexpected way or done more for us that we could reasonably expect; or those who have gone before us and passed on their faith to us.
Saints seem to come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and from lots of different backgrounds and more often than not they are ordinary people like us doing extraordinary things.
Jesus teaches about saints, about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The Christian author Rosalind Brown says Jesus speaks of a way of life for people who are ‘wading into life with both feet and their sleeves rolled up.’
Jesus teaches about mercy, justice and righteousness. He encourages the disciples and us to be people who are immersed in life and in the thick of things, speaking out and taking action, immensely worldly, yet immensely saintly like and holy. A people who have the perspective that this life is not all there is, that live as heaven is not just for the future but also for now, on earth
We cannot live real Christian lives without getting messy and involved.
True saints, it would seem, have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven and a balance between them. The perspective they have of heaven informs their actions on earth, and their actions on earth reveal more of the heaven they anticipate. It’s as if the light of heaven shines through in their earthly lives,
We tend to think that if we love God more, we will end up loving others more. Actually, saints would seem to show us that the more we love each other, the more we love God.
We are also called to be saints, to emulate those who have gone before us and add to their number. We are called to be messy in the world, to live out the characteristics that Jesus taught about.
The saints of old seem to be recognised not just for what they believed, but because of how they lived out their beliefs. For them their faith was not just an intellectual exercise but a way of life. We read again and again about how it set them apart from others and gave them a distinctiveness that was compelling and attractive to many, but also threatening to others.
Unlike the saints of old we may not be called to major demonstrations or professions of our faith, to die for our faith, to go to prison for our faith, although God does often give us opportunities to speak on His behalf, to write letters to Councillors and MP’s, to make our stand against those who would treat others with contempt, who would lie and cheat to further themselves with no concern for the cost to others.
Sometimes it’s the simple acts and words which make us appear as saints to others, random acts of kindness, generosity with our time and our gifts.
None of the saints we know seem to have set out to be saints. It’s not like today where some people seem to set out to be famous, for something, anything. TV celebrities for a moment.
The saints we know set out to be true to themselves and what they believed. Faithful to God and His teachings, living them out to the best of their ability.
But as they did, they changed the world. And living the same way, so can we. Saints are very much alive in today’s world. Saints that will one day join with the whole communion of saints with God.
We give thanks for all those whose faith has brought us to this place, sometimes over many years. God’s saints who have helped and encouraged us.
We are called to be God’s saints here on earth, to continue the thread of history so that other saints may follow us in the way of God and the path of peace.
17th October 2021. Servants, not Leaders. Mark 10:35-45.
Who do you relate to best? James and John, the other disciples, or Jesus? Personally, I understand where James and John are coming from.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
So much gold they can go swimming in it, ten thousand newspapers declaring their praises. A huge palace, or to replace Tiberius as Emperor of Rome. Jesus do “whatever we ask of you.”
James and John are shrewd, crafty guys. A little bit of advice, if you ever run into a genie in a bottle, and you rub the bottle and the genie comes out, your first wish should be, “I wish for ten billion more wishes”.
James and John want a religious shortcut, we’ve done our bit, how about a little favour in return, give us whatever we ask for.
We can identify with James and John. We want to sit in glory one day. Basking at the right hand of God in heaven. People will see us from miles away, and they’ll go, “Whoa, there’s Julie, Liz, etc Right hand of God! We should have given them a little more respect.
We want Jesus to give us whatever we want. We all face this problem. Why? Because this passage reveals a heart of idolatry. In other words worshipping something besides God. And when idolatry goes unchecked, we become so presumptuous that we even ask God to help us worship our idols.
“God, I promise I’ll do anything for you, if you’ll just get me get this new job.” “God, I know I haven’t been to church in a while, but please, I need you to give me more money and more time and a new car.”
“God, I’ve been sacrificing everything for you. I’ve been at church every week. I’m just asking for a lottery win in return.”
Instead of wanting God, we want what God can give us. And sometimes, we’re not afraid to ask God to do our will.
What about the other disciples? They were indignant at James and John.” They were jealous. They were upset that they hadn’t had the idea to ask first. James and John cut in line. Try to elbow their way into first place. The hearts of the other ten disciples are revealed to want exactly the same thing as James and John.
So, what about you and me? Are we telling God, “here’s what I want you to do for me. The deadline is yesterday.” Or do we outdo others in our religious service. Make greater sacrifices. But secretly, deep down, hoping that God is noticing and will make all our dreams come true. Just like a genie.
When push comes to shove, we are pretty selfish people.
Yet, notice how Jesus responds? Does he say, “Because you asked for so much, I am not going to give you anything, ever.” Or, “You’ve pushed too hard this time. You are no longer my disciple.” Or, I am ticked off. I am angry.” No. Not at all.
Instead, he points to his upcoming crucifixion. Jesus was saying, “I’m not going to be king. I’m not going to be wealthy. I’m not planning to be popular. I’m not who you think I am. I am going to give my life, on a Roman cross, to pay for the sins of the world.”
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Let that sink in:.
Wow! Jesus’ closest friends and us are money-grabbing, power-hungry people who are trying to use Jesus to get what they/we really want.
Does he say, “Ok, here’s the deal. You put in three years of blood, sweat and tears, and I’ll make sure you get a good position in my administration.” “Cast out 400 demons in my name and I’ll see to it that you get a nice house.” No. He says, “I want to serve you, to die for you.”
Do we get that? Do we see how much God loves us? We come to God saying “gimmie gimmie gimmie.”
God says, “I love you MORE than that. You need someone to die for your sins. You need someone to die for your selfishness and your idolatry. I’m not going to give you these petty things, I’m going to give you my very life.
We are supposed to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength? For the past nine chapters, Jesus has been showing them and teaching the disciples that following him is about service and putting others before yourself.
Jesus loves selfish people. He loves selfish nonreligious people. He loves even his own disciples when they are selfish. He deliberately gave His life for us on the cross that we might be reconciled to God. Wow!
Our world is ruled by people who lord their authority over others; imagine a world where people used their authority to serve like Jesus!
What a beautiful vision. What a loving God. May Jesus change our lives today. AMEN.
10th October 2021 19th Sunday after Trinity, Year B. Mark 10.
Camels, Needles, and the Rich
Why does Jesus compare the wealthy with camels, and is He really saying that the rich won’t make it into heaven?
A rich young man comes up to Jesus and asks Him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the young man to keep God’s commandments, which the man quickly claims to have kept.
So the next thing is to sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. The young man heard this, and went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Camels are far too large to fit through the eyes of needles. It’s ridiculous to even suggest it. So what does it mean? Was Jesus really saying that rich people can’t enter the kingdom of God? Let’s see.
There are several potential explanations for what camels and needles could have meant in Biblical times. However, all of them point to the same lesson: Jesus said that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a rich person to enter His Kingdom.
In fact, when the disciples then speculate that no one can be saved, Jesus replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Our idea of rich are billionaires who lead Fortune 500 companies, the super rich; but we may need to reset our idea of wealth. Worldwide statistics show that, in fact, most of us are probably quite wealthy.
In global terms if you know how to read and write, if your home has electricity that you can pay for, and if the device on which you phone or search the internet belongs to you, then as such we are in the realms of wealthy.
Understanding ourselves as wealthy should change our mindset. Rather than seeing Jesus’ teaching about wealth as a lesson for others, we must accept it as a lesson for ourselves.
Jesus did give the rich young man an option. It was his choice not to sell his possessions and give to the poor.
Jesus could see that the young man’s heart was not completely devoted to God. He was keeping all the rules, but his response to Jesus’ revealed that he hadn’t taken the action of actually completely following Jesus. If Jesus asked the same of us, what would we do? How serious is our faith, our commitment?
Wealth has an effect on humans. We are not neutral about the way we use our money; the Bible mentions money, wealth and possessions over 2,000 times! In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that money and God do not mix well. If you love money, you will despise God. “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
So is money bad? Scripture never says so, but it does tell us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). We don’t see embargos about earning, using, or saving money. We are told to be wise with what you have. Wealth is a dangerous master, but it can be an excellent servant.
Being part of the Kingdom of Heaven is linked to generosity, especially for those who are rich. When the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus followed Jesus, he pledged to give half of his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:8). The rich man who did not show generosity to Lazarus found himself in eternal torment (Luke 16:19-31).
So if we are rich, and if Jesus is warning of the dangers of riches, what can we do?
Are our thoughts focused on God, or on money and possessions? Think of something you are hoping to purchase soon. Do you believe that purchase will bring you happiness? But, can you be content in Christ, even if you don’t buy it?
We have much to learn from those in poverty. If wealth obscures our view of God, poverty can bring clarity.
We must use our wealth for good. It’s a simple concept. Jesus told the rich young man to give his wealth to the poor, not to throw it away. He is asking us to come to Him with the perspective that all we have belongs to Him. Whatever He asks us to do with what we have, our answer should be, “Yes, Lord!”
“With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible”. Used in the right way, wealth is a blessing from God that we can use to bless His kingdom and His people.
26th September 2021. First Do No Harm. Mark 9:38-50. 17th Sunday after Trinity.
This little expression is effectively the oath medics now work with, a version of the hypocritic oath. It is something not just for them but for all of us. In all our dealings, conversations, work, family, faith, actions first, do no harm.
You and I can too easily name and blame people, events, and circumstances that have tripped us up, interfered in our lives and kept us from getting what we wanted. Stumbling blocks to us, those who we can point at and say they are doing us harm. But what about us, are we doing others harm?
Today’s gospel tells a story about John and the other disciples running into a stumbling block, an outsider who, as John tells Jesus, “Was not following us.” Someone who in their opinion was doing harm.
John simply says, “He was not following us.” Never mind that he was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He was not one of them, and that seems to be their stumbling block.
Today this often means the other does not look or dress like us, the other does not speak or act like us, the other does not think or believe like us, the other does not do it our way. He or she is not following us. The disciples felt threatened, we feel threatened. Yet he was casting out demons, alleviating oppression, offering a new life, all in the name of Jesus.
Remember last week the disciples argued among themselves about who is the greatest. This week they are complaining about this other person, this stumbling block to their status, power, and recognition. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us, says John.
They are dividing it into us and them. I see that happening in Britain right now. And we do it, all of us.
Jesus concern is focused on us. Whether we have become a stumbling block to the other, “to one of these little ones,” the vulnerable, the weak, the poor, the disabled and even to ourselves.
Jesus is asking us to look at ourselves. Don’t you worry about the others, look at yourself. Look inside, what is in your heart? The greatest stumbling blocks are within us: anger and revenge, the judgments we make of others, prejudice, our desire to get ahead and be number one, the need to be right, our unwillingness to listen, the assumption that we know more and better than another else, living as if our way is the only and right way, pride, fear, busyness, lies, gossip, our desire for power, control and greatness. These, and a thousand other things like them, are what causes others and ourselves to stumble and fall.
The question is here for us: In what ways have we become stumbling blocks to others? When have we caused another to trip and fall? When have we caused harm?
And not just as individual stumbling blocks. Societies stumbling blocks like the way the legal system is a stumbling block to justice for all? Patriotism has become a stumbling block to another’s freedom and bred increasing racism. The Church can be a stumbling block to Jesus and the life he offers the world?
In what ways have you and I participated in and perpetuated these and other stumbling blocks? It is a hard and difficult question, but we need to give an answer, an honest answer.
Jesus uses hard graphic images to challenge us; drowning, amputation, removal of an eyeball, the eternal fire of hell. We need to take these seriously. This is about our betterment, our not doing harm to another.
I want us to be better. I don’t want to be a stumbling block to another. And I don’t think you do either. I want us, as Jesus said, to “be at peace with one another,” don’t you? That begins with looking at ourselves, not at each other. When we point at another three fingers point back at us. When we mistreat the other, we do harm to God’s little ones.
So, what might we need to change or give up in order to better ourselves? As individuals, as a nation, as a church? Go away and think about that this week.
What do we need to do to make sure we do no harm? Be committed to helping one another to be better. What if we were more concerned about another’s success than our own? What if we encouraged instead of condemning?
Maybe, just maybe, we would be building blocks rather than stumbling blocks. And wouldn’t you rather build others up than tear them down?
19th September. Mark 9: 30 to 37 Greatness and Servanthood. Trinity 16.
When you don’t understand something do you ask? Are you willing to admit you don’t understand? Surely if we don’t ask, we will never learn. I just don’t want to look stupid; I’ll find out later, I don’t want to be the only one and so on. What is far more important is greatness. Being number one, a winner, a success. It’s about power, control, wealth, fame, reputation, status, and position. I can’t be those things if I admit I might be a bit vulnerable, I might not understand.
And who wants to be the servant of all? That’s for the poor and uneducated, minorities or foreigners, and those we can get away with paying less than a living wage. At least that’s often how it works today. Being last and servant of all is not what we usually strive for. That’s not the greatness to which we aspire.
No, we want to be like Dominic Raab and Liz Truss who instead of speaking about their new port folios in the cabinet are instead arguing about who gets Chevening the 115-room grace and favour mansion in Kent, with huge amounts of land and staff to serve them. We want to be like Millionaire cabinet ministers who are taking £20 away from the poorest in society and want to stop free school meals while they order cases of champagne from Harrods and claim thousands in expenses to heat their horses’ stables and swimming pool.
In Jesus words being great means being last of all and servant of all, so we have completely misunderstood what greatness is really about. And the disciples don’t understand greatness any more than we do.
“What were you arguing about?” Jesus asks. He didn’t get an answer to his question, they were caught out. Jesus is inviting the disciples to reflect on what it means to be great and he’s doing the same for us.
What does it mean for us to be great in today’s world?
Jesus answers that question by taking a little child in his arms, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Greatness is in welcoming the child.
The child is a symbol for vulnerability, powerlessness, and dependency. The child in Jesus’ day had no rights, no status, no economic value. Greatness, Jesus says, is in welcoming and receiving into our arms ones like this, vulnerable, powerless and dependent.
Greatness is found not in what we have accomplished and gained for ourselves but in what we have done and given to “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40), the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned; the symbolic children in our lives. Think about a carer who bathes, changes, and cares for the elderly, the sick, the dying; they are great. As is the food bank volunteer, those making scrubs for the NHS, those feeding the poor and hungry. Those helping the refugees and migrants, they are great.
Greatness never puts itself in a position of superiority over another. It is not about me; my nation, my tribe, my people, my religion, my politics, my bank account, my house, my job, my accomplishments, my reputation, my status. Our greatness is revealed in our service and care of others regardless of their ability or willingness to pay, repay, or return the favour.
Greatness comes to us when we share with others who have nothing to share with us.
Greatness comes when we forgive one who has not asked for our forgiveness. When we respond to the needs of others, when we refuse thoughts and actions of hatred or prejudice then greatness comes. Our refusal to objectify the opposite sex or to join in jokes about minorities or refugees is an act of greatness. When we overcome fear, tear down walls, and make room for the one who is different, vulnerable, in need, then we are great.
This kind of greatness happens in the simple, ordinary, and mundane. It often goes unnoticed and unnamed but it’s there. Greatness is always a choice set before us.
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
12th September 2021 Mark 8:27-38 The Real Cross and the Real Me. Trinity 15.
Over the years there have been huge numbers of books written about Christian Discipleship. In his book Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “When Christ calls (someone) He bids (them) come and die.” These words, and many like them, cut straight to the nitty gritty of what discipleship and following Jesus is all about.
Today, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Impetuous, impulsive Peter gets all excited and confesses that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. Jesus next few words are hard to hear. He will need to suffer, be tried and found guilty by the high priests, be killed, and after three days rise again. Peter’s reaction is to step back and reprimand Jesus, His words shatter the attraction of following this long-expected Messiah, not what any of them or us want. Leaders don’t suffer and die. This is simply ridiculous. Who in their right mind chooses to suffer and die, and who in their right mind wants to follow a leader who is on this ludicrous path.
Jesus doesn’t hide what following him really means. Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat, I am. Don’t run from suffering, but embrace it. If any of you want to follow me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Self-sacrifice is the way to saving your true self.
This did not sit well with Peter and quite honestly with us either. Most of us choose religion and come to believe important things deeply because we feel they are good for us. And, we like a religion that makes us feel good. We like a faith that fits our comfortable, recreational life styles. We tend to like a faith in which we can participate when we choose to participate, that does not demand too much from us.
We want to follow a strong God who heals our illnesses, provides wealth and success, guarantees our security, leads our sports teams to victory, and generally keeps us happy, healthy and wise. Jesus words on suffering are not appealing. If anyone of us are offered a life of suffering versus a life free from suffering, you can bet your bottom dollar we are going to go for the one that is pain free! So, this is where we must be very honest about the Christian life. First of all, nobody’s life is ever going to be pain free or free from suffering. And, secondly, Christianity is not about living an easier life, living a life free from pain, or believing in a God we can turn to as our personal Genie to give us everything we want.
From this point on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins to show us how to die. We have been given life and Jesus now demonstrates how we are to give it up and give it away. For most of us, this is an idea that runs contrary to all that we want to believe. Yet, Jesus makes it absolutely clear that God is not about giving us all the creature comforts. What God does care about are matters of the heart. Jesus makes it clear that if you want to have a deeply meaningful life that truly matters, you are going to have to hand over your ideas and mistaken priorities. Quite frankly, following Jesus means living a very counter-cultural life and letting go of the intense narcissistic focus on self, that runs rampant in our culture. Christianity is more about loving than being loved, more about working to understand than being understood, and more about forgiving than being forgiven.
The life of which Jesus speaks is not something we can buy or earn. Like love and grace, it is a gift and can only be freely given away. The deep truth Jesus is trying to tell us is that only when you give your life away for the sake of others, only through serving, loving and caring for others, do you really discover life, life that truly matters. When we are able to finally let go of the ego, the cult of false self, that part of ourselves which believes we are in charge, or self-sufficient, then we finally begin to live life that truly matters.
This dying to self is painful, but it allows us to be open to whole new reality of abundant life. When we are finally able to let go of self, to let go of our worry, to let go of our anxiety, to let go of our need to control, then we really die to self and discover that God is already in that place, walking with us and holding us in love. It is then that we discover what the cross really means. It is the cross that gives us life, life that truly matters. And we discover the cross means loving and serving others as we are loved.
Today, Jesus demands a decision from each one of us as he asks us, “Will you follow me where I am going?” What will our decision be?
5th September 2021. Mark 7: 24-37. Trinity 14. A feast for all, not Crumbs for some.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus took to task the Pharisees and scribes for their judgment of those who did not conform to their standards.
Jesus is exhausted and seeking some down time, he goes into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. We have all been there. Stop the world I want to get off. I just need some time. Yet he could not escape their notice. Even here word has spread about Jesus and his healing power. Sometimes we can just not get the break we need and we need the strength that only He can give.
The woman breaks through every traditional barrier. She is a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin, impure because she lives outside the land of Israel and the law of Moses, a descendant of the enemies of Israel. She is also a woman, unaccompanied by a husband or male relative, who initiates a conversation with a strange man, all complete no no’s in this society.
BUT, her daughter is ill, possessed by a demon, acting in bizarre and anti-social ways. The kind of people in need that most of us would not invite over for dinner. Shame on us.
This woman is an outsider and Jesus’ response is harsh; quoting a bit of Jewish folk wisdom. Here we see the very human side of Jesus, exhausted and needing a break. If we believe that Jesus is fully human then he will experience these difficulties just as we do. Only then can he fully understand our lives and difficulties.
When this persistent mother comes back with her clever response, about little dogs under the table eating the children’s crumbs, Jesus can only agree that God’s love and healing power know no ethnic, political, gender or social boundaries. So, she is sent home to find the daughter healed.
Jesus heads off further into gentile territory. Once again escaping notice proves impossible and he is brought a deaf man. Also an outsider, cut off from the world by his inability to hear and communicate. Jesus does not hesitate, takes the man aside; puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits, and touches the man’s tongue, and then says “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” Immediately, this man is able to hear and communicate with those around him. Not only is he physically healed, he is also restored to his community.
Jesus and his disciples are continually called to a larger vision of mission, as are we. A vision that aims to embrace the outsider, the stranger, even the enemy. We need to reflect on these stories in light of the recent resurgence of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia in western culture, ideologies often promoted by those who claim to be Christians, but which are totally adverse to the Gospel. We need to recognise these stories in light of Afghanistan refugees, migrants, those still embroiled in the Windrush scandal, still threatened with deportation. Women in Texas now prevented from seeking abortion by laws influences by fundamental Christians who push laws rather than love and compassion, just like we saw last week.
A troubling background to this story of the women and her daughter is religious people who use this story to tell others that the Christian faith is not really for Africans or women. How dare they!
It is easy to take this story out of context, but just read the end of the story. Jesus praises the woman’s faith, and her daughter is healed. She does receive the gift of salvation. A lesson we must learn is that we are all included in this gift, no matter what our nationality, ethnicity, gender or social status.
Of course, we come from a place of privilege as British citizens. We have never had to just have the crumbs from the table. Materially speaking, that is pretty much all refugees, many women, those from Syria, Afganistan, Africa, it is all that they have ever had. They must not be told that they should be satisfied with spiritual crumbs. That is not how God works.
For those of us who are used to having a place at the table, perhaps we need to be reminded that none of us have any more right or privilege with God than anyone else. We all come as beggars to the table, and it is solely by God’s grace that we are fed. Perhaps we need also to be reminded that God’s table is immeasurably larger than we can imagine.
For those who identify more easily with the Syrophoenician woman begging for crumbs, it must be said that Jesus does not leave any of us as beggars. He seats us all at the table and claims us as God’s beloved children; children from every gender, tribe, language and nation. The crumbs from the table would be enough for our healing and salvation. But Jesus has given us so much more, more than enough. He sets an abundant, life-giving feast for all of us.
Trinity 13. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. A Heart for God.
In today’s reading, Jesus addresses three different audiences: a group of Pharisees and Scribes who raise the question of defilement, the crowd that is always around, and the disciples who don’t seem to understand.
The key message is that we are sullied, made unholy, not by what we take in, but by the deterioration of the human heart. Jesus’ message builds to a fuller understanding of what is at stake: we must prepare our hearts, and thereby our whole selves, for the kingdom of God. Do we have a heart for God?
The conflict between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees is a question of ritual purity. These law makers notice that some of Jesus’ disciples were eating without washing their hands. Quite topical for our present situation where regular hand washing is strongly recommended. The Pharisees, “and all the Jews”, follow “the tradition of the elders” by washing their hands thoroughly before they eat. The claim that “all the Jews” follow the same tradition is an overstatement; Like the teenager who tells us everyone has one, everyone does that. Actually, some of the disciples did not wash before eating because not all Jews followed the same practices. In all religions and traditions, none of us do things exactly the same as others.
Jesus knows, of course, that when the Scribes and Pharisees ask why, the question is not an innocent one. It is meant to accuse Jesus of not following the law, of acting as if he believes himself to be above the law. Knowing this, Jesus responds with a quote from Isaiah 7:6-7, which changes the direction of the conversation: “This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. Jesus is calling them hypocrites, because they abandon the commandments of God and hold to human traditions. This is a condemnation of empty worship practices; a misrepresentation of tradition in order to avoid the law. Jesus is not rejecting the law; He is rejecting their deliberate, selfish interpretations of it. How do we fare in this? Are we hypocrites? I ask again. do we have a heart for God?
The issue is not ritual purity, or traditions. The issue is the state of the human heart. Jesus speaks to the crowd, what they need to understand is that it is not what you physically eat that renders you impure, but rather the things that come out from your heart are what defile. Whatever your practice, whichever traditions you do or don’t uphold, these are not the things that, by themselves, get you ready for God’s kingdom and being always ready for God’s kingdom is central to faith.
The disciples don’t seem to understand, so Jesus goes further. Jesus shows that unlike food that simply passes through our digestive system, that which comes from the heart affects the whole person. It is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions come. The heart is understood here as the centre of human will and rationality, as well as desire. It is the place from which all our intentions arise. Jesus gives a list of evil intentions that reveal the depth of corruption that the heart suffers. Please note that Jesus is not saying the heart is completely corrupt as some later leaders taught. Jesus clearly lets us know that good intentions also come from the heart. But Jesus’ three audiences need to hear clearly, not be distracted, but focus on preparing their hearts, minds and bodies for the kingdom of God.
The list of evil desires adds another layer of meaning to Jesus’ message. Adultery, theft, avarice, envy, pride; they come from a desire to take, to grasp, to own, to devour. The corruption of the human heart is rooted in desire, want, greed. If our desire for self-satisfaction is allowed to run rampant, we become insatiable consumers: of things, of pleasure, of people, even of our own energy. Be honest, How good do we actually feel after spending a day binge-watching a box set? Following Jesus teaching, studying the Bible, prayer; these are central to forming our hearts to desire in the right way: to desire as God desires.
What is in our heart matters. If they are cold and hard, unfeeling and sarcastic then God’s desires are not in us. If they are full of my way or the highway ideas then we are not ready for God’s kingdom. Friends, what does your heart need? Some softening, some compassion and empathy? A transformation to desire as God desires? May that be our prayer. Lord make my heart to be like you.
Trinity 12. John 6: 56-69. Stay or Go?
In the age of constant media, social media, 24/7 connectivity via the internet, information is constantly at our fingerprints. We see news from across the world just moments after it happens. There is information and offered wisdom concerning just about any question, any problem or any issue. Want to know the best trick for losing weight, there are a hundred-thousand experts giving you contradicting advice; the same for being happy, investing, parenting, studying, vitamins to take, self-help etc etc Supposed experts are a dime a dozen as we search for wisdom and advice.
This search and thirst for knowledge and wisdom isn’t new – in every generation of human history, people have looked for guidance and wisdom. This was just as true in Jesus’ day, a fact we see from the great crowds who followed him, often hanging on his every word. Many of them were happy to benefit from his miracles, whether it was healing, or being miraculously fed.
Many people today see Jesus as just a great teacher who provides excellent wisdom and truths about life, the universe and morality. In fact, there are even atheists and non-Christians who see value in the teachings of Jesus, trying to harmonize him with other religious teaching or with general moral teachings.
Jesus, however isn’t satisfied with just being a teacher, he pushes the boundaries of the crowds’ and our comfort level, his words are more than just good advice, or food for the soul.
When Jesus told the crowds ‘I am the bread of life’ it was okay, then came the flesh and blood to be consumed, the human sacrifice He was to make, as we saw last week, this was for many, too much. Does this offend you? Jesus says, and He asks the same from us. Do I, Does what I ask of you, offend you?
Jesus loses the crowd. Who say “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”. And a little later in our passage we are told “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” And us? Do we stay or do we go?
The crowd couldn’t wrap their heads around what Jesus was saying – that it was his very life that would give them eternal life, that it was his flesh and blood that would secure salvation and the eternal relationship with God in his everlasting kingdom.
From the other side of Easter and by the gift of the Holy Spirit we can understand Jesus’ words as speaking about his death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day; we can understand that his words are about the way his very flesh and blood opened the pathway of salvation for all people; but even with this knowledge, we can find his teaching hard, we can find it provocative, words that turn our world upside down.
The crowds did not believe, they did not find the gift of faith, and Jesus wonders whether his words are even too hard for the twelve disciples to hear, he asks them “Do you also wish to go away?”
This question lingers for us today, “Do we also want to go away?” Do we also want to abandon Jesus because his teaching is just too hard to bear, too radical, to life-changing, to all-encompassing? Perhaps all we are looking for is wise words, spiritual food to nourish us, but if that is so then we better look elsewhere, because Jesus doesn’t soften who he is, and what he says because of our ideas.
His desire for us, and for the whole world: is to experience the very life of God in the midst of this broken world; his desire for us is to be restored to right relationship with the Father and with one another; his desire for us is take in his body and blood so that our lives might be transformed, so that we might commune with God, and experience His eternal and abundant life.
Is that too hard for us? Is it just too difficult to follow Jesus, to do things differently to the world, to think differently and act differently? To stand up and challenge when things are wrong?
The disciples in our Gospel story respond to Jesus “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Can you say those words? Is this where you and I stand?
May we answer Jesus similarly, may we come to know Jesus as more than just a wise teacher, more than a moral compass, but as our Lord and Saviour, as the Son of God, the Holy one of Israel, the means of eternal life.
Trinity 11.Year B. John 6:51-58. Flesh and Blood sermon.
How do you see Jesus? What picture or description do you think of?
Over the years we’ve produced some rather unusual images of Jesus like the blonde long-haired Caucasian version surrounded by cute woodland creatures, or the plastic Jesus `action figure’, complete with a pull cord that triggers random Jesus sayings. There is the very white Victorian image and now we have a version of what he might have looked like based around facial reconstructions of a skull from the area where Jesus was living.
These images of Jesus and often the ones we hold couldn’t be more different from the focused and plain spoken Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is speaking to a Synagogue congregation after feeding the five thousand. There are many of the local Jews who support the Temple system in Jerusalem in the congregation.
Their Torah reading is from Exodus, the story of the Israelites in the wilderness surviving on manna; the bread from heaven.
Jesus sets the scene, living on manna for forty years. It kept them alive but not forever. In our passage Jesus then makes His role clear. I am the bread of life… the living bread that came down from heaven. I have just fed 5000 physically but I am also the food of eternal life spiritually.
Jesus is promising eternal life. More than the prophet Moses could give. Imagine the intakes of breath, the shakes of the heads. Who is this Jesus, to offer us eternity?
Jesus is clear the bread He will give for the life of the world is His own flesh. This presents a real problem because this is the language of sacrifice. Might Jesus be suggesting that He will be given in some sacrificial way?
At this time people believed that God owned all life. When a sacrifice was made to God, the life in the offering was gifted back to him, an act of atonement; making reparation for sin and wrong.
This ancient form of sacrifice meant separating flesh from blood. Enacted in the Temple courts. Leviticus taught that `the life is in the blood’ and specifies that blood is to be used only for atonement, and never consumed. So, the next words Jesus uses stun his congregation.
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. The congregation - especially those who identify with the work of the Temple are stunned, shocked, even horrified because this is cannibalism, and in order for flesh and blood to be consumed, God must somehow become flesh. Judaism, protective of the holiness of God, never welcomed the concept of Incarnation. Of God coming to earth in a human form.
If this Jesus is the gateway to eternal life, what need will there be for the Temple to open again? This is their institution, a hierarchy and a set of practices that have defined the identity of a people for such a very long time. Jesus, replace it all in one sacrifice, no, not possible.
Yet this is exactly what Jesus set before the congregation and from a Jewish perspective it was impossible. Therefore, how can it be true?
If Jesus really comes as God in human form gives his life as a sacrifice and atones for sin through his flesh and blood, then unless we receive Jesus completely, in his flesh and through his blood, we can never truly find God. It goes against everything they have built. It goes against everything we have built.
Even today scholars argue about whether this passage is a basis, in John’s gospel, for the institution of the Eucharist. But it makes sense, whether we take communion as a commemoration or as real presence, it is surely an appropriate response. It says, we eat and drink and live.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
This is communion, eating together, reminding and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. So, we partake and we are thankful.
Trinity 8. Year B. John 6 1-21. God's riches in Baptism. 25th July 2021.
The people in today’s reading had a need, they were hungry so Jesus does something about it. Food is provided and freely given. Wonderful, someone has a need and the need is fulfilled. But I wonder if there were any there who said, no thanks, I don’t need your help, your charity, I don’t want to be beholden to you because you helped me, this sudden food, where did it come from? Is it safe? It might harm me, I am suspicious and I would rather go hungry than risk eating this food because of the whispers I hear and the things people tell me that I don’t bother to even check out. No thanks, I’ll take my chances.
So this morning I am going to make you an offer…. What would you do if I gave you a cheque for a million pounds? Here you are………
Now, You could take it home, put it in a frame and hang it on the wall, you could look at it occasionally and say ‘do you remember the day when Yanni was baptised, and the vicar gave us this million-pound cheque. Wasn’t that nice of her, I really like the idea of a million pounds, doesn’t it look nice, I’m really happy that we have this cheque, but I’m not going to do anything else with it because it might change me, I might need to think hard about how I live my life with a million pounds, I might even need to consider the needs of other people, so I’m going to leave it there.’
Or, you could take the million-pound cheque, and cash it and use to help Yanni as he grows up to give him a helping hand along the way and to help him have the best possible future he could have. You might also invest it and enjoy the returns, you might share it with those close to you and give some away to charities and let others benefit from it too.
Well baptism is just like that, today as you make promises for Yanni he will be welcomed into the body of the church, the family of God; because of that he has access to the riches of God’s kingdom and the Holy Spirit to live with him and help him to live his life for God.
It would be a shame if today just remained a memory that you looked back on and simply thought it was nice, if the Christian faith was just something you liked the idea of, and looked nice, like a framed million-pound note.
A better way is to cash in and enjoy the gifts God has for you and Yanni, to use God’s love, to invest in it by learning more about it and by enjoying the rewards of eternal life starting now, to share it and let others benefit from God’s generosity and with it to live the best possible life with God at the centre.
I am afraid my cheque will bounce and is no good, but God’s love for us, that never bounces, never runs out and is just waiting to be cashed and used to richly bless us.
Seventh Sunday After Trinity. 18th July 2021. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Come Away, Rest A While.
In this past week, month and longer these are words I needed to hear, Come away, Rest a while! Words you need to hear as well. So, as we approach the summer break, we are exhausted, the coming and going, that line in the reading of; no leisure to even eat. I know that feeling, I know you know that feeling. We need a rest……Rest a while. This pandemic reaches further and further into our lives, for longer and longer we struggle. We longed for going back to normal, realised we cannot go back to normal, speak of a new normal, try to incorporate the two, look forward to restrictions being lifted and yet are concerned for the safety of the vulnerable and the weak. Testing , mask wearing, distancing, do we, don’t we…. It is exhausting, confusing, frustrating…..Come away, rest a while.
These words remind us of the importance of self-care and Sabbath living, having a time of rest. The key thing about Sabbath rest, is that it gives us a chance to step back and stand apart from all the things that usually drive us and consume us. This is so we might find again God's presence, love, wisdom and blessing, experience a sense of contentment, peace and rest. We cannot just keep going or our bodies will pull the plug somehow. Jesus knows first-hand how difficult this is to do, but also how vitally important it is that we rest.
I remind you of those few words uttered by flight attendants in their safety talk "Put on your own oxygen mask before helping your neighbour." What wisdom lies in those few words! Before we can do the Lord’s work we need to be rested and grounded, breathing Him in.
Jesus was calling the disciples back to him, to a place of peace and rest where they could find wholeness and hope so that they can share that hope, that wholeness with others.
We are about to start summer break, the main time of leisure and rest, we are restricted somewhat in where we can go this year but I ask you, How are you doing at caring for yourself, at coming back to Jesus for a while to be recharged? Where will you come away and rest a while?
Out of this resting, recharging comes a new healing, increased sensitivity and compassion for life, an ability to be with people in a way that is not possible when we are tired and exhausted and short tempered. BUT we must be deliberate, make ourselves find time for it. We must take our rest, we must come away, rest a while.
More and more of us find ourselves in a place of being enslaved. Our slavery is often self-constructed, self-imposed, and therefore far more difficult to detect or overcome. We are enslaved to notions of success, and therefore put few limits on our work. We are enslaved to ideas about our children or grandchildren having every opportunity possible, and therefore schedule them into frenetic lives and wonder why they have a hard time focusing and sleeping.
We are enslaved to the belief that the only thing that will bring contentment is more; more money, more space in our homes, bigger homes, more cars, more things to put on our resumes or in our closets, more, more, more.
Such levels of wanting more, quite frankly, don't permit time for anything but work. At the job, at home, working even during our so-called leisure time. This is the slavery we call success, and the rat race we call life. Be honest, how much quality time do we spend together with family or friends, how much time have we spent outdoors and enjoying all the things that we’ve worked so hard to achieve? We are so busy working to make a better life that we miss out on actually living it.
God desires more for us, but it is quality, quality of life. The abundant life that God wants for all of us is built on "come away… and rest awhile” The crucial need of rest, whereby we look at all the Lord’s provides and are thankful, appreciate all of creation, to spiritually soak in it … and marvel in it … enjoy it.
We need courage and determination to step away for a while, to rest and be refilled by God so that we can love and serve as we have been called to do. Friends hear the Lord, come away….rest a while. Amen.
Homily for the 6th Sunday after Trinity Proper 10 Yr B 11th July 21
You might wonder why today’s gospel passage is almost entirely devoted to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist when the gospel writers were so economical in what they chose to record. It certainly wakes us up, containing as it does the enticing stuff of tabloids: palace rivalry, untold wealth, jealousy and intrigue; bribery; erotic sex; murder. This is the stuff of an unredeemed world; the world that John the Baptiser had preached against and in so doing had drawn a huge following of people. Crowds came to hear him preach in the open country of Judea about another kingdom t hat was soon to dawn and John baptised those who repented of their sins in the River Jordan. Herod found his powerful moral and religious message potentially subversive but also intriguing and he liked listening to him but his wife was enraged by his denunciation of their marriage.
There are a number of reasons why Mark thought it necessary to focus at some length on John the Baptist’s death in his story of Jesus. First, there is the natural link between John and Jesus in their preaching about God’s kingdom. John saw his cousin Jesus as the one for whom he was the forerunner. Jesus had been baptised by John and the start of his ministry had been sealed by God’s approval and blessing. After John was murdered Jesus was seen to have taken up his mantle. Some people thought John had risen from the dead in the person of Jesus. Herod feeling superstitiously guilty about his death was haunted by this idea.
After John’s death his kingdom movement retained a significant following. In fact you might be interested to know that there are still followers of John the Baptist today in southern Iraq and in Iran and elsewhere. They are called Mandaeans and there are 20 – 30 thousand of them. In Acts chapter 19 there is recounted a very interesting encounter between Paul and such a group of John’s disciples at Ephesus. They had been baptised by water but had not heard of Jesus or about being baptised in the Holy Spirit. So a second reason for Mark to dwell on John’s death is his acknowledgement of John’s disciples’ continuing prominence as people who preached the kingdom of God and baptised people who repented their sins.
A third reason to recount the story of John’s death in such gory detail is to prepare readers for the fact that Jesus was also not immune to the political dangers of his day. They were in fact all too close in his own wider family. For all his miracles and healing power the evils of this world were lurking, awaiting a time when he could be arrested and accused of blasphemy and treason. Like John, death awaited him, but this time in the Roman form of cruel crucifixion after a sort of show trial.
And a fourth reason, the most important, lies hidden away in the last sentence of our gospel passage, ‘When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.’ This is a foreshadowing of what happened to Jesus whose body was laid by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. But the huge and most significant difference between the two is that Jesus rose from the dead and John did not despite Herod’s superstitious thoughts. We are saved through the baptism of Jesus, not the baptism of John. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we receive the Holy Spirit, not through the death of John the Baptist.
These certainties of faith and trust in Jesus are encapsulated in our NT reading today from the first chapter of the Letter to the Christians in Ephesus, the city where that group of John’s disciples first heard about Jesus and the Holy Spirit from Paul.
The passage is about Our Lord Jesus Christ who died, is risen and ascended and who sits at God’s right hand as we say in the creed. It is about the kingdom in which we, having received the Holy Spirit, live our daily lives in the midst of the earthly terrors of this world such as Covid, knife crime, fraudulent scamming, climate change and personal tragedy. It does not prevent us from being touched by these evils but it enables us to trust and not lose heart that we do and will inherit the transformational kingdom where Jesus Christ is risen indeed. If you find the passage a bit dense in content, just sing to yourself the hymn ‘To God be the glory’ written by blind Fanny Crosby as it repeats much of the same subject matter and invites us to praise the Lord for all he has done.
Fifth Sunday after Trinity. Mark 6:1-13. Year B. July 4th.
How can somebody you grew up with, somebody you might have watched grow up, somebody whose habits and idiosyncrasies often got on your nerves, suddenly start acting as though they were somebody? Just who do they think they are? Is that how we feel? Is that how others see us? If Jesus can just be dismissed as a local lad, so can we, and we can also dismiss others as just local who may be God’s very blessing for us.
The people of Nazareth thought that anybody from around there could not be special. Even a miracle worker must be a fraud.
Jesus reply is “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives. (Mark 6:4). In other words we are a lot more infatuated with impressive strangers than we are with the people we already know all too well. Because we know them. Don’t we?
Here in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, he could only heal a few people. Why? Because they didn’t believe he could be a healer. They could not accept one of their own as being somehow greater than they were, even if it meant foregoing the healing He gave. Trusting Jesus means seeing yourself in need of Him. Knowing you need Him creates trust in Him. Jesus, His love, His healing needs to be received as well as offered. Pride can prevent us from allowing Jesus to heal us, bless us and provide for us. We don’t want to admit our faith, our belief, it’s embarrassing.
Even though Jesus is unable to really do God’s work in Nazareth, He keeps teaching, keeps showing the disciples the way forward. He does the same for us. As Jesus sent out the disciples, He gave them some specific instructions: Go two by two, take a staff, no food, no satchel, no money. Wear sandals, but don’t take a change of clothes, stay in the first house you enter, if anybody doesn’t welcome you shake the dust off your feet on your way out of town. The disciples followed the instructions and amazing things happened. People were healed, brought well being and wholeness.
The instruction to go two by two reflects Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, where Israel taught that at least two witnesses were needed to establish the truth of a matter, in this case, they gave authenticity to Jesus’ ministry.
They were to take no food, satchel or money. It could be that Jesus wanted to illustrate that we are to trust God for our needs. Or that he wanted to show people that his followers were not like certain speakers of the day who travelled into towns with a collection bag to gather money. A reputation the church has even today that all we want is your money. Or it could also be that they were to travel light to show the urgency of their mission. Certainly, for everything we do we must trust God, we must not be looking for what we can get out of something and mission is always going to be urgent. A clear message here is worth and value are not determined by what you have.
Believers come in all shapes and sizes. God gives us all we need. By going out to share the gospel we receive as well as give. Our hospitality in church is wonderful and it ours to give, but we also need to receive the hospitality of others as we share Jesus. Relationship evangelism.
Whatever the reasons behind them, these instructions were not intended to be the pattern for all mission work from then on. They were unique instructions for a unique band on a unique mission. For each mission we undertake Jesus will give us the necessary instructions and supply our needs. The Bible is full of instructions that we should follow and promises from God to be fulfilled. If we do not read and know our Bible we cannot tap into that.
Jesus said that what marks us out as His true disciples is that we love one another. Wouldn’t it be great if we gave that instruction the most attention? Our power is stripped away, God’s authority and power is all we need, given and received through Love.
Friends we may find being a Christian in our homes and families difficult because they know us well, but we are still called to share the gospel, to be witnesses and friends, people who love one another whatever our differences. May we be people of love who share Jesus in everything we do and say, who are prepared to both give and receive. AMEN
Trinity 4. Mark 5:21-end. Don’t Be Afraid, Just Believe. 27th June 2021.
Jesus, having shown his power over creation and over the devil Jesus now shows his authority over disease and death. They confirm the truthfulness of Luke’s claim that Jesus is the Son of God.
Jairus had to think and act. His darling daughter was sick. None of the local physicians could prevent her getting worse. The boat carrying Jesus grounded on the local beach and Jesus stepped ashore and the crowds gathered. His daughter was dying and Christ was there. No one could help her, and Christ was there. His heart was breaking and Christ was there.
The president of the synagogue was prostrating himself before the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Jesus was here! He must have Jesus’ help.
I want you to notice Jairus prescribes the manner in which Jesus was to save his daughter. He doesn’t say, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please help me.” Jairus explained to the Lord that there was a certain course of action he wanted Jesus to take, “Please come to my house,” and Mark tells us that he added, “and put your hands on her, so that she will be healed and live”. Jairus had hurried out of his home that day with certain ideas about Jesus – just like you and I have a certain picture of Jesus. On the basis of those ideas he approached Christ and told him what he had to do.
Now we are like Jairus aren’t we? We don’t just bring our need to Christ but we tell Jesus in what precise ways he is to meet that need, as Jairus did. Jesus didn’t need to go to Jairus’ house for the girl to live. Remember the army officer stationed in Israel who told Jesus he didn’t need to come to his home in order to heal him.
Jairus didn’t have this faith. All he had was his need and impression of what Jesus might do.
Jesus encourages us by going with him. That is grace. There was no little lesson given by Jesus explaining to Jairus that you don’t tell God how he is to work, and that Christ didn’t have to be there to save his daughter. There is nothing like that. In other words you don’t have to get your petitions sinlessly and spotlessly correct in order for God to hear and answer. There can be an awful lot of muddle mixed with our praying and yet through the grace of Christ God works.
While on their way a sick women stretched out and touched the hem of Christ’s garment, and the Saviour stopped and dealt with her. Can you imagine Jairus on tip toe, dancing from one foot to another longing for Christ to keep coming with him to heal his daughter? Then, at that very moment, a man appeared walking towards them, She has gone.
Jesus has healed that woman. Why not my daughter? We sometimes think that there are some situations which are beyond the scope of Jesus. There seems to be no way out and you are thinking that even Jesus Christ can’t do anything.
Now listen to Jesus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed”. “Just go on believing,” “Jairus when you came to me your daughter was still alive, but in great danger. Still, you came to me. You had some belief that I could do something to help. Please don’t stop trusting me now that things have got worse. Don’t let your fears win.
Jesus himself kept believing! He kept going. He didn’t shake Jairus’ hand and express his sympathy and walk away. He didn’t tell Jairus to try to come to him earlier the next time, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” Believe that I can handle this as well.”
If I am adequate, Jairus, when there is still hope, then I’m also adequate when there seems to be no hope. Don’t be afraid. Just believe.
We are told, that Jesus “took her by the hand and said ‘My child, get up!’”. And she did!
That is the way these miracles of Jesus function. They gave hope to the people of God.
Our God is a God who performs miracles; that with him nothing is impossible., “Behold I am the Lord, Is there anything too hard for me? Anything? Any sin I cannot forgive? Any door I cannot open? Any problem I cannot solve? Any difficulty I cannot deal with? Is there anything – anything too hard for me?” No Lord, help me not to be afraid and believe. AMEN
Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Calms the Storm. Trinity 3. Year B. 20th June 2021
As Mark relays it, the disciples are on a boat when a sudden and violent storm comes up. You have all experienced a storm blow in. Some of you perhaps have even “felt” a storm coming in. I will never forget when we were crossing Biscay 25 years ago and it was such an awful storm the crew and Captain were all seasick and the ship was damaged. I spent 2 days laying on a bunk, feeling awful and looking green.
Many of these disciples had spent their life on the sea as fishermen. Yet they did not see the storm coming, It was sudden. Many of life’s storms are sudden. Hearing a doctor say you have cancer, is a sudden storm. When a partner is caught being unfaithful, it’s a sudden storm. Being made redundant. There’s been a crash. There’s been an accident at work. You cannot have children. Your business goes under. You get into debt. Family death and illness. All Sudden storms.
As the storm hits, we throw up a desperate prayer, a panic plea. Just as the disciples did, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” When we throw up a panic prayer, we can be sure that God does not share our panic. God does not get surprised. God will never say, “WOW. I never saw that one coming.” Because He knows everything. God feels for us as we panic and worry, but God himself does not panic and worry. Perhaps, instead of rushing to communicate our panic to Him, we should allow Him to communicate His calm and peace to us.
Sometimes we meet people who have found that calm. That peace that surpasses all understanding. So that whether the storm is calmed, or whether the storm still rages, they will know God is with them.
In this story, Jesus calmed the storm. If He had not, it would not have been because He didn’t care. When Christ is with you, even when the worst storms of this life batter against your ship, even if your ship goes down, even when the cancer is fatal, we will not perish because we have Christ. We shouldn’t ever ask, Jesus if He cares if we’re perishing because He has already shown us He does. He died on the cross to keep us from perishing. He did all that was necessary to make sure that when our ship goes down, when our earthly lives end, that we do not perish.
This story of Jesus calming the storm shows His power. And just as he rescued the disciples, He can rescue each of us. His rescue will not necessarily keep us from the storms, or even quell the storms, but His rescue does something much greater, it supplies the strength we need and keeps us from perishing. And it changes the way we see the storms it changes our perspective.
In this Story, the disciples believed they were perishing. From the Greek, they were literally saying, ‘we’re going down, we’re sinking, we’re going to die.” Jesus was asleep in the boat and He knew that the storm was not going to overtake them. But to calm the disciples down, he calmed the storm.
Whatever your storm now, or to come, He will never forsake you, never let you perish and He will provide all you need to weather the storm whatever it may be. He is right there, we just need to trust, to feel His calm and His peace. AMEN
Trinity 2. Year B. Good Gardeners. June 13, 2021
After freely admitting to you all last week that I am no good with plants or gardening, this week our gospel is about just that. If you ever doubted God has a sense of humour here is proof that he has.
You all know people, like Liz, Andrea and others with green fingers? You know, the person who seems to walk by, and plants just naturally perk up? The person whose garden is an explosion of colour; whose seeds always germinate, and sprout as they should, this gospel reading brings to mind those people with green fingers. Because, though our gospel makes it sound easy, it might be that you scatter the seeds and nothing happens.
It sounds like it comes to fruition all by itself. Looking at people with eternally green fingers, and thinking of myself and my, not-green-fingers, it’s easy to believe that this is just a fact of life; that our finger colours are unchangeable, like hair colour or eye colour. But there’s more to it than that.
Care goes into seeds, even before they are planted. I’m told that each packet is dated and put in a cool, dry place to aid in its germination rate. Good gardeners will keep track of how well different seeds have performed. Green-fingered people can tell you which variety of tomatoes gave the most fruit and which was sweetest. They can tell you what crops underperformed, or which seemed to attract pests. They haven’t just planted the seeds, and walked away, they’ve paid attention, noticing what flourishes, and what struggles.
Care goes into the soil, too. Many gardeners have compost heaps, rich, fertile soil for the garden beds. People with green fingers are constantly evaluating their soil, sometimes even sniffing the dirt! and determining what it needs more of. They keep track of what has grown where so they can rotate their crops, allowing the seeds themselves to deposit and draw from the earth.
More than one green-fingered gardener I know has confessed that they talk to their seeds, humming while working in the garden, or perhaps adding chatty commentary about who is growing well, or who is doing a good job. Water can also be a tricky balance, the ideal is the Goldilocks measure: not too much, or the seeds will drown, and not too little, or they won’t have what they need to sprout and grow.
Thinking about green fingers and this parable I am wondering whether there might be more responsibility in scattering seed, in creating conditions for God’s kingdom to take root than it might at first appear. There is a lot of unseen work that gardeners do, ways they have earned their green fingers. There’s dedication in tending to the plants, even before they are scattered. There’s unseen work and responsibility, that we have, too. How do we create favourable conditions for the kingdom of God to flourish? How do we prepare the soil and care for the seeds and give our best to them?
In order for the kingdom of God to take root, its seeds need to be cared for, kept in a place to ensure their healthy germination. This happens when we read scripture and pray. We hold on to seeds, deep inside our hearts, and they wait there until it is time for scattering.
Our soil is made nutritious when we rest it from constant planting. Sabbath is one of those practices, giving us some time for our soil to lie fallow, some time for the earth to replenish itself. Sabbath practice is one of ceasing, and pausing, it’s counterintuitive to the world, which would have us work without ceasing. Our soil is turned and aerated when we pray and take time to dwell with God. Delving into the Word creates space in the soil, preparing it to be good ground in which God’s kingdom can take root.
We water and tend our small seedlings when we pray or meditate, when we take time to be with God. This will look different for different people; for some, being with God is singing along to hymns, and for others, it’s sitting in silence. For some, it might be in reading a book, and for others, in going on a walk. Taking time to abide in God, the seeds we are caring for are scattered into good soil and nurtured as they grow.
The kingdom of God is like a seed, it is coded, already, with the plant it is going to grow into. But it still needs good soil to take root. It needs levels of nutrients and water and a clear patch of earth to call its own. While we don’t have to do the work of creating the seed, we do have a responsibility to prepare the soil. The kingdom of God will surprise us with how, where and when it pops up, but we still have to do the work using our Spiritual green fingers. Amen
Mark 3:20-35. First Sunday of Trinity. Year B. 6th June 2021.
A few times when I have spoken to people they talk about waiting to be found out, they are convinced that at some point others will find out that they are not who they think they are. Their life does not reflect the divisions of their life.
Jesus has been dealing with division from the beginning. He has healed People from disease, cleansed people physically and mentally, enabled the lame to walk and the blind to see. Within all these situations there is division. Each person’s life is not their own, they are living with inner turmoil, with division. Often, they have been disconnected from their communal village and family, all that gave them their identity. The illnesses, the physical suffering points to an inner conflict; they battle between health and disease, physically and spiritually. Perhaps you can relate to that.
Division, conflict and suffering have been around since the garden of Eden and humans turned away from God and the perfect wholeness God had provided. Then Israel wanted a king to rule them instead of God; division crept into everything.
This division and inner conflict is a major part of today’s world and each of our lives. Just think, a marriage becomes divided and ends in divorce. The product of nations being divided offers us the vitriolic politics we are seeing, and in some places even civil war. A divided economy has given us and many places poverty, poor health and injustice. Once the community is divided it becomes individualistic and tribal, prejudice and aggression abound, anonymous persecution happens through social media. Humanity divided makes sure the few prosper at the cost of the rest.
You and I know what it is like to live divided lives, when our outsides and our insides don’t match up? We spoke of it last week, in day time and night time lives. We are one person at work another at home. We act one way with certain people and a different way with other people. We have that phone voice and our other voice. We behave one way in one place and behave differently somewhere else. Life gets divided into pieces: behaviour, beliefs, and ethics change depending on where we are and who we are with. Work life, family life, prayer life, personal life, social life. We’re a bunch of pieces like an unmade jigsaw.
We are forever trying to put the jigsaw pieces of our lives together into the perfect picture on the front of the box.
The crowd gathered around Jesus. The religious authorities oppose him. His family tries to restrain him. Each one is trying to put the pieces of their life together but they won’t fit. Each of these people have been found out; their life and their world are not what they thought they would be and they are not what Jesus knows they could be in Him.
We see Jesus, God’s son, as unity, wholeness, part of the Trinity. He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He puts our divided lives back together. Jesus offers the best and right image of what life could and should look like on the front of the box. Jesus wants to put that jigsaw together.
Of course this means that one way or another change of some sort is coming and most of us don’t like that, because it’s different and we are fearful of change.
So what do they and we say about Jesus, “He has gone out of his mind,” He must be in league with the Devil because change is bad, isn’t it? They put on Jesus their own divisions and problems. They have decided what is holy, sacred, and beautiful and what is contaminated, dirty, and not of God. Their accusations show the conflict and division within them. Blame someone else and avoid facing up to the truth. We all do it!!
It’s hard to look at the division and conflict in our own lives. But to start to be made whole again we must acknowledge we are broken, we are divided. What is it that has shattered your life? Divided relationships? Anger, bitterness, greed, self-doubt, perfectionism, sorrow and loss, anxiety, jealousy, guilt, blame, loneliness.
We become broken and divided, separated from God, others, and our self, by so many events and people. Jesus Christ is stronger than anything or anyone that fragments our lives. He deals with the forces that divide and heals the wounds that divide, and creates the new whole. There is nothing about our lives that cannot be put back together by the love God in Jesus.
John 3:1-17. Trinity Sunday. Year B. 30th May 2021.
Many believe that the coming to Jesus by night was symbolic of Nicodemus hiding in the darkness. Embarrassed and scared he did not want to be seen or caught but the other Jewish leaders who were against Jesus.
The use of night time in the Bible is often about darkness, hiding in the shadows, doing wrong things, not wanting to declare openly a belief in God or Jesus. It is also a way of summarising us into people of the day time and people of the night. Realising that we can be one thing in the day, confident at work, with family, reputation and another at night, in the darkness, worried, not sleeping, full of questions and concerns.
By day Nicodemus knows who he is. He has an identity, a Pharisee. He has a status as a leader of the Jews. He knows and applies the law. People listen to and follow him. He has a place in society with security and power. He fits into this world.
By night it is different. Nicodemus is misplaced and muddled. He cannot see or recognise. He’s living in the dark. His work, actions, reputation, and place in religious society do not provide constancy or answers. He’s faltering in the dark. The certainty of Daytime has given way to questions and uncertainty. By day he keeps the Pharisaic beliefs. By night his life comes up empty. He’s searching for something the daytime life cannot give him.
We all know what this is like. We live daytime lives and we live night-time lives. By day all is well. We live with a sense of purpose, identity and security. We have a place. Our life has meaning and direction. But by night everything is different and hidden. We stumble through the darkness, grasping for something to hold, searching for answers and explanations for the events and purpose of our life. In the dark life doesn’t make sense and we don’t get it. The night is a time of vulnerability, of questions, and of wrestling with life. As Psalm 30 says Weeping may last for the night time but joy comes with morning. And we all know that old saying about the darkest hour being just before dawn.
Our world orbits around day time living, even though we have all night shops and jobs, day time is still the main living time, when we study, learn, work, go shopping, and improve our homes. We establish who we are, gain recognition and approval. It’s safe and predictable.
Daytime life is the life we create for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all do it and we need to as many things are necessary. The problem is that daytime life keeps us stuck on the treadmill of always having to re-create our lives. Somehow we can never quite get there. It seems that which we most desire is always just out of reach. It means we keep doing the same old things and yet expect a different result and that is the definition of Insanity according to Einstein.
This cycle means no matter how hard we try, how much we gather, or how much we know something will always be missing from our daytime life. It will always be less than the life God intends and desires for us. No one can see and be part of the kingdom of God without being born again or born into God’s ways. No matter how successful daytime life appears to be it will always be incomplete, fragile, and transitory because It’s the life we have created for ourselves and therefore is perishable.
Here’s the irony. The very life we create for ourselves often becomes the very thing that take us into the darkness. We keep doing the same old thing but nothing changes. We’re so exhausted we can’t muster the energy to re-create our life one more time. We have everything we want, everything is fine, but something is lacking. There lies our darkness.
Most of us do whatever we can to avoid or get out of the darkness. Night-time living isn’t much fun. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, even painful. But yet we find ourselves there. We think we can find the answer and the outcome will be different. This is Nicodemus, he wants more than night time life. He wants to know the reality of God given life through Jesus enabled by the Holy Spirit, so he comes to Jesus to seek the way, this is exactly what we need to do. Come to Jesus, be honest and ask Him to help us be born again each day.
John 16:7–15 The promise of The Spirit. Pentecost.
In this teaching from John Jesus promised His disciples, and us, the comforting, supporting presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’s friends must have felt bewildered when He told them, He was going away. How could they who witnessed His miracles and learned from His teaching be better off without Him? But Jesus told them that Him leaving meant the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would come to be with them. From a local faith the Spirit means Christianity becomes global.
When we accept God’s offer of new life, we are given this gift of His Spirit living within us. From this Spirit we receive so much: He challenges sin, He brings us comfort when we ache, strength to bear hardships, wisdom to understand God’s teaching, hope and faith to believe, love to share.
Jesus sent us the Advocate. Not to present our case to God as Jesus has done that already. Instead, the Advocate is sent to represent God to us, to change our minds about ourselves and each other.
Jesus who chose the poor, the broken, the sinful; Jesus who healed and transformed lives; Jesus who excluded no one; Jesus who assures us there is a room for us in his Father’s house; Jesus characterised by love, forgiveness, and welcome. Jesus sends His spirit so we can do the same.
This Advocate will teach us everything, remind us of all that He said and taught. Reminding us:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I am the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light of the world.” “Do not be afraid.” “My peace I give you, and leave with you.” “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” “Love your neighbour as yourself.” “Love your enemy.” “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” “Just as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.” “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
We all need an Advocate, the Spirit within us. We all need to be reminded, especially when the future is uncertain, when life has been turned upside down, and we’re afraid or overwhelmed. We need to be reminded when we’re angry or frustrated. We need to be reminded when we are sad and grieving. We need to be reminded when we’re busy, successful, and self-sufficient. We need to be reminded when we’re lost and don’t know the way. We need to be reminded when we feel like an orphan – alone and lonely, on our own, having to look out and fend for ourselves.
None of us get through life alone. We need God’s reminding, God’s support, God’s Spirit to be our advocate, our comforter. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus says. “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.”
This Advocate, this Spirit does not, however, just remind us of what Jesus said, Google can do that. And the Advocate is not some formless, invisible, floating essence. It is God’s Spirit present in our life. This Advocate insists we live as Christians and live our lives as Jesus commanded through our thoughts, words, and actions. We feel the Spirit as the restlessness of our hearts, challenging, calling, provoking a response in real daily life situations.
With the Spirit within us we are the ones who make God’s life present and tangible here on earth We are the ones who give flesh to Jesus’ words. You and I are the presence of God filled with the spirit of God. We are the Hands and feet of God in the power of the Spirit, we offer love and affirm life. When our heart breaks for the pain of the world, when we reach out in compassion, when we weep over another’s loss that is the Spirit working. When we offer or seek forgiveness, when we refuse to judge, when we offer mercy and not condemnation that is the Spirit at work. When we speak words of hope, hold another’s needs and concerns as important as our own, when we pray for another, the Spirit is at work. The spirit in us strengthens us to sit at the bedside of another. To care for the sick and dying. To console the bereaved.
Each of us has that promised Holy Spirit within us, our choice is whether we allow the advocate, the comforter, to work in us, or to keep Him unused and mint in box. AMEN
Pivotal Moments In Life The Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 17:6-19
As we look back over the past 15 months we often speak of life before the pandemic, which we call normal, and there is life during and after the pandemic. The new normal. It has completely changed how we are with one another, how we see life, and we are reassessing what is important. The pandemic is a pivotal moment.
It’s one of those threshold moments that calls into question everything: priorities and values, the way we live and relate to one another, the things that truly matter, where we want to invest our time and energy, how we want to be in this world, what we want from life. Pivotal moments, dividing lines, are those moments when life gets truly real. They hold before us questions about who we are, who we want to be, what we’ve done, and whether our life matters and makes a difference.
Jesus’ prayer is not a simple, “Dear God, please ….” It’s a bit rambling and confusing. It moves back and forth and folds in on itself. It’s as much about him as it is the disciples. Quite simply He asks three things of his Father:
that God would protect the disciples so that they may be one as Jesus and the Father are one,
that God would “protect them from the evil one,”
that God would “sanctify them in the truth.”
The rest of the prayer is Jesus working through what’s happening.
Have you had those kind of conversations? I have. They are those conversations in which we are thinking out loud, wrestling with life, making statements, asking questions. The conversation goes in all sorts of directions. It circles back on itself. Sometimes it even makes no sense. We often contradict ourselves. It’s anything but straight forward. We’re listening to ourselves as we talk and trying to get clarity and come to terms with what’s happening to us and within us. Sometimes these are conversations with a friend. Other times they are prayers to God.
Jesus’ prayer isn’t so different from the way you and I have prayed at times. It sounds like there is a thread of grief running through the prayer. It sounds to me like Jesus is trying to get some clarity and work out his life, what he has done and what is coming next. It sounds to me like Jesus has come to a pivotal moment in his life, and more often than not these pivotal, dividing lines are places of prayer and pleading.
We all come to pivotal moments in our lives. It might be illness, the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of job, a shattered dream, an aging body. But it might also be a graduation, a marriage, the birth of a child or a grandchild, a retirement, an unexpected opportunity. In some way our lives are a series of dividing lines. Every one of us can look back and see the pivotal lines in our life; the questions that were raised, the choices we made, the struggles we faced, and the ways in which our life changed.
Today we see the human Jesus standing in solidarity with us and our humanity, working out his life. So, tell me this. What are you working out and struggling with today? What is the pivotal moment, the dividing line running through your life? What are you doing with it?
I can’t tell you what to do with these moments. I don’t have your answers. But I can tell you this. Notice what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t isolate or close in on himself. He doesn’t get angry or resentful. He doesn’t resist or fight back. He doesn’t run away or try to escape. He doesn’t complain about or deny the reality of what is happening. Instead, he faces his life. He’s in touch with his humanity. He feels what he feels. He grieves. He weeps. He gathers with his friends. He prays. He lives with a faith that Easter is always on the other side of the dividing line.
What about you and me? What will we do when we come to the next pivotal moment in our life? What attitudes, choices, and behaviours will we bring to that moment, that line? How will they help us across? And what if we took our cue from Jesus? What if we came to the pivotal moments and lines in our life trusting our humanity and trusting that Easter is always on the other side? AMEN
Easter 6. Year B. John 15:9-17.
Last week we thought about abiding in God as the vine and the part love plays in that. Here just a few verses on Jesus is teaching his disciples how to continue to dwell in that same love once He is physically no longer there.
Jesus is trying to prepare them for his physical absence and instruct them in how to continue his ministry when they can no longer see him. “Abide in my love,” he says. “Make my love the house, the tent, the shelter in which you dwell and move around.”
The word “abide” can also be translated as “remain,” or “stay,” and after the year we have had, we are very familiar with those words. After a over a year of lockdown, quarantine, and social distancing, we know what it means to remain. To shelter in a place. To stay. We have become intimately familiar with the inside of our own homes and maybe with the interior of our own minds in ways we likely haven’t before. And we’ve had time to think about what kind of place we want to shelter in. DIY stores have done very well in this past year. Priorities have shifted or become clearer, which has prompted changes both small and large.
We have had more than a little time to think about what kind of physical and spiritual home we want and need to abide in. Perhaps you’ve converted some corner of your home into a home office, Zoom studio or virtual school space. I must admit that Gareth has gone a bit over the top in his Zoom space, better sound, better cameras and professional lighting. But maybe you have simply been faced with how unsuitable your space is for all the demands placed upon it this year.
We have become uniquely aware of the importance of home, of where we dwell, and of how we live within it. This past year, home has made all the difference, for better or for worse.
To listen to Jesus’ words in this passage with 2021 ears is to be reminded that our homes reflect our priorities, and our home affects how we live our lives. We can perhaps imagine Jesus elaborating further, Let my love be the foundation under your feet, let my love permeate the walls that shelter you, and let my love form the roof arching over your head. Let me surround you in my love and strengthen you to share that love with one another.
The disciples hid away in a locked room for a while before they ventured out to share the good news and carry-on Jesus’ ministry, before they realised abiding in Jesus’ love wasn’t so much about the physical space they inhabited but about his with them as they lived among others.
As well as our physical home we also have a home in the love of God. It’s a home we carry with us, surrounding us, underpinning us, and it reminds us of God’s love for us and how we should treat others as God’s beloved. Creating a loving space to really listen to someone else, to be present with them in their need or struggle. That space is a home built by love.
When we contribute toward a shelter for those without homes. That effort creates a space for love to dwell. When we change lifestyle to show more care for creation. That comes from love.
In small kindnesses between strangers and friends alike. When we respond graciously to someone who disagrees with us. In all the ways, large and small, we allow the love of God to guide us, differences are made and people’s lives improved because of love.
We are no longer servants, now we are friends and family, chosen and appointed to bear the fruit of love all around us, every day. I spoke last week of just showing up, that is all we are called to do, to be there, to share in the needs of others and as we are surrounded by God’s love may we surround those around us with that love.
A New Commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you. AMEN
John 15:1-8. Year B. Fifth Sunday of Easter.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine… abide in me as I abide in you.” This Gospel text reminds us to whom we belong and who is always with us with the clear visual image of a vine. It calls us into a new way of living, a way that welcomes the other, that is not solitary, but in community and begins with Love.
God is love and love comes from God. As we continue to celebrate the resurrection, we are called to bear fruit as disciples because we have this love. This isn’t always easy. How can we do this when we are still reeling and hurting from this pandemic? How can we do this when the news around us leaves us socially, spiritually and emotionally drained?
How do we declare the Good News about Jesus when there is just too much happening around us and in the world? Well, Quite simply we show up. We show up as ourselves. We show up and love others. We share the Good News with others through our love, God’s love in us. We speak and act true to ourselves as God’s children.
Jesus says, abide in me and reminds us that God knows us completely as we abide in Him. There is no need to hide from God, no need to hide those parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed, no need to use those ugly parts as excuses to stay away from God and His mission. Instead, this truth, this love, draws us nearer to God. It allows us to see those parts we think cannot be restored, being restored through Jesus’ love.
So, what is this love? We could attempt to define it in many ways, and we could provide examples of how we have experienced this love, and it would still not be enough. We can read 1 Corinthians 13 and learn love is patient, kind, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs etc.
But the best example of what this love is; is Jesus, come into the world to live and die for us, to restore us to the God who loves us. This different kind of love, personified love, liberating love. This enlightening love that clears and opens our eyes to see the injustices of this world and empowers us to act in ways that seek the flourishing of everyone. A love that makes us question and challenge the systems that oppress, hurt and destroy.
When you walk into a vineyard, you encounter life. The vine grower tends to all the vines, making no exceptions! The vine grower is aware of what each vine needs to bear fruit. The vine grower will prune away the dead to increase life. Similarly, God examines our hearts, provides for us, and can also remove those parts of ourselves that bear no fruit. Pruning will change the outcome for the vine, and it will change the outcomes for us too.
When we abide in God, we invite God into our lives, however messy they may be. When we abide in God, we are empowered to seek our place in this world, loving others, being part of the mission of the Church to restore all people to God and each other in Christ.
It is a slow and transformative relationship between the vine grower and the branches. Between God and us. This relationship requires honesty and requires us to let go of all those parts of our lives that we think we can hide from the world and God. It requires us to trust God to do the pruning.
If we have learned one thing from this pandemic it is that we cannot do this work alone. We have Jesus’ example of love by being in relationship with God and with us. Our world needs people who are capable of love because a church and Christians that only condemn and only see sin are not truly a church of God. A true church, a real body of Christ, is transformed by grace and mercy and then offers that grace and mercy to everyone else.
As God transforms us, we transform the world.
When we abide in God, God abides in us. God abides in our relationships. God transforms us and what we do and how we live. If we abide in God, we will bear fruit. We will make a difference. Amen.
25th April 2021. Jesus the Good Shepherd. John 10. Easter 4. Year B.
Jesus is teaching the people about Himself and using an allegory that the Israelites would have understood. In the same way that David their King embodied God as a shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus uses this same allegory to explain Himself and His relationship to the nation of Israel and the world. The good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. To understand this allegory, we need to understand a shepherd as one who owns the flock of sheep. They are his livelihood his most important asset. Therefore, the shepherd will do all he can to protect his sheep.
The Good Shepherd Protects
Jesus being the good shepherd is more than Him just being the shepherd. The Good Shepherd is a description that is reserved only for God. The good shepherd will guide the sheep away from danger and protect the sheep. A hired hand is not going to care for the sheep the same way the shepherd will. A hired hand is there for his pay check and that is all. He won’t put his life on the line for the sheep. The hired hand will instead protect himself and run away from the sheep. An accurate description of exactly how the hired hands, the religious leaders, treated God’s people. Self first.
Remember the boy David, his responsibility was to protect his sheep. He went after a lion and a bear and he trusted in God’s care for him as he did. This is why David wrote Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. He understood. He knew what it meant to be a good shepherd and when David thought of God, he thought of how God provides for His people, protects them and prepares a place for them. All of that is in Psalm 23 and when we look at Jesus and He calls Himself the Good Shepherd, there is a clear reference to God as the shepherd of Psalm 23. In the same way God cares for His people, Jesus cares for His people. His responsibility is to protect His sheep. He will lay down His own life for them.
The Good Shepherd is Loyal
Jesus knows His own, us, and we, His own, know Him. There is a close relationship between Jesus and the Father, who know each other and in this same way there is a close relationship between Jesus and His flock, us.
The good shepherd knows his sheep so well he knows their names and the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Jesus knows our names and knows us well. When Jesus raised Lazarus He went to the tomb and He called Lazarus by name. Isaiah 43:1 I have called you by name, you are mine says the Lord.
Jesus wants us to know Him in the same way He knows the Father. That is why Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer so that He would continually know the Father’s will. They are in sync and that is what Jesus wants for us, to be in sync with Him. Sheep are in sync with their shepherd because they know him. When the shepherd says go they go, when the shepherd says stay they stay. As their shepherd is loyal to them, sheep are loyal to their Shepherd, they listen and they obey and they follow. Jesus asks the same of us, to listen, to obey and to follow Him.
The Good Shepherd is Glorified
Jesus is our Good Shepherd because He took on the form of a baby, a human with flesh and He followed God’s plan to the letter. He laid down His life for the sheep, us. Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross, His selfless love for the human race, He protected us from our sin with His Own life. This is why He is the Good Shepherd and this is why we trust Him. Why He is pictured carrying us round His shoulders.
This is what real love is. True love, deep godly love is selfless, it means not regarding yourself as better than anyone else, but is putting others before yourself and putting others best interests first. Jesus focus was on glorifying the Father. Jesus being our good shepherd and sacrificing His own life for us means we are always loved, protected and cared for and we are called to share that same love with others and bring them into the fold. AMEN
19th April 2021. The proof of the Pudding. Easter 3. Luke 24:36-48. Year B.
It’s not enough that the tomb is empty. It’s not enough to proclaim, “Christ is risen!” It’s not enough to believe in the resurrection. At some point we have to move from the event of Easter and the resurrection to experiencing the resurrection. Experiencing resurrected life begins with identifying the risen Christ among us. This is the Proof of the pudding. If Christ has risen, and we proclaim He has, then the proof of the pudding lies with us. That is the gift of Easter given to us, and it is also what is happening in today’s gospel.
Cleopas and his companion are telling the other disciples how Jesus appeared to them on the road to Emmaus when Jesus, again, shows up out of nowhere, interrupting their conversation. “Peace be with you,” he says. They see him, they hear his voice, but they don’t recognise him. They “thought that they were seeing a ghost.” They know Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. They know dead men don’t come back to life. This can only be a ghost, a spirit without a body. The tomb is open but their minds are closed. Is that true of us?
They and we are unable to recognise the holiness that stands among them and us. They and we are continuing to live, think, and understand in the usual human ways. They and we have separated spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, heaven and earth, and in doing so they and we close our minds, we deny ourselves the resurrected life for which Christ died, and we lose our ability to identify holiness in the world, in one another, and in ourselves.
With Jesus’ resurrection God shatters human experiences of who God is and how God works in this world. We can never fully know Jesus Easter triumph by human thought or understanding. We have to put aside earthly things and trust and see the things of Heaven. (Colossians 3:2) They and we touch and see, flesh and bones, hands and feet, and broiled fish. Although we experience Jesus through the natural created world, He is not bound by it or its laws.
We are bound through our fears, our sorrows and losses, our runaway thoughts and distractions, our attachments and addictions to things and people, and even beliefs; we cannot see His presence, His holiness in this world. We bind ourselves to the created order and we lose the ability to live in the sacred. That is not living a resurrected life.
The resurrected life of Christ reveals that all creation and every one of us are filled with God, His holiness and divinity. Nothing can take away, can separate us from the grace and love that is given to us through the resurrection: the unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness, unconditional life that is right here and now if we are prepared to accept it and live that resurrected life. If you are unsure read Romans chapter 8.
The disciples became witnesses, that did not mean they now had all the answers. It meant they now had the life Jesus wanted to give them. They became witnesses based not on what they knew, but on who they were in Jesus, how they lived in Jesus, and their relationship with the risen Christ. The same is true of us.
The resurrected life is not earned, it is freely given and received. It happens when we risk liberating ourselves from the usual ways of seeing, living, and connecting. It is allowing the natural order to reveal something more. That’s what happened for the disciples with Jesus’ hands and feet, with his flesh and bones, and the broiled fish. The saw and recognised the real Jesus and in so doing they saw and recognised something about themselves; holiness. It happens for us too.
In some of the Lent reflections I sent out I encouraged you to remember times when God blessed you, worked in you, things that happened, which changed your life, times when you were open to God, to His spirit and things happened, things we easily right of as coincidences when they are actually Godincidences. God did them, sent them just for you. Moments when your heart opened, softened, and you knew you were somehow different. Those are the moments when Christ opens our minds to understand. They are moments of awe and wonder that leave us in sacred silence if we let them and recognise them for what they are. This is the proof of the pudding, the resurrected life in us.
Let me encourage you to carry this story with you over the next week. Let it open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the life Christ is offering you. Let it be the voice of Christ opening your mind to understand. Sit with it. Pray with it. Wrestle with it. Trust it. Let yourself catch sight of the risen Christ and your own resurrection.
“You are witnesses of these things,” he says to the disciples and to us. Tell it. Live it. Become it. The resurrected life is yours. You are witnesses, you are the proof of the pudding. AMEN
Easter Sunday. 4th April 2021. Mark 16:1-7.
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, His release from the darkness of death to eternal life. Jesus escaped the tomb, escaped death and brought all those who had been held prisoner by death into freedom. This freedom from darkness for Jesus means freedom for us.
God is on a mission
From the beginning when we choose to turn our backs on eternal life with God in favour of our own selfishness, God has been on a mission, a mission to bring us back, to give our eternal life back to us. That mission has been present ever since. Commandments, prophets, kings, exiles, forgiveness and return and ultimately Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice made for humanity.
Jesus Resurrection means the defeat of death
Once we had chosen selfishness, been fooled into thinking we could be rulers of our own destiny, we lost our eternal place with God, a place of perfection, of no illness, no pain, no dishonesty, no cruelty, no selfishness and as a result of this eternal death, held in the prison of life on earth, followed by nothing but imprisonment of evil. To restore us there had to be a defeat of this death. Jesus is that restoration. It is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not bypass suffering and death, but passes right through them. Jesus descent into Hell, which cannot hold Him, His perfection, His truth, love and self-sacrifice break open the gates of Hell and Jesus comes out bringing with Him those held by death. The icon shows Jesus pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs, releasing them from their dark places and we can put ourselves right there, being pulled from our dark places by Jesus.
Being in the dark places
We have been in some very dark places in this last year. Dark places of grief, pain, loneliness, hunger, domestic violence, not seeing loved ones, no physical touch, frontline working, debt, home imprisonment, illness, loss of work and income…. So much. We have felt sealed in, trapped, panic rises, we cannot get out, the walls have closed in, will we ever see the light of day again? Will we ever be with others again? We have been in our own tombs, our own hellish places but there is a symbolism here that cannot be ignored. As Jesus is released and we are released lockdown begins to be released.
What was it like for Jesus?
For Jesus it was being sealed in a borrowed tomb, trapped in the darkness, damp, constricting, held by death, dragged into hades or hell as a prisoner, but he could not be held, a willing sacrifice, perfect, sinless, death could not hold him in and so the gates are broken, the tombs unsealed.
What has this past year looked like for you?
Only you know what your past year has been like. Only you can know the feelings, the losses, the hurt, the pain. But today signifies the Escaping the prison/lockdown, being freed from the terminality of death to the eternity of life and being freed from the tombs of lockdown.
Just as Jesus pulled Adam and Eve from the grave so He pulls us from ours. As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. The physical body may grow old and break down but the spiritual lives on in perfection forever. Notice something, there is no malice in Jesus, no desire for revenge or retribution when He is risen. He does not go to punish those who condemned Him instead He sets prisoners free, finds His friends and helps them, forgives those who betrayed Him. What happened to Him was not used as a stick to beat us but a way of blessing, forgiving and restoring us.
So what happens next? There is a future, a future ahead of lockdown and a future ahead of life. We have a future and a hope. There is no tomb that Jesus cannot bring us out from, no dark place that He cannot shed light into, no event that He cannot be side by side with us or even carrying us. Our chains are broken, our walls are opening out, the panic is subsiding, we cannot be held in those dark places any more. Satan has no power over us.
We are, as Christians, Easter people. People whose lives are sorted by Easter. People who can live as those forgiven, those who have a future and those who always have hope.
Palm Sunday. 28th March 2021. The Problem of Palm Sunday. Mark 11:1-11.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey. Also called the “triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” But, have you ever asked yourself, If this was such a triumphal entry, then why did they crucify Jesus at the end of the week?
You might not know that Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem was not the only procession the city saw that day. In the year 30 AD, Roman historians record that the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, led a procession of Roman cavalry and centurions into the city. A very clear reminder of putting down the rebellion 30+ years previously when they crucified over 2,000 Jews who were accused of being part of it
If Pilate’s procession was meant as a show of military might and strength, Jesus’ procession was meant to show humility, peace and that God has not forgotten His people.
Those who were there that day will make a choice. They will either serve the god of this world, might and power; or they will choose to serve the king of a very different kind of kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
The followers and others who get caught up in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem think they are choosing to follow Jesus. But by the end of the week, Jesus will have not fulfilled their expectations and they will turn on him. Even those closest to Jesus, the 12 disciples, will either betray him outright, or abandon him in confusion and fear.
It is interesting to note that the crowd on that Sunday, proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In other words, they were placing their faith in Jesus that he would restore the glory of the nation to its magnificence as it was when David ruled as king of a united kingdom.
That’s what the Jews wanted, to be ruled by a man like David, the Old Testament prophets had proclaimed that the coming Messiah would sit on the throne of his father, David. The Messiah would bring back the glory of Israel, would rid the nation of oppressors, would rule benevolently, and would be kind His people, the Jews.
Jesus had already challenged the rulers of Judea. Not the Roman rulers, but the local rulers. He had said to them that the Temple was not the only way to find God’s forgiveness and that their beloved Temple would ultimately be destroyed.
Those who made their living from the Temple like the scribes; the chief priests; the ruling council of the Sanhedrin; and, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, would all lose their power and prestige if there was no Temple and if it was no longer the only place where someone could be forgiven at a price.
Jesus had disappointed and alienated powerful people. He did so because the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priest, the scribes, most of the Levitical priests, and others who ruled on Rome’s behalf, were actually part of the same system of oppression and domination that Pilate was part of. They had become of this world, not of God’s world. They had lost sight of God.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem may or may not have been planned to occur on the same day as Pilate’s procession through the western gate of the city. Whether it was planned or not, the two processions provided a contrast that was unmistakable.
A contrast between kings and kingdoms was on display. And, although many of the local, everyday people thought they sided with Jesus, they did so for the same reasons the Pharisees and others sided with Rome. They thought Jesus could do for them what Rome had done for their rulers; make their lives better, more profitable, deliver them from the oppressive system under which they lived and worked, and turn the tables on the Romans.
That’s why the crowd turns on Jesus by the end of the week. They no longer think he’s going to do any of those things that they want, and actually He will just make it worse. Let’s face it, we will all support those who benefit us and just as quickly turn on them when the benefit stops. Has Jesus fulfilled your expectations or will you turn on him?
So, friends, ask yourself, “If I had been in Jerusalem that day, and had seen both processions passing by, which would I have chosen to follow?”
Because that is the choice we make each day. To choose power and might over peace and love. To choose the way things have always been done over the way God intended them to be. We have Two choices. Which will you choose? The kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world? AMEN
Fifth Sunday of Lent. 21st March 2021. John 12:20-33.
The Secret to Life.
Today I am going to tell you the secret to life.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). There you have it. That’s the secret to life.
It’s the pattern of loss and renewal that runs throughout our lives and our world, we’ve lived and experienced it, sometimes by choice and other times by chance.
Look at the way this pattern is present in your life. If you’re married, you had to let parts of your old single life go so that you could be with that other person. If you are a parent you know that there are sacrifices to be made in order for the new life of your child to emerge and grow. We all give up parts of ourselves for the other.
We all chose certain losses and let go of some things so that other things could and can happen. For every choice we make, every yes, we say, there is at least one no and probably many other costs.
This same pattern is in nature, in the changing of the seasons, falling leaves and new blooms, and the setting and rising of the sun.
This secret is everywhere. It is a pattern of loss and renewal, dying and rising, letting go and getting back, leaving and return. It’s at the core of our baptism and it’s what we declare every Sunday in the eucharist:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
What in your life do you need to let go of today? What might you need to leave behind? What needs to die so that something new can arise?
We need to know that dying is about more than our physical death. We die a myriad of deaths throughout our lifetime. The loss of a loved one, of a relationship, health, opportunities, a dream; all deaths we didn’t want or ask for. Other times we choose our losses and deaths. We give up parts of ourselves for another. Sometimes there are things we need to let go of, things we cling to that deny us the fullness of life that God offers: things like fear, anger or resentment, regret and disappointment, guilt, the need to be right, approval.
Following Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. It is a way to be followed, a truth to be embodied, a life to be lived. It’s being a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that it might bear much fruit. That’s where we find Jesus. It’s the letting go, the emptying, the leaving behind, and the dying that makes space for new life to arise.
You’ve probably had at least one time in your life that when you look back on it you say, “I never want to go through that again. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.” What was that time for you? What happened?
As difficult or painful as that experience was it bore much fruit. You were changed and your life was renewed. It was one of those times when you were the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died. And I’ll bet it was one of those times when you knew you had seen Jesus, when you experienced the holy, when you were absolutely convinced that God was present and working in your life.
We all have grains of wheat we need to let go of into the earth. What are yours? What are mine? Please God show me. Letting go makes room for new life and new ways of being present to arise. Our letting go gives God something to work with. Why then would we continue to cling onto every grain of wheat? If it is allowed to fall and die it will bear much fruit.
What are the things that if you lost them you are sure you would just die? Maybe those are the very places waiting to bear much fruit in your life. Maybe that’s where you’ll find Jesus, ready and waiting.
Growth can be slow and the fruit of new life takes time, usually longer than we want it to. Yet, even when unseen, unbelieved, or unrecognized, the power and life of God are present and at work in the depths of our life, in the dark and hidden places. That is the mystery, the secret of life.
John 19: 25-27 Mothering Sunday. Year B. 14th March 2021.
Today is Mothering Sunday, we acknowledge all women in the church in their motherly role of caring for others and we look to Mary, Jesus own mother as an example as well as to Jesus desire to care for His mother and His disciples even as He faces death.
The Icon I am using is Called The Holy Crucifixion and is a modern icon in the Byzantine style. Mary is there, hand on her chest in mourning, other hand pointing to the way, Her Son.
Mary is present at the foot the Cross, not only as a loving mother, but also as a disciple who follows her Lord to the hour of His death.
His mother, the other women, and the beloved disciple John are “standing” by the cross. They are joined together by the love they have for the one that is on the cross. Only those that love someone in pain have the courage to be there. Suffering is not something that attracts us. It is hard to stand firm when those we love are suffering, not just physically, but spiritually, especially for a mother who is watching her son die. This passage is saying something very profound about love and suffering.
Standing is the witness position. The word for witness in Greek is martyrs. A witness is ready to testify to truth whatever the consequences may be, even if they have to give up their own life. In that solemn moment, Jesus’ Mother and disciples are the witnesses of Jesus’ love for the Father and for us, fulfilling His Father’s will.
St. John is here, he follows Jesus to what seems to be the end, to the foot of the Cross. He is standing firmly by the cross and by the mother of Jesus, a witness who loves His Lord and friend.
We cannot forget that Mary is not just a mother, she is a Jewish mother, she knows that her role is not only to be a loving mother for her children, but also their teacher. She is also a disciple that follows her Son to the cross. She is giving her spiritual sons and daughters, us, the example of a firm witness who follows the Master’s footsteps.
Standing was also the posture of prayer in Jesus’ culture and time. Jesus teaches his disciples to be in constant prayer. Mary, the other women, and the beloved disciple are doing what their Master teaches, praying. Jesus Himself is praying on the cross “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” Prayers are important when you have to see your loved one suffering and you cannot do anything to stop it. Jesus, Mary, the other women, and the beloved disciple are praying and offering their pain to God. How often is it that all we can do is stand in vigil and pray. It may seem little but it is actually vital, a gift and a blessing, never to be underestimated. Stand in vigil and pray.
Standing was also the posture for listening to the Gospel. In usual times we do just that at St Andrew’s, we stand when the gospel is read. We affirm that what we hear is true, and we are ready to give our lives for that truth. We stand up for our faith.
When Jesus says “behold thy son” and “behold thy mother,” He is calling them. His mother is a gift from Jesus to the disciple, but also the disciple is a gift that comes from the heart of Jesus to His mother. As we are called, we too become a gift to each other. We become family.
Jesus “says” to His mother, then He “says” to His disciple. Remember In the creation narrative when God “says,” it comes to exist. Jesus’ mother becomes the mother of the disciple, and the disciple becomes her son. A new family comes into existence and John gives her a place in his home.
On this Mothering Sunday Mary is our example of one who stands up for Her son, in love, prayer and witness no matter the cost. If we are willing to stand with Mary at the foot of the cross, we become sons and daughters of Mary, part of this new family of God who witness Jesus’ cross and resurrection. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus asks His mother and His disciple to look after each other and He also asks us to look after each other, as a family.
Mark 8:31-38. Year B. Second Sunday of Lent. Sunday 28th February.
Only a couple of weeks ago we saw Peter in one of his moments of glory, declaring who Jesus was, now we see him at one of his worst moments. Peter tells Jesus that what He is saying about having to die is wrong…. In other words, Jesus, I know better than you do God. Peter is seeing things from a basic human and selfish point of view. Come on Jesus we are fine as we are, you don’t need to go anywhere, lets just keep doing what we are doing, nothing rash. BE honest do you recognise this attitude in yourself sometimes? I do.
Jesus words to Peter might seem very harsh, but at this moment Peter is acting like the opposition and by promoting the status quo is actually thwarting the very mission Jesus came to fulfil. If Jesus does not fulfill His mission then Peter and all the disciples and all the believers through history and us today and those to come would have no access to God, no forgiveness, no salvation. As Jesus reminds Peter you are thinking in earthly terms not heavenly ones. Peter is not seeing the bigger picture at this moment.
With perfect timing and explanation Jesus next few words explain how we look at the big picture.
Deny self: As we follow Jesus, we start to “look” more and more like him; and as we look more like him, we look less like the world. To “deny” yourself means to say “No” to ourselves and “Yes” to God, to humbly submit our will to God. It is to go through life repeating the words that Jesus said the night before he died in the garden, he said to God his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” It is what millions of Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Take up our cross: Every day we are to live in such a way that it is apparent to everyone that we have died to ourselves, to our selfish ways and ambitions, and live for God. Something unfair happens and instinctively we want to get even. But we have died to that “right,” we have prayed “not my will but yours be done.“ So, hopefully as we become more like Jesus we will humbly submit our will to God’s will, and we will respond in kindness and humility. Will we always do it right first time? No, but life is a journey. God knows we are fighting the habits of a lifetime and He is patient with us as we learn to walk the right path. Nevertheless, we are called daily to take up our cross. It is good for us to remember that many Christians still bear the cross of persecution, imprisonment and death for their faith. Something we can’t even imagine. Taking up our cross is much simpler and easier than theirs.
Follow Jesus: Becoming a disciple of Jesus then required an unwavering commitment to submit to the rabbi’s authority, living every day with Him. But it also meant that everyday was full of opportunities to learn new things about God. We also have to recognise who Jesus is, the messiah, the Son of God and then follow Him in obeying His commands and living as He lived and learn new things about God every day.
If our life is all about worldly gain, the wealth, power, fame etc and that is all the matters to us, then our eternity is lost. If we are ashamed of God, of Jesus, then we cannot expect Him to be anything but ashamed of us. If we deny self, take up our cross and follow Him then we will see the bigger picture, we won’t be blinded by worldly things and we won’t become a stumbling block to God’s mission.
Once again, I remind you that Peter, even though he failed spectacularly was still used by God and became the first leader of the church. God will still use us, bless and work with us, even though we get it wrong. God never gives up on us, we should never give up on God or each other.
Year B. Sunday before Lent. Mark 9:2-9. Sunday 14th February 2021.
In today’s gospel Mark tells us the Transfiguration happened six days after verse one. Well, you can walk from Caesarea Philippi to Mt. Tabor, the traditional location of the transfiguration, in about six days. Jesus is travelling and having discussions with his disciples about his identity and mission. 6 Days must be relevant for it to be mentioned. Moses appears in this story and Moses waited on Mount Sinai for 6 days before God called him up into the cloud to receive the Ten Commandments.
Jesus’ clothes shine with stunning brilliance, just as Moses’ face shone when he came down from the mountain after speaking with God. There is a cloud that covers the mountain where Moses meets God and a cloud that covers the transfiguration scene. This event happens on top of a mountain, where both Moses and Elijah met God.
Mark places the transfiguration in the middle of his gospel story. It connects the promises of the Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah, with their fulfilment in Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah.
Peter wants to erect three dwellings, it is a typical response to mark a great event, if it happened today, we might take a selfie and put up a plaque or marker. Peter is shown that no tent could contain what he was part of. What Peter, James, and John were seeing was beyond human experience and terrifying.
Each time we encounter God it is scary. The veil that separates the normal from the holy is torn, and God’s glory shines through brighter than we can ever imagine. We try to give meaning it, we try to normalise it, but it is bigger than us. It is God with us.
To cap it all from the cloud comes the voice of God, declaring the same words we heard at the baptism of Jesus. “This is my Son, the Beloved. With him I am well pleased.” This time, God adds, “Listen to him!” Take note folks! Listen to Jesus. Pay attention to what he’s saying, even when it seems different or not what we expect or think.
Peter James and John found themselves at the very centre of the greatest inconsistency of all. Jesus was eternal God. But he also had to suffer and die a shocking death as a life limited human being. They were eyewitnesses to his amazing glory, but that glory could only be achieved through the disgrace of his death on a cross. The Anointed One of God, the Messiah, would be lifted up, not on a kingly throne, wearing a golden crown and fine robes, but on a rough wooden cross, wearing thorns, cuts and bruises. That cross would be as much a part of Christ’s glory as the gleaming pure white robes he wore at His transfiguration.
Then says Mark, “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, only Jesus.”
Only Jesus. Only Jesus can maintain the tension between death and life. Only Jesus understood that death was necessary in order to have resurrection and eternal life.
The transfiguration of Jesus gave Peter, James, and John a glimpse of resurrection glory outside of time, outside the limitations of their human understanding. It would not make sense to them until after they had witnessed the actual resurrection.
We are being transformed from one degree of glory to another! It does not happen overnight. It takes a lifetime for the transformation to be completed, but the change is already at work in us, every moment of every day.
We are about to enter the season of Lent, a time to grow closer to God, to become more faithful as we follow Jesus. A time to look deeply inside our own hearts to see what is holding us back from becoming all that God created us to be. It is a time to grow more deeply connected to Christ, to look for him in scripture and in prayer. A time to witness our own transfiguration.
To see that, although we are broken, sinful people, once we have put on Christ we are being changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, as the hymn writer says, and no matter where we look, we see only Jesus.
Year B. February 7th
John 1:1-14 Bringing Christ to Everyone
The central truth of this reading is Jesus Christ being the most incredible and wonderful gift that God could ever give to the world. God becoming flesh and living among us is the ultimate hope for us as human beings. God does not leave us alone in our mess but is willing and able to leave heaven and get his hands dirty here on earth, WOW! God doesn’t just watch from a distance doesn’t just impassively sit and watch us but He loves us enough to come down here and get fully engaged in every aspect of our life…Astonishing!
God cares so much about us that he wants to be involved in every aspect of our life: all the good, all the bad, all the hopes, all the fears – everything…
In Jesus, God is amongst his people in a way that he never had been before: actually living in physical, human form, and personally becoming one with his people in the most incredible way so that he could experience everything that you and I experience.
I think that John, when he writes this Gospel also wants us to focus on the ordinariness of God becoming human, he just presents the basic fact: The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. A simple truth that can transform our lives. God became human so that he could experience what we experience and so he could identify with us in how we live our life, empathise with our struggles and give us strength to live well.
This is not an experience that we can keep to ourselves
We are all called to reflect the love of Jesus to our local community, to our friends, families and neighbours, as we introduce people to Jesus and help them discover God’s love for themselves.
We are called to (Ephesians 5:1), “Be imitators of God”. We need to reflect the love of Jesus to the world so that others will be inspired to come to know him for themselves.
Do you remember the 9/11 tragedy and the images of people streaming out of the Towers whilst the Fire Officers were running into the burning building. A wonderful metaphor for what Jesus has done for us; Jesus rushes into the burning building of sin and death by dying on the cross for us. Through Christ, we are free to live. Live as Verse 14 tells us. Full of Grace and truth.
Grace: comes from the Greek word ‘charis’, which means ‘gift’. Jesus, was God’s gift to the world in how he lived and spoke and in what he did for us.
If we are a follower of Jesus, we are ‘full of grace’ because we have the Spirit of Jesus living in us. We are God’s gift to the world! full of grace, full of gifts, to give to others.
What does that mean on a practical level for our life?
It means that we can make a real difference by becoming a gift of Kind words, forgiveness, helpful gestures, showing compassion, being Jesus to others.
Truth: being ‘full of truth’ does not give us the excuse to be rude to other people by ‘telling them the truth’!
‘Truth’ without ‘Grace’ is not the way for us to go in any social interaction!
Biblical truth is not our subjective opinion about something but the Truth of God’s eternal love for us.
Jesus was the perfect truth of God’s love for the world.
As a follower of Jesus, an imitator of God, we are full of truth too. That does not mean that every opinion we have is true or right; but that we represent the truth of God’s love for us in our daily life.
So, this week, as we seek to imitate Jesus from every day what can we do to share that Truth with others?
Sharing our truth is not about telling other people our personal opinions about faith.
What people want and need from us is Truth: the Truth that God loves them, the Truth that God has gone into that burning building so they can live, the Truth that he wipes the slate clean from the past and gives a fresh start, the Truth that he will uphold them always and forever. That is Truth.
You have a story to tell about God’s impact on your life, so tell it…
Be Graceful, be Truthful, in all your relationships with others.
It says Jesus was full of grace and truth, that means there was never a moment when he was not God’s gift to the world and when he stopped embodying God’s love for the world.
What a challenge this is for us as we go into this week: It is not enough for us to show one random act of kindness and then think we’ve done our bit”. It is not enough for us to be nice to someone to their face and then join in the gossip about them behind their back. We are to be full of grace and truth: consistent in our word’s actions and behaviour with others, whether face-to-face, through social media, or e-mail or however.
Full of grace and truth; move towards that and we are moving towards becoming true imitators of Jesus.
Sunday 31st January 2021. Candlemas. Year B. Luke 2:22-40. Presentation of Christ.
Today is the Presentation of Christ. It commemorates the Presentation of Christ by His Mother in the Temple at Jerusalem exactly forty days after His Birth. As we can see from the icon of the Feast, Christ was brought to the Temple by His mother and His earthly father Joseph, who holds the customary sacrifice of two turtle doves. In the Temple Christ was carried in the arms of the Righteous Simeon and watched over by the Prophetess Anna. This Feast is yet more proof that the Son of God became human. A baby, not a spirit or an angel, is brought to the Temple.
In the Old Testament, the Jews were instructed to present their male children at the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after birth. The reason was to give thanks to God and pray for the mother and health of the child, the forty-day period was the time when if there was going to be an issue with health etc it usually would have happened.
This feast is also called Candlemas. This name was given in memory of the Roman custom of lighting candles recreating the lights in the Temple at Jerusalem. We are celebrating this feast on the nearest Sunday; it is actually exactly 40 days on this coming Tuesday.
In these forty days since Christmas, it is time for us to think about this time and ask ourselves some questions:
What do we have to present at the Temple of Christ today or any day? What sacrifices have we made in the last forty days? Have we attempted to give up something God has asked us to? Have we been praying? Have we set a Christian example to our neighbours, friends and family? Have we thanked God for all that we have been given? What has changed in our life since we celebrated the Birth of Christ forty days ago?
For Simeon this meeting in the Temple is the culmination of a lifelong commitment and promise from God.
These beautiful words of Simeon tell the story of his life. But what about us? What about our story and our life?
Simeon receives into his arms the child Jesus, do we? Simeon’s eyes see salvation for all, do ours? Simeon is free to go in peace, are we?
It’s not enough to simply celebrate Simeon receiving the child, Simeon’s eyes seeing salvation, and Simeon being set free to go in peace. If that is all we do, and we don’t let it make a difference to our lives, then this celebration is nothing more than a historical memory.
There is an historical truth to this story, it happened, but also there is a cosmic truth, a truth that is not limited by time. This experience is happening in all times and all places for all people. The truth of this story is happening here and now for you and me. It is as much our story as it is Simeon’s.
For Anna it is also a lifelong commitment now fulfilled. A wait of prayer, of vision, now fulfilled. How patient are we in our lives? When the answer does not come immediately or fairly soon, do we give up, walk away, shrug our shoulders and look for an excuse as to why it did not happen.
Our story will also be one of waiting, of no as well as yes, of turmoil as well as peace, at times wondering if this is really what God wanted for us. We have here excellent examples of faith, patience and commitment in Simeon and Anna. We have an example of reward, of God fulfilling His promises.
We come and present ourselves at the temple. We receive our lord, we see the salvation, we are given freedom. On this Candlemas let us offer God all that we are and wait on His calling and His timing for us.
Sunday 24th January 2021. Epiphany 3. John 2:1-11. Year B.
After hearing someone preach on this passage they said to me I would love that, every time I run out of wine Jesus steps in and gives me loads more quality wine. That’s as good a reason to be a Christian as any.
Is that how we hear today’s gospel. How we sometimes expect Jesus to act for us? There’s a problem to be fixed. “They have no wine.” We tell Jesus and he makes more so the party can continue as before. But is that it? Is all we want just more of the same? Just fix this problem Jesus and let me go on with the same old life like before?
Sometimes we all just want Jesus to show up, wave the divine wand, and make it all better. No wine, abracadabra, plenty of wine. But that’s not who Jesus is and that’s not what the gospel or Christianity are about.
This gospel reading is not ultimately about turning water into wine. It’s about new life, and transformation.
This story happens “on the third day.” What does that make you think of? What happens on the third day? Resurrection, new life, new beginning, rebirth. AND There is a wedding, two people coming together to create and live a new life, to grow and change by together in a future of possibilities.
Running out of wine is not a problem to be fixed, but the beginning of something new. A calling and invitation into a new and deeper life. Nobody likes to run out of wine, but sometimes it’s necessary for our progress and wisdom and that can be difficult and painful.
In life we run out of wine, meaning our life is empty, colourless, tasteless. Nothing seems to be happening Or maybe we still have wine but it’s turned sour.
When has the wine run out for you? What parts of your life are dry and empty today? In what ways has life become sour or colourless and tasteless?
I’m not actually talking about actual wine. I am talking about the wine of faith, hope and love, the wine of integrity, honesty and justice, the wine of peace, joy, forgiveness and mercy, the wine of friendship, relationships and family, the wine of generosity, patience and belief, the wine of truth, strength and self-respect, the wine of prayer, social action and welcome for all.
There’s a lot here but we have and are all being affected. When the wine gives out and life is dying on the vine and we are no longer feel empowered. Lord we have no wine! Every prayer we make is telling Jesus about where the wine has run out. And we tell Jesus exactly what kind of wine we need now, notice Mary does not tell Jesus what to do. She tells Him the situation and leaves it to Him. Here is a new possibility, the way to a new life, a way of hope. When we pray we are offering to God the need, the rest is up to Him.
And here’s the rub. There is no certainty about what will happen. Sometimes we will get answers we want, and sometimes not. Sometimes it is an answer we never could have imagined. Other times it’s different from what we wanted. But we have our part to play.
At times we need to be Mary and name the empty and dry places even when we don’t know how they will be filled up. Sometimes we need to be the ones to carry and pour water even when we can’t see that it’s making a difference. Sometimes we need to be the chief steward naming and recognising new wine, helping others to taste it.
I want to play my part even if I don’t know how it will all turn out. Don’t you? Isn’t that ultimately what faith and hope are about?
Opening any situation and need to Jesus is always a risk. We invite a response not knowing and having no control over what the response will be but secure in the knowledge the God who loves us and created us will always do what is right and give us the best wine for the situation. Whatever your dry places are, whatever has turned sour, give it to God and trust Him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way.
John 1: 43-51. Epiphany 2. Year B. Invitations.
We all like an invitation, to be invited to a party or a big wedding, that special event or celebration, an invitation out for dinner……right now we would all like to be able to be invited or invite others to eat and celebrate together, but it is just not possible. Of course, any invitation we receive needs a response, an RSVP from us, will we choose to go or not?
This passage from John’s Gospel is one of invitation:
the invitation to follow me,
the invitation to come and see and
the invitation to experience God’s promises.
All of these invitations require a response.
The first invitation to Philip is follow me, an invitation to become a disciple.
This is a calling, not just to us but to everyone, a calling to become a follower of Jesus and part of God’s family.
This invitation to follow is open to all, all of the time and it requires a response, a choice to follow or not.
Philip accepts this invitation and then the very first thing he does is extend that invitation to Nathaniel. His immediate response is to go and tell someone else, his friend, he becomes an evangelist.
Is that our 1st reaction? Is the first thing we desire to do is tell others, our friends and families, about Jesus?
The second invitation is from Philip to Nathaniel. Philip cuts through the negativity and challenge with a simple but powerful come and see. Come and see for yourself!
Philip is so confident in His Lord and Saviour that he invites the sceptic to come and see for himself all Jesus has to offer; Philip knows that Jesus is all his friend needs.
Are we that sure of our faith, our Lord, that we cut through all the rubbish, the arguments and the false truths saying Come and see, knowing Jesus is all they need, and that God will do the rest.
Once Nathaniel meets Jesus, Jesus speaks truth to his heart and mind, Jesus recognises Nathaniel, his hopes and fears, his ideas and accepts him for exactly who he is.
At this point Nathaniel has his Epiphany moment, he responds to the invitation, he comes and sees and believes.
The final verse of this passage completes these invitations. From Jesus to Philip, from Philip to Nathaniel and now to everyone.
God’s promise to see greater things and heaven’s opening are for everyone, whoever they are, whatever their background, culture, gender, race or sexuality.
God, through Jesus, is available to everyone who wants to follow Him, but we must be willing to offer the invitations just as they were offered to us, so that a response can be made.
We must invite others to follow Him, to come and see for themselves, confidently knowing that they will find Jesus who will meet them exactly where they are, love them for who they are and bring them into the family of God.
January 2021. The Baptism of Christ and Epiphany 2. Mark 1:4-11.
Mark is the only book in the Bible that announces itself as a “gospel” (Mark 1:1), the good news about Jesus.
There is no word in Mark about the birth or youth of Jesus. He starts right in with this “good news” of Jesus’ baptism as the beginning of his ministry. It is the fulfilment of the “messenger” promised by the prophet Isaiah (40:3. Malachi 3:1), a promise reiterated by John’s own explanation of Jesus’ baptism, that his baptism was with water, but “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
John’s baptism had two components — repentance and forgiveness (Mark 1:4). As John explains what took place with Jesus, he adds that the baptism is not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Those elements are still true of baptism today. The baptismal liturgy marks the end of the old life (“Do you renounce … ”) and the beginning of a life lived in God’s grace and forgiveness. Then John adds another step with the gift of the Holy Spirit, also part of our baptism service
Later on, toward the close of his ministry, Jesus himself makes clear that baptism leads to a new way of life. To be baptized in Jesus is to follow him. The early Christian church developed what baptism means for us.
God gives the disciples the gift of the Spirit to carry on this new life in Christ. After his sermon on Pentecost, the listeners ask the apostle Peter how they should respond, he answers with these same three components of baptism: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Following what Jesus said in Mark 10, in baptism we die, as Jesus did, but we are also raised to new life, as Jesus was (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12, Titus 3:5). Furthermore, in baptism we become part of a people, the body of Christ.
A fundamental change takes place in baptism, For Jesus it is the official beginning of His ministry. For us it the acknowledgement that we are part of God’s family and within that family we have a ministry given by God to us.
We do not have to be baptised to be a Christian but as Jesus was Baptised and He told us to do so we follow His example and In baptism we become part of Christ’s body. We put on Christ say St. Paul.
In his last conversation with his disciples, Jesus spoke again about baptism. He told them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Physically Baptism is a small splash of water, but it marks the beginning of a whole new life — of forgiveness, of the presence of God’s Spirit, of our union with Jesus, and our becoming part of the world-wide Christian church!
As Jesus was Baptised so should we.
Epiphany Year B. Matthew 2:1-12. January 2021.
On this first Sunday of the New Year we celebrate Epiphany, a very ancient feast even older in the life of the Church than Christmas! Just as Christmas is about what God gives us, Epiphany is about what we give to God, our response to the God given gift of Jesus.
Matthew is the only gospel writer who gives us this wonderfully colourful story of the Wise Men from the East bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to present to Jesus. These Wise Men are exotic and mysterious figures. In any nativity play there will be three of them. But it doesn’t actually say there were three in the text, simply that they bore three gifts.
These three gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh; “gold of obedience”, the hymn writer calls it, the obedience we owe to Christ as our true king. The Wise Men or Kings in their extravagant gifts acknowledge that Jesus deserved their allegiance; the gold, their wealth, their livelihood, is all freely given to Jesus in a symbolic gesture.
It is sometimes said that there are three main ways we can give to God all beginning with “T”, easy to remember! Time, Talents and Treasure. Certainly the Wise Man who gave Jesus gold were literally giving up some of their treasure. But there are countless ways in which we can give to God, Money or material wealth is just one way but perhaps it is good for us to ponder on how much of our material wealth we do actually use for God and are willingly to give to God?
Frankincense, since early Jewish times incense has been a powerful symbol of worship and prayer. Its sweet smell and air of mystery is evocative of our worship, our devotion. But, it is “costly devotion”. Following Christ is costly.
The most mysterious of the Wise Men’s gifts is Myrrh. A resin used for embalming the dead. This is a bitter-sweet gift. Jesus is not long born and one of the first presents he receives is a gift to be used at his burial. We wouldn’t exactly appreciate being given a coffin for Christmas! But realistically the crib points to the cross; the joy of Jesus’ birth points to the shadow of his death on the cross for all all cultures, tribes, genders, races are included in the embrace of Christ’s love and this is the first story in the gospels to indicate this truth of Jesus for all.
The Wise Men came from a long and far-away land, an unspecified place in the East, far away from the Jewish traditions of God’s chosen people in the Promised Land. This is the marvellous truth of this popular story that they recognised Jesus. Christ’s birth, death and resurrection has opened up a way to God not just for Jews but also for Gentiles, not just for the faithful, but also for the rebellious and far-off.
The word Epiphany literally means showing or revealing. In this story Jesus is shown and revealed to the Gentiles, to the people who have never heard of him. There are still people around us who have never really heard of Jesus and the loving ways of God revealed through him. This feast of Epiphany gives us, as Christians, a challenge: do we give sufficiently of ourselves to God? Is our giving of ourselves, costly? And are we open to those around us who still do not know the love of Jesus for them.
I don’t know what was in the sky and what they saw that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds; what they thought, asked, or talked about. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I do know that there have been times when each of us have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually define our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see God in a new way.
That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. The one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, spoke to them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?
Yes, friends. God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through us.
These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.
So, for this Epiphany season let us reflect and ponder on God born as one of us and strive to be open to God’s gifts revealed to us in Jesus, to give of our wealth and devotion and to share our gifts with our fellow travellers on the way.
Midnight Mass. 24th December 2020.
Year B. Isaiah 9: 2-7. Luke 2: 1-14.
Light shines in the darkness and God comes in the middle of the night.
In the UK, we have midnight mass, a church service in the middle of the night in order to experience the glory and power of the good news of the birth of Jesus being proclaimed in the dark of the night, like it was to those shepherds, on one of the longest nights of the year.
God is born as a baby in the dark of night in a stable, in poverty. God comes to share our human lives not just as a visitor, he really shares it, with all it’s frailty, vulnerability and challenges.
In the middle of the night lies the beginning of a new day.
God comes in the night, in the darkness, to be the light of the world.
In the early church the celebration of Christmas as a main festival didn’t develop until the 6th century when it quickly gained in popularity because it speaks to the human longings for acceptance, peace, happiness and community.
At the same time as it connects with these longings Christmas raises expectations that these longings will be met and we look forward to a happy, harmonious, peace-filled Christmas with our families, friends, and for the whole world, leaving behind conflicts and struggles and difficulties. The reality, of course, is often very different from this and this year our reality has completely changed, and we are experiencing a Christmas like no other.
On a family level we are aware of the absences as our plans for Christmas and Boxing day, already diminished, had to change to our households and bubble only.
This year there is the absence of significant people at our tables because of this terrible virus and in some cases absences are because they have died.
Therefore, for many of us life before and at Christmas may feel less peaceful, happy and harmonious than before. We have a heightened awareness of tragedy. Our hearts go out to those even now and tomorrow who will lose loved ones and worry about hospitalised loved ones they cannot visit.
But this is exactly why God chose to be born among us in poverty in the dark of night, to a people in darkness. The biblical stories telling of the birth of Jesus are set within challenging and difficult realities, Mary is a young woman, not yet
married but pregnant. The people have been longing for peace, wholeness and salvation, a saviour from occupation and aggression and what they get is a baby, born into the uncertain world of 1st century Palestine.
God is born in human flesh in a stable in a little corner of the world under foreign occupation.
God comes into our dark and troubled world to share our lives.
God takes on human flesh and speaks the ultimate word to us’ love’. I love you. And that makes us, you and I, all human beings, all humanity, infinitely precious.
We look at the baby in the crib and see God’s word of love to each one of us. To each and everyone who wants to look or happens to look.
That’s why on this night, we are filled with joy and peace no matter what else may be going on.
Of all the Christmas services, it is Midnight mass that provides the space where we can pause in the frenzy of our Christmas preparations, forget the Turkey, forget the difficulties for a short time and come just as we are with our light and our darkness; our burdens, our sorrows, our fears, our failings, our hopes and longings, we can come as we are and don’t have to hide any of ourselves from this Christ-child, God’s Son, in human flesh like us. We can come as we are, with our riches and our poverty and receive God’s word of love, just as those shepherds did that first Christmas night. I love you, you are precious, God says… Friends, receive God’s word of love and let it be comfort and healing for your deepest selves and receive His peace and His joy.
And even better news: Our glad tiding of great Joy is that it is not just for tonight. God’s word of love was born, once and for all, to bring hope, life and healing for every day of our lives, especially when we are caught in darkness and fear. God’s word of love, the baby in the crib, has come among us, once and for all.
When all words and thoughts fail, we are left with the gift of a young child, the word of love, given in the middle of the night. Light in the darkness.
Tonight, as we celebrate again the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.
We celebrate the beginning of a new creation, God’s glory breaking into the world. Enough not just for tonight, but forever.
6th December 2020. Advent 2 - Year B Mark1:1-8. Is 40:1-11
Mark begins his gospel in an artless, matter-of-fact sort of way. It’s as if he has something to get off his chest and doesn’t have time for pleasantries. No genealogies. No pregnant cousins. No babies born in stables. No shepherds or wise men. Nothing. Just “boom!” we’re in the middle of an on-going story.
Right out of the gate jumps John the Baptist. Part wild man, part TV preacher.
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” he roars. His camel-hair shirt battered by the wind and his beard dusty from a lifetime spent spitting out sand in the desert. He speaks with an authority that isn’t his own. His breath is aflame with words that burn. “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
People had to travel pretty far to hear these words. The Jordan River wasn’t exactly on a main street. John hadn’t read books on how to amass a crowd:
Not that John needed a plan. The people kept coming. Their ears were hungry for a true word from God, fed up with the faith of the temple that came filtered through the official Roman creed of fidelity to Caesar first.
No, they were looking for meat on those bones; something with substance. People put up with the blisters and they stubbed their feet on the rocks because they craved God’s presence in their lives - to give them the freedom they dreamt of each night. And John didn’t disappoint.
He even looked the part. His clothes ragged and his voice hoarse. He ate only what he could find out there in the desert and a not drop of wine ever touched his lips. His words were so sharp and so true that they cut deep wounds in people’s self-delusions. He spoke truth to power. John had no loyalty to anyone other than God and had no trade other than proclaiming God’s message. John lived the freedom people craved.
And people came. Crowds flocked to hear this strange man shouting hard words of repentance. People who had been kicked out of the temple for failing. Failing at religion. Failing in their job. Failing at life. A lot of these folks weren’t part of what you would call the comfortable middle-class. And to be honest, if you saw one of them walking toward you in town you’d probably cross the street and walk on the other side.
But even if you tried to avoid this odd man, you couldn’t escape his voice.
Even when you’re in the city doing nothing but minding your own business you might hear his echoing voice booming from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make the Lord’s path straight.”
“Where have I heard those words before?” you ask yourself. Then you remember bible class, “ that’s the prophet Isaiah. Must be some crazy bible-thumper.”
But something catches your attention. You can’t turn your eyes away from him. You want to know what is about this man they call a prophet, that so many people travelled so far to hear.
It’s when you push your way through the crowds that you know why so many have beaten you here. This man knows you. I mean he REALLY knows you. He hasn’t met you before and doesn’t know your name, but he has you all figured out.
He knows what hides in the secret places of your heart. He knows what you do when nobody is looking.
He knows your shame and he knows your pain. He knows all that stuff you’d rather keep quiet and hidden. He can see it in your eyes. He can see in the way you keep staring at the ground while he’s preaching. He can see it in the way you walk. With your phony self-assured strut or with your hunched back, stooped from being beaten down by the world. He knows the secrets you harbour.
He knows your failings. He knows your broken places. He knows those moments of weakness that, if ever came to light, your life would be over.
He knows about your illness. Your failed marriage. The people you have let down and hurt. The lies, the stealing, the cheating, The feeling that life is passing you by.
He knows how you were treated when you were young, the memories, the nightmares, the hurt you carry with you. He knows how you just can’t let go of that lifetime of resentment.
He knows that some days you feel so lost and purposeless that you wonder if life is worth living.
Yes. He knows ALL of this. That’s why he’s so loved and so feared. But when he looks at you and excavates the buried hurts that lie in deepest alcove of your soul, his eyes soften and he pleads with you, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.”
Instead of scolding you for your moral failings, or telling you to stop blaming others for your troubles, he leads you to the shore of the Jordan River and reminds you that when the people of God were liberated from their slavery in Egypt, they crossed the Jordan which led to the Promised Land.
Then, looking so deeply into your eyes that you’re afraid you’ll melt, he opens his arms and says, “Enter the water of freedom. God is giving you a fresh start. It’s time for you to start over.”
John The Baptist was giving out second chances. That’s the gift we are given each and every day when we remember the gift of our own baptism. The gift of starting over. The gift of a new beginning.
“Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.”
29th November 2020. St. Andrew’s Day. Matthew 4: 18-22
The New Testament records in Matt 4:18, Mark 1:16 and Luke 6:14 that St Andrew was a son of Jonah, or John; that he was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, and that both he and his brother Simon Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that He will make them "fishers of men".
The Gospel of John (in chap 1:40) teaches that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him to follow Jesus.
The name "Andrew" comes from the Greek : "áíäñåßá" = Andreia which means ‘manly’, valour, brave..
Andrew was manly or brave enough to follow John the Baptist who was a rebel as far as the Jewish priests were concerned and Andrew was brave enough to give up his job and livelihood to follow Jesus; disciples having no wage or fixed place of work or ‘employment rights’ and facing opposition from the Jewish authorities almost every day.
Somehow, (through the Holy Spirit) Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce him to his brother (John 1:41). For the rest of their lives the two brothers were Disciples of Christ. If Andrew had not come to Jesus, then maybe Peter would never have come, and for Catholics, there would have been no pope, or at least not one called Cephas or Peter, ‘the rock’.
This challenges us: if we are here because WE recognize Jesus as Saviour, do we do all WE can to introduce our relatives, friends and neighbours to Jesus? Are we ‘fishers of men’?
November 30th is St Andrew’s Day in Scotland, but as well as being patron saint of Scotland Andrew is also patron saint of Russia, and of Sicily, Greece, Romania, Amalfi, and Luqa (Malta); and patron saint of Army Rangers, mariners, fishermen, fishmongers, rope-makers, singers and performers, sore throats, spinsters, maidens, old maids and women wishing to become mothers.
Andrew receives only a bare mention in the Book of Acts. In chapter 1:13 he is listed as one of the witnesses of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, but the early church historian Eusebius quotes Origen as saying that Andrew preached the Gospel in Greece, Asia Minor and in Scythia, along the Black Sea as far as the Volga and Kiev. This is how he became the patron saint of Romania and Russia.
According to tradition, he founded the See or Diocese of Byzantium, which would be re-named Constantinople and is now called Istanbul.
Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at Patras in Achaea, but he did not die in the same way as Jesus; early church history texts say Andrew was bound, not nailed, to a cross; but a tradition grew up that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called ‘Crux decussata’ (an X-shaped cross), which as a result is now commonly known as a "Saint Andrew's Cross" or Saltire and became the national flag of Scotland. According to tradition, this was performed at his own request, as he considered himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross that Christ was crucified on.
Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought under supernatural guidance from Constantinople to the place where the modern town of St Andrews stands today. Certainly, after he died, St. Andrews bones were entombed, but around 300 years after Andrew's martyrdom the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian, ordered that the saint's bones should be moved from Patras where Andrew had died, to his new capital city of Constantinople, which is now Istanbul in Turkey.
Legend has it that a Greek Monk called St. Regulus was warned in a dream that St. Andrews remains were to be moved and was directed by an angel to take those of the remains which he could to the "ends of the earth" for safe keeping. St. Regulus dutifully followed these directions, immediately going to St. Andrew’s tomb, and removing a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers and transporting these as far away as he could. St. Regulus is said to have been shipwrecked and washed ashore at a Pictish settlement on the East Coast of Scotland. He must have thought that he had indeed reached the 'ends of the earth'! Anyway, the settlement was to become St. Andrews in Fife. This is how the association of St. Andrew with Scotland was said to have begun, and Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland in the middle of the tenth century.
Well over a thousand years later St Regulus's Tower still stands among the ruins of St Andrew's Cathedral, which, in its heyday, was a great center of Medieval pilgrimage.
St. Jerome wrote that the relics of St. Andrew were taken from Patras to Constantinople by order of the Roman emperor Constantius II around 357 and deposited in the Church of the Holy Apostles. The head of the saint was given by the Byzantine despot Thomas Palaeologus to Pope Pius II in 1461. It was enshrined in one of the four central piers of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
In September 1964, Pope Paul VI, as a gesture of good will toward the Greek Orthodox Church, ordered that all of the relics of St. Andrew that were in Vatican City, were to be sent back to Patras. The relics consisted of the small finger, part of the top of the cranium of Saint Andrew and small portions of the cross on which he was martyred, have since that time been kept in the Church of St. Andrew at Patras in a special shrine, and are reverenced in a special ceremony every November 30, his feast day.
Whatever the truth of these ancient legends, the Saltire, the Scottish flag, is without doubt based on the cross of Andrew's crucifixion and maybe the significance we should take today is that Andrew, although sometimes overshadowed by his brother Simon Peter, was the first disciple.
It doesn’t matter where his bones are now; it is his example that makes St Andrew important. He believed in Jesus and brought Peter and maybe others to him.
St Andrew never wrote a gospel or an epistle and never had one addressed to him, yet he is notable because he responded to Jesus’ call to follow him and become a fisher of men instead of a catcher of fish and it was he who brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus to feed the five thousand.
We might sometimes think that we are not important, that our brother or friend is more important than us but if Jesus was telling the truth in Matthew 10 when he said not even a sparrow falls without God knowing it, then we can be assured that even if we never become the patron saint of a country or anything else, that God DOES know and sees what we DO for Him. And because of what we do incredible things could and will happen.
Without Andrew, no Peter, without you or me well who knows, God does, and He wants to use us to share His love with all. AMEN
22nd November 2020.
Christ The King, Sunday before Advent. Year A.
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24. Psalm 95:1-7. Ephesians 1:15-end.
Whatever you did for one of these you did it for me!
Ever had a bad day? Everything just seems to go wrong.
Something you probably don’t know about me is I like crime drama. Especially police and forensics ones. A recent episode I was watching had this bad day scenario. The lead had no water in their apartment for a couple of days, no shower, no coffee, the landlord was being totally unhelpful, picking up coffee in a shop everyone else gets served first and then prevents the lead from accessing milk and sugar. The tension builds, the lead is exasperated, and so hot coffee is accidently poured over someone. Desperate Apologies are made, the lead feels terribly guilty and bad. Within a short space of time a film of the event has been doctored and gone viral on YouTube. The lead is presented as heartless and uncaring. All the officers’ good work, name, status and reputation is destroyed in a moment. A really bad day!!!
We all have bad days, they are not really who we are. But one ill choice comment, one bad reaction, one careless word or action and suddenly we can be seen in a bad light. We are human, we are not perfect, it does happen. Based on this we may find this passage a bit worrying. Whatever you do for one of these you do for me……
Well we need a little good news, I think. This time of year is damp and dark and a little sad. Let’s be encouraged that actually what God is interested in is who you and I are most of the time. The things we do and say that no one else does. The person of our heart. That is who we really are.
I hate upsetting people; I feel dreadfully guilty even when it is not my fault. When the tension rises , you’re having a bad day, the final straw breaks the camel’s back, you snap and in that one moment people see and judge you…….God sees it too, He judges you as well BUT he looks at it alongside all the rest of your life, all the good you do. He sees every part of your life, everyone else only sees the odd moment, He sees you 24 hours a day, He knows the real you!
Don’t get me wrong ….we need to apologise to those we hurt, even when it’s not our fault, we also need to apologise to God, but God and perhaps those who know us best, see what happens in the context of all of who we are….Whatever you do for one of these you do for me……
Last week we had the Parable of Talents and I was encouraging you to use what God has given you, reminding you that everyone of us has gifts and talents from God and that we must step out in faith and be encouraged by what God gives us. Today’s reading reminds us of what happens when we don’t use those gifts and help others.
I know there are folk in our congregation who regularly visit others, check on neighbours, get shopping for people, organise appointments, help with friends children, donate to places like the food bank or the Salvation army, help out where they can, offer help and companionship and so the list can go on. You are doing this for God’s people, you are doing it for God. Bless you! Be encouraged!
Within the human heart, every human heart, there is a desire to help and care for others. Yes, in some people the desire is so small that they never really find it, but for us, who we are before God is seen by Him. Those little acts of kindness, our words and actions, the smiles, the tears, the shoulder to cry on, the hands we hold, the hugs we give, the just being there….that is doing unto others as we do unto God.
We have bad days; we also have good days. We are human, we get it wrong, but God sees the heart. It is really encouraging to know that God sees it all, the good as well as the bad, but it is also a warning…..If we are not that good person, if we pretend to others that we do care when we actually don’t then this reading reminds us that God sees the truth, the real us. We may be able to fool friends, colleagues and family but we can’t fool God.
Let me encourage you today to try and be better, kinder, more caring and try a little harder not to slip into those bad days, not to let them get to us., But even when they do happen, remember God knows the truth. All God wants is for us to try… He would rather we try and fail than never try at all. Remember the good you do, be reminded of how much you care for others, it is not for us to shout about or expect praise for what we do, but it is the whole person that matters, the you that God made you to be and as God sees us for who we really are let us try to see the best in each other.
Whatever you do for one of these, you do for me! AMEN
15th November 2020.
Matthew 25:14-30 Second Sunday Before Advent
There are three things we can do with our life: we can waste it, we can spend/use it, or we can invest it.
There are plenty of things to waste life on. Our career, on our hobbies, on acquiring certain possessions, on getting everything we want here and now. But we can also invest it. Jesus taught that the greatest use of our life is to invest it in that which outlasts it. He told this story, the parable of the talents, giving us principles for investing our life.
We need to understand that everything we have belongs to God.
God made it all. We really own nothing. We didn't come into this world with anything and we’re not going to take anything out of this world. What we have we simply get to use for 60, 70, 80, 90 years, our lifetime but it is God's. We just get to use it. God made us to manage, to steward His resources. God has entrusted some things to us to use. God has given each of us some talents.
You have God given talents, we all have them. Talents are abilities, resources, skills or opportunities; all of the things that God has given us. Anything that God has trusted us with: our children, our job, our home, our family, our voice, our love, our cooking, our writing, our sport, our garden, our encouragement, our music, in fact everything can be considered a talent.
Notice in the parable that the amount given differs but everybody gets something. There is no such thing as a no-talent person "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us." (Romans 12:6) You are unique. You need hear that and believe it. God has given you gifts, talents, skills, abilities, experiences, personality traits, temperaments; all to make you, you. You are unique. There's nobody else like you in the world. You are so special, and He made you for a purpose.
God expects us to use our talents. God has made an investment in our life and one day God is going to ask us, "What did you do with what I gave you?" and the greater the privilege the greater the responsibility. The more you have the more that will be expected.
It is wrong to bury what God has given us.
The man in the story says, "I'm going to play it safe!" so he buries it thinking “I won’t use this just in case I get it wrong, or get laughed at or use it wrongly or get embarrassed. I’m not really good enough, there are others better than me…” Don’t let Fear keep you from developing your talents. We often play it safe because of fear, fear which leads to self-doubt, self-pity and self-consciousness.
We cannot please God by playing it safe. We must take risks in life. If everything is safe in life you don't need any faith! Doing nothing is inexcusable. God would rather have you try to serve Him and totally blow it, than do nothing. It is far better to attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.
What matters is the effort — trying! Trying to make your life count, trying to make an impact with your life, trying to do something significant that is going to outlast you. It's not whether you reach it or not, it's the effort that counts. Doing nothing is inexcusable.
Sadly, it is the person with the one talent who thinks "If I'm just a one-talent person, and therefore nothing special, I'm not going to do anything. I'll let the pros do it. They have more than me, Since I only have one, I'll just bury it. I'm not going to make any attempt in ministry at all with my life."
I love being a Christian, it excites me, I do what I do because I want everyone to find this fantastic God that I have found. I want to heal the worlds ills, save the planet, help the poor and make the rich realise they can do so much good with all they have got. Most of all I want to see every Christian alive and excited by what God has given them and yet so often I see sad Christians, the fizz, the sparkle has gone out of their life. Their Christian life is not a relationship any more, it's become a routine. There is no joy like it used to be. Their spiritual life has gone flat. Why?
They are sitting on the side-lines, they are not in the game, they are spectating and not participating. They have buried their talents. We get stretched when we're in the game, God expects me and you to use what He's given us. It is so wrong to waste our life. I sometimes shudder to think of some of the excuses I will try to give when God asks; excuses as to why I made no attempt to get involved in helping other people and serving others. Those excuses will seem pretty puny at that point. Don’t sit on the side-lines, take what you have and use it. Go for it, you might get it wrong, I regularly get it wrong, but God would far rather we try and mess up than not try at all.
God’s challenge to you and to me is to use what we have been given by God. He stands alongside us, gives us the strength and helps us overcome the fear. It’s not always easy BUT as we use what we’ve got for God watch what happens. A little becomes more and more when we put it in God’s hands. By the things we do, the words we say, the love we give, the things we challenge, we can and do change our world for the better.
May God bless you and use you and the talents He has given you.
8th November 2020. Remembrance Sunday.
In St. Andrew’s, war and commemoration exist at a low-level but form a backdrop to our weekly worship. The 1914-1918 names board, the mission names board and the memorial book; the wreathes and the memorial display case littered with poppies all call us back to the days of the wars of the 20th Century. The parish was strong and comfortable just before the outbreak of the first World War, and if you can imagine, so many enlisted to fight and of those so many did not return. What anguish there must have been as in family after family beloved fathers, young sons and brothers were reported dead!
They dealt with their grief in church, in the presence of God, by setting up these memorials. They were saying to God, and to themselves, that this untimely death had to mean something; surely it had value and worth; surely it made sense in the mind of God.
We can feel, with them, their grief and sense of loss. Those first Remembrance Days had to have been intensely personal. The horror of the Great War was so fresh in everyone’s mind. The utter devastation and carnage could not remain a secret for long.
Under the weight of this horror, and a deeply felt personal and immediate grief, Remembrance Day acquired a multiple message:
Firstly, a recognition of the sorrow for the loss of so many loved ones; secondly a complete belief that such violence and outrage should never EVER happen again; But there was also a third message: a clear feeling of pride. Pride in those amazing people who so bravely went off to fight and stand against those who would take freedom and condemn those who did not fit into the perfect picture of those destined to rule. You can feel that pride in the memorials of this church.
It is somewhat ironic that 106 years after the outbreak of WW1 humans are still at it: still wounding and maiming and mass-slaughtering one another with unbelievable creativity and inventiveness.
Churches and Christianity are comfortable with the first two messages of Remembrance Day: the sorrow for the loss of the fallen, and the resolve that such carnage should never happen again. But the third element of pride in the deeds of the military this can bring a measure of disquiet to Christians.
On the one hand, who would not be proud of someone who puts aside hopes of a normal life to risk injury and death in service of a higher cause?
But, violence in the pursuit of any objective does not square well with the fundamental ethic of Christianity, only recently we have had a Sermon on the Beatitudes and been reminded of love, forgiveness, peace-making and enduring suffering.
From the Christian perspective, deliberate killing and maiming, whether it’s one person or an entire city, is wrong. It may be the lesser of several evils, it may have a justifiable outcome, it may be the only thing possible under the circumstances, but it is not good.
Although we may be conflicted about war, because of the clear message of the Gospels, we need to examine our view as to whether it was righteous, and just, and good to take whatever steps are available to destroy those who threaten the freedoms and sanctity of life of others who do not fit into their view of who is and is not acceptable.
Could or can anything be done by talking, negotiation, peace-making, but if not, then is violence justified? This is a question that every theologian has grappled with and come down on differing sides.
Many sincerely religious men and women have signed up to serve in the armed forces believing absolutely that Jesus wanted them to do this.
Faced with the constant and continuing affinity for humans to behave atrociously, where do we draw the line?
In Rwanda millions were butchered while the United Nations dithered. Was it more Christ-like to let the atrocity happen? Or would it have been Christ-like to intervene swiftly, and ferociously?
It is known that Saddam Hussein poisoned or gassed entire communities of his own fellow-citizens. Did that justify the war against him?
In Pakistan, in Iran, in Myanmar, in various countries in Africa, and not too long ago in South America, members of opposing parties have been carted off to jail, some to be tortured, others to disappear without a trace. Does that justify military measures against such countries?
In our free country, members of the opposition are not carted off to jail. We live in peace and tolerate an amazing diversity of strongly held opinions. We might not agree with what someone says but we defend their right to say it. But, if this freedom was under threat would that justify taking up arms?
The problem we all have is that none of us are perfect, we are human, decisions we make and act on are influenced by our own self-righteousness. Thus we must scrutinise what we do and why.
For us Remembrance Day offers the opportunity to not forget those who chose to give up all their hopes and dreams in order to oppose unspeakable evil and to preserve our freedom. We will remember, in sorrow and grief, the countless lives lost in the violence of warfare.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
All Saints Sunday
Revelation 7:9-end. Psalm 34:1-10. 1 john 3:1-3. Matthew 5:1-12.
I have often spoken of us all being saints, people who seek to show others the love of God through our lives and actions. Todays gospel offers us the opportunity to see exactly what the attitude of a saint should be it has the title of the Beatitudes, in other words this is what our attitude should be.
We are called to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted. That is some list, so let’s look in a little more detail about what being a saint actually means.
All these attitudes start with Blessed or in later translations, Happy. Being blessed is a heavenly state, favoured, worthy, fortunate, honoured. To bless someone is to put God’s touch upon someone. If we are blessed, we have God’s touch upon us, we are adopting the heart of God, we are being the people God created us to be in His image. Being this way means we will turn the ways of this world upside down. These attitudes are the way we are called to live, a code of conduct if you like.
I will just share this with you, in the Bayeux tapestry the Bishop is blessing the soldiers, what he is actually doing is hitting and prodding the soldiers with a staff to make them go into battle at the front. The Bishop, via his king, believed they were on God’s side and as such should fight with no fear.
We talk of the rich, famous and wealthy as being blessed or sometimes we call them lucky. Jesus turns it upside down but talking of us as being blessed as we follow God’s way. We, ordinary people with ordinary, everyday lives, we suffer, struggle, mourn, grieve, get ragged, argued with and so on. The Gospel we profess is for everyone from top to bottom, many see their wealth and power as blessing because of what they do for God now, it is not! If it were about rewarding those who work the hardest and give the most now, then it is the ordinary folk like us who would be rewarded in this way, not those who already have so much it is easier to get more.
Blessed are they…..there is blessing to come.
If we are poor in spirit it means we empty ourselves of pride, murmuring, complaining of our lot, the blaming of others and we accept our state and allow Jesus in; as we empty ourselves we become filled with Jesus, We need to count our blessings, rejoice in what we have and not strive after more and more and more. Heaven belongs to such as these. Is this us?
Those who mourn are those who have Godly sorrow, they are penitent for wrongdoing, they pray for others and their wrongdoing and will try to help put it right. These are the people who weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, come alongside folk, for them there is joy and comfort in forgiveness. Is this us?
Those who are meek are those who submit to God, not enraged by things but deal quietly, slow to anger, quick to pacify, cool, calm and collected. It is these who will inherit the earth, the perfect earth as intended and spoken about in Revelation. These folks will inherit it all. Is that us?
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire and work for justice, equality, they bear oppression and hope in God. He will make it right and they will be satisfied with Gods work, it will be fulfilling, the best, sustained and refreshed daily in Jesus.
Those who are merciful resemble God, God is mercy, an instrument to the benefit of others, giving and forgiving. They help, they pity, they have a charitable nature, seeing others problems and do not gloat but help, they have empathy and compassion, God grants them mercy and they pass this onto others. Is this us?
Those who are pure in heart are those who are inwardly pure, their sins are washed away, they keep a short account with God. Faith is the key. The heart is free from the worldly desires and lusts, their vision is completely God. They see Heaven on Earth now and live that way, we sometimes call them naive, innocent. They see clearly now not as through a glass darkly as most of us do. Is this us?
Those who are peacemakers are peaceful people, looking always for the way of peace, offer repair when it is broken, bring people back together, the voice of reason. The diplomat, reconcilers, often never thanked or appreciated but they are after God’s heart, they are His children and resemble him in attitude. God of peace, prince of peace, spirit of peace are we people of peace?
As we do all this, live as saints in the world we will suffer for it. We will be persecuted, lied to and lied about, falseness will be brought against us, evil will happen, and it is not an easy road. I do not like to talk about myself but I can assure you that when you make a stand people will come after you and they will use whatever means, fair and very foul to bring you down. We are even accused by those we thought were are own, they will talk behind backs because we disagree, sow lies and intrigue to bring us down.
This begs the question, why bother, why do this and suffer? Why? because we do it for Christ’s sake, we do it because we know what the right way is, what God intended and know that the world cannot see, and we need to show them. The passage finishes with our recompense, our reward, the kingdom of heaven, which is ours, our inheritance some of which we share in right now. We have God on our side, we are blessed, we need to recognise our blessings and rejoice in them using them to show others the kingdom we are part of.
As saints we have a life to live, we can’t always get it right but it will be okay because God is on our side, as long as we try to be the people God wants us to be, all will be well.
Bible Sunday. 25th October 2020.Year A.
Today we call Bible Sunday, a day in the year when we especially give thought and reflect on the importance and meaning to what we call “The Bible”
What do you read? Listen to? Why? Transfer of information, communication, for pleasure, to learn, to educate. In the past people heard the Bible read aloud. Books were held in high esteem, copied by Monks, expensive, time consuming. Eg Illuminated gospels. Perhaps it could be said that We don’t appreciate the value of what we have.
For us the Bible comes in the form of a book, though for many today it may be on line or other digital form. Bible gateway for example gives you every version. Have a look I think you will be surprised.
If we could ask the early Christians what the Bible was to them they would give a very different answer to us. For Jewish Christians growing up in the 1st century the Bible as we know it simply did not exist! The word Bible simply means Book.
Scriptures did exist and the scrolls were regularly read publicly and as we hear in the Nehemiah reading today they were always read … with interpretation. The Word of God was never restricted to what was written on the page, the Word of God was living and included “interpretation”.
The Jewish collection of books, what we might describe loosely as “Old Testament” or Tenakh in Hebrew, was not fixed until well into the second century. There are just 5 Torah Books, Prophet books, History and collections of hymns and poems. (39 books all told)
The New Testament as we know it was argued about for years and consensus was hard to come by and it was not until the end of the fourth century that something was decided and in fact a further deliberation came in the late 16th century that a decision was finally made on the New Testament Canon as we know it.
But, even today many think the Apocrypha, intertestamental books, is or is not acceptable!! So we cannot even reach a consensus today! And we have since discovered other old texts and gospels by other disciples.
It may seem strange to us who are so used to thinking of the New Testament that early Christians did not grow up with what we now simply take for granted. Without the gospel of Luke it would make a huge difference to how we would approach Christmas! And many early Christians did not know Luke, and others who may have known Luke would not have known Matthew etc… everything was much more localized. Each town or village had its letters and gospels..
We have scripture and we have Interpretation and we have reason…. How can we understand without interpretation? This has always been key to scripture throughout Judaism and Christianity. God speaking into a current situation using His words of the past.
Even those who claimed “Sola Scriptura” meaning Scripture alone, had to actually work it out with very rigorous teaching and interpretation, so they could cope with clear contradictions and anomalies we come across in the differing texts.
Biblical Scholarship particularly from the 19th century onwards has opened the pages of scripture even further, and new ancient texts have been discovered since then too. Our current Bible is sourced from hundreds if not thousands of different textual sources, words have been poured over for years now to bring fresh understanding to a text we many have believed and been told was set in stone.
We will all have favourite parts and parts we have never read. There are preachers who preach on 1 verse for months and never touch certain parts of the Bible because they do not like it. There are some of us who have a sort of loose-leaf edition where we keep the bits we like but take out the bits we don’t.
The Bible has forever been a text formulated and interpreted by countless believers in countless situations. It is amazing how this is. It is a lifeless thing without the people who read it and live through it. The Bible is living and active through us as Christians. The Bible without a believer is empty.
So many of our hymns were written straight from the Bible, singing them and singing the psalms gets the word of God into our hearts and minds. Studying the Bible shows us deeper meaning and understanding into how God has worked and will work and how to live better.
We have versions that are easy to read, some very accurate but difficult to read, we can use different versions to get the meaning and to open our minds and hearts to interpretation.
The Bible is there to teach, encourage, bless, invigorate, give life and challenge. Knowledge is power, that’s why people were kept from reading the bible for so long, why Hitler presided over book burning.
So I ask again….What do you read? The Bible? If not, why not? The Bible has so much to offer it is vital we read it.
On this Bible Sunday let us give thanks for God’s word living and breathing through us.
18th October 2020
Luke The Evangelist 18th October 2020
Isaiah 35:3-6, Psalm 147:1-7, 2 timothy 4:5-17, Luke 10:1-9.
Today we celebrate Luke, an evangelist, a disciple and a doctor. So I have a question for you this morning: How are you? Physically, spiritually and mentally? Whatever else we are called to be we are called to look after ourselves in all three areas.
Notice the readings today Isaiah 35 He strengthens the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees, be strong, do not fear. Psalm 147 He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds, the Lord lifts up the poor. Even todays collect speaks of the physicians of the soul and the medicine of the church.
The Gospel today refers to being sent out as lambs to wolves, as labourers and we cannot do this work, this calling, if we are not secure Physically, mentally and spiritually.
Currently and for the last 8 months life has been very different and very difficult. Some of us have spent months without going out, seeing family, going to work and being made fearful of an enemy we do not really understand. We rely on others to be honest with us, but we see mistrust, dishonesty, manipulation and complications. For most of us we are just functioning, coping to a point, trying to make the best of it. For some it has become harrowing, grief ridden and frightening and for some it is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.
To pick up on the readings there are a lot of weak hands and feeble knees, broken hearts and wounds, a lot of poor and hungry, a lot of lambs among wolves.
Luke wrote from a medical and wholeness perspective, he cared about the whole person. God cares about the whole person, so must we. So, I ask again How are you?
I am concerned that all of us have and are experiencing difficult and worrying times and that the channels of help are cut off because we are unable to socialise as normal, be hospitable, visit people and places we would normally and not able to spend time with family and friends.
These months have caused wounds, damage and panic. Life has become a real rollercoaster of emotion and it causes issues, trouble sleeping, sick headaches, aches and pains, emotions out of control or worse and very dangerous we suppress them to stop ourselves feeling. Our brains have not been able to process properly and things are not ordered in our internal filing system like they should be. We feel overwhelmed, trapped, helpless. Do I just hunker down, hide away and hope or do I try to fight it and everything else that needs doing?
We must protect ourselves and our community because the very social bonds we need are being eroded and lost. We need each other and we need God. So, I want to make a few suggestions that might help. I also want to say that it is easy to say I’ll be alright, God will sort it, I don’t need help etc, like the folk who refuse medical help because God will heal….I remind you God created and provides the science, the medicine, the doctors, the counsellors so we need to use what He has provided for us to help us.
1. Recognise what is going on, that we might need a little help, acknowledge the issue which is different for all of us. Share our issues, speak them out to each other, everyone’s concerns and issues are valid and it is OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY!
2. Be kind to yourself. This is vital. The stresses of pushing ourselves to hard and not allowing ourselves to grieve, cry, laugh, be angry etc. We must love ourselves and treat ourselves. Do things we enjoy.
3. BE aware of numbing down our feelings, senses, emotions. We can easily not only social distance but mentally and spiritually distance as well. Watch out for losing sensations, lack of rational processing, reduced physical activity.
4. Look for ideas to help, hobbies, books, music, singing, walking, photography, gardening, mending, cooking, things you enjoy that bring a smile, lift your spirits. And timetable them…..I am going to do,,,,,,
5. Guard against too many hats, who you are and what you do, prioritise so you are not dragged in too many directions.
6. Empathy, for self and others. Looking out for self and others as they cope. Troubles and issues may take time to surface in ourselves and others so keep an eye, keep talking.
7. In all surround yourself with God’s strength by approaching life one day, one step at a time. Keep putting one foot in front of the other in God’s strength and if you need professional help then get it. There are phone lines, online helps, we have each other.
There is an opportunity for change, what can I do better? What do I value? How can I access these safely? What really matters, my priorities.
Communication is vital, as we are unable to meet in homes then we try outside, we use phone calls, letters, cards, emails, texts, WhatsApp, Facebook etc. Keep in contact, do not allow yourself to become a recluse. Relationships with family, friends and God are key.
We need from each other encouragement, praise, interest, relaxing conversation, gentle and joyful ideas and stories. Little things to help each other along, giving each other the ability to cope, building resilience, sharing and coping together.
If we see we are beginning to struggle we need to talk, to offload before we overflow, before we overload our emotions and snap. Give each other emotional and spiritual support, prayer, words of comfort, just a chat, just to listen.
We were created as relational beings, not good for us to be alone, that means we need each other. It is too easy to cut ourselves off, but we must not, Please take care of yourself and each other.
Being a Christian does not exempt us from problems and worries but it does give us a big family of those there to help us, to share the load and it gives us a faith and a hope in God, in Jesus. It offers us examples to see and follow where God worked and it came out okay and He gave the strength to cope throughout.
Remember IT IS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY. We are all here to help, please do not go it alone. God gave us medical help, emotional help and spiritual help. Do tap into it. Do keep yourself healthy and do know that you are loved and cherished.
11th October 2020
Trinity 18. Year A. Isaiah 25:1-9. Psalm 23. Philippians 4:1-9. Matthew 22:1-14.
How are God’s people to live in a way that pleases Him? The people in the gospel don’t seem to care about the King’s banquet, about living as good people or as God’s people, this is an allegory of our relationship with God. The Scriptures give a multifaceted answer to how we live for God: to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to abide in Christ, to have a renewed mind, to trust God’s Word and promises, to use our ability to thinking biblically, honestly and applying that to daily life.
We live what we believe, not what we say we believe. If we believe wrong things about God, His Word, ourselves, and His world, If we pretend it will bear bad fruit in our priorities, choices, emotions, values, and daily living.
The people in our Gospel had the wrong thoughts and ideas, they were offered the best feast, the best of everything and they turn it down. They were blinded by their own truth, their own lies and would not examine the truth offered them. Even the poor man thrown out at the end is someone who has not thought about and acted on the right way, the right things that need doing. Even in our perceived humbleness or poverty we can still act in arrogant selfish ways.
Paul wrote Philippians 4 to explain how Christians, us, can have spiritually stable and powerful lives for the glory of God. How we need to think and act appropriately.
If we have wrong priorities, our focus will be taken off Christ and His ways and we will lose the ability to live for Him and advance His kingdom. Many in the church downplay the importance of thinking, pondering, meditating, and learning. Some who are well educated do not think through issues, tensions, qualifications, and the limits of ideas well enough, they become overly simplistic and narrow in their thinking because they think they know it all. Others simply do not wish to go to deep into disciplined thought, make no effort for themselves, there can be a real laziness in our attitude to the Bible and God’s teaching.
Of course, others have a robust life of the mind, but cannot seem to cross the bridge from thought to real life. They have lost focus on the point of knowing theology but don’t actually apply it to real life. I met a few of those when I was training. We must know truth to live rightly, but we must not stop at knowing, we must do the truth! There is a practical laziness here, for example knowing that people are going hungry, that God does not want that for His world, but doing nothing about it.
In both cases there has been a disastrous loss of focus. We must focus and think rightly with the goal of then living rightly. Actions as well as words. Philippians 4 offers us eight qualities upon which to meditate, think, ponder, that our minds might be renewed and thus prompt out actions.
True. Truth not lies or spin.
Noble/honourable, That which is dignified, worthy of reverence.
Right/just This is the root for the word “righteousness”; God’s holiness
Pure. “free from sin”
Lovely/ pleasing, beauty, graciousness, things of God and His creation.
Good repute/commendable. This is what is well-spoken of or highly regarded by God.
Excellent and worthy of praise. focus on anything noble, good, praiseworthy, valuable, wholesome, and honourable. Focusing on the elevated and the proper, even if not something explicitly religious, will have a purifying effect on the upright heart.
Thinking on these things or “Dwelling on” these things means reflection, pondering, ascribing value or weight to, and taking them into account.
We think on these things, we do these things; If we live what we believe, then proper thinking will give rise to proper living. Not just thinking, it must be applied, practiced truth. We cannot live with right thinking alone, not even with the most precise, insightful, and lofty thoughts about doctrine and the Bible. It is very possible to have the most proper thinking about God and live utterly contrary to it because in the depths of us, we really, actually believe something else. If we blame the poor, the refugee, the sick for their own condition then talk about Jesus as Lord the two do not match up. We must be people of action as well as words and we will only do what we really believe.
We need to learn, study, read. We are to hear the Word read publicly in our churches; we must have a right spirit about the truth we hear. Be willing to listen and hear the stories of others through testimony. To look at others and their stories and see God at work. We must be willing to change where our thinking and pondering challenges us.
May God help us to think on His truth to renewing of our minds, that we might live transformed, fruitful lives for the glory of Christ! IN the words of Psalm 23 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
4th October 2020
Isaiah 5:1-7. Philippians 3: 4b-14. Matthew 21:33-end.
Harvest. Trinity 17.
The context of Harvest for us in Bromley in the 21st-century is not so much how God has blessed our personal crops but to give thanks to God for his provision towards us and to give thanks for those people who labour so hard to provide our basic needs: the farmers, the gatherers, the transport companies, the Processing Plant personnel, the shopkeepers and the delivery companies. So many people are engaged in the food chain and at Harvest we give thanks for them all.
Behind all this is a deep sense of thanksgiving to God for his provision and the beauty of the created order that we can enjoy. And as we thank God for his goodness towards us, we must inevitably think about how we can share our wonderful and amazing blessings with others.
Our text challenges us to think about this issue from the standpoint of sowing and reaping, of landlord and tenant or steward, of giving what is owed. It reminds us that choices have consequences and that God cannot be fooled. Even though we may fool ourselves, and we may think we are fooling God, he cannot be deceived. Whatever we sow through the choices we make, that is what we will reap. If we are selfish and keep all we are given, do not give the landlord His share, treat this world as our personal pot that we keep on raiding for ourselves and never give anything back then there is and will be a huge price to pay. We only need to watch the programmes and listen to David Attenborough to know that. We have a responsibility to others and God.
When we act as good stewards, giving what is owed, sharing what we have that is the spiritual transformation that God works in our hearts and our communities. Because what we give is a giving to God. We can’t literally give anything to God himself; there is nothing we have that he could need - he is all-mighty, all-majestic in power and glory. But as we give money into the weekly collection, or bring our gifts for Harvest, we are able to minister more effectively to our community and those overseas. As we give into the collection plate, we give to these people and, ultimately, we give to God himself. Our giving in whatever form is vital to our Christian faith and our role in society.
It is the attitude of giving that is so important; an attitude of sacrifice, an attitude of worship and an attitude of giving all we can to God, and then giving a little bit more. Giving out of what we have been abundantly given to help others, be that harvest collections or monetary collections or giving time or stewardship. Giving is part of our worship and it is a response to the fact that God has first given to us. It is not giving the bit we have left over, what we can find that we don’t need but giving to God first, it is a Biblical principal to Give from the first fruits, to give to God before we make ourselves comfortable.
We have a responsibility to give in the light of all that we have received. “God has given us two hands: one hand for receiving and the other for giving”. I think there’s something quite profound in that metaphor. As we receive from God, so we are to give to others - whether that is meeting their material needs, as at Harvest or whether that is meeting their spiritual needs, by sharing the Gospel with them.
However we look at this, we reap what we sow, If you plant apple seeds, apple trees are what you get. Plant pumpkin seeds in the spring and during October you harvest round, orange pumpkins. You can’t plant carrots and expect to harvest corn and you can’t plant wheat and expect to harvest rice. You reap what you sow and that’s true in the spiritual realm as well.
We receive from God all the blessings he has to give us in terms of providing our daily bread, in terms of grace and mercy and forgiveness and hospitality and love. And so we are to share all those blessings with others in equal measure.
I hope that this Harvest will be a metaphor for everything that St. Andrew’s is and will increasingly become in the future: a church that receives plenteously from God and is willing to share that hospitality with others in equal measure.
A church that mirrors the hospitality of God in word and deed.
20th September 2020.
Trinity 15, Proper 20. Jonah 3:10 - 4: end. Philippians 1:21-end. Matthew 20:1-16.
Last week we thought about forgiveness and mercy.
This week we look into the world of fairness. The fairness of life and the fairness of faith and salvation.
Those who come to faith later in life receive the same as those who came early. Those who turn to God at the end of life receive the same forgiveness and mercy as we have.
The story of Jonah has this idea at its center. Jonah does not want to do the job God has called him to, prophesying to Nineveh, because he knows that God is going to save the people when they turn away from their wrongdoing because they have been warned of the consequences and Jonah thinks that is unfair. He is actually angry at people being saved! He is saying, you forgive too much God and that is unfair. He is so angry he sulks under a bush and God shades him even in this petulant state but challenges what it is Jonah and we are concerned with. God created all and He wants all to be saved if possible and will give the chances needed.
In the gospel story there seems to be an unfairness in the daily wage, all are given the same however long they worked. Just think about the master who goes back and fore to make sure everyone who needs work gets it, he does not want any person to be without work, o that we had the vision today! This is a mission to those in need, just as God sent Christ to us as a mission to those in need, us, all of us.
Remember this story is being told to religious leaders who believe themselves to be superior and entitled and horrified at the inclusion of sinners and gentiles in Jesus mission. The disciples also are still jockeying for position and status in Jesus mission. God disrupts and challenges these ideas of justice, hierarchy and entitlement that we establish.
SO if we were Jonah, or one of the first hired to work in the morning, how would we feel? How do we look upon others, after years maybe of church going, praying, giving, working, fund raising….. how do we really feel about people coming to Christianity late on, maybe living a nice life because of past behaviour and ill-gotten gains, maybe finding faith while in prison. How do we feel? Are we angry? Irked? Annoyed, a little ruffled maybe?
Philippians helps with this. To live is Christ, Paul says, and to die is gain. In other words living means living as Jesus did, looking out for everyone, giving everyone the opportunity to find faith no matter who they are. Just as God has forgiven us and shown us mercy we must do the same.
Can we honestly say that our life is Christ, Christ before me, within me, above me, below me, in everything I do and say? Living for Paul was about sharing the faith he found. Lets face it he was a cruel man before finding God, he was responsible for the persecution and death of early Christians so he was someone we might decide was not worthy of the gospel, God says no one is unworthy of the gospel.
We need to live our lives in a manner worthy of Christ, stand firm, bring folk into God’s love, if not what is the point of our faith? If it is just about saving the nice people, the people like me then we have totally missed the point of Jesus love and mission.
None of us know the standing of any other person with God, only ourselves. We know if we are following our faith, living a worthy life, we do not know if anyone else is. We might think we do, we might like to judge and decide whether they are a Christian or worthy of being so, but only God knows. It is between God and them, God and us.
SO, are we like Jonah or are we like Paul? Are we moaners and judges who are angry at that others seem to have received what I have for less input? Do we feel it is not fair?
We often are led to believe that the God of the OT is one of wrath, yet the story Jonah shows God to be one of abundant mercy, that forgiveness is possible for even the worst of us, those who persecute, torture and try to annihilate the people of God are not beyond His love and forgiveness. That is uncomfortable. God’s love and forgiveness is for all and we have to decide whether we accept that or not. If the God we believe in is one of utter holiness and complete love, a God who demands parity for all, then we must accept that He will do the right thing by everyone, including us and those we struggle with.
I pray that we can all say with clarity and authority: For me to live is Christ!
13th September 2020
Trinity 14, Proper 19. Romans 14:1-12. Matthew 18:21-35.
How good are you at forgiveness?
Maybe better that you think especially if you are a parent. Children need a lot of forgiveness and we were children once too.
When Peter asks how often he should forgive he probably thinks that he is being generous saying seven times, instead he is caught out by an answer which basically means you keep on forgiving, no limits. You don’t keep score.
We should not think about how many times we forgive others because God has forgiven us without measure.
To reinforce the point Jesus tells the story of the Kings forgiveness of the servant’s debt. This forgiveness, at first freely given is then withdrawn when the servant does not show mercy to those indebted to him. Jesus is teaching that forgiving and being forgiven, the showing and receiving of mercy are inextricably linked.
Our forgiveness of others is an expression of the divine life within us, Our forgiveness of others is God’s mercy for our neighbour becoming g real in us and in daily life.
Because we are forgiven we forgive. That forgiveness is so freely given to us by God that we should freely give it others. We need to move on from the guilt that holds us and others back to the freedom of forgiveness which allows us to dream and move forward. The unforgiving servant did not make this move forward.
Our Romans reading was all about being saved by God’s grace and mercy and not by our adherence to a set of rules. We keep the rules because we understand them to enhance life and allow everyone to flourish. God has done the work, has sent Jesus to reconcile the world to Himself and to each other.
We do not and cannot stand before God on our own merits but through the love of Jesus who died for us, who gave so much for us so can’t we give something to each other?
Practical terms – what are you still holding against someone? What are you angry with someone about? What haven’t you forgiven?
The brothers I met during a family funeral who had not spoken since an argument 36 years earlier and neither really knew what the argument was about.
Members of a congregation who had not seen their son in 25 years because he felt they had something to do with his marriage break up.
Children who are stuck in the middle of a divorce and watch the parents fight and argue and don’t know who to believe and often end up being turned against one or other parent.
It may be the memory of when someone shouted at you, hurt you, lied to you, stole from you. A promise made to you now broken. A lie that backfired. Whatever it is, it holds us back. Holding grudges stunts us, it holds us back. Finding forgiveness offers us freedom to move on.
Forgiveness is not easy, especially when someone has taken something from you, invaded your home, invaded your life, it can be a long process, but we must try. There are consequences of all actions.
Forgiveness is about goodness, about extending mercy to those who’ve harmed us, even if they don’t “deserve” it. It is not about finding excuses for the offending person’s behaviour or pretending it didn’t happen.
Studies have shown that forgiving others produces strong psychological benefits for the one who forgives. It has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, and the symptoms of PTSD. But we don’t just forgive to help ourselves.
It’s important to nurture the mindset of valuing our common humanity, so that it becomes harder to discount someone who has harmed us as unworthy.
If we practice small acts of forgiveness and mercy—extending care when someone harms us in everyday life, this will help. Perhaps we can refrain from blowing the horn when someone cuts us up in traffic or hold our tongue when our spouse snaps at us and offer a hug instead.
Scientists have found that when we think about forgiving others we increase our empathy.
Please remember that if we are struggling with forgiveness, that doesn’t mean we’re a failure at forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. We must try not to be harsh on ourselves but be gentle and develop a sense of quiet within, an inner acceptance of ourselves and responding to ourselves as we would to those we love deeply. Forgiveness of self is just as hard and just as necessary.
It is not our job to decide if others should forgive, only ourselves. We must decide if before God we can forgive, we must settle our account with God and God understands that it may take time, it may be almost impossible, BUT as I have said before all God is asking is that we try. Try to forgive, try to have the mercy that God shows us and never be frightened to ask God or others for help. If we try, we will find our capacity for empathy, compassion and forgiveness will grow and slowly healing will come.
6th September 2020.
Matthew 18:15-20. Romans 13:8-14. Trinity 13. Proper 18.
The reading today speaks of the method the early Christians developed in order to deal with internal conflicts and with members who stumbled. As we re-read these words, we become aware of our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in the community. What do we do when we notice others losing their way: do we just shrug our shoulders, do we moan on social media, do we feel morally superior? Or do we follow the gentle way traced by Jesus, trying to help our family?
This passage emphasises the role of dialogue which is another way of saying that we should at all times seek accord. It also accepts that this is not always possible, and states there are consequences. To what extent do we seek agreement, or do we push to make sure that our personal view prevails?
Look at the Romans reading which points out that all our Christian obligations are summed up in a single commandment: love your neighbour as yourself. This command to love is expanded for us in 1 Cor 13:4-7 where we are shown the complex nature of love.
Love is patient. Am I? Love is kind. Am I? Love is not arrogant. Am I? Love is not irritable. Am I? Love is not boastful. Am I? Love is not resentful. Am I? Love does not rejoice in what is wrong. How do I understand this? Love rejoices in the truth. Do I? Am I capable of selflessly rejoicing in the good fortune of others?
Jesus reminds us that as members of the church community, we are responsible for one another, and one of our tasks of love may be that of lovingly challenging our brother or sister. Now before you rub your hands in glee at the prospect of telling someone what you think, I remind you of those requisites of real love and that we are not talking about your opinion but God’s requirements. Any discussion with another must be motivated by love, concern, compassion, not one upmanship.
We need to realise that our behaviour both as individuals and groups reflects on the overall witness that the Church is called to give.
This is God’s way of stopping tell-tales in the church. If I am sore about somebody, then the first person for me to approach is that person, with respect and kindness, whether it is a friend or acquaintance, a parish priest or PCC member. So many people go running to authority, expecting Big Daddy to come down with a stick. People write letters of complaint to the Church Times or the Arch Deacon or the Bishop without having voiced their issue to the one they are challenging. That is not the way Christians behave!
The presence of Jesus in our community is highlighted in these gospel words. In caring and in gathering together in his name. One of the first words of the gospel was 'Emmanuel' - God is with us. The end of the gospel has Jesus' promise of being with us always. it is good to remind ourselves of the presence of Jesus among us all the time, in the heart and hearts of his people.
We are keepers of our sisters and brothers. We have social responsibility in family and in neighbourhood. We have a responsibility for each other, for the common good. We teach by example and by love. We practice forgiveness and forbearance. We accept that we all make mistakes and that none of us are perfect. We ask for guidance and find help in the community of the church and of others. That is where God is - two or three gathered is the community of God. Church is the gathered people. God wants the best for each of us. We can help each other to goodness, we can support each other, guide each other, and help each other on our way to God. If we are not doing that it is us who need challenging not others.
Jesus promises guidance and his presence to his followers for all ages. If we gather in his name, he is with us. That means openness to his word and the traditions faithfully handed on by his community of followers. It means openness to asking for wisdom and guidance and the humility to admit none of us has all the answers.
We must let our ideas of justice and fairness be worked on by Jesus' words. We resist engaging in an intellectual evaluation or a legal argument and let Jesus' desire for harmony speak to our heart.
We must consider the effects of living in a culture that promotes gossip, scandal and the telling of tales and pray that God’s Spirit may lead us to right judgment. Whatever we do when we are upset, Lord, let us do it in charity, in love.
In these last words of agreement, so often quoted and often misused, Jesus does not mean that the agreement of disciples is a guarantee of God’s miraculous intervention but offers the miracle that lies in two or three people being fully of one mind and heart. Seeking God’s will for the church. That happens when people believe and trust fully in each other and in God, the reign of God is brought into being. That is what we seek each day.
May God bless you and use you to His glory.
30th August 2020. Trinity 12.
Romans 12:9- end. Matthew 16:21-28 Take Up your Cross
Last week we heard the clear and confident confession made by Simon Peter to Jesus’ You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16: 16)
We continue this week with a declaration of suffering and death for Jesus, a real downer after last week and it provokes a response.
Jesus reveals the purpose of His ministry on earth and the Father’s plan for the salvation of all humankind through Christ, BUT that meant suffering, death and resurrection to achieve forgiveness of the sins of the whole world!
Peter could not cope, could not see the plan and declares “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16: 22) The disciples, were still looking for a different kind of Messiah, one who would them from the oppression of Rome. Jesus message of Who He was and why He had come had not got through to Peter or any of them. This refusal of the disciples to see and hear means they are causing Jesus a problem and He is quite clear that their attitude, which may seem right to them, is actually causing Jesus difficulty in fulfilling His role as Messiah. These words are saying if you are not for me then you are against me and I need you behind me, away from me so I can do what I came to do. What a shock for Peter, for them and perhaps for us. If we are not prepared to stand with Jesus in the difficult and painful things then we might as well move aside, get away, because all we are doing is stopping ministry, stopping the message getting through, stopping people finding Jesus for themselves. If we decide the agenda and not God, then no one is going to find the saviour because we are in the way.
Jesus had to “take up His cross” literally and metaphorically and follow the will of His Heavenly Father. He must go to Jerusalem; suffer injustice, be told lies about, beaten and crucified, a cruel death on the cross and three days later be raised again taking on the sins of the world, earning forgiveness and restoring our relationship with the Father.
As His followers He calls us to “take up our cross” and follow Him, but I think we misunderstand what this cross is. It is not something that is common to all people whether Christian or non-Christian. Everyone has difficulties at work, illnesses and disease, struggles in relationships, family issues and problems to be solved. Daily life problems are common to all human beings. Our cross, that we take up, is something we endure, something we suffer because we are His followers, because we are believers, and because we are His disciples. These kinds of things are: Loving the unlovable; caring for the lonely and forgotten; sharing a hug with the “untouchable;” volunteering to help those in need; providing hospitality to a newcomer in our community; giving to the Lord “over-and-above the norm” giving to those without enough food, money for the electric, bus fare to actually get to the food bank.
Our Romans reading was absolutely clear about how we take up our cross….Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have spoken many times about Jesus helping us through all the issues of life, day by day, and He does, we know it, we have experienced it. But taking up your cross means another level, suffering because of faith, because of what we believe. Being willing to have a difficult time to help others have a better life.
The final part of this passage makes the destination of Jesus and His loved ones very clear. He is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done. (Matthew 16:27) Let us be very clear, we are not promised eternal life because of what we do, life is not a point scoring exercise, but how we willingly take up our cross to follow Him, how we live each day demonstrates our faith and our loving response for all that He has done for us. It is this faith which offers us the gift of eternal life. We take up our cross not because it earns us our reward but because we want to do what God requires of us out of our love and gratitude for what He has done for us.
So, perhaps the challenge for us is What cross is Jesus placing before us today? How will we respond in joyful service to our Saviour? How will each of us “Take Up our Cross” to follow Jesus?
May God graciously give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts filled with compassion as we Take Up our Cross and follow Jesus!
Sunday 16th August 2020.
Mission Shaped Churches.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32. Matthew 15:21-28. Trinity 10, Proper 15.
This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is deeply uncomfortable, for two reasons:
Firstly, we are confronted by a Jesus who seems to ignore a woman in pain.
Secondly, we are confronted by a group of disciples who show a distinct lack of compassion; disciples who think they are better than everyone else, disciples who are annoyed by the presence of others outside their group.
Jesus withdrew somewhere He would not be under any pressure to perform. He goes to Tyre and Sidon, non-Jewish Gentile regions.
Immediately the disciples were out of their comfort zone: this was Bandit country, and all their safety nets as Jews were removed. They were amongst Gentiles with whom they had little or nothing in common.
But even here, A Canaanite woman came out and started calling out to them.
They are in an unfamiliar region, out of their physical comfort zones, and a woman comes after them, pleading for help. Not a Jew, but a Gentile. And not a man, but a woman. A Gentile woman talking first to a Jewish man before being spoken to.
All the social rules are being broken and everyone – disciples, Jesus and woman – are outside of their own comfort zones. Jesus appears not to answer her. The disciples jump the gun thinking that Jesus can’t be bothered with people who are outside of their chosen group, and they display annoyance at the woman.
But Jesus takes His time and starts talking, a conversation that will eventually lead to spiritual growth for both the disciples and the woman.
The woman asks again in the most simple and painful of ways saying ‘Lord, help me’. There is such pain, she has no more words to say. We want and expect a quick compassionate fix.
But He says ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs’. Not very compassionate?
She throws Jesus’ words right back in his face: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table’.”
She is saying, there is enough for everybody whoever they are.
This story comes very soon after Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. There is a clear message here about the abundance of God that transcends all racial boundaries and gender issues. There is more than enough to go round…
Jesus tells her faith has done the job.
Culturally, she remained exactly where she was, a gentile, and asked Jesus to reach out into her cultural setting and meet her there.
Jesus is challenged, his sense of identity and role as Messiah are stretched.
Jesus is enlarging the boundaries of his mission to encompass the outsider; it is not the case that the outsider comes into Jesus’ pre-set mission boundaries.
And that is our challenge today.
We expect others to come and join us, but on our terms, not theirs…We want new people in church, we want people to become Christians and we will offer the hand of friendship and welcome to them. But ultimately, we want them to join us and become like us and to play by our rules. That is the story of the Christian church throughout history? You are welcome to join: but here are the rules of belief, and the rules of behaviour.
The church throughout history has become like a club with membership rules and many local churches operate like a clique where people are expected to conform in order to belong. But that is the exact opposite of what Jesus is doing in this story and in His ministry.
Jesus reaches out and meets the woman in her culture. He doesn’t ask her to join the club. He doesn’t set any conditions for the welcome. He just accepts her as she is, shows compassion and grace, and allows her to continue in her own cultural way of being.
It also appears that Jesus and the disciples are open to learning from this woman from another culture. They don’t just endure the differences. They actively engage with them, are prepared to be challenged by them, and to allow themselves to grow through this cross-cultural contact.
This is the mind-set of a truly Mission-Shaped Church; rather than expecting others to join us on our terms, instead, we are prepared to learn from others and grow our own vision of mission and ministry as a result of engaging with others who are different from ourselves or have different expectations of what church should be.
A Mission-Shaped Church stands against the idea of Church as a club to be joined and recognises we have something to learn from others so we will be stretched, we will grow in the faith, our church will grow, and so we will become more Christlike.
An outward looking Church does not put borders around itself. Instead, it takes down the boundaries, to get rid of the idea of ‘Us and Them’, and willingly choose to learn from others with different ideas so that we can grow together as the people of God; with all our differences, with all our different expectations of God and Church.
This is uncomfortable because we are confronted with the reality that we have a great deal to learn from ‘outsiders’ and that, if we want to be truly Christlike, we have to embrace ‘outsiders’ not so that they can become like us but so that we can learn about God from them.
It is a brave church that seeks to be truly Mission-Shaped, because we will be forced to change and to grow in ways that we never thought possible before.
Sunday 2nd and 9th August Vicar was on leave.
Sunday 26th July 2020 . Trinity 7. Year A.
The Kingdom of God.
Romans 8: 26-39. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
We have had a few weeks of parables, teaching for the disciples and us on how we live as Christians. These final few little stories are about the Kingdom of God, what it is and how it comes to fruition.
We start with a mustard seed, unassuming, tiny, humble and easy to miss but becomes something of greatness. It contrasts the great tree metaphor given to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel and Pharaoh in Ezekiel, both of whom seemed to have greatness rooted well but then loose it all because of pride. They see it as their power and strength and not God’s and so they fall greatly. We are but small seeds who can do great things but not in our strength but in God’s. Unassuming, humble people who do great things for God. That is you and I if we choose that.
Then we have treasures and pearls, a realisation of just how amazing God is and a desire for the world to be as He created it and giving everything to serve God and become part of the kingdom. This kingdom of God is not of our making, not out of our sufficiency, but it is from God, of God and we are invited to be a part of it.
Then we have the dragnet of fish, In other words God wants everyone, every race, colour, creed, culture, belief to be part of the kingdom but some never will be. Some prefer to relish their own greatness and see no need of God; they choose their own way and not Gods. The time will come when they can no longer choose God.
So for us, practical living, today what does this mean? This is where the Romans letter comes in, Chapter 8 is Paul telling us how ordinary people like us can be people of the kingdom.
The Holy Spirit is the key, it is the Spirit in our lives the awakens God in our lives and enables us to live for the kingdom. The Spirit conforms us to Jesus Christ, makes us more like Him, helps to knock off the rough edges and teach us how to be the best we can be for God.
Paul tells us that the Spirt will intercede for us in prayer when we just can’t do it, in our human weakness the spirit provides strength. When you just can’t, when you don’t have the words, just let go, it can come out like a groan, a sob, a noise but it is understood fully by God. It is okay to just sit with God, not talk, just be and God knows what is there.
Paul tells us that all things work together for Good, we might not see it then, but it does work out. We might let God know we are not happy with it, but God will sort it. He has our best interests at heart. Paul goes on to say that God knows us, He called us, we are justified in Him and we will be glorified. God knows us before we are born, He is creator, He is in us, that God shaped hole in the heart I talk about. He searches us out with His love but the choice is ours.
The choice is that we recognise we are who we are because of God, we are the humble mustard seed, or we take the credit for who we are and are the cedars and great trees whose pride come before a big fall, that bring judgement on themselves. In the sorting of the vast net of fish it is between the ones of God and the ones not of God.
The kingdom of God fulfills the law and prophets of old. The wisdom we have from the Spirit in us is not just intellectual but practical, we display the fruits of God’s presence in us. We bring God’s kingdom to Earth, to now, to our family, friends, workplaces.
But it is not easy is it? We need some encouragement; we have the Spirit but also Paul tells us If God is for us Who can be against us? Who can separate us from God? In reality no one and nothing Can. Yes, things will come at us, people will hurt us, challenge us. Things of life will drag us down, but God is with us, His kingdom lies within us and as His children we are more than Conquerors through Christ.
Jesus has been there, suffered, experienced it all and defeated it all, through Him we too can defeat it all, be conquerors. So we need to be those of humble growth, those willing to give all to the kingdom, those whose lives reflect Jesus and are governed by the spirit, who allow the Spirit to work in them, pray for them and strengthen them, People who are more than conquerors through everything through Christ.
19th July 2020. Trinity 6. The Wheat and the Tares.
Isaiah 44:6-8. Romans 8:12-25. Matthew 13:36-43.
A Mixed Bag.
Are you a likable person? Are their people you like and dislike? Do you like everyone who comes to St. Andrew’s or are there some people you wish didn’t come? The Kingdom of God is a mixed bag in which wheat and weeds grow together, side by side, and we can’t always tell them apart.
In Jesus’ day, sowing weeds in a neighbour’s field was a common way folks had of getting even with each other. Instead of spray painting graffiti on the wall of the house or egging the neighbour’s front door, they’d sow weeds in the neighbour’s wheat or corn or barley. It had become such a common practice that the Roman government actually passed a law against it.
This particular weed is called a “bearded darnel.” It was a variety of rye grass and, in the early stages of growth, was indistinguishable from wheat. You couldn’t tell them apart. So, you didn’t know there was darnel growing in your field until the stalks started to produce, and then it was too late, because the roots would be so interwoven that to pull up the weeds would be to pull up the wheat. The seeds of the bearded darnel were poisonous. They’d make you very sick.
So, Jesus told a parable. A farmer sowed a field of wheat but, while he slept, an enemy came and sowed darnel, so that, when the wheat began to sprout, so did the darnel. What was he to do? And how does this parable applies to us today? well the sin of judging other people, playing God and deciding for ourselves who’s worthy and who’s not.
And so, unconsciously, I think, we set ourselves up as gatekeepers. We practice “selective evangelism.” We choose those whom we want to be a part of our fellowship, and we politely or not so politely discourage others.
We all have our own little tests, but they’re pretty much the same, based mostly on how others act, how they dress, how they talk, where they live, what they do for a living. The common denominator is we’re attracted to those like us: “Birds of a feather flock together.”
This is nothing new. We’ve known it for a long time. The problem is, this gets translated into what it means to be the church and without really trying, we become a homogeneous congregation, all looking and acting pretty much alike. And that gives us a certain comfort. It gives us consensus. Then if someone radically different comes into our fellowship, we get into a stir and become restless until we weed them out.
Something we need to remember is none of us is ever completely a saint or a sinner, but a combination of both. Have you ever noticed that the very same people who are bad sometimes are the very same people who are good sometimes?
Scripture reminds us, we are born of the flesh and of the Spirit. We’re created in the image of God, yet we bear the marks of original sin. As such, there lies within each of us the capacity for evil and the potential for good.
When all’s said and done, others know us by the things we do and say, whether we’re gracious, generous, thoughtful and kind … or callous, stingy, insensitive and self-serving: “By their fruits you will know them.”
Here’s the bottom line: There will always be darnel or weeds among the wheat, a little sinfulness in our souls but, thanks to God’s love we are forgiven for the sinful side.
Once both were picked, they were threshed and the grain was separated from the stalk, the stalks were bundled and burned as fuel for cooking and heating. And the darnel seed? The Greeks and Romans found that, even though it was poisonous, in small doses it had a medicinal quality. In God’s sight, nothing is useless; nothing is lost. In God’s hands, even a dastardly deed of a vengeful neighbour can serve a useful purpose: “All things work together for good…”
This parable is there to re-assure us that our decisions for good or for evil do really matter and that our efforts, especially our struggles, are really taken seriously by the Lord.
Weeds and wheat all grow together and, at the harvest, are separated. In each of us strengths and weaknesses of personality exist together, as do our goodness and faults. God sees us whole and looks on the total field.
In the Gospels the prevailing image of God that Jesus reveals is one who accepts our sinfulness and celebrates our goodness.
The world and the individuals in it are a mixture of good and evil. We are that mixture. I am that mixture.
In the meantime, we are not to assume the role of judges because we cannot tell the weeds from the wheat. We never know someone’s complete story nor they ours.
The good seed is sown in the world as it is. As we talked about last week in the parable of the sower. There is no need for us to wait until things are better, you and I can do whatever good we can do right now.
We are all growing together and too much emphasis on the faults of others and ourselves means we may forget theirs and our goodness. So, let's offer the good to God for strengthening and what is weak and sinful for healing and forgiveness. We are not perfect, but God takes us and uses us anyway.
12th July 2020. Trinity 5. The Parable of the Sower.
Isaiah 55:10-13. Romans 8:1-11. Matthew 13:1-9.
I am not a gardener, but I know You don’t have to plan for weeds to grow; they just do. For a plant, you need to take care - cultivate, fertilise, trim, water, in order for it to grow and blossom.
For a weed you do nothing, and it grows. You don’t need to put in extra efforts, they just come.
When we start neglecting time with God on a daily basis, when we start to skip church, stop praying, stop reading our Bible, the weeds are going to come and choke us.
So my first question today is what are your weeds? What chokes you and stops you in your faith? These things need to be identified and dealt with.
This idea of choking weeds comes as part of this very well know story or parable, The Sower…..
This parable is one of the most important Jesus told. As he subsequently explained, it focuses on the results seen when the sower’s seed (“the word”) lands in various heart conditions. Seeds on the path are devoured by birds (“the evil one”); seeds sprouting in rocky soil are withered by the sun (“tribulation/persecution”); seeds sprouting among thorns are choked out (“cares of the world”); but seeds in good soil produce manifold crops. Importantly, Jesus describes the last category of seed as “the one who hears the word and understands”.
Jesus tells the parable publicly to a crowd, but privately to his disciples. And he offers an explanation that has baffled readers for generations. Jesus seems to say he speaks in parables not so that he will be more easily understood, but precisely so that his hearers will not all hear and understand.
At stake in parables is the secret/mystery of the kingdom of God. Enclosed in each parable is something about Jesus’s and the coming of the kingdom.
When Jesus gives his reason for speaking in parables, he does not say, So that everyone can understand, Rather, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not necessary want to do anything about it.
Jesus’s words in the text link back to Isaiah as they so often do. God charged Isaiah: Go, and say to this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.
Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord and is charged to preach to the nation. His life is spent proclaiming impending judgment for many and restoration for some. God tells him at the outset; however, his preaching will sometimes produce the opposite of what he and we would like, some people will not listen. Some will just turn against you and ridicule you.
“Parable” in English means a short story with multiple levels of meaning, in Jesus time it meant stories, riddles, taunts, proverbs, and more.
Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognising their own sin and to produce a response to God.
Like the prophets of old, Jesus used parables to reveal the mystery of the kingdom, to stimulate reflection on sin and to call people to repentance. But this also produces the opposite reaction among those hardened against him.
Those with hearts prepared like good soil, who “have ears to hear”, delight in the glorious simplicity and profound truths of Jesus’s parables; But to those hardened against God, parables are mundane stories about horticulture, vineyards, fishing nets, traveling, banquets and nothing more. For such people, parables remain a quaint story as does the gospel itself. We know from Scripture, the gospel hardens some folk even as it softens others.
Paul explains the net result of his own ministry that some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. This is also seen clearly in the way the hardness of those who rejected Jesus prepared the way for the cross, which, in turn, opens up the kingdom for those who receive him.
The seed of the gospel is freely and lovingly scattered to any and everyone. But the soil is what matters, and God alone can prepare it to receive the seed and yield the manifold crop of repentance and forgiveness. This frees us to sow the seed faithfully, and then watch God work to change sinful hearts according to his sovereign will. All we have to do is scatter the seed then we let God do the rest.
But we also need to remember that as we receive God’s seeds we can choke them with weeds we allow to grow, have them stolen from us by others who we allow to manipulate us. As people of God our soil should be good but we need to make sure it stays that way by cultivating our relationship with God every day.
Sunday 5th July 2020. Fourth Sunday of Trinity. Year A.
Trinity 4. Matthew 11:25-30. Frist Sunday back in church building after pandemic closure.
Come to me all you who Weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.
How are you all? Honestly? It has been 3 months since we were last together. Things have been and still are so different.
Some of us have not seen family or friends for 12 or more weeks, some of us have suffered bereavement, some still shielding for who knows how long. Some job losses, some illness, weighed down, a real roller coaster of emotions. We are pleased to be here, of course we are, but maybe we are also angry, fed up, worried, unsure, sad, lonely, confused, grieving, hopeless, discouraged, exhausted and actually we feel let down.
I’ve been there. You have, too.
We are Weary and heavy-laden.
So, what have we been doing?
Watching the endless repeats on TV, perhaps calling someone and complaining, having a moan or pumping yourself up with positive self-talk. Perhaps you have been finding something comforting in the fridge. I know I have and of course there’s always the pity-parties. Maybe the odd religious programme or prayer has happened as well.
What does Jesus say?
Every time we feel weary and heavy-laden, Jesus says —
Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Matt 11:28
This is a promise for ALL who are weary and heavy laden.
That includes you and me, right now!
What rest does Jesus promise?
Notice this rest comes from taking His yoke and learning from Him.
Letting Him come along side us, in yoke with Him and find the way.
Jesus teaches us that our lifestyle, our priorities, the events of recent days blind us to the knowledge and love of God the Father. It is Jesus who reveals the Father to us, the father who wants to give us this rest.
It is okay to tell God exactly how you feel. It is okay to shout at God and be angry. God can take it. Others may not, being angry with others causes hurt and pain, God can take the anger, let us get it out to God and then we can move on.
Imagine carrying a huge heavy backpack on a dirt road stretching up a steep mountain for miles. You are struggling looking at your feet trying to just put one foot in front of the other. Weary and heavy-laden.
Then you hear someone shouting … Excuse me! Can I help?
As you look up the road you see a jeep in front of you with someone inviting you to hop in so they can drive you to the top. It changes everything.
Weariness disappears. Strength rises. You feel rest.
That’s what Jesus does, helps us out, side by side, step by step. Brings a car when we need it. Carries the pack when we need it. Support. Strength. Love. Compassion. Whatever we need He brings.
We are weary right now, we are not ourselves, not the same now, we have been through a lot, this reading is timely. Jesus shows us that He and the Father will give us the grace to do whatever He calls us to do.
We face tough decisions, but Jesus will give us all the wisdom we need for every decision we face.
We are exhausted by setbacks, but Jesus shows us the Father’s all-satisfying presence and that He has been there through every set back, caring for us, keeping us upright and carrying us when necessary.
This finding rest involves the Holy-Spirit within us.
We need to Come to Jesus just as we are in weariness and discouragement
Tell Him that we are not seeing the Father’s love, promises, goodness right now, actually all we’re seeing is problems.
Ask Jesus to send the Holy-Spirit to do God’s work in us.
As we are reminded of all God has done for us and count our blessings we feel our faith begin to rise and we begin to trust all that the Father promises to be to us again and we feel rest coming upon us.
God has promised rest, we need to tap into those promises, remind God we need His help and remind ourselves that He is right here, and we have not been alone through any and all of these last few months. Come and find love. Come and find rest.
Sunday 28th June 2020. Third Sunday of Trinity. Year A.
Jeremiah 28:5-9. Psalm 89: 8-18. Romans 6:12-end. Matthew 10:40-42.
Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.
So far in this chapter, Jesus summons the twelve disciples and gives them healing powers and authority. He then sends them out. He warns that they will face persecution. He assures them of God’s love. He promises to acknowledge them before the Father and warns that true peace comes from justice and fairness for all.
Therefore, when Jesus promises rewards to those who welcome/receive a prophet or a righteous person, the context is high-risk, a spiritual warzone. The prophet and righteous person are taking risks for Christ, and those who help them assume similar risks. In addition to providing food, clothing, shelter, and money, they are demonstrating personal support for Christ and his church and are serving as encouragers of those who stand on the front lines in the war against Satan.
For the past two Sundays, we have learned about the difficulties of being a Christian, that it is not easy and sometimes things get tough. Now Jesus tells the disciples that he will reward those who receive them, thereby revealing a part of his plan for providing ministry for His people. He establishes a four-way partnership between God, Jesus, disciple, and host:
• God sends Jesus.
• Jesus then sends the disciples.
• The disciples go.
• Those who welcome the disciples provide the support.
The welcoming of Jesus representatives is as if we receive Jesus Himself. This is the Jewish concept of shaliah, which regards the king’s emissary as if he were the king. This principle is still practiced today. Governments consider an affront to an ambassador as an affront to the nation who sent them. So how we treat Prophets, righteous persons, little ones, Christians, missionaries, clergy, each other….it matters to God.
Prophets, apostles, and disciples were revered as spokespersons for God. Who is a prophet today? The term would apply to anyone called by God to speak God’s message. Righteous persons are those who obey God. Perhaps we would use the phrase “good Christians” today. Little ones can be children, the poor, those who are vulnerable, but also ordinary Christian people. Remember the Sheep and Goats parable where Jesus gives blessings to those who provided assistance to those who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison and inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me” (Matthew 25). Any and all of God’s children deserve help from another.
A cup of cold water is the smallest of gifts, a gift that almost anyone can give. Jesus does not want our lack of affluence to be an excuse for thinking we cannot do much to help others. But a cup of cold water is precious to a person who is really thirsty, in some instances, the gift of life itself. While we would prefer to be the hero in the team, Jesus’ heart leans toward those who provide for the basic needs of others. Providing a cup of water is a valid vocation. Doing your simple, quiet service in providing for others is a hugely valid vocation. God rewards and blesses even the smallest contribution.
This is more than just hospitality. It can mean providing necessary support, such as food, clothing, shelter or money to allow the person to serve effectively. It can also mean accepting the truth of their prophetic message. Two examples are the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the childless Shunamite couple (2 Kings 4) who are blessed as they give to God’s prophets Elijah and Elisha out of their meagre provision.
As one of Jesus representatives we should be honoured to help other representatives in His name. We are called to be a family that looks after its own as much as we can both physically and spiritually. Both are vital. How can God’s people work in His church if they cannot feed their family, pay their bills, get medical help and live in a reasonable manner.
There are costs associated with receiving prophets, righteous persons, and little ones: One cost is financial. It is no small matter to attend to the needs of other people. It can be expensive to feed others or to provide money for their living expenses. Another cost is personal. It is not easy to give up what we have and want to help others. It can be stressful and difficult to commit to helping others. Yet another cost may be danger to oneself and one’s family. Jesus warned the disciples that they could expect opposition and families can find themselves caught in the crossfire.
But as always with God there is good news for us in these words:
Firstly Jesus assures us that even though we did not live when He walked the earth we will certainly be rewarded and blessed for our service to him, if we receive his prophets, righteous persons, and little ones today. Then Jesus assures us that everyone regardless of their means, whether ordinary or great, are promised a reward for receiving a person of Christ, for their support and hospitality. Thirdly the smallest gift to the littlest disciple brings its blessings. Just as God knows and cares about every hair of our heads, so also God knows every generous act on behalf of the faithful. Such gifts are counted as gifts to Jesus and to the Father. Jesus therefore establishes a direct line of blessing from the littlest disciple to God. Finally those of us who are engaged in the Lord’s work are assured that those who help us will be blessed. That is true for all of the Lord’s servants whoever they are, whatever they do. All, as they provide essential ministry service, God will richly bless!
We are not all called to be missionaries, pastors, preachers, priests etc who may depend on others for shelter and sustenance, but that doesn't mean we are off the hook. The entire Christian family are sent into the world to tell and embody the good news of Jesus Christ. All of us are sent to bear Christ to others with humility and vulnerability, which means being willing to risk rejection.
Think seriously what would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them? What would happen if we truly believed that we bear the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, in every home, workplace, or neighbourhood we enter? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to embody Christ's love for our neighbour?
We may not always receive a positive response when we take the risk of reaching out, yet we may be surprised at how ready many are to receive our most humble efforts. Let us not forget what we have to offer, we have Jesus' promise: "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me."
Sunday 21st June 2020. Second Sunday of Trinity. Year A.
Matthew 10:24-39, Romans 6:1-11, Jeremiah 20:7-13, Psalm 69:14-20.
Peace or a sword? I know which I prefer. Only recently we read that the disciples were told to pronounce peace upon houses they visited in their ministry. Now we are faced with talk of sword, of cutting. John Chrysostom explains it as the deep peace that only can be known when the sin is confronted and removed. When the canker is cut out as in radical surgery. True peace means facing the truth about what is wrong in our lives, both as individuals and corporately, acknowledging that, repenting and turning away from it.
This peace is not based on compromise, or half-truths, or self-deception or wishful thinking. This peace is based on transformed lives where we are transformed, purified, the old ways are put to death with Christ and the new is brought to life within us. This is the very thing Paul is speaking about in the Romans 6 reading. How it is easy to become complacent about God’s grace, taking it for granted and therefore losing sight of the gravity of sin in our lives. Things begin to slip and slowly we accept things we would have not accepted before. We compromise.
God’s grace is freely given to all, it is not a reward for our behaviour or lifestyle, but it is transformational. We want to change because we understand that the sin in our lives needs dealing with, needs to be cut out and got rid of.
This challenge to change affects every corner of our lives. It has implications in our collusion with social, economic, and racial injustice. It is easy to think that because we are forgiven in Christ it is an excuse to justify not speaking out against injustice, not challenging unfairness. A quick, I am sorry for not challenging that today Lord, we think gives us a free pass not to rock the boat. It Doesn’t! The other danger is that our activism, our challenge is motivated out of self-justification and not love. As so often is the case with God, we need to find a balance.
Both complacency and self-justification are aiming for an illusion of peace, one that comes because we can hide behind a belief that we are beyond reproach. We are forgiven and we are right in our view so therefore we are peaceful. Actually the more we grow in our relationship with God the more we recognise just how sinful we are and we have a deeper sense of sorrow for our sin and that in turn brings a greater desire to be changed, to have that sin cut away, to be transformed and thus find the real deep peace of Christ.
We may think that the current racial tensions, particularly in America, are recent, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries black people were often hunted down and lynched just for being black. While this was taking place, white Christians stood by and let it happen, they remained silent in the face of this terrible injustice. A campaigner of the time, Ida Wells stated “ Our nation cannot profess Christianity if it denies freedom and even life itself, to black Americans.” That statement could be made right now across the globe in countries that profess Christianity but then treat their citizens unfairly because of the colour of their skin, or their economic status, or their education, or their social status……..
Look at our news, who is suffering the most? The poor, the vulnerable, the black and ethnic minorities, the sick, the disabled. The huge rise in food bank usage, the numbers losing their jobs and then look at the upper echelons of society and listen to the British jingoism and the comments and sideswipes which blame all these people for their own plight. How can we profess Christianity if we deny freedom and quality of life to our citizens? How can we profess Christianity and allow children to go hungry? How can we profess Christianity and allow people to live in squalor, without basic human dignities? How can we profess Christianity and allow disabled people to be taunted and abused on our streets? I could go on and so can you. We see them every day.
The true peace of God only comes when we challenge the wrong in our life and challenge the wrong in society. When we seek justice and fairness for all. When we recognise that no one is entitled and yet through God we are all given to freely and abundantly and when we challenge those who enjoy the trappings of power to take seriously the responsibilities of power.
We only need o look a little way down the road to Eltham, to the racial murder of Stephen Laurence, to the unjust practices which tried to blame him because he was black, that did not look at the white boys who had been witnessed taunting him and to a subsequent report whose findings on racism and injustice have never fully been implemented. There are lists of recommendations from a long line of reports, never implemented. But, hey, it looks good to say we will do another report, it gives room for the other side to compromise, for us to say well that’s okay then something is being done. Or we can listen to the Bishop of Dover who fully understands the implications of race and injustice and poverty in saying we need action, now, not another report that they hope will be forgotten about and think will just blow over. The result is that we won’t be popular. Bishop Rose has been quite brutally abused in the press and on social media, I have found myself the target of abuse on Twitter because I have challenged the government actions. I have numerous intolerant replies from my MP about foodbanks, poverty, education, injustice. Should I stop? No!
In the Jeremiah reading we realise that Jeremiah is suffering because He has confronted injustice and he feels somewhat annoyed at God for that. He laments his stand and the reproach he has suffered. We sometimes think that because God is on our side we won’t suffer, but we do and we will. Standing up for what is right is an uncomfortable place to be. Watering down and compromise somehow seems easier for us and we get a little of what we want, don’t we???
In the laments of the Bible we find they so often turn to praise, to understanding that God has and will deliver us. He is by our side in the midst of the tribulation, He is our strength when we falter and feel that we can’t go on anymore. Interwoven with Jesus teaching on the cost of being faithful also comes assurance. Whilst Father God’s care will not prevent the suffering, Jesus promises that God will never forsake us and that all this is moving toward the perfect world God originally created where all will be equal in every way and all will be at peace, that true, deep peace of God. AMEN---------------------------------------------------------------
Sunday 14th June 2020. First Sunday of Trinity. Year A.
Romans 5:1-8. Matthew 9:35 to 10:8 (+9 to 23 long reading)
When we look at Jesus and His disciples, we find Matthew offers us a real insight into character. Our reading today tells of Jesus himself, then the disciples, with the movement from Jesus' own ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing becoming that of his followers.
Just look at the makeup of the twelve: Peter will deny the Lord three times and Judas will betray him to death, while tax collector Matthew worked for the Romans, while Simon the zealot worked against them. We have fishermen, political aspirants, thieves, men of all backgrounds, cultures, creeds, and races. And yet these assorted motley crew of disciples are now entrusted with Jesus' work of proclamation and healing. We too are a hotch potch of backgrounds, creeds, cultures, genders, ages etc and we are all welcome and all charged with the work of spreading the Gospel.
The job description of chapter 10:8 is almost a replica of Jesus' own resume: "cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons." Jesus not only sends them out with power to spread the kingdom but to announce it by being like Jesus. This job description also applies to us. We are expected to resemble Jesus in word and deed. To be sent out by Jesus is, in some sense, to be sent as Jesus. We become His representatives, His hands and feet in the world. We come to others as Jesus would have.
Jesus is in the thick of fulfilling his Father's mission, preaching, teaching, healing and He inducts his disciples into the same vocation, as shepherds and labourers. Along with Jesus' compassion is a sense of urgency. The time is ripe for their mission, so he summons them and gives them authority, His authority. Have you ever realised that you have been given Jesus authority? Not to be a bossy boots or opinionated or entitled, but the authority to speak the gospel, to share the love, to heal, to cleanse, to cast out, to be as Jesus to the people around you.
In this reading we are introduced to the twelve by name. The list of names does not stand alone as a register of the twelve but as an introduction to an apostles or disciples "charter." We see that part of Jesus' own mission is to train followers to join the purposes for which his Father sent him. The disciples very identity is born in the midst of this movement from Father to Son to world. "as the father sent me, so I send you" says Jesus in John’s gospel.
Their mission is also ours and is not one that they or we must work out on our own. Jesus gives specific instructions on where to go and whom to visit, on what to say and what to do. We are left with the distinct impression that the twelve are defined by their participation in the ongoing movement of the kingdom into the world. The same applies to us.
Jesus is sending them and us where the work of God meets the trajectory of the world and resistance is at its greatest. They will be handed over to councils, flogged in synagogues, dragged before governors and kings, families will be divided, and stigmas borne because of Jesus' name. Not a very attractive job description! It is easy to forget that being a Christian is not easy and people will hurt us and speak ill of us and even accuse us falsely.
You only need to look at what is currently going on to see that when people make a stand against the status Quo it brings unpopularity and judgement. When people make a stand against unfairness and injustice they are ridiculed and punished and where possible silenced, because those with power, wealth and authority do not wish to lose that. Let’s face it, if something works for us we don’t want to change it, or upset the balance, because we do not want to lose our status and influence. But without the voices of challenge, the fight for justice, we would still have slavery, no votes for the poor or women, gay people in prison, justified murder, genocide, children working in mines and mills for a pittance and not protected, men able to abuse women without fear of prosecution, the list is endless and yes in many places in the world these things are still happening.
Even here and in the so-called free world, we are still fighting for justice and equality, for fairness and equity for all whoever they are. This very day we are remembering Grenfell, 3 years ago and still people not rehoused, an enquiry that has been delayed and tampered with and may never actually report or if it does will be so watered down that it is has no impact. All the talk of politicians at the time has just been forgotten and the practice of selective deafness and vision continues as we move forward. Those who make the stand, who challenge are pilloried in the court of the press and lies are told and stories imagined so that their opinion and challenge is somehow invalidated. Making a difference, challenging the world’s ways with the ways of God’s kingdom is not an easy task and will mean we will suffer for our faith.
As much as we are told of the problems that may come our way Jesus then reminds his followers and us "do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (10:19-20). In the very midst of persecution those obedient to Jesus' mission will be equipped and empowered with God's own presence, only a couple of weeks ago we remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower us, to give us everything we need in this world to be Jesus disciples.
The job of being a disciple is not an easy one but we do not do it alone, we have the Spirit, we have the fellowship of each other and we have truth, justice and fairness on our side. AMEN
-------------------------------------------Trinity Sunday. 7th June 2020. Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-end. Psalm 8. 2 Corinthians 13:11-end. Matthew 28:16-20.
On this Trinity Sunday we have the opportunity to contemplate the source of our energy and power and how we might live our lives as we were designed to as those created ones of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although we tend to think in terms of God or Jesus or Spirit, our faith, our life is dependent on all three, intertwined, working together, flowing around and in between each of us, the world and the universe we are part of.
In our traditions and belief, we tend to work with the pyramid shape; God is at the top and everything else lies below. I would argue, as would a number of theologians, that it is not a triangle but a circle. This circle operates like a dance of the Trinity. Movements and operations that make everything flow and move in time with one another. This divine dance is of loving and being loved. We usually have a static image of God, but actually we need to see God not as the eternal judge, who punishes us when we don’t do what He says but we need to see God as the Supreme Contributor and provider of everything that exists in our lives.
Be honest some of us tend to see God as a stuffy, bearded guy who sits in judgment on us; for others they see God as a kind Santa Claus figure with our personal interests at heart and a bag of goodies for those of us who are good. Many see God as an old-fashioned, irrelevant belief system and some see God as insurance just in case the whole God thing turns out to be real. We ar hedging our bets. What we fail to see is the divine threesome, a life force of everything flowing through us and all creation; a Heavenly Wave that flows through and round us rather than a inert, particle God, who sits somewhere up there and judges us. We need to recognise that the energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons, or neurons, but in the relationship between them. Everything works in balance, in relationship.
The Trinity is all about relationship. In simple maths terms one is lonely, two are oppositional, three represents a moving, energetic, and reproductive flow. In the beginning was this relationship, and therein lies our salvation. Father, Son and Spirit were together in Creation, The Son offers himself to keep the relationship intact and with the Spirit draw us into the relationship making us part of the Divine nature and the divine relationship.
This approach means seeing things differently, Seeing God the Father as Being itself, flowing, formless, nothingness, mystery as in the beginning of Genesis and then Christ as the living manifestation of that Being. The Holy Spirit is the Planted Hope, whenever it is missing in us we are robbed of that inner hope, that life, that joy that keeps us in relationship with the Father. That Spirit cries out in us and draws us into the triune relationship and as such makes us part of the divine nature. We become part of that circle, that wave, that eternal love. We become more like Christ. We become part of the body of Christ on earth all within that relationship.
Today’s Psalm speaks to this relationship, showing how much God thinks of us that He created us a little lower than the Angels and as the crown of His creation, given dominion and stewardship of Creation. We are reminded in the Isaiah 40 reading that we are given energy, strength so that we can continue even in the difficult times, that we can rise above because of the relationship we have with the Trinity.
As we are drawn into the relationship of the Trinity we are also drawn into the relationship of the body, the church together, and then from that communion with each other we are sent back out into the world to call it back into the relationship with God that was the original idea of creation. This Trinitarian relationship is all about restoring the broken relationship between the Triune Godhead and the people, a way to the New Heaven and Earth of Revelation 21. That is why the final instructions of Christ to us in Matthew 28 are to make disciples of all nations. To bring them back into the relationship. To achieve the human flourishing that God has always wanted us to have.
We get so bogged down in trying to explain the Trinity when all we need to see is the relationship, the interaction between God Father, Son and Spirit and us. Remember Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity and how there is place for us around that table, how it invites us in. The Father looks forward, raising his hand in blessing, a movement towards the Son. The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. We see the movement of life towards us, the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, the life flows clockwise around the circle and we complete the circle. As the Father sends the Son, as the Son sends the Holy Spirit, so we are invited and sent to complete the circle of the Godhead with our response. The Spirit touches us, and leads us by ways we may not be aware of into the circle. This is exactly what I am talking about. There is a place for us in the relationship, but it is up to us to take the invitation and join in the cosmic dance that is the Trinity.
For information and a picture of Andrei Rublev's Icon of the Trinity circa 1400 please follow this link: https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/17509/documents/2017/8/Trinityicon.pdf
Pentecost Sunday 31st May 2020. Acts 2:1-21. Psalm 104:26-end. 1Corinthians 12:3-13. John 20:19-23.
From fearful to faithful via the Holy Spirit.
A few weeks ago, I spoke of the disciples in lockdown in the upper room and our lockdown experiences. They were scared and fearful for their lives, they needed something to allow them to step up and step out to do what Jesus had asked them to….enter the Holy Spirit. As some of us are being offered more freedom from this lockdown period we need something to help us, empower us…..enter the Holy Spirit.
We all hear things incorrectly sometimes, the first time I heard the hymn There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, I thought it was There’s a wildness in God’s mercy. I discovered my mistake but sometimes I am not so sure that I was wrong. Wildness is extravagant, exuberant, abundant, challenging and sometimes uncontrollable. God’s mercy is all those things but wildness, extravagance, exuberance, abundance, challenging and sometimes seemingly uncontrollable is very much the Holy Spirit. I am a big fan of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and the character of Aslan. Descriptions of this Lion who represents God, talk of Him being both frightening and beautiful. A being who can eradicate life with one swipe but who also gently picks up the needy and holds them protectively. The depth of power is frightening, the wielding of that power can also be gentle and fair. We are rightly fearful of the unknown and of power wielded incorrectly and perhaps that prevents us from understanding and accepting the Holy Spirit of the New Testament.
In the early church the coming of the Spirit was tied into the Jewish festival of Shavout, 50 days after Passover, Pentecost is Greek for 50 and is 50 days after Easter. Shavout celebrates both the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was a key Festival in the early church, it’s colour is Red, picking up the tongues of fire, and celebrates the outpouring of the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It was and still is the birth of the church on earth without the presence of physical Jesus, humans become the active body of Christ on earth through the Holy Spirit. The outpouring is powerful, it is unpredictable, insuppressible, formidable and fairly messy. Incredible things happen and that might have been okay for the early church we think, but it’s a bit too wild for us now. People who are seeking God are naturally drawn to the power because if this God is real then He must be powerful, and we will see that power at work. It is why Pentecostal churches tend to be large, loud churches.
We tend to like the comforter, counsellor parts of the Spirit and not the wind or the flames. We like the quiet, slow and subtle working of the Spirit……we want to see things change, people come and churches grow but we want it “our way”. Trouble is the Holy Spirit can be loud, bold, raucous, obvious and signs and wonders can and do happen. The Spirit can be both a thunderstorm and a gentle breeze. There is both a terrifying power and gentle peace and nurture. This powerful Spirit is avilable and bearable because of Jesus. Don’t forget Jesus had his wild side, He had harsh words for those who treated others with contempt and profited from God’s laws. He cleared the temple, He raised the dead but He also showed love and compassion beyond our imaginings. Jesus is both the beauty and the terror of God and is the outpouring of God’s love in restoring us to Himself.
As Christ’s body on Earth we need a presence, a power, a guide, an enabler, and that is God’s Spirit living within us. Just as Mary became God bearer in having Jesus, we become God bearers as we bring God to everyone we meet. The challenge is for us to always act and speak as bearers of God. We cannot do it all, so thank God that there are millions of us to help one another, to cover the gaps we leave. We are much better God bearers when we do it together as God’s family, God’s church. Pentecost celebrates the birth of this church, of this God bearing Community of Christians. We are in Communion with God and with each other and that is utterly amazing.
Some years ago I heard the then Bishop of Southwark talking to Children. He explained the shape of his Mitre as a symbolic flame of the Spirit placed upon his head when He was made Bishop. Then he also referred to it as a type of Spirit sorting hat, as in Harry Potter, where the Spirit blesses the person with the gifts they need for the life they are living. These gifts are given within our personalities, our talents. Yes, when necessary any gift can be given to any person at any time, but we tend to have gifts that are innate to us. We need to cherish and celebrate these gifts in others as well as ourselves. We need to accept our gifts and not long for the gifts of others and use all of them for the common good. I have witnessed miraculous healing, but I also witness the gift of healing in every nurse, doctor, carer every day. I have witnessed incredible discernment and see it every day in people who just know what to say or do at the right time. I see wisdom, faith, prophecy, understanding, service, care, creativity, strength, gentleness, compassion…….. being shown every day around us, by us, by others.
I am so grateful for the encouragers, for the listeners, for the fixers, the cooks and cleaners, the prayer warriors, the sowers and the reapers, the carers, the wise, the knowledgeable, the poets and writers, the artists, the teachers and preachers. There are so many wonderful gifts and we need to cultivate them in our lives so we can work together as the body of Christ and make things better for everyone. This Pentecost we need to be willing to let the powerful, exuberant, wild, energetic Spirit into our lives. To not be fearful but faithful as we open ourselves to a different Spirit than just the one we like. We need to be willing, to be faithful in allowing God to work in whatever way He choses and be the conduit for that as we let the Holy Spirit gift us in whatever way is necessary.
Have a wonderful and blessed Pentecost….Come Holy Spirit, we are waiting.
Easter 7. 24th May 2020. Year A. John 17:1-11. Acts 1:6-14. 1 Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11.
On this last Sunday of Easter the lectionary gives us Jesus' prayer concerning glory, in John's gospel this prayer occurs at the end of the last supper, so that it leads into the passion. The word "glory" can mean honour or brightness, but here it has to do with the way God is made known to human beings.
John's gospel stipulates that humans were created by God for a relationship with God. That is why the prayer says that eternal life means knowing God and Jesus Christ, whom God has sent (John 17:3). John makes it clear that eternal life comes from a relationship with the eternal God. It begins now in faith, as we come to know the love of the God who made us, with the promise of the resurrection. John also declares that "No one has ever seen God" (1:18). God's presence is hidden until God chooses to reveal it. The theme of glory, in this passage, has to do with the way the revelation takes place.
Jesus glorified God on earth by completing the work God gave him to do (17:4). In a basic sense this means he honoured God through his obedience to God's commands. During his public ministry Jesus taught what God wanted Him to teach, He performed the healings and other works that God wanted him to perform. Even as He is harassed and criticised and judged. Such faithfulness honours God (8:49). Jesus glorified God by revealing God's power through doing God’s will.
The term "glory" is also used for the way the power of God is brought into the realm of our human experience. Jesus made divine power visible by the miraculous signs he performed. At the beginning of His ministry Jesus manifested his glory by turning water into wine at Cana (2:11); and at the end of His ministry He revealed the glory of God by calling his dead friend Lazarus back to life (11:40). There are many other miracles and wonders in between.
The second use of glory in Jesus' prayer concerns the glory He will return to in Heaven once his ministry on earth is over and He ascends. This heavenly glory is something that the Son of God enjoyed before the world existed. To share in such glory is to share in divine honour, divine majesty, and divine power. It was out of love that the Father gave the Son such glory before the foundation of the world, so that sharing in God's glory means sharing in God's love.
By means of his passion Jesus will return to the Father and enter a heavenly glory that his followers on earth cannot fully understand now, but can hope to see in the future. Therefore, Jesus concludes his prayer by asking that those whom God has given Him may one day be with Him in God's presence, to see the fullness of the glory that God has and gives to Him in love (17:24).
The prayer traces a movement from glory on earth to glory in heaven, and it would be easy to bypass the cross without comment. To jump from Lent to Easter without Passiontide as some Christians do. Yet this prayer, just like the rest of John's gospel, connects glory to the crucifixion itself. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at the end of his ministry, he says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified," and he compares himself to a seed that must fall into the earth and die (12:23-24).
The gospel links glory to the Earthly ministry of Jesus that culminates in the crucifixion. As Jesus says He has glorified God on earth by finishing the works that God gave Him to do. It is the same word He uses on the cross when He says "it is finished." Jesus glorifies God on earth by accomplishing God's works, then he glorifies God by the crucifixion that finishes this work. The mission of Jesus is about to be accomplished. Saint John sees the passion and death of Jesus as the moment in which He is most glorious; because His mission is to reveal in human form, the infinite love and mercy of God, in all circumstances, for the whole of humanity.
In John there are none of the powerful acts spoken of in the other gospels, no darkness, no torn curtain, no earth quaking. Instead John shows God’s glory through the act of divine love. The crucifixion completes Jesus' work of glorifying God on earth, for by laying down His life He gives himself completely so that the world may know of God's complete, utter and unconditional love for the world (John 3:16; 14:31). This love and mercy is most evident when Jesus responds with love and mercy to his being betrayed, rejected, mocked, scourged, and crucified. The message is that nothing can separate us from his love and mercy. He makes clear the inner nature of God. The evil of the whole human race is transformed in the heart of Jesus crucified.
By his Resurrection and Ascension Jesus returns to the heavenly glory that God prepared for him in love, and Jesus prays that his followers will one day join Him in the Father's presence to share in this glory and love (17:5)
In celebrating the Ascension we are celebrating God’s love for us in sending Jesus, to suffer, die, defeat death, rise and open the door of Heaven for us. His Ascension allows Him to return to glory where He can intercede for us and to allow The Holy Spirit to become our companion, our comforter our enabler to bring glory to God through our ministry on earth.
John’s gospel is about relationship and love, Jesus relationship with Abba, Father and our relationship with our father God, restored through Jesus. Have we ever realised that Jesus is ‘glorified’ in us? As long as we have a breath left in our body, we have work to do on earth to glorify God. We can never begin this work too early, or too late. So, a question for us on this Sunday after Ascension is what does the Lord call on me to do today? And How can I bring glory to God, to Jesus today?
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, means to the greater glory of God. May we think of how our words, actions and talents reflect God's glory each and every day.
Easter 6. 17th May 2020. Acts 17:22-31. 1Peter 3:13-end. John 14:15-21.
Love and The Spirit.
Today’s Gospel passage picks up where last week's reading left off. Jesus continues his Farewell Discourse, preparing His disciples for His departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit. In these few verse Jesus reiterates his favourite theme: love. He also promises the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus emphasizes the intimate relationship of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and us, the believer.
In john Jesus uses love words fifty-seven times, these are agapa and, phileo, meaning unconditional and a true bond. Also he uses "friend", which is the translation of philos, as well as the fact that in this Fourth Gospel the title "the beloved disciple," is used. It is in this Gospel that the most famous Bible verse, the Bible in miniature, is found: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life"? (3:16).
These 6 verses of today’s reading begin and end with love. In v. 15 Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. In John this is summed up in "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (13.34-35). And again "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:12-13). The overwhelming, repetitive, circular emphasis in John’s Gospel is love.
Jesus gives us one commandment: to love. At the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, there's only one question to ask ourselves: "In what ways did I or did I not love today?" As we reflect upon that, we are challenged about our behaviour. Where we did not love, there lies a judgment. But it is merely a diagnostic tool, not retributive. It is to enable us to change our ways and not to condemn us. Jesus constantly asks people questions that help them understand their lives and motives more clearly. To the sick man in ch. 5:6: "Do you wish to be made well?"; to Martha in 11:26: "Do you believe this?". He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers, rather, he asks so that we might learn and know, understand and therefore move forward with God and our faith. As we are challenged and change we become better Christians and better advertisements for the faith we live. We become better witnesses to what we believe but it all starts and ends with love.
As part of this learning and loving Jesus promises help, the Holy Spirit.
John insists that the Holy Spirit will come after Jesus himself departs. Why is this? Jesus was with them, God’s presence, but once He goes what happens next? What appeared to be bad news to the disciples, namely Jesus' departure from them, turned out to be the best of news for both them and us. While Jesus walked the earth, His ministry was limited to one location and one person, Himself. Upon hHs departure, His disciples are given the Holy Spirit and move from apprentices to full, mature Gospel preachers of God's love. This happens not just to the first disciples, but to all of us who would come later, those who never saw the historical Jesus. We have no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. Yes, it would be wonderful to actually meet Jesus, and we will, but everything they were taught and they experienced is available to us, right now, through the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Trinity, God’s Spirit living in us.
The word Greek word parakletos, is used here and has several meanings in Greek: Comforter, Advocate, Counsellor and Helper. So the Holy Spirit will, just as Jesus had, comfort us when we need it, stand up for us and argue our case, give us the tools we need to speak up or act correctly, offer counselling and advice and generally be our help in times of trouble. He is offered to us as friend, companion, always there, always with us and never failing. It is the very thing the 1 Peter 3 reading is referring to, being ready to make defence, not being intimidated, giving an account of our hope and faith in a gentle and reverent way, all made possible through the Spirit living within us.
As Christians we are familiar with the Trinity, but perhaps the most stunning feature of John’s Gospel is that we have the power and support of the Trinity every day of our lives. Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between Him, God, and the Spirit also includes believers. We do not stand close by admiring the majesty of the Trinity; rather, we are part of it. John shows us this through a number of terms and repeating them: abide, love, the language of being "in" and later in the Discourse, an emphasis on "one-ness" John offers us a participatory relationship. We are Children of God; therefore we are part of the family, not just the family of Christians but the family of God; father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is made helpfully clear in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, as seen here, we are being invited in, we are the fourth presence invited into the last space at the table, as God’s children.
This point is also driven home with v. 23, the pinnacle of the passage: "Those who love me will keep my commandments, and my Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them." If God and Christ have made their home with us through the Spirit, how can there be any distance between us and God? The full relationship between us and the Trinity is available now and every day, but as always, we have to want that, we have to accept the Spirit and His work in our lives. God is not currently holding out on us in any way, life, abundant life, is available for living from this moment into eternity. It is us who hold out on God. It is us who do not love as we are called to, it is us who do not access the Spirit and do not allow ourselves that full life from God.
Jesus returned to Heaven so the Holy Spirit could come and be with us, to help us in our love of one another and God, to enable us to take our place as part of God’s family but we have to make the decision to be part of it and let the Spirit work within us that we will be challenged and changed day by day if, and only if, we allow Him to work. AMEN
Easter 5. Psalm 35: 1-5. Acts 7:55-end. 1 Peter 2:2-10. John 14:1-14. Sunday 10th May 2020.
A reason to go…..I want to prepare a place for you.
Picture Jesus there in the upper room with his disciples. He had walked with them for over three years. He taught them many things. He performed miracles before their eyes, and in the sight of others. They believed that he was the Christ, the Saviour of the world, and they expected him to remain forever. But now he is talking about going away. In John 13:33 we hear Jesus say, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”
The disciples were troubled at these words. They were greatly distressed. They were bothered at the thought of their Master going away. After all, they expected him to remain forever! They thought to themselves, why does he need to leave? Where does he plan to go? Will we see him again? And how will we possibly get along in this world without him? These were the thoughts that were troubling the disciples as we arrive at John 14.
Notice that Jesus brings comfort to his disciples. That is what John 14 is all about. Jesus is comforting his disciples concerning his departure. And not only did he comfort the 11 who remained with him in the upper room on the night of his betrayal and arrest, but he also comforts you and I who live now in this difficult unprecedented time.
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Or “Do not be worried and upset, Believe in God; believe also in me.” We know that he himself was troubled in spirit, and yet, even with the weight of the world upon His shoulders, He gives himself to the task of comforting his disciples and also us.
These words are an imperative in the Greek, a command and something that we are to do. When our hearts are anxious, when our hearts are troubled with the cares that come with living in this world, especially at the moment, we need to hear the command of our Saviour saying, “let not your hearts be troubled.” Do not be worried and upset….. BUT WHY?
Jesus says, “believe in God, believe also in me.” There is substance to this command. There is weight behind it! You and I might say to one another, “don’t worry”, or “be happy”, but there is little substance in platitudes we just say. We might respond to encouragement like that saying, but why shouldn’t I worry? Or, why should I be happy? Jesus gives us a clear reason.
It is not an empty command. He directs our attention to God, our Father and urges us to take comfort in Him! Believe in the God who created you, the God of Abraham and the patriarchs, the God who cared for His people again and again, who blessed people and kept them safe and helped them in times of trouble, a God of miracles and of complete love for His people. There is no greater reason to not worry or be troubled, than to remember the God who made us and the love that he has for us in Christ Jesus. And that is where Jesus directs our attention. “Believe in God”, he says. And “believe also in me”, the one He sent, the promised Messiah. So, when we are troubled, worried and struggling we are to turn to God, tell Him everything and place all our trust in him.
There is also an even deeper reason behind this command “I go and prepare a place for you.” Jesus goes further than this as he comforts his disciples, He explains to them that He is going for a good reason, to prepare a place for them and us.
Clearly, Jesus was talking about heaven. He calls heaven “my Father’s house”. Heaven is the place we identify where God dwells. God is everywhere, He is omnipresent, but heaven is that place where his glory dwells. In the scriptures we are, from time to time, given a glimpse into heaven where God is worshipped day and night by the heavenly hosts and the saints who have passed from this world into glory. Jesus here refers to this place as “my Father’s house”. This is what Stephen sees as he is stoned to death in Acts 7, Jesus waiting to welcome him home to His father’s house, Heaven.
Jesus also has in mind the new heavens and the new earth that those who are in Christ will enjoy for all eternity as told in Revelation 21. This is the ultimate and final place that Christ is preparing for those who are His, that is, for his bride, the church.
Jesus tells us that “in his Father’s house there are many rooms.” This wonderful place has ample room for all his people, for everyone who has and will ever live if they choose God and Jesus.
When talking about heaven people are accustomed to speaking of pearly gates, streets of gold, and mansions on hills. We speak often of no more sin, sickness, or death. And it is true that we long for these things, but we also need to see “God with us” as the most treasured feature of all. He is what makes heaven, heaven. He is what makes paradise, paradise. He indeed is our life. Just as in the first creation, we will again walk with God in the cool of the evening. We will indeed enjoy unbroken, unhindered, unmediated, fellowship with the God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us He goes and prepares a place for us but then He will come back and will take us to Himself, that where He is, we may be also. The promise of Heaven for us. The promise of life eternal with Father God, Jesus and Holy Spirit forever.
This is such a comfort to us, such an encouragement. What we deserve is to be cast from the presence of God into utter darkness and eternal hell, But God made a place suitable for us through Jesus sacrificial death, defeat of death and hell and his resurrection to new life. As our Peter reading reminds us we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a Holy nation belonging to God because of Jesus the cornerstone on which our eternal life is built.
Easter 4. John 10:1-10. Psalm 23. 1 peter 2:19-end. The Gate for the Sheep. Sunday 3rd May 2020.
If you could go to Palestine and the land between Jerusalem and Jericho, the road cuts a giant gash through the Judean Wilderness. The hillsides are covered with open fields, bare, dry and dotted with herds of sheep and goats, with lonely shepherds leading their flocks. You may catch a glimpse of many Bedouin encampments on the hill sides. Life has changed little in thousands of years. They look very poor, living in large rickety marquee tents, made of old sacks, animal skins and cardboard. Actually, many of them are very wealthy. You can tell this by the size of their herds. We might think it’s odd measuring wealth in terms of animals. But they would probably think we are strange, measuring wealth in quantities of little pieces of coloured paper. You can’t eat bank notes. Their sheep and goats provide them with nourishing drink, with food, with clothing, and even with friendship.
Why sheep? Sheep tend to stay together in herds, they are quick growing and multiply easily. Sheep can be trained to obey but they do need adequate food. They are naturally defenceless and need to be watched continually with protection at night. Sheep are short sighted; they can only see 6 feet ahead. Perhaps we can begin to understand why Jesus says we are like sheep and he is our shepherd. We also need to realise there is very little similarity between Palestinian Shepherds and British farmers.
In Britain sheep are reared largely for their meat. They are a business to provide an income. In Palestine they are kept mostly for their milk and wool. That means they live longer. It also means a personal relationship develops between shepherd and sheep. The sheep are given names and respond to his call, he knows them and they know him. If you have watched British sheep trials you will know how difficult it can be to get sheep to go in the right direction. That is because British herders tend to drive their sheep from behind and with dogs. It is hard to keep them in a straight line. In Palestine it is a lot easier because the shepherd leads his sheep from the front and because they know and trust him, they follow.
So Jesus uses this obvious visual aid all around them of sheep being cared for and led by shepherds to declare that He is the gate for the sheep v9, that life with Him is about fulness v10 and that following Him means listening to His voice v3.
I am the gate v9
Jesus uses the illustration of the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus is building his flock, finding and saving “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” But he is also calling sheep from all nations into his flock v16. This shepherd is for everyone.
The sheep pen is an enclosure open to the elements and the inspection of the owner. It is not covered in or roofed over like a barn or shed, it has no door either, just an opening. Its walls are open to the sun, the sky, rain and wind. They are often made of rough stones with a layer of thorn brush along the top and their main purpose is to provide protection. At night, after the sheep are in, the shepherd just lays down in the doorway. He becomes the gate. There is no access to the sheepfold except through him. Anyone who tried to climb over the wall to get in was obviously up to no good. If a predator tries to enter, the shepherd would be disturbed. The shepherd therefore puts his life at risk to protect his sheep in becoming the gate. A hired hand won’t put His life at risk, but the owner will. The people would have been familiar with the many occasions in the Hebrew scriptures where the Lord God describes himself as a shepherd. Like our Psalm for today, Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd. But also in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Jesus takes this role of Shepherd, the people know this is God’s role, and Jesus declares Himself as the one who protects His people. Suddenly the whole illustration makes sense. Amidst the storms of life, Jesus is saying He is the only one through whom we can be safe and secure. Jesus is “the” Gate, the way to God. Jesus is God’s son, the promised messiah.
Jesus came that they may have fulness of life V10
Within the metaphor of the sheep and the shepherds, Jesus’ main purpose is to show that He is the one who brings salvation. He is god’s chosen messiah. No one else. He challenges the false shepherds of his time. The religious leaders who were self-seeking, self-serving who expelled those who challenged their authority. Jesus welcomes the lost sheep into his flock. He is literally the door to heaven, the way into God’s flock. Jesus defines ‘life’ in terms of free access to good pasture, protection from harm at night and fullness of life or life everlasting. Provision by day, protection by night. Under His care and by His gift we can experience the absolute best life can offer. Jesus gives a whole new meaning to living because He provides full satisfaction, perfect guidance, and eternal security.
Listening to His voice v3
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. How? Relationship. Getting to know Him as He knows us. Do we recognise his voice speaking to us as we read the Bible? Do we hear Him call us daily? Do we listen as well as talk when we pray? We need to get to know Him well a relationship is two way.
We have so much to learn from sheep on this point. God has built into their instinct the ability to discern between voices. That is why they run from strangers and will not follow them. Children are the same. As we grow up, we suppress this instinct. We can always find an excuse to be economical with the truth, to manipulate a situation, to do what we think is right because we know better than God in today’s society,,,,,don’t we? It is so easy to listen to people talk about wealth, power and protection as a Christian right and manipulate followers into parting with money and offering support to those with questionable motives. People will lead us astray if we do not know God’s voice!
Sheep can’t survive alone, that’s why they live in herds, they need each other, we need each other. As we follow Jesus together, He will provide all we need to care for one another whatever happens; and this year we are having a really rough time, all our normal life is being called into question. It has been proven, over the years, that certain things enable us to cope and grow and live life well. These are family and friends providing a strong bond in adversity, we are seeing this right now. Eating meals together, sharing together by talking, expressing and discussing. Spending time together, how many of us are now truly longing to be with our loved ones because we have had to keep away. Showing solidarity, having fun together and caring for one another in practical ways and participating in worship together. These things we benefit from because it is not good for us to be alone and as Jesus leads, we follow, together, supporting one another.
Easter 3. The Road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35. 1Peter 1:17-23. Sunday April 26th 2020.
Have you ever been driving somewhere, and you realize you’ve gone to work instead of the Supermarket, for example? I have a tendency to do it at our junction of the A2. My internal map sends me to the old, expected place instead of to the other one. We are creatures of habit. So it is in our Christian life we can be heading in one direction and end up in another. The disciples in today’s reading from Luke thought they were going to one place and ended up in a totally other place, literally and spiritually.
In the gospel account from Luke, two disciples are walking on a road to a village called Emmaus. Remember, this is soon after Easter morning, just after the women have told them about the empty tomb. The two disciples are deep in conversation with each other, they are sad, confused and discussing all the happenings with Jesus, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb.
A stranger walks up to them and asks what they’re talking about. They don’t recognise Him. They tell the stranger all about how they hoped Jesus was going to redeem Israel but now He’s been killed, and the tomb was empty, and they went to check it out and Jesus wasn’t there. You can almost here the rambling. They just can’t see for looking.
They don’t recognise Jesus on the road. It’s quite possible that this happens because Jesus needs to reveal himself to them in a new, unexpected, way to shake the disciples out of their old way of thinking. Just as we sometimes need to see Jesus differently to change our perspective on life, to shake us out of old ways of thinking!
These disciples had a map they expected the Messiah to follow, a map that had been given to them by history and tradition. A map that included their saviour being a king and conqueror, freeing Israel from its Roman occupiers, and since that didn’t happen, they believe they’ve reached the end of the road. They had been expecting the journey would end with a conquering hero. Remember Palm Sunday, it was all going so well then it all went wrong very quickly. Their old way of thinking is keeping them from getting to the new place Jesus wants them to go.
Jesus questions them, He challenges their foolishness, and their understanding of all that the prophets had declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory? Then, Jesus gives them a run down on Moses and all the prophets, showing the disciples how the scriptures lead to himself (Jesus) as Messiah. They and we sometimes need a very clear history lesson.
As they reach their actual destination they’re about to be surprised because neither their physical or spiritual journey is actually over. They want to spend some more time with this stranger, maybe hear more of what he has to say about the scriptures, so when he starts to go on ahead of them, they urge him strongly to stay. So, Jesus goes in to stay with them. They sit down at the table. And it’s at the meal, when Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it, where they get the “big reveal”: they finally recognise him because it’s the same gestures as he did at their last meal together.
These disciples know Jesus in the breaking of the bread!! Then it dawns on them that they also knew him when he was explaining the scriptures. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” they declare.
So, what about us? If we are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, then our old habits, misguided expectations and ways of thinking keep us from seeing who Jesus really is. We’re normal human beings, and it’s a fact of life, that we easily get distracted, we wander from God and we get lost in a version of Christianity that we have sort of built for ourselves around our experiences and traditions and what we have been told is correct, without question.
In walking with the disciples to Emmaus, Jesus gives the disciples two ways to find him. He opens up the scriptures for them and he breaks bread with them. The good news for us is that Jesus has given us those same two ways to open our eyes to his presence: opening up the scriptures and the breaking of the bread.
We are people of word and sacrament. People of the Book and People of the Mass/Communion. We are called to Jesus by the central acts of our worship, by reading God’s word and hearing the word preached and then as we meet around the Lord’s table breaking bread together.
This gospel reading today brings us to the source of the church’s confidence and power…an encounter with the risen Lord which moves the disciples and us from despair to hope. It is that encounter with the risen Jesus that opens our eyes to the truth, to the love of God for us, to the promised saviour set out before us in the Bible, the Holy Book, that we should be reading and studying. It is the opening of our eyes in the breaking of bread together, the symbol of our redemption, the re-enactment of what Jesus did for us that first Easter, in the meal He left for us to celebrate together.
As they walked with Jesus they felt the Spirit burn within them, if we want to walk with Jesus like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we must open the scriptures and break the bread and allow the Spirit to ignite and burn within us, opening our eyes to God’s purpose and plan because that is how Jesus brings us home to him.
Unlocking Doors – in lockdown
A Sermon on John 20:19-31, Easter 2. 19th April 2020.
A week ago we celebrated the resurrection. Now comes the time when we must live the resurrection. That is not always easy particularly in the present situation of lockdown. There are always days when we prefer to just stay in bed, pull the covers over our head, and close out the world. Some days it seems easier and safer to lock the doors of our house and avoid the circumstances and people of our lives. Sometimes we just want to run away, hide, and not deal with the reality of our lives.
For a while now we have had to do just that. We are in lockdown not self-imposed as the Disciples were, but Government imposed for our own safety.
Every time, however, we shut the doors of our life, our mind, or our heart we imprison ourselves. For every person, event, or idea we lock out, regardless of the reason, we lock ourselves in. That’s what has happened to the disciples in today’s gospel. It is Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, the day they saw the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalene announced, “I have seen the Lord.” For us a day of celebration for them a realisation that this isn’t over and that means trouble. The disciples are gathered in the house, the doors are locked with fear. They are in lockdown. A week later they are in the same place. It is the same house, the same walls, the same closed doors, the same locks. Nothing much has changed. Three, four weeks later here we are still in lockdown, has much changed for us? Does Easter really make a difference in our present situation?
Jesus’ tomb is open and empty, death has been defeated but the disciples’ house is closed and the doors locked tight. The house has become their tomb. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear. The disciples have separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith have been closed. They have shut their eyes to the reality that life is now different and different means fear of the new, the unknown. They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness. The locked doors have become the great stone sealing their tomb. They have locked themselves in.
The doors of our tombs are always locked from the inside! All this, and it has been only one week.
I wonder, one week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors. How is our life different after Easter? And if it isn’t, what are the locked doors of our life, our heart, our mind that we need to open?
Living in lockdown does not mean we cannot live as people of the resurrection, of freedom because freedom is more than just physical, we can experience physical lockdown but still be free mentally, spiritually and psychologically.
When St. John describes the house, the doors, the locks he is speaking about more than a physical house with walls, doors on hinges, and deadbolts. He is describing the interior condition of the disciples. The locked places of our lives are always more about what is going on inside of us than around us.
What are the closed places of your life? What keeps you in the tomb? Maybe, like the disciples, it is fear. Maybe it is questions, disbelief, or the conditions we place on our faith. Perhaps it is sorrow and loss. Maybe the wounds are so deep it does not seem worth the risk to step outside. For others of us it may be anger and resentment keeping us locked in or some of us may seem unable or unwilling to open up to new ideas, possibilities, and change.
Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives. He comes to bring Easter in us. Unexpected, uninvited, and sometimes even unwanted he steps into our closed lives, closed hearts and closed minds. Standing among us he offers peace and breathes new life into us. Even when we struggle to believe at first. He doesn’t open the door for us but he gives us all we need so that we might unlock and open our doors to a new life, a new creation, a new way of being. This is happening all the time but just like Thomas we can miss it because our minds and hearts are elsewhere, are so engrossed in our fears and issues they blind us to His resurrection presence.
Throughout this current situation strangers are becoming friends, individuality is giving way to unity, and hope lies in the midst of grief and suffering. Christ stands among his people saying, “Peace be with you,” breathing life into what looks lifeless. The boundaries of race, economics, education, and language fall away as people volunteer, help each other, clap support, smile and have conversations across a safe distance and pray. In the midst of this Christ enters saying, “Peace be with you. The winds of change are blowing. There is such sorrow and grief right now and we are in fear and we are angry and disorientated. Sorrow has closed our doors but Jesus stands in the midst of that sorrow saying “Peace be with you.” His peace carries us through the day, one day at a time.
Regardless of the circumstances Jesus shows up bringing peace, offering peace, embodying peace. Regardless of the circumstances Jesus shows up bringing life, offering life, embodying life. Life and peace are resurrection reality. They do not necessarily change the circumstances of our life and world. The virus is still around, the hungry still need to be fed, the vulnerable still need to be cared for and loved ones are still dying. The life and peace of Jesus’ resurrection enable us to meet and live through those circumstances. His gives us his peace, his breath, his life, and then sends us out. We are free to unlock the doors of our lives and step outside into his life. We may be locked inside our homes at the moment, but we don’t have to be locked inside our hearts or minds. We are free to make a resurrection difference in whatever circumstances we are in with the resurrected Jesus right there with us. AMEN-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sermon for Easter Sunday. 12th April 2020. Acts 10:34-43. John 20:1-18. Year A.
It is Easter Sunday; we celebrate Christ risen and we come to meet Jesus just as Mary did that first Easter. But what are we expecting? Those who first discovered the empty tomb, Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene, the last thing they expected was to find an empty tomb and Jesus, alive! When Mary Magdalene went to the garden on that first Easter morning, her grief was far more real, far more painful, beyond words. The pain of Jesus’ death cut through her heart like the soldier’s spear that had pieced Jesus side. And now, it was made all the worse by his missing body. She cried, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Who would do such a horrible thing? Who would steal a body? Jesus wasn’t really stolen. He was alive. He was transformed. He was right there, with her still.
But we read that Mary didn’t recognise Jesus at first. She thought he was the gardener. Maybe she just couldn’t see well from the tears in her eyes, or perhaps from lack of sleep after the horrific events of the days before, replaying the image of Jesus nailed to the cross over and over again. It would be hard any of us to sleep after watching helplessly as that horror happens to someone you love so much. She was not expecting to see Jesus. Maybe, it was because of her grief that she didn’t recognise Jesus. But we are told that the dead will be changed, transformed, Jesus had died, defeated Satan and risen because Jesus was in his new, resurrected state he was beyond recognition, comprehension, and certainly beyond explanation.
Jesus was transformed that morning. In their various ways all four of the gospels tell us that the Jesus that Mary and the disciples encountered on that first Easter morning was somehow different from the Jesus they knew before Good Friday.
Now, the gospels really aren’t very good at describing this change, whatever happened in the garden on that Easter morning is far beyond anything that can be put into words or images. It’s something that can be witnessed, experienced even, but not described, and certainly only God could make it happen. Because only God can take death and transform it into life. Only God can take grief and transform it into joy. Only God can take fear and transform it into hope.
Jesus speaks to Mary, but he does not say, “Don’t you recognise me? It’s Jesus! I’m alive! Neither does Jesus launch into a theological discourse on the resurrection of the body, or a scriptural explanation of how his presence here is the fulfilment of prophesies that extend back to Isaiah and beyond. Thank God, he doesn’t do any of those things. What he does takes our breath away. He says, simply, “Mary.”
Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name. “Mary.” And it is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to consciously admit into her wounded soul the possibility of something new, something completely unexpected and illogical. It is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to conceive of the possibility of resurrection. It is only in hearing her name called that Mary is able to understand that in the garden, she is indeed near to God’s heart and that Jesus is alive.
As transformative as Easter was for Jesus, as amazing to behold as it was Mary Magdalene and Peter and the other disciples, it can be just as amazing and just as transformative for us. If Jesus’ resurrection in that beautiful Easter garden 2000 years ago is to have any meaning for us now, if the light of that first Easter Day so long ago is to shine as brightly today as it did then, we have to live it, too. We have to be transformed by it. We have to know and believe and trust that new life, abundant life, resurrection life, is as much a possibility for us here, today, as it was for Jesus, and for Mary Magdalene, and for Peter so very long ago.
Easter teaches us to believe in things that seem impossible. It tells us that what we see is not all that there is. It holds before us the hope of new life, abundant life, spring life, where before all we could see was winter, fear, and death. Most especially, and most importantly, the transformation of Easter encourages us, in fact it compels us, to roll the stone away and step out of the tombs of our lives, so that we can embrace new possibilities. So that we can be filled with hope. So that we can live the resurrection.
We can start living that fantastic, amazing, dazzlingly bright Easter life right now. We don’t have to wait for some future time. We don’t need soldiers or angels to roll the stones away for us. We can do it ourselves, today, right here, right now. We can step, run, or even leap, out of the tombs of our lives, and we can live: freely, fully, abundantly. That’s God’s hope for us. That’s God’s dream for us. That’s God’s promise for us. Jesus was raised, so that we, too, will be raised.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” May we, with Mary, with the disciples, also see the Lord alive, then, may we live the life of resurrection ourselves, today, tomorrow, and always.
Happy Easter, my friends. Happy Easter. Alleluia! Christ is risen.-----------------------------------------------------------------
Sermon: Holy Saturday April 11th 2020.
Luke 23: 54 “It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
In the last few months, we have commemorated Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and tomorrow, Easter Day. But what do we call the Saturday that falls between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? What is so significant about it?
Holy Saturday, the “Sabbath” as it is generically called in our text, seems to merely be a verbal bridge between Good Friday and Easter. The Biblical account devotes one lone verse to it! Yet, in many ways, the Saturday when Jesus was in the tomb should be a significant high point on the church agenda. Saturday must be more than a time when we say, "Yesterday He died and tomorrow He will rise again, but today not much is happening." It should be a red-letter day.
"What’s the big deal about Holy Saturday?" some may wonder. For many, if spring is in the air, it is an opportunity to wash the car, mow the lawn, take a walk, or just rest in the hammock. Others will buy groceries for tomorrow’s Easter dinner -- or take their kids to an egg hunt, in our own garden of course.
What happened on Saturday between Good Friday and Easter? To the untrained eye, nothing at all!
If we were to go to the tomb outside of Jerusalem at the crack of dawn on Saturday, we would observe little of major significance. The body of a recently crucified man would be on a slab inside, still bloodied, discoloured, rigid with rigor mortis. It would be a hideous sight (if we could see it). But we can’t because it is behind a sealed boulder that plugs the entrance.
But in heaven above and on earth beneath, far from our human senses, there is enough activity to change eternity. Demons are raging, some shrieking in fear. Satan has been stripped of all authority and power. Christ has opened paradise, ushering in both the thief who died by Him on the cross, and all those who had believed in the Coming Messiah through the ages.
The angels of heaven are rejoicing. Father God no longer has His face turned away. There is a sense that a celebration is about to erupt at any moment! That is why Saturday is so important on the church calendar.
Yet back in Jerusalem, on the surface of Planet Earth, it is business as usual. If you were to stop the typical person and ask him or her about the excitement of Friday afternoon, inquire about the execution of yesterday, the individual would probably respond: "It is Saturday and it is finished!"
To them then, like to much of our world two thousand years later, it’s not important. The entire episode is "history". It is finished, kaput, over with, concluded, dead and buried.
It seemed that way for Peter, who can still hear the rooster crowing. He can still see Jesus turning His bloodied face, looking at him over his shoulder, locking eyes, as though to say, "I told you. But you wouldn’t listen."
For Pilate and Caiaphas they have rid themselves of that charlatan. For three years he was a thorn in their side. Oh, glorious Saturday morning, it is finished!
For Mother Mary, she now mourns her special Son, wondering about what God said.
For Mary, Martha and Lazarus, why couldn’t He save himself like he saved us?
it is Saturday. And the man this cast of characters is thinking about, though all differently, did say: "It is finished!" yesterday afternoon.
But is it really finished? They seemed to think so. And what about you, what do you think?
We all live far beyond the confines of that first Holy Saturday. We know that Jesus will rise, has risen, from the dead. So why continue to make a big deal about Saturday?
All the Bible says is "And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." Can’t we leave Saturday alone? We have Friday and Sunday – isn’t that enough?
The reason we must make a big deal out of Saturday is because that is where we all live. That is where the most faithful believers exist every day. The Son of God is dead, but it seems that life is going on as usual.
This is precisely when our faith must kick in. Everything looks dark and gloomy. But our faith is what allows us to change "It’s Saturday and it is finished" (a statement) to "It’s Saturday, but is it finished?" (a question).
Our faith shouts back: "No, it is NOT finished!"
His death has taken place, but you have not heard the last from Jesus Christ. When He said those three words yesterday afternoon, it was not a phrase akin to the closing of a curtain at a play’s end. The only thing finished on Saturday is sin, death, hell and the grave!
We are Saturday people when we pray against all odds and expect an answer.
We are Saturday people when a child is born into our congregation, and we believe that God can help the new baby to live a good life in this world.
We are Saturday people when we stand by the sick-bed of one of our stalwart saints, and know that God can work even this situation out to His good.
We are Saturday people when we take a small piece of bread between our thumb and finger, look toward heaven, and thank God for His Unspeakable Gift.
We are Saturday people when we lift the Communion cup to our lips, drink its contents, and remember that “this same Jesus” will come again.
We are Saturday people when we struggle with current awful events and yet have a settled faith that the Prince of Peace is in control and that all will be well again.
We are Saturday people when we see a coffin slip into the ground and, in the midst of our tears, can whisper: "I will see you again".
Many of us don’t particularly like Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. We want to get on with it to move right into the celebration. We want to leap-frog over Saturday and get to Easter, the excitement, the resurrection.
Saturday is the gap between our faith and its fulfilment. It is the bridge between what we believe and what one-day we shall see at His appearing.
Saturday is the brief lull in between the two. It is a short interval of doubts and shadows. It is when Caiaphas celebrates and Peter cries. It is when society mocks us for believing such an absurd, strange story.
On Saturday the world makes its statement: "It is Saturday and it is finished!" On Saturday hell throws its best punch. But on Saturday people of faith ask a question: "It is Saturday, but is it really finished?" And heaven answers with Easter Day!
So today, before we see the empty tomb, before the angels tell us He is risen, before the great and glorious Resurrection Day, we already believe! That is the nature of faith.
We stand against the tide of humanity. We shout to the heavens: "It is not over. Yes, He has completed His task, but it is not finished."
It is Saturday and, praise God, it is most definitely NOT finished! Jesus will rise! Hell cannot hold Him! Today may be Saturday, but tomorrow, tomorrow is Sunday. The best is yet to come!
Sermon: Palm Sunday April 5th 2020. Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11.
A colleague got a phone call from a parishioner asking what time Holy Commotion was on Sunday. Today's reading offers us just that, a Holy Commotion. It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus has come near to Jerusalem.
Now imagine you’re one of these two disciples, and Jesus tells you to go ahead of him into the village to fetch a donkey and her colt. Jesus, apparently, already knows about them and tells you to untie them and bring them to Him. What would go through your mind? Jesus has just prophesied his death; I think we would surely wonder whether our death might also lie ahead. If Jesus is so eager to die, why doesn’t HE go and take the donkey? But He sends us, the disciples, on this mission. But don’t worry, He gives a backup plan just in case anyone starts to say something like “Hey, where do you think you’re going with my donkey?” Jesus tells us “If anyone says anything to you, just say this: “The Lord needs them.’” Not exactly the corroboration explanation we were looking for.
Everything seems very arbitrary and chaotic. The disciples have to be wondering, “Am I really willing to be punished, even die, for a man, all be it a good man, who wants to take a donkey and ride into Jerusalem?” And what about the Donkey’s owner? Matthew doesn’t say anything about his reaction. But the owner has to be wondering who is this “Lord” that has need of it. A donkey may not be the most elegant creature, but they really get a lot done. They were worth at least 2 months’ wages back then. You wouldn’t just give up your donkey, because in doing so you’d be giving up an essential part of your working life, your economic security, and many of us know that feeling right now. And if you’re the donkey . . . what are you thinking?
A donkey has a normal mundane existence, it’s not particularly special, and yet Jesus knows this donkey is in the village and calls the disciples to go fetch it. Even the donkey gets to be used by God. Even as things can seem so arbitrary and chaotic, God is at work through all these characters. God is also doing something amazing through each one of us, despite the fact that we’re afraid, that we have a pretty mundane existence and don’t think we have much to offer, despite feeling that following Jesus might cost us too much. God is still working! Even in the midst of all that is happening in our world right now and He is calling us to serve, to be used by Him.
Matthew tells us that all this is happening to fulfil a prophecy that was written in the book of Zechariah, chapter 9 verse 9, which Matthew quotes:
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'
This verse is really the centrepiece of the text. The Daughter of Zion is another way of talking about Jerusalem. There’s a comforting word of hope here. “See! Your king comes to you.” Matthew equating Jesus with this king in the prophecy. Indeed, Israel doesn’t even have to go searching for its own salvation, this salvation is coming to it in the form of a king. Now, when we think of a king, again we often think of someone of great power and strength, someone of huge wealth. But even the prophecy from Zechariah turns this notion on its head by describing the king as "gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Now if you’re thinking that Jesus is the Messiah, which many at this time did, that means in the belief of the time that He is going to conquer Rome, make the Jews great again, that is what they believed! But this is hardly the image of a conquering king. Surely we should expect a war-horse, a mighty steed, and a great sword to boot! But there is no weapon at all, no mighty steed, because this king is gentle, and instead of a war-horse, a simple donkey.
The disciples did do as Jesus directed them and did as they were commanded, they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
There follows a celebration of this gentle king’s arrival, and they shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The very title Son of David is a clear reference to the Messiah, the one who will save Israel. It is also an exclamation, a plea, that goes back to Psalm 118, and in Hebrew it literally means, “Save us, we beseech you”
Despite all the commotion Jesus managed to make it to the city. The city is face-to-face with its Messiah and it asks the $64,000 question: “Who is this?”
Notice the crowd’s answer: "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." They don’t call him their king, but a prophet and Jesus has already called himself a prophet as have others. Some might actually think he is Elijah, or he’s like Elijah who they expected to return, but these titles all conflict with the answer that Matthew wants to point us to in the prophecy, that Jesus is more than just a prophet, he is the King, the Lord. He has authority over heaven and earth. So, the crowd doesn’t quite get it, but we as the readers of Matthew’s Gospel are given the truth of who Jesus really is. A question for us then is who is Jesus to us on this Palm Sunday? King, Lord or a prophet or just a good man?
Isn’t it interesting that such a gentle, peaceful king could shake and stir an entire city, Jerusalem. Jesus, who comes unarmed on a donkey, completely overturns our views of power and kingship.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who have seen him have seen the Father. And so when we see this man, we see who God truly is. God is the gentle King, the One who loved us so much that he will lay his own life down for us, so that we might be raised up with him. This is the Good news. Jesus not only shows us what true royalty looks like, and what true power is, but reveals the Father to be this way. So, let us celebrate Christ as he comes into our cities, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces. Let us lend him our donkeys, indeed our very lives for his service. Let us even be like the donkey, so that we might be untied and put to service ourselves. The triumphal entry of Jesus is the triumph of the humility and meekness of God. Who is Jesus to you and me this Palm Sunday? Are we willing to serve Him wherever we are in whatever way He asks us to?
29th March 2020. 5th Sunday of Lent.
Readings : Ezekiel 37:1-14 The valley of the Dry Bones. Romans 8:6-11 Spirit of Life. John 11:1-45 The Raising of Lazarus.
When my Dad was a boy he went to Sunday School, in the welsh valley’s, always on a Sunday afternoon and one child would always stand up and say how many were in class that day, how much collection they had given and a verse from the Bible. On this particular Sunday the verse chosen was the shortest in the Bible and contained in our Gospel reading……the child announced there were two in class, tuppence collection, Jesus Wept.
That shortest verse, Jesus Wept, John 11:35, offers us a clear insight into Jesus humanity. He knows He can bring life to His friend but He still mourns, as we all need to, at the physical death of Lazarus. At this time there are many who are mourning but not even in the normal way, unable to attend funeral services or visit grieving friends and family. Grief is natural, it is needed and it is encouraged by God.
Grief is a strong emotion, it rises up, floods over us and we wonder if we start to cry will we ever stop? We try to hold back, hide our grief because we imagine that if we let it go we will not be able to bear it. People hide their grief for years and it gnaws away on the inside only coming out in a torrent 5, 10, 15 years down the road. Eventually it does catch up with us and we learn that it is better out than in. We need to cry! We were given emotions to use and express to help us with daily life, to help our mental wellbeing.
Our readings today are very much about life, Ezekiel prophesies to the dry bones which come to life, it is very much a metaphor for God’s word, God’s breath being what gives real life. Paul, in Romans, speaks of the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit sent from God to live in us and give us life. God is all about Life and life in all its fullness.
In today's story about Jesus' dear friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the two sisters had sent word to Jesus that their brother was dying. But Jesus couldn't come immediately. By the time He got there, Lazarus was dead. And as Jesus looked at those people He loved and saw their suffering, He felt all the same things you and I feel when someone we love dies. And He wept. The people said: "See how He loved him." But others said: "If He loved him so much, why didn't He save him from this death?" And that's the question we all ask in that situation: If God loves us, why did He let this happen? Why didn't He get here sooner? And why wasn't my love enough to save this person?
"If only I had known," we say. But do we think Jesus didn't know? Do we really think the Lord didn't know all of that? Not a sparrow falls without the Lord knowing it. (Matthew 10:29)He knows the number of all our days, (Job 14:5) the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30) and He is there.
Now that doesn't mean things don't go wrong or that there will not be evil that effects our lives and our deaths. The Lord has told us that there is evil. But He has also assured us that before it even happens, He has already overcome all of it and is able to bring good out of all of it for those who love Him. (John 16:33)
He is there before and during and after. "As you pass through the deep waters, I will be with you, and they shall not overwhelm you." (Isaiah 43:2) For the person who has died, no matter what the cause, there are green mansions on the other side, where the lawn is not so hard to mow. Where the mansions are everything we ever needed and so much more already prepared for us. (John 14:1-4) You see when we grieve at the death of someone, we grieve mainly for ourselves, for our loss, because, as Paul said: "For me, to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
As we deal with our own pain and anger and guilt at our loss, as we really deal with it and express it, gradually we begin to see that these things separate us from the one we loved as much as the death itself. We have to go through these feelings and come out on the other side before we can again be close to that person. We have to go through these deep waters and let go of the bad grief before we can enter into the good grief.
After the pain and guilt and anger, then there is an awakening — a morning when you remember the good memories that bless and finally no longer burn. There's a morning when we can let go of all our bad feelings about death and know that life goes on. Then the good memories can flood back into our lives again, stronger and stronger, giving us strength to go on. We can be close to that person again because we let go of the bad grief that was blocking out all the goodness we cherished of that person's life.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and do you think anyone of us will be any less raised? "If we don't know where our loved ones are," Jesus says to us: "How can you not know, when I have told you? I have prepared a place for you, and if it were not so, I would have told you that too." (John 14: 1-7)
We all go through the same stages of shock, denial and guilt.
First we say: "It couldn't happen."
Then we say: "It didn't happen."
Then we say: "Oh, if only I had . . . Oh, why didn't I. . . . do this or that?" We somehow feel responsible for everything. We take the whole thing on ourselves. We even imagine we somehow could have leapt into the breech and changed everything, if only . . .
For all our "if onlys" the Lord says: "I knew that too, and I can make all things work together for good, if you can only let go of that and leave it in my hands." (Romans 8:28)
We must weep; it's very important to express our grief. But then we can allow ourselves to be comforted. What we will not part with, we have kept. And the Lord has promised that will never be taken from us.
We only grieve because we have loved. And it is only by rediscovering that love can go on, seeing where we are called to love now, that enables us to live through grief. And one of the important lessons from grief is that it teaches us a little better how to treasure and cherish who we love in the short time we're given.
The hollow in your heart where pain dug so deeply, is the same place where you now have room to receive and truly cherish that much more joy. Those who have deeply grieved know the true depths and heights to which love can go. Blessed are those who mourn, because they shall be comforted, and their joy shall be full. (Matthew 5:4)
Mothering Sunday. 22nd March 2020.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Mothering Sunday Sermon
What day is it today?
I promise it's not a trick question, that’s right today is known as Mothering Sunday
NOT Mothers' Day, as it has become known in the multi million pound industry, because for us in church at least, it was the Sunday when all working in domestic service, as maids, butlers, kitchen staff etc were allowed to go and visit their mother and thank God for them. So, today is a day when we do celebrate and thank God for our mothers and we also celebrate the huge army of people who take care of us....
There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Each one of us needs so much love, care and encouragement...and I know as a mum that though I do my best, my children would not have the best if they relied only on me. I know that many others have shared in the work of caring alongside me, just as I received that sort of care from many different people besides the loving Mother who gave birth to me.
Can you think of some of the people important to you, who have helped and care for you? You could make a list.
If I had to make a list I'd start with my Mother but I'd add a few other women who showed me huge love and care as I grew up, as well as teachers, men and women, who encouraged me and brought out the best in me, friends of my own age who took care that I wasn't alone at difficult times....and I need to mention lots of children, my own included, who've known when I might need a hug to help me feel better, or worked hard to make me smile... So much mothering given and received, and that's just how it should be.
Today can be difficult for many people. Some of us never knew our mothers or lost them a long time ago. Some of us have children who we have lost sight of or whom we have disappointed. Some of us longed for children but found that it didn't work out...or have suffered the awful pain of losing a much-loved child. For some of us marriage and family never happened.
Life is messy, never perfect, and families are just the same ...whatever the greetings card industry might like us to believe.
But the message today is that family exists wherever people are loving towards one another, not just where there are mum, dad and children.
I would like to remind you that from the cross Jesus asks his mother to look after his friend, and that friend to look after his mother.
He knows that he won't be there to care for either of them but wants the best for both of them...so here, even while he's telling John that Mary is now his mum, and Mary that John is to be her son, it's mostly Jesus that does the mothering, even from the cross.
You see, you really don't have to be a woman, let alone a MOTHER, to share in that important work. It's something we can all do...
Jesus brings a new family to birth through his loving care and the family he establishes is the family that's here today...the Church.
In this family, we can and should share in the work of mothering...
That is what we celebrate today.
Mothering Sunday is about ALL those who mother us, women, men and children, those who care for us, who teach us and help us to grow. We go on needing people like that whether we're 5 or 50 or 80, whatever age we are. So let's ask God to help us to share His work of mothering, of loving and caring for one another and let's make our church a true family where all are welcome.