Archive for November, 2011

Sermon for 24th October 2011

Bible Sunday

In the age of the internet some suspect that the days of printed books is coming to an end. In future, records and the transmission of information will be by computers, floppy discs and “E” Mails. Thus the reading this morning could be announced as “Hear the Holy Gospel according to St John,” No, I don’t think so either. So lets leave that idea and move on to the reality of the written word.

From time to time we hear of some author whose books have made them rich for life. John Grisham, Catherine Cookson, Sebastian Faulks, JK Rowling and so on. They need never work another day for money. It must be a pleasant position to be in. But for sheer popularity the Bible has, for centuries, taken first prize, and there isn’t another book in the world to compare to it. Not only are more copies sold of it than any other book, even more than Wayne Rooney’s autobiography (And who said he couldn’t write?), but it has been translated into more languages and dialects than any other book. There are of course many books which enjoy great popularity for a time and then fade away, Will we still be reading Harry Potter in 10 or 20 yrs time? But the remarkable thing about the bible is it has lasted so long and goes from strength to strength in spite of attempts that have been made to stamp it out and forbid its publication and distribution. It does seem strange in to-days society to think that there was strong opposition to the idea that the bible should be translated in to English. William Tyndale being sentenced to strangulation and a burning at the stake for doing so. The idea being, of course, was that keeping the bible in Latin meant that the common people were kept in the dark.

Since then the bible has become an integral part of our language and daily lives. It has influenced music, not just Handels “Messiah” and Haydns “Creation” but contemporary writers such as Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph”,” Jesus Christ Superstar”, and so many people bought “Pie Jesu” from Requiem. The same is true of Art and Literature and even our daily language has phrases which roll off our tongues and are biblical in origin, “Gospel Truth”, “Forbidden Truth”, “The sheep from the goats” “Spare the rod and spoil the child”

What can account for this great popularity, bearing in mind that 70% of homes in Britain possess a bible? I think there are three things that make a book attractive to a would-be buyer – it’s author, its appeal and its aim; and it is here that the bible is unique. First, it claims that its author is God. That’s not to say that God wrote it but perhaps “ghost written” for God by all kinds of people over hundreds of years. It was inspired by God, in other words, so that it reveals Gods mind, will and purpose. Which is why we can say, “This is the word of the Lord” following its public reading.

Secondly, it’s appeal is universal. Read by young and old, rich and poor, wise and simple, black and white, because they find it meets their deepest needs. When they are tempted or perplexed, troubled, anxious or fearful, they find that this book brings comfort, encouragement and hope.

This was brought home to me when I was in Africa and I saw how a book written in another world 2,000 yrs ago had meaning and relevance to them to-day, a meaning and relevance which was different for me in my culture, and would be different for those living in Asia, S.America, Eastern Europe, China and so on.

And what about its aim? Most good books have an aim – to amuse or instruct or excite. What is the aim of the bible? It has many, but easily the most important is to introduce us to a person, namely our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as it used to be said “All roads lead to Rome” so sooner or later, whatever we start to read, the Bible brings us face to face with Christ. He is the central figure in the picture.

But although the Bible is the most popular book in the world, there are millions who don’t read it and perhaps don’t even possess a copy. Some find it too dangerous to read. Its standards are too high and its challenge too demanding. Others find it too difficult. They start to read and then get bogged down in an obscure part of the OT and give up. Well, perhaps it should be difficult to read such an important book. The bible is not a “filleted” book. The bones have not been removed, but we need not allow ourselves to choke over them; and some of the commentaries and notes that we have available to us to-day make it much easier to read than say 50 yrs ago.

And then there are those who find it dull. In Berlin there is a very dull modern looking church built next to the original tower of the bombed church. Inside, however, is a completely overwhelming site of deep blue stained glass windows. It is quite fantastic. But you only see it from the inside; on the outside it’s quite dull and ordinary. The bible is quite dull and boring on the outside too but it is written for the people to read, for those who have decided to enter Gods Kingdom, and started to follow him. It is then that you discover its beauty.

I have to admit that I haven’t always read the bible. I do now, of course, but I found it a struggle at first. But here’s a suggestion, read it almost as if its a daily newspaper. First of all it could be your “Daily Mirror”. In other words, its Gods way of telling us something about ourselves. Rather like looking at a mirror on the wall, we can see what needs to be corrected or improved in our lives. How we can become more like Jesus. It could also be your “Daily Mail”. Try to think of it as Gods way of sending you letters and whenever you read it see if you can find some message or meaning which is being sent to you, which has some relevance to your life. Whenever you do read it it will be like reading “The Times” because it’s about to-day, not yesterday. If you begin to read the bible in such a way, you’ll be surprised at how often God speaks to you and you alone.

Don’t worry too much if you can’t understand or remember what you have read. If I asked what you had for lunch last Monday you may not be able to remember, but you know it did you good. But unfortunately, we are often put off reading the bible because we are made to feel inadequate by the “Super Christians” who know every verse and chapter of every book of the bible. Nothing can be more annoying, but apart from that, doesn’t it make us feel inadequate. It’s that feeling of inadequacy and ignorance which keeps most people away from Bible Study groups. The fear of being made to look a fool as you thumb through the pages to find St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Why is it that everyone else seems to know where to find the page in their bibles except me.

Of course, if it was any other book we would do the sensible thing and look in the index or contents page, but the Bible, Oh No! We pretend we know just where to find it.

But all of that does nothing to impress me. I feel so much happier about reading the bible since I discovered that it can be something quite personal, working out what is being said to me, rather than worrying about whether this happened before or after that happened, or whether Jesus meant this or that when he said something.

Or whether we should believe this happened or is it just a story, what have the scholars said about this or that, and so on. I have said this many times before and we discussed this very point at the confirmation classes a few weeks ago, and I say it again “Don’t worry about whether it happened or not, worry about what it all means”.

How interesting it would be if our bibles could keep diaries! Now I’m really asking for your imaginations to work overtime here. Let’s imagine a diary written by a bible. January 1. “I live a very dull life on a shelf because I begin with the letter B I have been parked next to a lot of other books beginning with that letter – Bacon, Browning and now Beckham. Now and then I am taken down when the shelf is to be dusted, or I am wanted for an exam or to sort out the Christmas trivial pursuit argument, and then I’m put back, usually upside down, until my owner has a use for me.”

July 1. “My life has completely changed! I now live on a table beside my owner’s bed, and she uses me every day. Sometimes it is quite hard work, and I get fairly rough treatment. A few of my pages are working loose, and I had some rheumatism in my chronicles. But I would much rather have it this way. There is never a dull moment, and my owner really seems to value me and wants to have me around. She went away last week on holiday and forgot her heated hair rollers and slippers, but she remembered to take me. I’m a constant companion.”

I wonder what sort of Diary your Bible would write?

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday 2011

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary: “I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.” From our perspective what a terribly tragic irony.

We have come here today to remember all those who have fallen in wars present and past. Some of you will have a personal memory of losing a member of your own family or friend, but for many of us it will be an inherited memory, passed on from one generation to the next.

It is 93 years since the Armistice was signed at the end of the First World War, and 92 years since the Cenotaph was unveiled and the Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey.

These things are part of history, but for millions of people since then war has not been history but a part of their lives. In the last year alone more than 37 members of our armed forces have died in the conflict in Afghanistan, leaving yet more families and friends grieving.

How do we define a war? So often we hear and read about the number of deaths and injured; the length of campaigns, the number of guns and missiles and the size of the Navy, Army and Air Force. Perhaps the numbers suggest the scale of a conflict, but I suggest that statistics have little, if any, relevance to those who have lost a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother.

Fifty-five of you young people are carrying a cross that has a name on it, the name of somebody from this village who has died in conflict. It is unlikely that you will know who that person was, but you know their name, they will be remembered. It is each of their names that are important, not that there were 55 of them.

It is eternally important that we remind ourselves of the dreadful cost of war if we are ever to live in peace. The most compelling outward sign of our remembrance is the simple red flower, the Flanders Poppy. It has become the symbol of the Royal British Legion, but more than that, across the world, it has come to represent the sacrifice made by all those men, women and children who have given their lives in conflict.

From early history flowers have become symbols; Clover leaf for the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Lilies for purity, Roses for love and for England, Daffodils for the Marie Curie charity and for Wales, Thistle for Scotland and the Shamrock for Ireland. But, how was the poppy chosen as the universal symbol of remembrance?

As you might expect, it began with a death, the death of a friend of a man called John McCrae in 1915 in Belgium. John McCrae was kneeling at the grave of his friend and was moved to write a poem reflecting the scene around him. He wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields

McCrae himself was unhappy with the poem and he threw it aside, but one of McCrae’s fellow officers found it and was so touched that he sent the poem to England where it was published in the magazine Punch.

As a result, the scarlet poppy quickly became the symbol for soldiers who died in battle.

In 1921, the British Legion began the Poppy Day Appeal to raise money for poor and disabled veterans, and now the Poppy campaign is the Royal Legion’s most important activity.

The appeal continues to raise the funding needed to help all service-men and women and their families in the most practical way. However, critically, the appeal serves to maintain our awareness of our past, and present, in order that our prayers for peace, and the future of our families, our children and grandchildren, will be fulfilled.

The bible records much violence, many wars and countless deaths, especially in the Old Testament, and it is a heartbreaking reflection that there has probably never been a time when conflict has not existed somewhere in the world.

The book of the prophet Micah was written around 700 years before Christ, and in our reading today he prophesied a future of hope, an ideal world, a world when nations come together in peace instead of war. His words came against a background of violence with the fall of Samaria in the North and instability in the region created by the aggressive superpower of Assyria. However, he never lost faith for the future. His vision saw a time when the arms of war would be turned into farming tools and people would live in peaceful community.

Jesus was born into an occupied land, and he lived and died in that land. The Jews were waiting for their king, the Messiah, and they expected him to overthrow the Roman invaders by the traditional, violent, means. Peace was not on the agenda in those New Testament times. Jesus came and taught peace to the disciples and anyone who would hear him, he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

The message that Jesus carried did not suit the Pharisees and religious leaders because he threatened the status quo, and anyway he did not fit their idea of the anticipated mighty and all-conquering Messiah. The local Roman authorities were worried that any unrest would reflect badly on them.

They wanted a quiet life; peace on their terms was just fine. So Jesus, the light of the world, died for us in an act of darkest violence. Three days later, as the Son of God, he rose again in light for us.

Peace is a precious commodity; it comes from trust, patience, tolerance and faith. It is not unilateral, it cannot be “Peace only on my terms”, it results from mutual agreement and understanding. Peace has never been easy to achieve; it is very hard work to establish and keep the peace at any level in our society.

Yet regardless of the difficulties, peace must be what we all strive for, what Micah foresaw, what Jesus taught us.

The driving force for peace must come from us, it must come from our remembrance of those who have given their lives in war; it must come from those injured in conflict and for their families and loved ones. Peace will not come if we forget; it won’t happen if we wait for others to work for it.

It is through our vigilance, our voice, and our prayers that peace and light will emerge.

The poppy wreaths and crosses that we will lay at the memorial today remember not only those from this community who have given their lives. We will also remember the injured and their families for whom we have no recorded names.

The Poppy is our symbol of Remembrance, but let us remember through the remembering of pain and loss that there is always the light of hope, love and faith through Jesus Christ.