Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

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, WWW.bible.com/NT/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.

AMEN

Sermon for 9th October 2011

Does Dress Matter?

When there is a wedding in the family, many people spend a huge amount of time and energy, not to mention money, making the preparations. One of the most difficult tasks is to agree who to invite from your huge list, doing your best to avoid diplomatic gaffes in the family if possible.

 

How you would feel after all your efforts, if your specially selected guests turned you down flat despite being asked over and again? You may well think what a fine bunch of friends they turned out to be and go ahead with the celebrations anyway; inviting instead the people that were on your original list of possible guests, but had to be set aside at the time.

 

In the two parables from the gospel reading this morning, Jesus addressed the chief priests and Pharisees directly. And there can be little doubt that they understood that they were in the firing line yet again.

 

Jesus pulled no punches in the first parable. He is close to the end of his ministry on earth and he intensified his efforts to make the message of God’s kingdom very clear. Jesus attacked the chief priests and Pharisees in their home territory, the temple; and he must have been aware that his attacks would infuriate them. His continued actions as a troublemaker reinforced the Jewish leader’s intention to be rid of him.

 

The invitation by the king to his selected guests for the wedding banquet for his son had been accepted. When the banquet was ready, it was the custom for the host to send a second invitation for the guests; however, when the king’s slaves went to bring them to the banquet, they refused to go and sent the slaves away. The king sent more slaves, giving the guests another chance, but they ignored the invitation. Some went off to their own farm or business whilst others assaulted and murdered the slaves. To put it bluntly they were insulting the king.

 

In his fury, the king took vengeance against the murderers and then sent his slaves out onto the streets to gather up anyone they could find, and bring them to the wedding banquet. These new guests included the good and the bad, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the scruffy and the unclean, and the Gentiles that would have been in Jerusalem.

 

This would have come as a shock to them – an invitation to feast with the king – unimaginable, what would they wear! However, it was the tradition that the king provided the wedding clothes, solving that particular concern.

 

If the chief priests and Pharisees had not already understood Jesus’ message, they must have done from this parable. The leaders of God’s chosen people, the Jews, had rejected Jesus and his invitation to the Kingdom.

 

Their minds were closed, God would judge them, and they should expect that judgement to be harsh. Those whom the slaves gathered from the streets represented the Gentiles, and Jesus made it clear that whilst the Jews and their leaders had rejected him, the kingdom was to be open to all.

 

The invitation was, and remains, open to everyone, regardless of race, sex, colour, age or intellect, the only qualification being a willingness to come with an openness of heart.

 

The message remains the same for us today. Jesus’ message is an invitation to us all to join in the infinite richness of God’s kingdom, ALL OF US, it is our own free choice.

 

However, the message of the second, parable is one that brings us up short if we think that it is an easy option to accept Jesus’ invitation.

 

The king spotted a man who was not wearing the wedding clothes that would have been offered to him, and when the man did not explain how he had managed to get into the banquet without respectful clothes, he was unceremoniously thrown out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

If we receive an invitation to a formal event, most of us try to work out what we ought to wear, what is appropriate for the occasion.

 

Not many of us would opt for jeans, tee shirt and muddy trainers to go to a dinner at Buckingham Palace; I wonder if you would even get past the gates, far less get as far as being thrown out by the guards!

 

Nonetheless, there are those who would say that what they look like or dress like does not matter; they should be accepted as they are; in other words, on their own self serving terms.

 

The man at the king’s banquet had accepted the invitation, but he wanted to be accepted on his own terms and therefore rejected the wedding clothes. He had abused the honour and privilege of a place at the table and paid the price.

 

When we accept Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom, we are also indebted to accept the price. We need to change our ways, to set aside our old lives and put on the clothes of a new life in Jesus’ image. We must put our trust and faith in God, move away from our self centred materialistic existence, help others rather than ourselves, and open ourselves to all the possibilities that God’s grace through the Holy Spirit offers.

 

Our actions must follow our words, it is not good enough to accept the most gracious of all invitations and then turn up on our own terms, wearing the rags of our old life.

 

So does dress matter?

Well, maybe it does. What is infinitely more important is that we accept a change in our lives. In the parable, Jesus portrays clothes as an outward symbol of inward life; and it is our inward life that matters to God.

 

Are we too pre-occupied with our own busyness in this world to accept God’s invitation? Or are we ready to receive his open-hearted welcome?

 

And if we have received his welcome, are we ready and grateful to do our best to act out our whole lives with God as our priority?

 

We can choose to follow Jesus or not, we can choose whether to change our lives or not; but if we DO choose to follow, it is a choice that commits us utterly to be changed.

CAN YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?

WILL YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?

HAVE YOU MADE THAT CHOICE?

AMEN.


Sermon for 25th September 2011

Exodus 17 vs 1 – 7  Phillipians 2 vs 1 – 13  Matthew 21 vs 23 -32

The Chief Priest and Elders of the people came to Jesus and asked him a question. Jesus, not unusually for him, responded with another question.

THE JEWISH LEADERS WERE ALWAYS VERY KEEN TO CATCH JESUS OUT AND JESUS WAS ALWAYS VERY CAREFUL NOT TO BE CAUGHT OUT.

But his questions in response were never negative, in the sense that he always tried to make the questioners think about the implications of what they had asked.

IF JESUS HAD ANSWERED THAT HIS AUTHORITY CAME FROM GOD HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY AND LIABLE TO BE STONED TO DEATH, SO HE MADE THE QUESTIONERS THINK AGAIN.

When I listen to Radio 4 in the morning they quite often interview politicians and very rarely do they get a straight answer.

THERE MUST BE A REASON FOR, OR PROBABLY SEVERAL REASONS FOR THIS, NOT THAT THEY ARE GOING TO GET STONED BUT USUALLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE AN AGENDA THAT THEY WANT TO GET ACCROSS, WHICH MIGHT WELL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SUBJECT ON WHICH THEY ARE BEING QUESTIONED.

Some of them will employ all sorts of subterfuge to get away from the point the interviewer is trying to make and the interviewer often has an agenda of their own and is keen to score points off the politician being just as keen to assert their personality over the interview.

SOMETIMES IT CAN MAKE FOR A FASCINATING VERBAL CONTEST BETWEEN TWO EXPERT PROTAGONSISTS OF THE ART OF INTERVIEWING AND OF BEING INTERVIEWED.

However, sometimes it can become a slanging match when both parties end up talking or even shouting at the same time. In which event neither side get their point across and it leaves us listeners frustrated, especially if we are interested in hearing the arguments being put forward.

THIS SORT OF CONFRONTATION IS USELESS BECAUSE NEITHER SIDE IS LISTENING TO WHAT THE OTHER PARTY IS SAYING, SO NO-ONE GETS ANY BENEFIT FROM THE CONVERSATION.

In a radio interview it is probably not important, but in a proper debate it really does matter.

Usually we admire people who stick to their guns even if we do not agree with them. But if we listen to other peoples’ opinions it will help us to expand our outlook and give us a better view of the whole picture. We may decide that we were right in our first thoughts, or we may adjust our ideas in the light of new knowledge gained.

BUT, EITHER WAY WE SHOULD HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE OTHER PERSONS VIEWPOINT; OR TO USE VERNACULAR, WE WILL KNOW WHERE THEY ARE COMING FROM.

After all we all have our own agendas and find it difficult to come to terms with fresh ideas, new approaches and changes of direction.

AS MOST OF YOU WILL KNOW THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND IS LOOKING TO CHANGE THE LEGISLATION SO THAT WE CAN HAVE WOMEN BISHOPS.

In the Deanery Synod the other night we were asked to give our opinions, not on whether the Church should appoint women bishops, but whether provision should be made for those who cannot come to terms with such a radical change.

THIS IS ONE OF THE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES IN OUR CHURCH TODAY. BUT STATISTICS SHOW THAT AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND ARE IN FAVOUR OF WOMEN HAVING THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE GOD AS THE MEN DO AND CONSEQUENTLY SHOULD BE ABLE TO ATTAIN THE SAME POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHURCH.

As a consequence of this some people argue “Why bother with the minority?”.

That, in my view, is a very dangerous path to go down. After all, we church goers are a minority ourselves.

BUT I DO NOT THINK THAT WE IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH SHOULD BE ABOUT DRIVING PEOPLE OUT OF THE CHURH OR AWAY FROM GOD.

The Church of England has a lot of faults, after all it is managed by people, but its greatest asset is that it has a broad spectrum; it is an inclusive church that ministers to paupers and millionaires and anyone who wishes to worship God and follow Christ in accordance with the scriptures.

CHRISTIANITY IS SIMPLE, NOT IN PRACTISE, I AGREE, BUT IN PRINCIPLE. JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS, TO MINISTER TO THE SICK AND TO THE POOR AND TO BRING BACK TO GOD AND INTO THE WAY OF TRUTH AND LOVE. THOSE WHO HAVE WANDERED FROM THE PATHWAY

I am sure he must jump up and down in anger when people like us divert our energy from serving the Lord into arguing among ourselves about side issues.

GOD IS LOVE. HE LOVES YOU, HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES THE TALABAN, THE PALESTINIAN AND THE JEW. HE CREATED EVERYONE AND HE LOVES EVERYONE. HE DOES NOT LOVE WHAT THEY DO MOST OF THE TIME, BUT HE LOVES WHAT THEY SHOULD BE, WHAT THEY WERE CREATED TO BE.

If anyone turns to him with a humble, sorrowful heart he will forgive them for the hurt they have caused in the world and to him, as long as they repent of their wrongdoing.

THE RESPONSE JESUS GAVE TO THE JEWISH ELDERS WAS NOT JUST A CLEVER WAY OF AVOIDING THE TRAP THEY HAD SET FOR HIM.

It was also a way of making them think about the things that really mattered. What was John the Baptist’s authority? Where did that come from? If they could answer that question for themselves they would know where Jesus’ authority came from too.

SO OFTEN IN MY LIFE I HAVE GOT THINGS COMPLETELY WRONG. I HAVE JUDGED PEOPLES ACTIONS WITHOUT KNOWING THE FULL FACTS AND IN HINDSIGHT HAVE BEEN VERY ASHAMED OF MYSELF.

I have learnt that it is not our place to judge people. That is the privilege of God and no one else. We never know the full facts of any situation, we cannot look into other people’s hearts, but God can and does, so his judgement will be righteous while ours will not be.

TAKE THE SIMPLE EXAMPLE THAT JESUS GAVE IN TODAY’S GOSPEL READING. IF WE HAD HEARD THE FIRST SON TELL HIS FATHER THAT HE WOULD GO INTO THE VINEYARD TO WORK WE WOULD HAVE SAID “GOOD LAD.”

We would have condemned the second son for refusing to go. But we would have been wrong because the first son did not go and the second one did.

SO MY MESSAGE THIS MORNING IS TO URGE YOU TO BE TOLERANT, TO TRY AND UNDERSTAND OTHER PEOPLES’ POINT OF VIEW EVEN IF YOU CANNOT AGREE WITH THEM.

Do not judge, it is not our place and we will rarely know the full facts of any situation.

JESUS WAS PREPARED TO ACCEPT PROSTITUTES AND TAX COLLECTORS, THE DREGS OF SOCIETY, THE LOWEST OF THE LOW WHEN THEY SAW THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS AND CAME TO HIM.

He often railed against the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders because their agenda was not God’s agenda. So let us try to be simple and straightforward with our faith and full of love for whoever we meet for such is the Kingdom of God.

Amen

Sermon for 24th July 2011

5th Sunday after Trinity

Jackie Pullinger felt called by God to be a missionary, but was rejected by every missionary organisation she contacted; at twenty-two, they considered her too young and without the necessary skills. Yet despite this, Jackie left her country, family and friends for Hong Kong, giving up everything to spread God’s kingdom. She arrived in Hong Kong, unable to speak the language, with only six pounds in her pocket.

 

Jackie very soon felt drawn to an area called the Walled City. It is actually Kowloon. However, this was a six-acre slum packed with thirty thousand people. It was a lawless place, ruled by violent Triads and abandoned by the police. Raw sewage ran down the streets. Drug addiction and prostitution were rife. Surely one solitary girl from England stood no chance of making a difference in such a place?

 

Yet from these small and unpromising beginnings, God’s kingdom spread through the Walled City as God used Jackie to bring hundreds of drug addicts to Christ. So remarkable was her work that she received an MBE from the Queen in 1988. It was Jackie Pullinger who wrote chasing the dragon which depicts her life in this city.

 

Similarly, who would have believed that a faith which began with a carpenter and his rather unlikely group of disciples would end up becoming the world’s biggest religion?

 

The parables in our reading all describe what Matthew always calls the kingdom of heaven, and the other Gospels call the kingdom of God. This was a term which would have been familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day, who understood it to refer to a time when God would overthrow their Roman oppressors and make Israel strong again.

 

This gospel reading consists of 5 parables: the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the leaven, the pearl of great price and the dragnet. Now to deal with all these parables in this mornings sermon is rather a difficult task, as you can imagine.

 

The first of the two parables, the mustard seed and the leaven, could be classed together and called parables of growth ( rather like the sower of the seed). So for example, in the parable of the leaven, it doesn’t take much leaven to turn three measures of flour in to a moving mass of dough. The two other twinned parables, the treasure and the pearl, are about discovery and joy.

 

The twin parables differ in detail and those differences shed light on our human experiences. Sometimes epiphanies of the kingdom are surprising and are left as surprises. In other cases people are involved as they search for the meaning of life and if they happen upon the kingdom then they are surprised because it is more than they ever thought.

 

so the two twin sets of parables illustrate two major themes of the kingdom (which we call heaven). Firstly, we are to be certain of it’s coming even if it does not seem to be making It’s way into our lives. One can trust in God to bring about Gods will. The one aspect that God does make known to us in surprising ways and at surprising times, places and people. It is those moments, epiphany moments, that stir us and make itself known to us, helping us to put see things into perspective, through joy and reminding us of our task too.

 

And so we know that the kingdom Christ was talking about was not this liberated state of Israel or any other earthly kingdom. His kingdom actually existed in people, people who submitted to God’s rule and allowed their heavenly king to direct their paths and transform their lives. In one man and his ramshackle band of disciples the kingdom may have appeared to have the most unpromising of beginnings. Yet just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush, so the kingdom would grow to a size which belied its humble start.

The mustard seed is the tiniest of seed which can grow and grow into a gigantic bush!

However, the kingdom’s growth would not always be obvious, as the parable of the leaven points out: the fermentation of yeast is not at first visible, yet the smallest amount infiltrates even large amounts of flour. (The amount referred to would weigh around fifty pounds!) Similarly, the kingdom grows to have an impact far beyond its insignificant beginnings.

 

The spread of the kingdom can be explained to some degree by the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. Both illustrate that the kingdom is so precious that when people discover it, whether through searching or by chance, they do not hesitate to give up all their worldly treasure to obtain it.

The ministry of Jackie Pullinger shows the truth of these parables. Just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush, so God used one young woman in the most difficult of circumstances to spread his kingdom mightily.

 

As in the parable of the leaven, the growth of the kingdom within the kowloon Walled City was not always obvious. Some addicts made initial commitments to Christ and then fell back into their old ways. Yet Jackie would often encounter such addicts years later and they had not forgotten the love shown them. Many returned to Christ.

 

Jackie’s willingness to give up everything to spread God’s kingdom echoes the teaching of the parables of the treasure and the pearl. The people in those stories did not need persuading to give up all they had for the kingdom; they did it instinctively and joyfully, recognising its great worth. Jackie Pullinger made many sacrifices to serve God in Hong Kong. Yet looking back over decades of ministry, she expresses no regrets over all she has given up, but joyfully likens her work to “a party”, involving a meal of many courses. Some courses had been sour and some sweet, but overall it was a menu she had savoured.

 

We, too, can be encouraged that no matter how insignificant we feel and how unpromising our circumstances, God can use us to spread his kingdom. We can also be encouraged that the sacrifices involved in doing so are as nothing to the joy of being part of God’s work. In her book Chasing the Dragon, Jackie encourages people not just to read about what she has done, but to know the “fun” of being involved in our own “adventures” and “battles”.

 

Now that may seem difficult in comfortable Wateringbury but let’s just stop for a moment and reflect on the needs of God’s kingdom right here. Within our community, or close by, we have a school where help is always needed and welcomed, we have a retirement home, join us on a Wednesday afternoon or pop in during the week and see what is needed to be done. We have independent living units at Pelican Ct. Youth groups, uniformed groups, Mums and toddler groups run by the church and also at the village hall, nursery groups, we have the Kenward trust at Yalding but only a few hundred yes outside of the parish. Lisa organises blessing bags of food for folk who are in need. I’m sure I can go on. Now some may be thinking, I can’t do all that, I’m passed the age when I can be of use. Or I simply don’t have time!

 

Well just let me mention Jackie Pullinger once again:

 

In 1981 she started a charity called the St Stephen’s Society which provides rehabilitation homes for recovering drug addicts, prostitutes, and gang members. By December 2007 it had grown and was providing homes for 200 people. The charity’s work has been recognized by the Hong Kong government who donated the land for the rehabilitation homes. The intervention process that the drug addicts go through is very intensive. Instead of giving them medications they are put into a room for 10 days, prayed and cared over by a group of ex-addicts.

 

Every man comes to Jesus with some gift and with some ability. Jesus does not ask that he or she should give up his gift when called to follow the life of a christian. A scholar does not have to give up being scholarly but use their gift for Christ; a businessman need not give up their business but use their business skills for Christ; a singer, a dancer, an artist need not give up their talents but use them for Christ. Jesus did not come to empty life but to fill it, not to impoverish life but to enrich it. Not to abandon their gifts but to use them more wonderfully in the light of the knowledge he has given us.

 

So you might not think you have anything to offer but we all do. And whats more, We can all pray as they prayed for the drug addicts.

 

May God help us do this.

Sermon for 12 June

PENTECOST AT WELLING

A few years ago, just before a preachers first lecture at a RC Seminary, one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. The Preacher looked around for the Dean of the seminary! He was no where to be found.

 

The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. The Preacher was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” He said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” the student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” He then said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” The Preacher said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.” He left.

 

Is the church supposed to use the word Pentecost only as a noun or can it be used as an adjective? And so I ask you: Are you Pentecostal?

 

In spite of the fact that the church doesn’t know what the adjective means, the church insists that the word remain in our vocabulary as an adjective. The church is unwilling for the word simply to be a noun, to represent a date, a place, an event in the history of the church, refuses for it to be simply a memory, an item, something back there somewhere. The church insists that the word is an adjective; it describes the church. The word, then, is “Pentecostal.”

 

If the church is alive in the world it is Pentecostal. And you thought you were Anglicans!

 

You Are in the Spirit

The spirit is all around and has been since creation.

 

It’s like the story of the shark and the whale. Both were swimming in the sea when the shark swam up to the whale to engage in conversation. As they swam along, the shark said to the whale, “You are so much older than I, and wiser too. Could you tell me where the ocean is?” The whale responded, “The ocean is what you are in now.” The shark would not believe it. “Come on, tell me where the ocean is so I may find it!” The whale repeated, “The ocean is here, now; you are in it.” Unbelieving, the shark swam away searching for the ocean.

 

The moral of the story, I believe, is this: don’t spend too much time looking for God because the Spirit of God is here in the now of your life, dwelling within you, within me, within this community. And that is a truth which is so important for the world in which we live which is so often devoid of God but where people are hungry none the less for something beyond.

 

Now for me this is all about relationship, which is my main theme this evening. the Bible is relationship, pentecost is relationship. We rare constantly reminded in Holy Scripture that our lives are not simply handed to us in isolation but in relation to others. Scripture speaks of Love, it speaks of Peace, it speaks of reconciliation, of wholeness and healing, it speaks of family life and community. It speaks of how we should relate to others in every conceivable way, the ten commandments, the new commandment, the great commission, the importance of our families, our friends, how to cope with our enemies. But above all else, scripture teaches us how God wants us to relate to him too. God the father, Son and Holy Spirit is about relationship. The triune nature of God is an illustration as to how God wishes us to live our lives. Those early followers of Christ came together on the day of that first Pentecost experience. They weren’t a bunch of individuals but groups of people, all looking for that experience in their lives that took them beyond, an experience of God.

 

I’ve no idea whether you give much thought to the purpose of your life, I find myself doing this quite regularly see days with all that I experience in my life and I continually come back to the basic notion that our lives is about relationship. Borne out by scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is all about relationship, our relationship with God and relationship with one another. Infact, our relationship with one another is often all about our relationship with God.

 

God wants us all to be in relationship with others. Our scripture stories tonight are all about people living, working and surviving together in relationship with one another. It enables us to live, especially when it can be difficult. Let’s look at the gospel.

After the death of Jesus, his followers were afraid. They were afraid for their own safety, weary I guess. Their leader had been executed – what if the Romans decided to come after them too? The fear was probably not logical. The authorities had got rid of the ringleader and quelled a potential rebellion at the sensitive time of the Passover. There was no need for them to bother themselves about a handful of deluded Galileans. But fear is not logical, and the horror of Jesus’ execution lingered in the minds of those who had witnessed it.

 

Perhaps they were fearful too about the future. They had left homes, trades and families. It was by no means certain they could go back. Would they become homeless beggars? Even when there were rumours about Jesus being alive again, even when some of them had seen him for themselves, they were still afraid. This was uncharted territory. Was the adventure over or not? If it was to continue, would they have to take responsibility for it without Jesus? How could they speak like he did, heal, teach and inspire? There was no going back, and, it seemed, no going forward. Best to huddle behind locked doors and indulge their fear. Best to make fear of the authorities their reason for inaction.

 

It takes a miracle to jolt them out of their fear and get them on their feet and into the world again. It takes a fresh breeze straight from the mouth of God. It takes bright flames, burning with God’s glory and holiness. The book of Acts tells how the Spirit has them rushing out into the street, to defy ridicule and to preach the Good News of Jesus. They have new powers of communication. They lay claim to the ancient prophecies. They are fearless.

 

John’s Gospel tells it slightly differently. Here it is the risen Jesus who comes, his breath that energises, a breath from beyond the grave. Jesus talks of peace, and where there is peace there can be no fear. With his breath he gives them peace. But this is not a peace that encourages quiet inaction. Jesus’ breath also gives them power – power to forgive, or not to forgive. It is an awesome responsibility, offering God’s forgiveness and grace to others, but it is one Jesus’ disciples are now equipped for. They no longer have only their own feeble, fearful selves to draw on. They have in them a breath of life that has proved stronger than death. Full of energy, at peace with themselves and one another, unafraid, they are ready to be sent out. The Church has begun its mission. It has been formed. They are all in relationship with one another and if you want to read what happened next then please do read on in the book of Acts. It is all about relationship with one another. How to live in community, how to live alongside one another. From feeling insecure they now felt confidence.

 

I personally believe that that confidence is gained through relationship, our relationship with God and the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with one another.

 

I wish to offer you two illustrations they are both rather strange stories in order to illustrate what I mean but let me explain:

Michael Morpurgo is a particularly brilliant children’s author. He is a fascinating man who is passionate about the well-being of children. He, wi his wife also run a farm which allows city children to come and stay, a kind of holiday giving them insight in to rural life.

 

One day a new coach party of children arrived. The teacher, when the children were getting off the coach, pointed out one young lad and said to Michael Morpurgo, “Don’t pick on that boy there, he doesn’t speak and hasn’t done for years. You’ll embarrass him”. Michael understood and left him alone. That night, after Michael had offered the children one of his brilliant bedtime stories, Michael went to the stables to lock up but he noticed thtat the was a light left on and so he went in to discover why. As he walked in he found the speechless boy talking to a horse. He was talking freely and the horse was clearly acknowledging what was being said. There was a relationship between the boy and the horse, the boy trusted the horse, he felt secure and felt able to express himself. It is a beautiful story which inspired Michael Morpurgo to write “War Horse”. But it is clearly a story about relationship. A relationship which enabled and empowered.

 

Clearly this was a relationship with a horse, but the point I seek to make is that the boy found a security which sadly he could find no where else in his life. He could speak to the horse because he trusted it, he felt confident, safe and secure. A real relationship. Our relationships should include that same sense of security and even love for one another particularly as we share in our relationship with God.

 

Let’s go back to our scripture and recall the life of Christ. How it was bound up in relationships right to the very end when he was thought to be a dangerous person to relate to. And Remember that even Christ did not die on his own at an altar between two candles, he died on a cross between two thieves.

 

The world can seem a fearful place. It is easy to let ourselves give in to fear. We might be afraid of illness or accident, of terrorist attack or floods. Some of us are more prone than others to think that disaster lies ahead. It is easy too for churches to be fearful – fearful of change, of division, of falling attendances, too few clergy and decaying buildings. The bible ia the answer to our fears. Pentecost is the answer to our fears. On the day of your celebrations, your Anniversary, Pentecost reminds us of the birth of the church, a day of forming relationships which today we call the church. Today Jesus breathes peace and power on his followers. Today the wind and the fire settle on us. Today, together, we cannot be afraid. And if just a little of the Pentecost breeze stays with us, we can fulfil our task – to offer forgiveness, to tell the Good News, to see our visions and dream our dreams, to be God’s people in God’s world. And to be in relationship with him.

Sermon for 24th April

What a story!

 

Most stories that we read and hear have a beginning and then an ending, but this gospel story is different; it has an ending followed by a beginning.

 

It is a human story, a personal story, full of human actions and reactions, containing all our human emotions, from darkest grief to greatest joy. For fifteen verses of the story it is incredibly sad, the Master had died on the cross. There could be no doubt, it was a public event, witnessed by his mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas and the disciple whom he loved, thought to be John.

Despite everything that he had said to the disciples, how could he not be dead? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared Jesus body for burial and laid his body in the garden tomb. What could be more final than that?

 

In bewilderment, grief and fear the disciples were holed up, keeping a low profile.

 

As soon as she could have done, alone and in the morning darkness, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb to lament; it was the custom to wait for three days for the person’s spirit to leave them. She was shocked, and perhaps frightened to find that the stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty.

 

The story gathered pace as she ran to find Peter and the unnamed other disciple to tell them what had happened “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” We can only surmise that Mary thought that the Jewish authorities had seen fit to move Jesus’ body because he had been a troublemaker.

 

Immediately, Peter and the other disciple set out for the tomb, running as fast as they could. The other disciple looked into the tomb, only to find the linen wrappings and nothing else. Peter arrived and went straight into the tomb to find the same thing. When the other disciple finally entered the tomb we learn that “he saw and believed.

Perhaps the message that Jesus had tried to drum into the disciples was starting to make sense at last, but the situation was still unresolved. Then the disciples went home! I suppose they felt that there was nothing else they could do at the tomb, or maybe they thought that it could be dangerous hanging around, especially for Peter who had three times publicly denied knowing that he even knew Jesus.

 

What would we have done? The death of a loved one is painful; we become caught up in grief, consumed by it. Any additional emotional event on top of that is too much to bear, and even more so if it is a strange and threatening event. We know the whole story and it is still beyond understanding, we accept it in faith, but that can still be difficult.

 

For the disciples, the simple truth was that Jesus was no longer with them and an empty tomb was not going to change that. They had not grasped what Jesus had taught them while he was with them, so why would they suddenly understand without his help? He had left them high and dry.

 

The disciples had gone, but they left Mary, who had followed them back, at the tomb. Not only had they left her alone, they had left her distraught and weeping. She looked into the tomb as the other had, but she saw two angels sitting where Jesus had lain, but Mary expresses no surprise at this at all.

Angels were not all that common even then, but Mary is intensely focussed on just one thing – she needs to find the body of Jesus, her Lord. The angels might have information and she doesn’t much care where it comes from.

 

How natural is this, there are times in our own lives, times of crisis, when all the usual protocols and bureaucracy that we might follow are rendered irrelevant. There is no time for idle chat, we will go to straight anyone who can help, ask brutally direct questions and expect direct answers – in the way that children do.

 

Before she can tackle the angels, they ask her a question, “Woman, why are you weeping.” She responds with the words that she used when she told the other two disciples what she had found, except this time it is a personal mission that she is on. Mary says “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

 

Mary’s pain and distress is in her every word and action, she is blind to anything except finding Jesus’ body.

 

She is so utterly distraught that she doesn’t even recognise Jesus when he stands before her, asking her the same question that the angels had posed. She thought the man to be a gardener and threw the same question at him; “tell me where you have laid him.” Without waiting for a reply Mary turned away from him, perhaps hoping to find an answer in the tomb.

 

The story, up to this point has been frantic, Mary and the disciples running to and fro; Mary pleading with whoever she saw.

 

Sometimes our lives are like that, rushing from pillar to post, too busy to do anything useful. Not allowing peace and calm to interrupt our busyness, forgetting that the answer to a problem might be a prayer away. Panic blots out our rational thinking.

 

Up to now, the story had all been about an ending, but now we come to the beginning.

 

The pace of the story slowed to a standstill when Jesus simply said to her “MARY” and the story suddenly and unexpectedly has a beginning. Mary instantly recognised the voice calling her by name; she turned to him and replied “Rabbouni.” From the darkest place of grief and despair comes the light of astonishment and joy; not only had she found Jesus, but he was risen from the dead.

 

Mary did what anyone would instinctively have done, what anyone here would have done when they find someone who has been lost; she reached out to touch Jesus. Touch is such a basic instinct, such a critical sense for all of us, such a natural thing to do. Jesus told Mary not to hold onto him because he was no longer of this world, but not yet of his Father’s.

 

Jesus told Mary to take the joyous news of his resurrection to the disciples in the words “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary was the first to meet the risen Jesus and now, as Jesus had commanded her, she went to share the message with the other disciples.

 

She said “I have seen the Lord”

 

We know the story, we know the ending and we know the beginning; the beginning of the faith handed down to us. We are called to praise, to love and to serve Christ Jesus, but let us never forget that we are called to do what Mary did – to tell the story to others.

 

Lord Jesus, speak through our tears, call us by our names and give us a new song to sing – that you are alive for evermore!

 

 

Alleluia!

Christ is Risen


Sermon for 10th April

Jesus Comes First

 

Jesus knew Mary, Martha and Lazarus very well and he loved to spend time with them, as we know from Luke’s gospel. They were a happy household and lived at Bethany, just a couple of miles from Jerusalem. When Lazarus fell seriously ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus – “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” They simply told Jesus of the problem, of their worry, they didn’t ask him to come or give any other instructions; rather like his Mother who simply told him “they have no wine” at the wedding in Cana; his first sign, or miracle.

 

When we pray, it is not easy to simply lay our troubles and worries in Jesus’ hands; it is so easy for us to carry on and to tell God what needs to be done, or, more accurately, what we want to have done!

 

Jesus’ reaction to the sister’s message is surprising; he states that Lazarus’ illness is not fatal, but, “for God’s glory.” Jesus’ words signify that Lazarus’ illness will not end with his death but be a catalyst for Jesus’ death. John then states that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but that despite that, and their message, he stayed where he was for another two days.

 

If we receive a message telling us that somebody that we loved was ill, by implication very ill, most of us would rush straight to them, and yet Jesus delays. Perhaps this was to foreshadow his own three days in the tomb, or that he could not change the situation by returning so soon. He would have known that he would raise Lazarus. Jesus was taking his own initiative, in his own time and acts when he is ready, however hard it is for us to understand this. When someone we love is ill, can we find the courage to tell God about them, and then to be patient when nothing seems to happen.

 

After that time he told the disciples that they were going to return to Judea, the disciples were very unhappy about this because that was where the Jews had tried to stone Jesus to death; they had only just escaped from there. Now Jesus was going to take them all back into danger again.

 

Jesus told the disciples why they were going back, why they had to go back. He said –  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” Just as we use different euphemisms such as ‘passed on’ or ‘no longer with us’, to talk about death; to avoid the harsh words of death; Jesus too uses such language with the disciples. The disciples take his words literally and still did not grasp why they needed to go back to Bethany. Jesus then told them that Lazarus was dead and that they had to go to him. Thomas then displayed his strength of faith and courage; he took the lead and said that all the disciples had to go “that we may die with him.” We too easily forget this aspect of Thomas; the Thomas prepared to die with Jesus. We remember Thomas as the man who asked Jesus to show him his wounds, known for all time as ‘doubting’ Thomas.

 

Perhaps we remember Thomas in his remembered role more easily because he identifies with what we may well have done in his shoes. His role as a leader, immediately prepared to die with Jesus, does not sit easily with what we might have done.

 

The role of Martha in this miracle story should not be overlooked or undervalued. Martha is such a very close representation of what we can easily be like, she has things sorted out very clearly; she knows that God will do anything for Jesus. She believes that Lazarus, and everybody else, will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. She believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

 

Yet when she stood outside Lazarus’ tomb, and Jesus said “Take away the stone” that seals the tomb, what did Martha say? “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days”.

 

Martha found it easy to put her faith in Jesus for what he would eventually do on the final day, when he came again in glory. She found it much harder to put her faith in Jesus face to face. She found it much harder to believe that Jesus would do anything miraculous in front of her.

 

Martha told Mary the news of Jesus’ arrival and, together with many other Jews; they took Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus at his request. Jesus had wept for and with the sisters at their deep sorrow. At the tomb, Jesus commanded that the stone closing the tomb should be taken away. Jesus’ words to God – “I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” – indicate that he knew it was time to reveal his divinity publicly.

 

Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out, and so he did, wrapped in his grave clothes, the strips of cloth.

 

We learn a lot about Thomas, Martha and Mary in this seventh ‘sign’ or miracle in John’s Gospel. Thomas’ words and actions reveal a man of purpose and courage, prepared to put himself in the front line. Where do we stand when push comes to shove for the sake of Jesus?

 

The busy Martha who rushed out to meet Jesus in Bethany confessed her faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah but found it hard to accept that he was able to carry out miracles during her life. We profess our faith in Christ Jesus in our worship every week, but do we expect miracles from the Jesus who is with us every day, or are miracles from history or the future?

 

The spiritual Mary had waited in the family home, and when she saw Jesus, she rebuked Jesus in the same words that her sister had used – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she knelt at Jesus feet in respect and love as she spoke, and wept. In her shoes, would we have been able to stem our anger in the way that it seems that Mary did?

 

In this miracle Jesus revealed himself completely as Human and Divine. As human he wept with sorrow with his friends and as divine he raised Lazarus from the dead. He also talks to God as Father. Jesus’ ministry on earth was drawing to an end and this miracle foretells his own Passion.

 

Jesus’ actions throughout this longest narrative of a miracle are unexpected and difficult to us to grasp. In particular, his delay in returning to Bethany must have tested his loving friendship with Martha and Mary to the very edge but Jesus had (and has) a different relationship with time to them (or us). His purpose is broader than ours. He will respond to our prayers, but not always in the way we expect or in the time that we hope for.

 

Let us look beyond the miracle of Lazarus to the humanity of Thomas, Martha, Mary and Jesus. Let us learn to expect, and accept, the unexpected during our journey of faith.

 

AMEN

Sermon for 27 March

From time to time I find myself in what I call conversational monologues. They usually happen when one of the people in a conversation unconsciously miss the point of the other completely. It is not that you are aware that you don’t understand, you think that you do, but it is simply that you are on a different level of understanding. People use words and language differently sometimes and it takes often takes a while before the light dawns; that “Oh that’s what you mean” moment.

 

For a long time in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, that was what was going on. The woman could not see beyond what she could touch, see or hear, whilst everything that Jesus said was from a deeper spiritual sense.

 

It is surprising that Jesus was talking to the woman at all, firstly she was a Samaritan and there was a deep historical bitterness between Jews and Samaritans. Furthermore, the barriers of race and creed were complicated by gender divisions in Jesus’ time. The rabbis taught that a man should not talk to a woman in the street. Some even refused to acknowledge their wives in public. What is more, this woman has come to the well in the hottest part of the day, which can only be to avoid others, implying that she is immoral as well.

 

Yet despite all the issues of race, creed, class, sex, profession and status that divided people, (and still do,) Jesus asked the woman for a drink. Her sharp response showed her astonishment, she emphasises the gulf between them – “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus reached across the gulf between God and the world, but also the human barriers that we create.

 

At this stage, the woman thinks that Jesus is simply a Jewish man who ought to know better than to talk to her, or can only be doing so for some ulterior motive. Jesus’ response that if she knew who she was speaking with, he would have given her “living water”. Unsurprisingly this went straight over her head, but clearly she was intrigued by this strange man and gave him some respect in calling him “Sir”. However, surely he cannot be greater than Jacob, who does he think he is! How does he think that he is going to get to the source of this living water?

 

The theme of water in this story reflects the critical importance of water, going back to the Old Testament scriptures as in Psalm 42 where the psalmist’s soul is as thirsty for God as a deer for flowing streams. It also projects forward to Jesus’ promise of never thirsting in verse 14. Jesus turns water into abundant wine at the wedding at Cana. If people drink the water that he is offering, they will never be thirsty again; the still water of the well will be replaced by a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life”. The woman is still going along with Jesus, intrigued but still thinking in the literal sense.

 

I don’t find that in the least bit surprising. Although Jesus was teasing her with clues as to his identity, he didn’t even come close to what her idea of a Messiah must have been. This stranger didn’t seem to pose her a threat, he was certainly a bit odd but harmless enough to play along with this strange game of question and answer. How would we react if somebody that we had never seen or heard of started making claims about this dubious stuff “living water” down at the mill pond? You might think that he was a poet from his lyrical description of water, or you might wonder how safe you were; but you don’t expect the Messiah to turn up on his own with no army and simply ask for a drink. Moreover, if you don’t expect something to happen then you don’t see it when it does.

 

When Jesus suggested that the woman brought her husband to the well, she admitted that she did not have one. Jesus then surprised and shocked her by revealing that he knows about her dubious marital background. Jews were only permitted three marriages at the most but she had had five husbands in the past and was living with another man. Little wonder that she has been slinking about the well at the quietest, but hottest, time of the day.

 

At this point, the woman began to understand that this man was different, and addressed him in the words “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”. Jesus then talked more directly to her, explaining that the time was coming soon when God’s heavenly future was going to break into the earthly world. The woman apparently knew that the Messiah was coming, and said so to Jesus, at which point he revealed who he was in the words “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” I can only imagine the stunning impact of this to the woman.

 

The disciples returned from their shopping expedition, only to be amazed and shocked to find Jesus, on his own, talking with a Samarian woman, and a sinner to boot! Confronted by the confounded disciples and astonished by Jesus’ words to her, the woman went back to the city to tell other people about this man, daring to believe, but doubting all the same, that Jesus was actually the Messiah.

 

Once the disciples recovered their wits they urged Jesus to eat, but when Jesus said to them that “I have food to eat that you do not know about”, they simply responded to his words in a literal way. They understood no more than the woman at had done, indeed it could well be said that she actually had a better grasp of things than the disciples at that precise moment. What was more she had gone into the city to talk about Jesus with other people, and when they returned with her they asked Jesus to stay with them for two days.

 

As a result of his stay, many more people came to believe, not because they had been told by the woman, but because they heard for themselves.

 

The earthly barriers of sex, class, status, profession and creed were smashed aside when the people of the city listened to the woman, and then followed her.

 

Our faith is not a corporate faith that is imposed on us by a regime or other people. We have freedom to accept the gracious invitation from God, or not. We are not driven into faith. Our faith is a personal faith; we each find our own way, in our own time, with our own understanding; just as the woman at the well found her way. We choose to follow when and how it is right for us.

 

When we come to believe, like the woman, we reach out to others in joy, happiness and love, bridging the barriers that still exist in our society.

 

We are human, and perhaps it is in our nature to think literally, to trust only what we can touch, or see in our material world. Let us find the courage to set aside the literal sometimes, if not all the time, and open our hearts and minds to the infinite possibilities offered to us when we accept God’s invitation.

 

AMEN

Sermon for 13th March

Happy Lent!
 
No such thing. Of course not. Lent is a solemn season, full of serious stuff. We run special educational courses during Lent. Practicing Christians are supposed to be more intentionally focused on one’s prayer life during Lent. We “give up” things for Lent – chocolates, meat, sweets, smoking, bad TV shows.
 
Forty days is long enough to learn something new, miss something old, and change some habits. Yet Lent should not be colored as an Ash Wednesday grey grind. What if instead of thinking about “getting through” Lent we look at these next forty days as a journey towards a miraculous destination – Easter Sunday. Doesn’t everybody “like” to go on a road trip now and then?  What do you “like” about your annual journey to Jerusalem? What makes the Lenten trip to that empty tomb so awesome?

Of course, none of this is easy and we have to cope to begin with by thinking about the things that tempt us.

The local Police Inspector was looking to employ some Special Constables, and one of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest academically, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the Inspector, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The Inspector thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the Inspector asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter?’T’?” “Today & tomorrow.” Replied the applicant. The Inspector was again?surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.?”Now, listen carefully, who killed President Kennedy?” asked the Inspector. The job seeker seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The Inspector was relieved and replied, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his pals who were waiting to hear the results of the interview. He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

In our Gospel reading this morning in Matthew it is Jesus’ first day on the job. Immediately he is confronted with major temptations. So how do the Temptations of Jesus actually help us in our spiritual journey. What is it about Lent that becomes an important part of our spirituality?

If we own a car it needs regular servicing. Our computer has to be watched so that it continues to work properly. Even a pacemaker designed to keep our heart going has to be checked. These things are important for transport, work and health. But what about our spiritual health? Just as a car can break down, a computer can go on the blink, or a pace maker lose effectiveness so too our Christian life can find itself in the wilderness, not knowing which way to turn, having lost sight of God and of the vision that once was ours. Many people experience loneliness, despair and a loss of faith. The temptation comes to make life easy, to reject our calling, to use our abilities in the wrong way. That is like being in the wilderness – when we need our MOT, our servicing, our check-up. Every year Lent arrives to give us this opportunity.

When we were confirmed, ordained, admitted to communion, converted or baptised as an adult, we knew that God was close. We may have experienced a definite sense of being called. It may have happened a long time ago and perhaps we have lost some of the vision that was evident then. Our prayers may have become less of a conversation with God. Receiving Holy Communion may have become a ritual rather than an inspirational and wonderful experience. Our reading of the Bible may have lapsed. Our standards of honesty, purity, generosity and kindness may have diminished. Baptism has not inoculated us against these things – it didn’t remove temptation for Jesus either.

Jesus’ temptations were different – his ministry would be made much easier if he used his power in the wrong way. By looking to his own comfort, or putting on a series of tricks to attract attention. Or by compelling people to follow him. The answer to these temptations were to be found in scripture.

This season of Lent gives us a time when we try and make some extra effort in our Christian life. I was so pleased to see so many of you at this years Ash Wednesday services. Without something like As Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent we might find ourselves casually walking in to this special season and not really capturing it’s importance to us and our faith. We may do rather ordinary things like deciding to give up smoking or alcohol. To eat no sweets or have no sugar in our tea. These may make us more healthy, but don’t do a lot for our spiritual growth. Perhaps it is more important to give rather than give up. In other words to give up giving up. It’s how you feel called, where you are in your life. Perhaps it is more important to do what John the Baptist suggests. To examine our lifestyles today and determine to improve it. To look at Jesus’ response to his temptations and know our Bibles better. I am going to give some time to spend with God, as Pam suggested in her Ash Wednesday Homily. Just once a week I am going somewhere to sit in the peace of God’s presence.

Jesus was prepared to endure the worst possible situations in order to show us how to cope in those which strike us. Hunger, loneliness, desperation, loss, frustration, stress were all there in that place. Jesus did not need to be “purified” in the wilderness before his mission, but rather to experience a “crash course” in the horrors which can blight human existence. Coming to be one with us meant learning at first hand the very worst that life can throw up at unsuspecting, and sometimes innocent, people. Then, just like us, he faced the temptations to be other than godly in his confrontation with the evil forces which attack even the best of people.

Who or what do you blame for the presence of temptation in your life? Do you blame the presence of evil in the world for drawing you into continual sin – or have you learnt that on the cross Jesus overcame the power of that evil? Or do you tell yourself that no one’s perfect and we’re all simply sinners anyway – as if Christ’s death was meaningless and nothing can or should change? Or do you recognise that many of our temptations are chosen, by us or for us, and that we can work with the help of the Spirit to follow the example of Jesus and resist temptation?
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Temptations will always exist in our human concern for our physical survival, our mental and emotional well-being and our self awareness, though whether they lead to sin is largely dependent on choice, our own or that of those around us. We are all made in God’s image and equal in God’s eyes, all living as Christ’s hands and feet in this world, and all of us reflecting God’s glory by the Spirit. We know who we are, to whom we belong and what our purpose is in our life together. Let’s pray “lead us not into temptation”, and mean it!

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