Monthly Archives: November 2022

Advent Waiting

Sermon given on Sunday 27th November 2022 on the 1st Sunday in Advent based on the following readings: Matthew 24:36-44 and Isaiah 2:1-5

May I speak and may you hear, through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today we enter a new season in the church calendar. Our old church year has ended and a new one has begun. The colours around us have also changed, there are purples and pinks and candles to light – one at a time – increasing light coming into a time of shortened days and winter darkness. A feeling of anticipation and rising excitement. Yet we have to wait!

Waiting… the action of staying where one is… time passing… expecting something to happen… until one day it does! Advent, a time of waiting, of hope, of anticipation. We hear in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son’

Advent is the church in waiting… the church’s annual reminder of what Christians worldwide anticipate in the days leading up to Christmas. We wait for Christmas as Israel waited centuries for a Saviour. Waiting for God to fulfil his covenant, for a virgin’s son of Abraham’s line, a descendant of Isaac, Jacob and David, for a branch from the root of Jesse, for a baby born in Bethlehem called Immanuel.

For generations, God’s people waited for the fulfilment of countless Old Testament prophecies of a Saviour, who would light up this world brighter than any Magi’s star. A Saviour, who was to be called Jesus, the long-awaited hope in a dark and sinful world. The true light, that gives light to every single human, was coming into the world.

As Christians wait for the light of Christmas, the four advent candles are lit with each week’s passing, but we know that our hoping and waiting doesn’t stop at Christmas, because he will return at the last day, a second advent.

Today, it is that second advent that we are thinking about. A time of waiting that equates with that of Israel. Waiting and not knowing when these prophetic events will take place. We can image that it is unlikely to happen in our lifetime, or without knowing it, it could happen before I get to the end of this sermon…. ‘Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ So, if you all disappear before my very eyes, I’ll know I wasn’t fully prepared!

It is from the Old Testament that we hear of what will happen in the last days, perhaps a more leisurely climax to the end of time and spoken in the beautiful prophetic language of Isaiah.

On a mountain higher than any we might have stood on and from which caught a glimpse of the awe and wonder of God. A mountain whose peak brushes against the thin veil of heaven, ready at any moment to tear a hole through which the Saviour can return.

From the very beginning of humankind there was but one nation, the nation of Eden. However, human rights, economic disparities and land disputes forced the people to spread to each and every corner of the world, creating nations that forgot the principle of working together for the common good or acknowledging their divine creator.

Then, on a mountain that will stand so prominently above all others, on which the gathering place of the people of God will be built, the nations will stream towards it. I was once given an image by one of my lecturers, Mark Chapman at Cuddesdon theological college, of a smooth sphere spinning in space out of which streams of people, like spumes of gas were escaping and forming new spheres, that bumped and grated against each other, but that how, at the end of time it would be as if the image was being rewound and those streams of people would be sucked back so that eventually the original sphere would take shape, not so smooth, but one single spinning object in infinity.

And the reason that people will want to climb the mountain and will encourage others to come with them, is so that the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Peter, James, Paul, Augustine, Francis, Theresa, Luther, Sacks, Mohammed and of you and me, can teach us once more to walk in the ways that He intended us to.

A time of preparation, before Jesus, the Word of God, undertakes his role as the final judge of the people, settling disputes and bringing the nations back into harmony, so that there will be no need of wars, no need for the machinery and weaponry of conflict, no need for military tacticians or economic masters.

Instead, for those who have re-turned to, re-tuned into and re-stored the one true faith, the light of God will shine on them so that they will appear like beacons of hope in the darkness.

It’s a beautiful picture, and one we might dismiss as poetic licence, an Old Testament allegory designed to give hope to the peoples of Israel and Judah who were in dispute, and who had been subjugated by the Babylonians. Yet this same image of a gathering of the nations and the formation of a new earth and heaven is given to us by John in his vision in Revelation, ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple… The nations will walk by its light and… the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it,’ and for each and every person, ‘they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’

Yet, none of this calls for complacency. Today, tomorrow, next year or whenever… we can’t just simply wait… the things that are foreseen are also the things that we should be striving for each and every day, to work together as individuals and as a global nation, to do all we can to bring about peace between the nations on earth, to teach people the way of God, so that all can be restored

So, this year during Advent, as we continue to watch and pray for our Saviour to come again let us also make plans, whether in the long term or short term… who knows… to prepare ourselves and our world for the smoothest transition and be truly ready, ‘because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’.


A Question of Faith

Sermon preached on Sunday 6th November 2022 based on Luke 20:27-38

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question’. Now they say that there are no stupid questions, thank goodness, but I wonder – are you someone who is willing to ask a question if you don’t understand something? Or would you keep quiet rather than admit ignorance and potentially appear stupid? Or would you rather stick with the answer you already think is correct? The trouble is, not asking a question can often lead us to try and come up with our own answers

Well, the Sadducees have come up with a hypothetical question, to which they already have their own answer, of a woman apparently having to marry not only one man from a rather large family of sons, but to be passed on to each of his brothers in turn in the hope of producing offspring to carry on the family’s bloodline. Although you’d have thought by the sixth brother, he’d have got an inkling of what his fate was likely to be.

They were obviously all portrayed as god-fearing, righteous people who would end up in heaven at the resurrection, unsure as to who had the best claim on their marital status.

For me, as for many, that throws up a lot of questions for me to ponder on. What will we look like in heaven?  Do we get the 21- year-old version of us or the body we died with?  Can we chose? Will I recognise my loved ones? The mind can really start to wander as you ponder the implications of the Sadducees question. What if you are widowed and have married twice and you dearly loved both your husbands or wives?  Is heaven going to be socially awkward?  I hope not.

Of course, the Sadducees didn’t really want an answer, it is a question designed to make the whole idea of resurrection look stupid. The idea of bodily resurrection was already controversial in Jesus’ day. This was a relatively new idea to Judaism, just a couple centuries old, and probably imported from elsewhere, and the Sadducees were defending tradition and having none of it.

The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament Anything not in the books of Moses, was not scripture to them. However, as Christians we have added to those scriptures, with the notion of the immortality of the soul and a transformation of our bodies. One of the most vivid examples of what is to come is from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. ‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed

Jesus, of course, points out in today’s gospel, that the resurrection changes everything. It exists not with earthly conventions of birth, marriage and death, but with complete transformation of mortal flesh into what would seem immortal angel-like creatures. However, whilst I have a lot more questions about life and resurrection, I have more questions about what the Sadducees question throws up about marriage.

The practice the Sadducees are referring to in their question is known as levirate marriage, a social convention that had nothing to do with protecting women, but everything to do with protecting the family name. If she was to produce a son, then he would inherit the family name and property, because family hierarchy was everything in that world; who your father was, and your birth order defined you as a man and who your husband was defined you as a woman. The dilemma would then be whose property was she to be in heaven, which brother would she serve?

Is all this human hierarchy to be preserved in heaven? Will all the screwed-up gender relations and injustices persist in eternity?  Imagine the look on the faces of Jesus audience when he tells them that this theoretical woman, so humiliated and worthless and passed around in this life, will not belong to any of these men in heaven.  She will enter the next age of the resurrection on her own power as her own person, because she is not defined by these human institutions and relationships.   

If heavenly relations are to define earthly ones, what does this mean for marriage on earth?  Could it be that there are bigger theological issues than if our bodies are raised?  Jesus is saying that we are raised with God in the resurrection, but that our flawed human institutions are not coming with us.

The Church of England at this time is facing huge theological questions over what marriage is here on earth. With the Bishops having met together last week to discuss, to pray and to discern what the Churches response might be to the Living in Love and Faith project. It is a culmination of the chance that we all had to listen, to learn, to study, and above all to ask questions on the issue of same sex marriages.

When Jesus says marriage will not exist in heaven, he is telling the Sadducees that marriage is just how we have organized human and family relationships here on earth, but in
heaven it is going to be completely different.

Where did Jesus get such a radical notion?  It could be that Jesus just read the Scriptures and observed how marriage changed over time, with polygamous patriarchs and kings having wives and concubines.  The idea of one man and one woman mating for life is a later development, and for those who point to Genesis being the convention, it should be remembered that both this book and the other four of the Pentateuch were said to have been written by Moses, or even written in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, hundreds of years after Moses is supposed to have lived.

Perhaps Jesus read stories about Abraham, who tried to pass off his wife as his sister to get favour with Pharaoh; or Hagar, his maid, being impregnated by Abraham only to be cast out when his wife Sarah became pregnant. 

So, Jesus, simply reading the scriptures, could see marriage was an evolving human institution. that went through changes between Genesis and Jesus, and marriage has continued to evolve over the centuries.

We still have a lot of questions to ask, but we shouldn’t be afraid to ask them, and we shouldn’t be afraid to listen to other’s points of view, to be prepared to be challenged, to reflect and to come to our own understanding, whilst fully respecting the views of others.

This is not exactly where I expected to end up when reflecting on the Sadducees trick question, but the point is that sometimes we don’t ask questions because we are afraid that the answer may be difficult for us. When we ask questions only to justify our previous beliefs, we will probably be confounded and discover the limits of our point of view.

Faith can sometimes feel as though it has to be protected from various dangers or challenges. In reality though, trusting ourselves to God’s lordship means not getting bogged down in our own narrower concerns and expectations. After all, is there anything beyond God’s reach and concern?