Tag Archives: God

Come and See…

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Epiphany based on the following readings John 1:29-42 and 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

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

‘Come and see, come and see,’ was a request I often got from one of the children, to go with them and admire what they had been drawing or chalking on the easel. I’d learned not to declare, ‘what a wonderful elephant’ when it turned out to be a fire engine; risking disappointment that their efforts were unrecognisable. Instead, a few tentative enquiries and invitation to tell me all about what each bit represented, to listen to what I was looking at helped me see what was being revealed right in front of my eyes.

 Our gospel passage this morning is another epiphany moment as Jesus begins his calling of the disciples, with an invitation, not only to come and see where he was staying, but to come and listen to what he had to say, so that his identity would be recognised and understood

Just a few verses before we had been given by John the most beautiful description of Jesus as the Word made flesh. He is God revealed to humans – in ourselves the expression of God – so that we might see him and believe. The question is – what do we see and what do we believe?

But first, let’s return to what John, the writer of the gospel, saw and believed on that first encounter with Jesus. Do we actually know that John was there? The consensus among theologians is that here was a group of Galilean fishermen, from a community around Bethsaida, which actually means ‘Fishtown,’ and that along with brothers Simon and Andrew were the sons of Zebedee, James and John.

Andrew is a disciple of John the Baptist along with one other, who are eyewitnesses to John’s testimony and affirmation of who Jesus was revealed to be through his baptism and who are standing with him when he declares for the second time that ‘Here is the Lamb of God.’

John the Baptist gives Jesus this new title that does not appear elsewhere in the Gospels. Yet it would have had great significance for those listening. A sacrificial lamb, pure of all blemishes, innocent and meek, and it is worth reflecting on this title as an image of the meekness of Jesus who, even in the fiery, apocalyptic book of Revelation, believed to have been authored by John the Gospel writer as well, still appears as a lamb ‘standing as if it has been slaughtered.’

John the shadowy, beloved disciple does not reveal himself as the other disciple with Andrew, but the visionary quality of the language points to him being present as the other eyewitness. However, it is Andrew who after accepting Jesus’ invitation to ‘come and see’ and spending time listening to what Jesus had to say makes the boldest declaration to his brother, Simon. ‘We have found the Messiah, the anointed or holy one,’ the prophesied promised deliverer of the Jewish nation and saviour of humankind. It is significant that Simon’s brother makes this confession early on, as later, the retitled Peter will make the same bold statement having witnessed several miracles and declaring his continuing allegiance to Jesus’ mission.

For John the Baptist he is the Son of God, for Andrew the Messiah, for John the Evangelist the Lamb of God, for Peter the Holy One. Each of them have received the invitation to ‘come and see,’ and each of them sees Jesus as something different. So, what is it about Jesus that each of us who receive that same invitation actually see?

The invitation to get to know Jesus is a personal one. It starts at a different time and in different circumstances for each of us. Andrew and John were asked directly, ‘What are you looking for’ and their response was for a teacher, ‘Rabbi.’ They were looking for someone who could help them learn more about God and his purposes, as well as a guide to how they should live. How true is that for you?

Are you attracted by Jesus as a shepherd, a person who protects and leads people in the right direction, securing for them a place of safety and nourishment.

Or is it the angry Jesus, who rails against injustice and demands restitution and freedom from everything oppressive and unjust. Who values those with the least power as the most precious.

Perhaps, it’s the compassionate Jesus, whose healing power can work miracles and bring suffering to an end, who rejoices at the restoration to full life, yet weeps at the death of a loved one before offering hope for eternal peace and reunion.

Even maybe the Jesus who shares our tiredness and emotions, revealing himself to be fully human and capable of wanting to escape from life at times, to take stock and re-emerge refreshed and restored to carry on the work we have been given.

Whatever it is that makes us first accept that invitation to ‘come and see’ it is only the catalyst to get to know him better, to listen to what he has to say and to be confident to make that invitation available to others to come to know him better.

Despite the failings of the Corinthian church to be united in their understanding of God, Paul is positive when he reminds them that by accepting the invitation to get to know Jesus, they have been enriched in speech and knowledge, given spiritual gifts and strengthened so that they will be able to persevere until the day when they are fully united with Jesus. It is also addressed to ‘all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’

The Gospel of John was written to prove that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. As an eyewitness to the love and power displayed in the miracles of Jesus, John gives us an up-close and personal look at Christ’s identity. He shows us that Jesus, though fully God, came in the flesh to distinctly and accurately reveal God, and that Christ is the source of eternal life to all who believe in him.

Each of us is given that chance to take a close and personal look at Christ’s identity when we recognise the moment and respond to his invitation to ‘come and see.’ Whatever it is that attracted us to get to know the person of Jesus more, to listen to his words, to be moved by his actions there will be others out there waiting for that same invitation.

Let’s pray at their epiphany moment we are the ones to say to them ‘come and see’ for yourself.

Amen

What’s In A Name?

Sermon preached at St Peter’s, Boyatt Wood on New Year’s Day 2023 based on readings Luke 2:15-21 and Psalm 8

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

Names are important to us, at least I’m very attached to mine. It allows me to be identified through my passport and bank account. It put me in my place on the school register and other lists, and it gives me a place within my family history… It’s also useful for people to grab my attention.

As parents we might have agonised for months what our unborn child should be called. Maybe we had a family name in mind, or we read baby name books to try and find something a little unusual and more unique, or perhaps we checked what the initials might spell, after all would it be easy to go through life as Graham Oliver Downes?

If you had been born a boy in Tudor times you would probably have received one of only seven names, John, Thomas, William, Robert, Richard, Henry or Edward, and been the same as every other Tom, Dick or Harry.

However, our parents today did not have any of these problems, because the name of their son had already been decided for them. He was to be called Jesus. His name had been decided before Mary had even known she would become pregnant and was told to her by the angel Gabriel, ‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’ (Luke 1:31).

Joseph, too, was informed in a dream, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:20-21). And he did just that, from Matthew’s gospel we hear that, ‘he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus’ (Matthew 1:25).

It is only in Luke though that we hear that Jesus undergoes the Jewish ritual of circumcision, at 8 days old, and receives the name ‘given by the angel’.

Actually, the name Jesus was quite popular in first-century Judea. For this reason, we often hear him being distinguished by his childhood home, when he is ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ His neighbours would have simply known him as the son of Joseph the carpenter, but his name was important for other reasons.

The name Jesus, announced to Joseph and Mary through the angels, means ‘God (or Yahweh in Hebrew) saves’ or ‘Yahweh is salvation.’ Transliterated his name is Yeshua, a combination of Ya, an abbreviation for Yahweh, and the verb yasha, meaning to rescue, deliver or save. Now we can see it’s significance when applied to the person of God who has become our Saviour.

Jesus was sent by God for that particular purpose, to save us, and his personal name bears witness to that mission. In Acts we hear Peter, emboldened by the Holy Spirit declare, ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Mortals, whom we hear in this morning’s Psalm, God is mindful of, having ‘made them a little lower than’ himself. Yet who will be saved?

The call of salvation goes out into all the world, and all who come to God through Christ become part of the people of God. They are to be saved from their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit, and when I say ‘they’, I include all of us here today. This is truly the good news of Christmas. The baby born on Christmas Eve is the Son of God who came to save his people from their sins.

If ever a name was packed with significance, it is the name Jesus. It is the name that establishes the tone for everything we should do, ‘in word or deed’ as Christians. We are called to proclaim that salvation is in the name of Jesus alone, that we receive forgiveness through his name and that at our baptism we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Healing and miracles were performed in the name of Jesus, and he teaches us to pray in his name, so that as John’s gospel tells us, ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it’ (John 14:13-14).

In every way, Jesus lives up to His name. His name reminds us of the power, presence, and purpose of the risen Christ. It assures us that God’s gracious intention is to save us. Our Lord Jesus brought God to humanity and now brings humans to God through the salvation he purchased.

But what of our names? It is easy to overlook the extraordinary nature of Luke’s statement that Jesus’ name was told to Mary pre-conception, implying God’s pre-knowledge of Jesus and the role he would assume. Of course, we can read the Old Testament prophecies about a Saviour, and accept that, as one of the Persons of the Trinity, Jesus would have been ‘known’ before he began his life as one of us.

The fact is that we too have always been known and ‘named’ before we were conceived. If we read verses from Psalm 139, about an all-knowing God, For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

God knows all of us by name. We are not just numbers. We are persons with names and each of us have a different life story. There are millions of us, yet God knows each of us personally. We should never forget that. God does not treat us impersonally either. He knows our history. He knows our struggles. He knows our personalities. He knows us inside out. Yet he loves us without hesitation. We don’t need to fake anything in order to be good enough for God. We can come as we are and know that God receives us with great joy. God knows us by name.

I can think of no better way to start a New Year than with a fresh realization that we are wholly and deeply known to a loving God, and that, whatever our individual ‘name’ may be, our own unique and distinctive calling which we are continually discovering, if we are Christians, is to walk under the banner of the name of Jesus Christ.

 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Amen

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’.

Amen.

Children Of God Through Faith

Sermon preached on the 1st Sunday of Trinity based on the readings Galatians 3:23-end and Luke 8:26-39

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

The importance of being aware of our state of mental health is a topic that many of us have come to recognise over the last couple of years. For a long time this subject was hidden away like the people who were affected by it.

Prior to and including the 19th century the authorities thought they had the answer and gathered those afflicted (and sometimes those who were not) into asylums where they could be treated. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, known better by its synonymous name of Bedlam. The buildings of this psychiatric facility were dirty, dark, and cold, with no windows and no hot water. When a group of MPs visited the hospital for scrutiny in 1814, they were shocked at the sight of the small cells where people were chained to the beds or walls. Just one blanket was provided to each patient to protect them from rats and cold. The hospital was even once a popular tourist attraction in London, offering morbid entertainment to the curious.

The Victorians made more humane changes to the way that these patients were treated, but it was still an ‘illness’ that was managed rather than cured. Treatments were often brutal, though bloodletting, purging and electric shock treatment. For many years same-sex attraction was also regarded as a mental illness and right up until the late 1980’s people underwent electrical aversion therapy; who can forget the treatment of Alan Turing.

Of course, medical understanding has advanced enormously over the years, but in Jesus’ time people who were suffering mental illnesses would have invariably been described as being ‘demon possessed’ and this morning we meet one such man.

However, this is not a man who has been shut away, this is a man who has been shunned by society, homeless and alone. As a Street Pastor, I would meet many people living on the streets, and I mean literally living on the streets. No home comforts of three-square meals a day or a warm shower every evening. Their beds were the dark corners of a municipal car park on plastic and cardboard, surrounded by the smell of urine and narcotics. No wonder depression and psychiatric illnesses were common. Now that is not to imply that all homeless people will suffer from mental illness, but very often mental health is affected by homelessness.

There was always the need to see beyond the grime and dereliction of self-worth to the child, son, father, husband, mother that this person was before and still needed to be. When Jesus encounters the demoniac at Gerasene his desire was to restore the man, so that he could play his part in telling others what God could do for them.

The casting of the evil spirits into the swine may have produced a spectacle that amazed and terrified its onlookers, but its effect was to bring people running towards Jesus rather than away.

Jesus’ ‘treatment’ of the demoniac was one of love and caring. The people found him at Jesus’ feet, calm and restored, a world away from the human that they had bound in chains and shackles to protect themselves.

Was the demoniac cured? We would hope so. Would he suffer from future psychotic episodes? We would hope not. But what he would be as he returned to live in society, was released from feeling unloved and rejected. His encounter with Jesus had produced a purpose and a mission to tell his story in order that others might come to see for themselves what Jesus could offer them.

Setting aside his medical rehabilitation, this man had found faith. It had been revealed to him through Jesus’ actions, but what had brought Jesus, from the northern town of Capernaum to a place situated about thirty-five miles south east of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, in a country that was at that time part of Syria, rather than Israel? This is indicated by the fact that a herd of swine was being kept nearby, which would have been forbidden by the Mosaic Law, since swine were unclean animals.

Paul may have been called the apostle to the Gentiles, but Jesus also extended God’s mercy to both people and locations that were outside of Israel, as he did for the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and here in the Decapolis region. Both of which are an example and foreshadowing of the manner in which salvation through faith in Christ was later to be offered to Gentiles as well as Jews.

This morning the Galatians, in what is now modern-day Turkey were hearing the Good News that all are one in Christ, and that same promise is given to us right here in our church and community. There is no-one that God can’t use to get his message across, and no-one will be rejected if they have faith through Jesus

Within God’s kingdom there is no-one, male or female, sane or insane, gay or straight, believer or non-believer who is not a child of God through faith.

Amen

Dancing With The Daffodils

Short Talk for the National Day of Reflection, 23rd March 2022 based on Psalm 23 and Matthew 11: 28-30

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the milky way, they stretched in never-ending line along the margin of a bay: ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they out-did the sparkling waves in glee: a poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company: I gazed–and gazed–but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude; and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth 1802

I have no idea what heaven looks like, but if I were to stand in the very spot that William Wordsworth did some 200 years ago I would have thought that here is a place where heaven meets earth.

Today, the daffodil has become the symbol of reflection, remembering those we knew and loved, but who are no longer with us because of the pandemic. Many of them left us at a time when it was difficult to say our goodbyes, others taken before their time despite the valiant efforts of our health professionals and personal carers. Deaths that have left us lonely and disorientated. Perhaps like the cloud, wandering and wondering, at times our tears falling like rain.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to see beyond the endings and look for hope in the future, yet it surely is there. A glance, a glimpse of brightness, an unexpected movement that catches our attention.

As I said I have no idea what heaven looks like, but to imagine our loved ones, beyond the pain and suffering, to see them once more in their prime, the happy times and memories, dancing gleefully, like the ten thousand or so daffodils that outshone the sparkling waves, must surely be of comfort to us.

Wordsworth describes it as a jocund company meaning cheerful and light-hearted. Here they are at rest, the lightness of God’s yoke no burden at all, and for that we can be grateful

Of course, we could try and stay there in that moment, but eventually we need to return to our ordinary everyday lives. However, that vision is now part of our memory, a wealth of memories to recall in moments of quietness and thoughtfulness, which Wordsworth describes a ‘the bliss of solitude’

Through our experiences we know that solitude can be hard at times, but true solitude can bring great peace as we rest in God’s presence. For many of us these last two years have also been a time of weariness, as both our mental health and reserves of strength have been battered and bruised. Yet today our readings promise us a time of rest and restoration; in Matthew, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ and the beautiful psalm, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He shall refresh my soul.’

We have to allow ourselves to hand over to God our cares and worries, our frustrations and our anger. He will take it all and release us to remember those we have loved and see no longer with love and gratitude.

Then in their company our hearts we will once more dance with pleasure not in pain.

Amen

Lamenting Jerusalem…

Grieving Lady – Lynn Greyling

Sermon preached on the 2nd Sunday of Lent 2022 based on Luke 13:31-35, Philippians 3:17-4:1 and Psalm 27

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

I wonder how many times, like me, you have wept when waking up, sitting to read, or listening to and watching the news recently? We have wept for the people and cities of whom we have hardly heard of a few weeks ago. For Kviv, for Mariupol, for Kharkiv and Sumy. We have wept for the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our very eyes; for the misinformation being spread as a means to retain power; for the destruction of life and liberty.

Even so, we must also weep for the peoples and city of Moscow because as we hear today in our gospel reading Jesus will weep with grief over his beloved city of Jerusalem, but his will also be tears of frustration and notice of intent.

Our reading begins with a warning and open threat of violence against Jesus. The Pharisees, knowledgeable about Jewish law and tradition would have been scrutinising Jesus carefully, ready to challenge his behaviour and teachings, and were openly colluding with the Herodians to destroy Jesus. They were gathering their evidence, whether it was because on the Sabbath, his disciples had gleaned grain or Jesus had healed a man’s withered hand. (Matthew 12 1-14)

Their warning was likely to be a taunt rather than concern for his safety and Jesus was having none of it. Certainly, his description of Herod as ‘that fox’ shows he knows the man’s true character. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a crafty, cunning, cruel and deceitful ruler. He cared little for others and greatly about himself. He had already had John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded, was desperate to see Jesus (Luke 9:9) but he now wants his potential rival dead.  

This threat, however, was not going to deflect Jesus from his mission of redemption. Rulers like Herod will not stand the test of time. Jesus still has work to do, and his eyes are fixed firmly on Jerusalem and the way to the cross. He understands his main opposition will be in that city. A city that has rejected and killed God’s prophets time and time again as they have sought to bring his message of peace and reconciliation. For Jesus, Jerusalem has to be the place where his mission comes to its completion. It’s perhaps interesting to note that his phrase, ‘it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem’ doesn’t mean that there were never any prophets who died elsewhere; rather that it was not acceptable – ouk endechetai that a prophet should die away from that city.

The context of this pronouncement is the failure of Jerusalem and the wickedness of its leaders. Those in authority had strayed far God and were actually hindering his work. Hence, we have this beautiful image of a compassionate Jesus’ desire to protect and shelter the people, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but Jerusalem seeks to prevent even this.

No wonder Jesus’ tears are of frustration. The city’s rejection of protection for the people tells us that they will ultimately reject Jesus himself. However, it is their house that is forsaken and there will be an ultimate reckoning when Jesus returns and delivers the final judgement.

Paul assures us in his letter to the Philippians, that those who reject Jesus and the cross, face destruction for their reliance on earthly things ‘their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame.’ Surely then all we have to do is to rest on the laurels of our salvation, to stand firm in our faith and to reject the ways of the secular world. Well we could, but I think I’d be trying to wriggle my way out of the judgement line to keep moving to the back of the line to delay coming face to face with Jesus if I chose to do that.

Our faith is a living active thing. However helpless we feel when faced by situations beyond our immediate control, there are still things that we can do to model Jesus and to boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel and bring those who raise up war to justice.

In our Lent course this week we looked at reactive and active justice. Obviously written to highlight the many injustices that are happening in our world and which we shouldn’t forget about. It speaks about our natural response is that of compassion. To do something that will bring immediate relief to a situation. To donate to relief agencies, to look at opening our homes to refugees, to mitigate the false news on social media.

Yet, it has to be more than that. The majority of us live in real comfort and yes, we may have to face deprivations of less travel and higher food prices which might mean we cut out our treats; but it will also mean that we balance our needs against those of our neighbour… We can be active in telling our government and politicians what direction we want to travel. We can sign petitions and write to local MPs to show support for those campaigning for justice

Ruth Valerio, who works for Tearfund, and is a social activist as well as a environmentalist and theologian, gave a really simple way for us to breech the gap in what we can do. Give – Act – Pray. Give what we can, either money or time – Act by getting involved more – and Pray. We should never underestimate the power of prayer.

The war in Ukraine, the totalitarian regimes in Afghanistan, Yemen and North Korea, the bloodshed in Saudi Arabia all these things will pass as history shows us. But we mustn’t let them just pass us by. Jesus was not afraid of Herod and was not afraid of Jerusalem because He was confident that he was doing the will of God

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

Amen

Listen… Learn… Love

Sermon preached on Sunday 5th September 2021, introducing the Pastoral Principles of Acknowledging Prejudice and Speaking Into Silence ahead of the Living in Love and Faith course to be run at St James’ Church, West End in October 2021. Using the lectionary readings of James 2:1-10, 14-17 and Mark 7:24-37

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Loving God; creator Father, redeeming Son and sustaining Spirit. Amen

 On the bottom of my emails I have a quotation of Martin Luther King, which says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter“. Of course, for King the silence was to do with the discrimination of black people, mainly in America, but also around the world, where people’s skin colour was deemed to be the only necessary indicator of sub-humanity and therefore gave others the right to mistreat, subjugate and even kill a black person with no recriminations or sense of guilt.

At some point, someone, somewhere must have pre-judged this human being who stood in front of them, a mirror of shape and form of themselves, but a different hue, and persuaded others that this was the case. They must have had power and authority that enabled them to do this, and took others silence as acquiescence and so it became accepted as the norm which people passively accepted and taught their children and children’s children that this was how it was. If anyone did protest, the power of common psyche overrode any objections, and silence was easier than speaking out. A silence that speaks volumes.

Some of you will have heard me quote the poem from Martin Niemöller about the Jewish Shoah in World War II, ‘First they came for the Jews’ in which a person remained silent whilst the Jews, the communists, the trade unionist were taken without anyone speaking out, until it came to their turn, and they realised that ‘there was no one left to speak out for me’. In many cases this silence was because of fear; fear of the Nazis and the power that they wielded, fear of being the one who spoke out; fear of going against the norm.

One question that is often asked is what were the Christian communities or individual doing whilst both of these unspeakable chapters of human history were taking place? For many Christians their position was actually dictated by scripture. They searched the bible and found passages that supported their stance, particularly when God made a covenant with Abraham in regard to circumcision, ‘Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money… that very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him (Genesis 17:23, 26-27). Here was their evidence that God condoned slavery

Many Christians saw this as meaning that slavery was morally acceptable. In fact, a Methodist preacher George Whitfield said, ‘As for the lawfulness of keeping slaves, I have no doubt, since I hear of some that were bought with Abraham’s money, and some that were born in his house’. George Whitfield himself owned slaves and campaigned for slavery to be reinstated in the American state of Georgia after it was abolished there in 1751.

Maybe we consider it ironic or preordained that it was the Quakers who were early leaders in the campaign to ban slavery. The Quakers, whose worship of God involves sitting in silence, not to prevent anyone from speaking, but to listen, to hear more clearly God’s ‘still small voice’. And of course, Jesus himself exhorts people multiple times in the gospel to listen closely to his message, when he says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear’. It’s the listening to each other that helps us understand more

We know that you can’t claim justification of your actions using snippets of scripture, passages that reflect the context in which the people were living at the time, because you then fail to see the bigger picture and overarching message of God’s love for each and every individual, born and created in his own image. Moreover, prejudice comes when scripture is abused rather than used.

In his epistle, James is writing from a Jewish background at a time when most Christians came from a Jewish heritage. He was also writing in a very partial age, filled with prejudice and hatred based on class, ethnicity, nationality, and religious background. In the ancient world people were routinely and permanently categorized because they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, Greek or barbarian, or whatever. His message was that this kind of partiality has no place among Christians.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point
has become accountable for all of it
James 2:10

When we treat people differently because of their appearance, their background, their lifestyles and their sexuality, we are picking and choosing how we hear and interpret the message, creating prejudices that are taken as up and regarded as the only truth, and if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, many of us won’t even realise it because it has become our norm and excuse to remain silent about these things.

It’s then that we have to make a greater effort to listen to each other, to not make assumptions, but to welcome the opportunity to gain understanding. To apply that knowledge and change things where they need to be changed. Jesus demonstrates this simple fact when his assumptions were challenged. When what he considered the norm, that his mission was only to the chosen children of God, the Jewish people, was set aside when he heard what the Syrophoenician woman had to say. He listened and heard her faith and responded to show that no-one was to be excluded.

One thing that we are being asked to listen to and hear right now is how prejudice and silence have meant that another group of people have also been excluded and suffered at the hands of the church. The LGBTI+ community, and I’ll spell it out for you, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex + community.

Central to our faith is a belief that each of us is unique and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God… but as a community and as individuals they have been abused by the church, denied inclusion, forced to deny their very individuality and identities, even forced to undergo therapy and medical interventions in silence and in fear… and few people have come forward to speak into that silence.

More often than not it is because people don’t know, don’t understand or don’t want to challenge what they believe is the norm. We mustn’t be those people. The norm is only the thing we want it to be. We need to hear their stories, we need to listen to their injustices, we need to take up the challenge of inclusion, we need to love each other in the same way that God loves us unconditionally.

For the Syrophoenician woman it was her faith that persuaded Jesus that things had to change, for the deaf man it was his inability to make himself clearly heard that persuaded Jesus to step forward and help him. For us it is the recognition that God doesn’t see the colour of our skin or our gender or our sexuality; what he sees is what is in our hearts; he sees us for ourselves and not how others want us to be; he sees us as individuals, his marvellous creation, beloved and precious in his sight.

As an individual I have, over many years, made a conscious effort to listen to LGBTI+ people, to hear their stories, to reflect on my own upbringing, to read the bible, to pray, in order to discern what my response should be, trying to be as faithful to God’s Word as I can. It wasn’t always straightforward; it took time, and I did have to consider the views of others. However, I’m now comfortable with trying to help others to take that same journey.

And so, this October, I urge you to join in the conversations through the Living in Love and Faith course we are running, to understand more, to put aside assumptions and prejudice, to have the courage to start the process of breaking up the silence.

To listen…to learn… to love one another… just as God loves us, wholeheartedly and unashamedly.

Amen

The Living in Love and Faith course will run at St James’ Church, West End, starting on Thursday 7th, and continuing on 14th, 28th October and 4th, 11th November between 7.30pm and 9pm. Each session has short videos and there will be break-out groups for discussion and Bible study. You are welcome to join us.

Mirroring God’s Generosity

Sermon preached on 27th June 2021 – Trinity 4 based on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 exploring generosity

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

Toddlers, certainly between the ages of two and three, are often very egocentric, the world revolves around them and is purely there for their pleasure. Still there is no harm in starting to teach them that sharing is a good thing; a kind thing; a generous thing to do. A few months ago, if you had attempted to ask my granddaughter Helena if you could share one of the chips she had on her plate, her reaction would have been to move the plate further away from any attempt to extract the said item.

However, the consistent attempts to instil in her that sharing should be a natural thing to want to do resulted in her asking me the other day if I’d like to share a bit of her custard cream biscuit the other day. ‘That’s very kind of you’ I said, ‘Yes please’ – only to be presented with the merest smear of cream that she could manage to pass over on her finger before disappearing to play with her toys!

I think we’re going to work a bit harder on the question of generosity, but the sentiment was there. But is generosity a sentiment, a feeling or is it something more calculated, a financial transaction or negotiated timetable?

I wonder how many of you have picked up on the Winchester Diocesan initiative called ‘Generous June’, which offers individuals within our churches an opportunity to engage with the theme of generosity in a number of different ways. Not only as a key part of our discipleship and walk with God; but as an encouragement to reflect on our own position on generosity and see how it can affect our day to day lives.

With it’s many and varied resources it’s certainly worth dipping into, but like all initiatives, generosity shouldn’t be seen as a one month a year focus, but an ongoing response to God’s generosity.

So this morning we have a passage from a letter that Paul was sending to the church in Corinth, basically exhorting them to complete a charitable collection for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem, many of whom were Jews who had been disowned by their families when then had become followers of Jesus. It would seem though that the Corinthians were being slow to respond

How did Paul present his arguments to appeal to the Corinthians to give generously? Well, although we don’t hear this in the reading, he had cited the example of the Macedonian churches, who though poverty stricken had reached into the very depths of destitution to overflow with the wealth of their generosity – so in other words don’t be penny pinching!

He also cites the example of Jesus, whose generosity came not simply through his death or even his birth but the fact that he laid aside his glory and consented to come to earth – so self-preservation had better not be a reason for holding back!

He even calls on their pride, you did it once you can do it again – so don’t drop your high standards!

But perhaps his next appeal was the most important argument. He stresses the necessity of translating fine feeling into fine action, ‘but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it’. The Corinthians had been the first to feel the appeal of this scheme, they had been moved in an emotional way to do something, and that’s where generosity starts.

It starts right here [placing hand over heart] in our hearts, it doesn’t start in our heads or in our pockets. It is not negotiable or calculable. Generosity is an overflowing of our hearts desire to action.

But a feeling that remains only a feeling, a pity which remains a pity only of the heart, a fine desire that never turns into a fine deed, is a sadly unfinished and frustrated thing. The tragedy is that so often it is not that we have no high impulses to act generously, but that we fail to turn them into actions

Of course, we could say that having an infinitely generous heart will get us nowhere if we don’t have the means to act out our desires, and it’s true that financial generosity is limited by our financial means and generosity in service is limited by the amount of time available, but true generosity is limitless because love is limitless.

As Paul reminds the Corinthians, life has a strange way of evening things up; when we give generously, we often find we receive generously. As Jesus explained in his Sermon on the Mount,

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ Luke 6:38

Life has a way of repaying generosity with generosity, but no gift can be in any real sense a gift unless the giver gives with it a bit of himself or herself, above and beyond what they think they can give, beautifully expressed in a quote by the Lebanese author and poet, Khalil Gibran, ‘Generosity is giving more than you can.’ Which is why personal giving is always the highest kind, of which Jesus Christ is the supreme example.

Paul concludes this passage, before going on to speak of practical arrangements, with a quote that come from Exodus (16:14-18)

The one who had much did not have too much,  
and the one who had little did not have too little
.’

which tells how, when the Israelites gathered the manna in the wilderness, whether they gathered little of much, it was enough.

It is out of a fresh understanding of God’s limitless love and generosity that we are able to give beyond ourselves. Yes, our financial generosity may need to be constantly reviewed. In good times we may have more to give and in lean times it may be that we accept the abundance of others. In the same way our giving of time and energy, has to produce a good balance between church, work and family lives.

But that should never stop us from being extravagantly generous, because the treasures we store up on earth are nothing compared to the treasure that awaits us in heaven, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ and there’s nothing that God loves more than a generous heart, because it mirrors his own.

Amen

The Elephant In The Room

Ever wanted to know how to explain the Trinity? Well perhaps now you can stop trying so hard. Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday 2021 based on John 3:1-17 and Romans 8:12-17

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

Before we turn our attention to our bible readings today, perhaps we ought to address the matter of the elephant in the room – that is the Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday when traditionally an attempt is made by the preacher to ‘explain’ exactly what the Trinity is. It falls to my lot this year, but I wondered if we could take a different approach and actually try not to explain it.

By that I don’t mean dismiss it altogether for it is something that exists; but set aside the usual illustrations that somehow always fall short of the mark. For example, the idea that the Trinity is like water, which can be in a liquid, gas or solid state, but it’s still the same water. The problem with this is that is denies the three distinct Persons of the Trinity by claiming that God is one Person who appears in different ‘modes’ at different times. However, the three are not co-existing; H2O can only ever be one form at a time whereas for instance at the baptism of Christ, the Father, Son and Spirit are all distinctly present and interacting and only one of them is in the actual water!

To theologists this aquatic depiction of the Trinity is akin to the heresy of Modalism.

Similarly, we can discard many of the alternatives; the egg, with its yolk, shell and albumen where each part of the egg make up only a portion of the whole – the yolk alone is not the fullness of the egg, whereas each part of the Trinity is fully divine. Or perhaps the Sun, with itself, its light and its heat – again we’re verging towards the heresy of Arianism to claim that, because whereas light and heat are simply creations of the sun, we can not claim that the Son or the Spirit are mere creations of the Father.

And before you dash out to pick a clover leaf, just let it be…

Trying to explain the Trinity is rather like the Hindu fable of six blind men encountering an elephant, which John Godfrey Saxe translated into his poem The Blind Man and the Elephant where each man is brought into the presence of an elephant but can only feel one part and thus describe it variously as a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan and a rope – you will have to guess which parts they were touching. His concluding verse, however, can remind us God is someone whom we have to encounter as a whole.

So, oft in theologic wars the disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!

And yet we have seen and still see the Triune God all around us. We encounter the three persons of God when we visit a nature reserve and see the marks of careful husbandry; we encounter the three persons of God when we watch the skills of a surgeon in a real-life documentary, we encounter the three persons of God when we listen to the joyful sound of children’s laughter

At the moment I am on tenterhooks awaiting the birth of my first grandson, who will definitely be born of the flesh, and yet his arrival will reveal, as all new-born babies reveal, the Trinitarian presence of God, in creation, in love and in Spirit.

But what of Nicodemus, a devout Jew, a teacher of the Law; his mind was trained to obey God and to keep to the Law, yet his encounters with Jesus had led him to see a glimpse of God in the man Jesus, something had moved him to seek out a closer relationship and understanding that he was of God. Even so, he was trying to apply human logic and reasoning to something that clearly was beyond that.

Nicodemus was told he had to look beyond the physical and instead allow the spiritual to guide him. ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’. And as St Paul suggests in his letter to the Romans, that instead of trying to elucidate God’s nature through the things that tie us to earthly conventions we must allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit as children of God. 

Perhaps we would be better to be content to admit that we cannot fully understand the Trinitarian nature of God, but rather to simply and faithfully accept that God exists eternally as one divine nature, substance, or essence, comprising three co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Instead to accept the truth that despite living in a perfect Triune relationship, which is completely self-sufficient and with no deficiency, he still chose to create and eventually redeem us at great cost to himself.  

If we bring to an end our attempts to cognitively master God and the fact that we cannot understand the full depth of the Trinity (and certainly not with any myriad of analogies from the limited realm of creation) it should bring us to the reality that we are finite creatures standing before a sovereign, transcendent divine mystery… or more appropriately, it should bring us to fall to our knees and humbly worship the One true God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Chosen For A Reason

Sermon preached on Sunday 9th May – Easter 6 based on the Gospel, John 15:9-17

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

You did not choose me, but I chose you

What does it feel like to be chosen? Well looking back on those days at school when you all stood in a line in a PE lesson and two of your classmates had to take it in turns to select their ‘teams’ and you either had to be very good at sport or very popular, and you could see the level of both criteria dwindling as you still stood there till the bitter moment of being the last one standing, so not technically even chosen, just making up the numbers, it wasn’t really something you really knew about!

Of course, you knew the hurt of not being chosen, but today we hear Jesus confirming that the diverse and disparate group of people that he had gathered together were not there because they had chosen to follow and believe in him, but that he had chosen them, and in doing so he was continuing a long tradition that we can see throughout the bible and throughout the history of the church. Unlikely people chosen to accomplish extraordinary tasks.

The fact is God does not play favourites among his people, however, through the Old Testament we are made aware that God does designate the Israelites, the antecedents of the Jewish people as his ‘chosen people’ as they were the ONLY ones at that time to obey him in lieu of other gods. In Deuteronomy (7:6) it says, ‘For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.’

However, with the coming of Jesus, that specific favouritism was, if not to be laid aside, was undoubtedly to be extended to a wider group. Instead, being chosen was to be based on faith, not on genealogy, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him’ (Romans 10:11-12)

So why would he choose you or me? Maybe some of us might be extraordinary and totally obedient to God, but I would suspect that the majority of us are pretty ordinary and fall short some of the time, yet God still chooses us; and thus, it has ever been.

If we go back to Genesis, we can find many examples of ordinary people being chosen by God for extraordinary tasks, people like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, but perhaps the most surprising at that time is the story of Joseph, the one with the multicoloured coat, beloved son but hated brother. Who rose from captured slave, unjustly accused prisoner to Pharaoh’s right-hand man, who helped Egypt prepare for a great famine. Why? Well God had a plan for Joseph, as he told his brothers when they were reconciled, ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today‘. Joseph was chosen by God to preserve God’s chosen people. 

We can then fast forward to Moses, whom God also chose to preserve his chosen people, and to free them from slavery in Egypt. Unwillingly abandoned as a baby, then brought up as a prince by Pharaoh’s daughter; as a young adult he saw his people being beaten, and retaliated by killing an Egyptian and had to flee to Midian until he was chosen by God to confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people to freedom. An unlikely choice, who stumbled over his words and needed his brother Aaron to speak for him, but who turned out to be the perfect choice, because God intended it to be that way. 

Perhaps though one of God’s most astonishing choices was David, a talented poet and musician, slayer of giants (okay that’s pretty amazing) but an adulterer and inciter to murder who became a great leader; but most of all, a man after God’s own heart. Chosen by God to be king.

God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved
Colossians 3:12

And of course, we mustn’t forget people like Mary, a young teenage virgin from a small town, who would become the mother of God’s son. Such an unexpected choice. But Mary had a remarkable faith, an open heart, and a willingness to do whatever God asked of her. She turned out to be the perfect choice, but only God could have known that. 

There are countless examples in scripture of people being chosen by God, who had no other real qualifications, except that they were selected by God for these tasks, and the same was true of Jesus’ choices of his disciples. Fishermen, tax collectors, political activists and a suspected thief, not a religious leader among them. No experts in God’s teachings, no scholars. If anyone were asked to pick a team to plant a new church nowadays, I don’t think these would be the professions that would feature high on the job specification. Yet for the disciples they had one thing going for them, Jesus chose them.

And they needed to be reminded, when full of fear, anxiety and confusion after Jesus’ arrest, of that conversation in that upper room; of his command to love one another and to remain in him; and the fact that Jesus chose them. They didn’t choose him. He chose them – those particular people, after prayer and discernment, to continue to bring his love into this world, and to bear his fruit, fruit that will last. They may not have felt particularly qualified to do this, or very confident that they could pull it off. Except for one very important thing: Jesus chose them. 

How many times, I wonder, would they need to come back to that assurance? The times when they were ignored or laughed at, hated and persecuted, imprisoned and some of them were even killed? How many times did they remind themselves that God’s own Son chose them, and he chose them for a reason?

The disciples were chosen by God for a particular purpose. But they’re not the only ones. The fact is each and every one of us has also been chosen by God for a particular purpose in this world. We know this because as Paul tells the Ephesians, we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; and to the Colossians, we are ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.’ 

Of course, we all have our moments of doubt. Moments when we wonder what on earth are we are doing with our lives; what are we really here for; and it’s good to sometimes ask ourselves these hard questions. Because if we dig deep enough, we will hear those words that God’s people have heard from the very beginning, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you‘. We have been chosen to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world, and to bear it in a way that no one else can. 

And what an important time it is for us to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world. We can keep reminding ourselves it’s been a tough year, how our world has changed forever by the pandemic; the economic challenges, the rise in mental health issues, and a decrease in hope for our future. but perhaps you and I have been chosen by Jesus, for just such a time as this. Our world needs healing. Our world needs hope. Our world needs to be reminded of God’s love for us all.

If ever there was a time for the church to be the church, it is certainly now. And we are the church.

The words that Jesus spoke to those first disciples, he speaks to every one of us today: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.’ So may God bless us and help us as we step out in confidence to bring the light of Jesus into our world, and to bear the fruit of his love. Amen

Chosen For A Reason – Gospel and Sermon, St James’ Church, West End, Southampton