Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christ is born!

Christmas night

I’ve got an uncle who is forever sending me emails of jokes & little quotes & things. I thought this was a wonderful quote from a 7 year old named Bobby:
"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

It’s really tempting to spend a few minutes giving you the talk that goes ‘never mind all the presents & cards & decorations & stuff’ the REAL meaning of Christmas is this – the birth of Jesus.

But the real meaning of Christmas is that God became human, that God takes all the human stuff seriously. God shows us how he feels all of our lives are important – not only spiritual, heavenly airy-fairy bits. God being born in Jesus means that God is earthy, grounded - real.

The real meaning of Christmas is that it is all real – that God comes to us in all the ordinary stuff of life – crying babies, overbooked hotels, cold shepherds, so-called ‘wise’ men who are lost & won’t ask for directions. God comes to all of us & all of this world – in Jesus.

So whether this Christmas you are happy, lonely, filled with regrets, fearful, angry, still getting over that flu bug, or just a bit jaded, listen to the angels’ song ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all people’.

God is with us in all of our Christmases.
Every ordinary place & ordinary person can become part of God’s heaven & filled with God’s love.


I found a lovely prayer for Christmas night, someone called Pat Bennett

This Christmas, Lord,
take a corner of my life and steal in
invade the busyness of my doing
with the quiet of your coming.

This Christmas, Lord,
take a corner of my mind and steal in .
illuminate the darkness of my thinking
with the brightness of your seeing.

This Christmas, Lord,
take a corner of my heart and steal in
infuse the coldness of my loving
with the warmth of your Being.

This Christmas, Lord,
as at Bethlehem’s stable,
come and steal in .
take the unprepared places
of my life and make them fit for your dwelling.


So may we be blessed by the love of God in Christ which comes to us tonight & all our nights and days. Amen

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Christmas's coming!!

Amid all the carol services I thought I had only 1 sermon to preach tomorrow - at an 8am. Then I've realised I'm not doing that service - so some of these thoughts will no doubt get recycled at some point next week.
Funny how when you're up against it you create yet more work for yourself by doing unnecessary things!

Advent 4
It has been the hardest preparation for Christmas I can ever remember. Like so many I have had the chesty/throaty/coughing and rasping bug.
I’m sick of it, if I’m honest. I’m tired of keeping saying to myself – ‘just keep going – one more thing and then you can rest – just do this & then stop’ and ‘oh I wish I felt better’.

And now it’s here – well Advent 4 anyway – and all the carols services and wonder of Christmas Eve & Christmas Day & then… oh blissful moment when I can stop.

And here, right here, in these readings is the reminder I have needed – that Christmas is God’s initiative, not mine, and I have to ready only to croak out a ‘yes’ to God, for it all to happen.

I came across this prayer yesterday – and I think it says all we need to hear:
Into the bleakest winters of our souls, Lord, you are tiptoeing on tiny Infant feet to find us and hold our hands. May we drop whatever it is we are so busy about these days to accept this gesture so small that it may get overlooked in our frantic search for something massive and over­whelming. Remind us that it is not you who demands large, lavish celebrations and enormous strobe-lit displays of faith. Rather, you ask only that we have the faith of a mustard seed and the willingness to let a small hand take ours.
We are ready.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Amen.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Advent 3

Well, can you believe it? Advent 3 already!
This means 'Experiencing Christmas' at one church - a series of 'stations' inviting people to journey with the shepherds, the magi & with Mary & Joseph to the stable at Bethlehem: we're adapting material from the diocese of Gloucester which looks very effective.
I also have a sermon to preach, on:
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
John 1: 6-8, 19-28

God’s gift to us

‘What would you like for Christmas?’ I’d be very surprised if most of us haven’t been asked that by someone or other this year. Friends or relations who want to get us something, but get us something useful not the usual ‘bathsalts & inexpensive scent & hideous tie so kindly meant’ that John Betjeman puts his finger on so well in his poem.

So we try to think – is there something we need? A little treat we wouldn’t otherwise get for ourselves? Something that’s broken & needs replacing? And of course we have to assess how much the person asking the question is probably willing to spend: should we ask for a paperback book or a new watch?
My granddad was always very disparaging about people giving each other Christmas presents – he would watch Marjorie give Maureen a set of hankies & Maureen give Marjorie some bubble bath & Granddad would chuckle & say “it’s like taking in one another’s washing!”.

This is the season, it seems of giving & busy-ness & lists & frenzy.
But now in this season it’s time to pause & think about God’s gift to us: a gift without wrapping, fuss, or price. I want us today to concentrate for a moment not on giving but on receiving.
Stop for a moment & hear the voice of John the Baptist ‘Make straight the way for the Lord!’.

What is it the Lord comes offering us? The prophet Isaiah declares:
“He has sent me to announce good news to the humble,
To bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to those in prison.. to comfort all those who mourn.”

For the people of God at a time when their country has been invaded, their leaders have been taken captive and their sons have been slain in battle, God, through Isaiah, is offering what they most want, most need, most long for.
When you hear these words from Isaiah you will remember, perhaps, that in Luke’s gospel these are the words with which Jesus begins his ministry. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to bring the good news of comfort, liberty and healing.

We might wonder just how Jesus brings us these most wonderful gifts.
We might even be tempted to jump ahead from Bethlehem with its manger and stable, wise men and shepherds – to jump ahead to a time when Jesus actually does something, begins healing & teaching. Jesus himself was to grow to be thought of as a wise man, and to refer to himself as the Good Shepherd. Is the story of the birth of Jesus anything more than a humble beginning to the story of an extraordinary life?

I had a fascinating discussion with a Muslim at about thi time of year a few years ago, in which we compared the traditions about Jesus passed on through the Christian and Islamic faiths. She told me of the story of an angel appearing to Mary to tell her she was to have a special child, even though she was a virgin. But in Islamic tradition the story goes on to describe how Mary is rejected by her village & forced to give birth alone. Mary is only believed about the circumstances of her motherhood, and received back into the village, when Jesus, still a babe in arms, miraculously speaks and tells the people she is telling the truth and he is a prophet.

There are, of course, elements which are common to this account and what we are told in the Christian gospels. But for Muslims, Jesus is a prophet and not the Son of God – as soon as he can start to prophesy he can bring truth and understanding to people, he can do God’s work on earth.

The difference for us as Christians is that who Jesus is carries more importance than what he says or does. We tell the good news of God with us in Jesus Christ – of the divine become human and entering this world as a helpless baby.

I have spoken to Muslim clerics in the past who have patiently explained to me that God cannot do this, that God cannot lower himself to enter his creation. All I can say is to quote what the angel says when Mary protests that she cannot become pregnant “with God, all things are possible”.
We cannot know how, but we are told that God enters our world in Jesus Christ: a helpless, crumpled, human baby.

God’s gift to us is himself. Leaving aside some of his power and majesty – ‘emptying himself’ & ‘making himself nothing’ as Paul says in the letter to the Philippians – God takes on human life in all its messiness and danger and is born – Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to say that God gives us himself in Jesus?
It means that the phrase ‘God is with us’ is so much more than an empty promise or meaningless platitude. God has come to live among us to experience and understand our human condition, and then to transform it.

The truth of God with us takes us light years away from our pre-packaged, high pressure, high-spending Christmas. What we buy, what we eat, who we see is all secondary to the fact that God has touched this earth, taken on our human life, and shown us a glimpse of his heaven, where there is healing for our wounds, comfort for our sorrow, freedom where we are trapped.

Here is the greatest gift of all – wrapped in human flesh – the God of love come to us where we are, as we are, to make us all we are made to be.

Thanks be to God for this gift beyond words, offered to us here in bread and wine.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Sunday's sermon

Another frantic week: many funerals I'm afraid.

Anyway here is the finished article, based on
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Mark 1: 1-8

‘Preparing the Way’
It’s coming to that time of year when the newspapers and magazines will be full of ‘key events of 2009’ – what they think will happen next year. I’m a sucker for these. I always read them and realise it’s because I would love to know what’s going to happen. But of course we can’t really know.
Apparently Thomas Watson, who was Managing Director of IBM – which made millions from the sale of computers in the 1990s is quoted as saying in 1958 that he thought there was a world need for only 5 computers. I find it strangely reassuring that even a person whose company has capitalised so much from the great computer age couldn’t at first see what was coming.

It seems that the whole church is facing a time of change right now: there is a lot of talk about ‘new ways of being church’, ‘emerging church’, even ‘liquid church’. We might wonder – what is the church coming to? But we can’t predict that future either.

Well, that’s not quite true – I don’t know exactly what the church will look like in 30 years’ time, anymore than those who built this building could have envisaged what our lives would be like.


I don’t know exactly what the church is coming to – but Advent gives us some strong pointers.

Advent literally means ‘the coming to’.
So traditionally we have treated it as the time of coming towards Christmas, a time of countdown or preparation. We open calendars, light candles, read or pray… we prepare on the outside & on the inside.

We also take time to remember and carefully recollect God coming to the earth in the birth of Jesus Christ. We find ways to satisfy our need to refresh ourselves, to make ourselves ready to hear the message of the angels again.

And this is also a time to listen to what the Bible has to tell us about what the world is coming to, about the coming of Christ to us, now.




The prophet Isaiah is giving words of comfort to the people of God at a time when all the important leaders of the land of Judah have been taken from its capital, Jerusalem, into exile in Babylon. He tells them not to worry, because God is coming to them. And the way through the desert for God is also the way of return for God’s people – they are promised that once again they will inhabit the Promised Land and that God will care for them there.
Isaiah promises a time when God’s people and their close relationship to God will be restored “Here is the Lord God, he is coming to rule”.

For the exiles in Babylon, or the ones who were left behind, who are asking ‘what is the world coming to?’ Isaiah promises ‘God will come & sort it out’.

We could pause here to ask the question ‘did Isaiah’s promise come true?’. The answer would have to be – yes and no! – the people returned to Jerusalem, the land of Israel was reunited but there wasn’t the lasting peace which Isaiah promised and the people longed for. There were continued political and military struggles over the land of Israel and of course by the time of Jesus the land was occupied again, this time by the Roman Empire.

In the time of Jesus, people could very well have been asking again ‘what is the world coming to?’.
Mark’s gospel draws a link between the story in Isaiah of a voice which cries out that God is coming and the work of John the Baptist.
John comes baptising and telling people to turn from sin, but primarily he comes to tell people of the coming of Jesus Christ.
For people looking for a sign of what is to come, Mark offers John the Baptist, as the fore-runner of the Lord himself.

Mark paints John as the one who was expected to come to tell people of the coming of the end of time – he comes out of the desert, he looks like the prophet Elijah, and he announces that the Lord is coming.

And when he does arrive, Jesus proclaims “the time has arrived, the kingdom of God is upon you” (v15). There would be people who would let out an immense sigh of relief at John’s message.
‘We have waited and waited for God to come and end the suffering of the people of Israel, the endless fighting and losing and being occupied and being exiled – at last, God will come and will rule and there will be peace and justice and healing’.

And so Jesus comes: but not cutting a swathe through the Roman forces, as some would have liked to see him do; and not bringing the end of time and the day of reckoning for all wrong-doers. Yet Jesus comes, and announces that the kingdom is now here.

Where the sick are healed – the kingdom is here; where the hungry are fed – the kingdom is here; where injustice is challenged – the kingdom is here; where people learn to live fully human lives, loving God and their neighbour –the kingdom is here.

So what is the world coming to? It is coming to a realisation that this is God’s kingdom – a realisation that begins with the coming of Jesus Christ and a realisation that continues where the will of God is done today in the church and in the world. Yet of course the kingdom has not yet come fully and perfectly.

And this is where the church comes in – this is what the church is coming to – we are to be the community of those who recognise that we already have one foot in the kingdom of God, that we belong to God & that God has come to us.
We are here to make the kingdom come where we remember he is with us and walk in his way & by the strength of his Spirit.

As we eat and drink today we celebrate the kingdom of god – we remember God-with-us in Jesus Christ – and we offer ourselves to be used as citizens of God’s kingdom, those who proclaim ‘prepare the way for the lord’.

And as God meets us here his presence helps to prepare our hearts and minds for the good news of the infinite love of God, come to live with us to save us.
To God’s praise & glory. Amen.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Oops - busy bee: late sermon

Advent Sunday (Isa 52: 7-10, Romans 10: 12-18, Matt 4: 18 -22)

As we mark St Andrew’s day, we remember one who gave his life to share Christ’s message with the world.
And what shall our message be, this Advent Sunday?
The world doesn’t need the church to tell it that it's nearly Christmas - every advertisement is shouting it at us, each shop is crammed with tinsel and trimmings, and tomorrow we get to start opening our Advent calendars.
But what the world does need us to tell them is...what? What shall our message be?

Well, today is also ‘buy nothing day’ – an international attempt to make people stop and think about how materialistic and greedy they – and therefore their celebrations of Christmas – have become.
But before you either nod vigourously at me because you don’t want to be greedy, or stop listening because you’d planned to do some Christmas shopping this afternoon – let me say that I don’t think the church is here to tell the world to be less materialistic.

Christmas – or at least the coming of Christ – is all about the material. God with us – in the stuff of life, up to his neck in straw and all the mess and business of our world - is an event of the most amazing materialism. We are not true to the coming of Christ if we say that God wants us to abandon the material in favour of the spiritual – because Jesus Christ did precisely the opposite.
So our message cannot be ‘abandon the material’ but ‘look for God in the material, and celebrate the coming of God through it’.

Yet if this is our message, we had better be careful, as I don’t think the world needs the church to tell it to ‘eat, drink and be merry’!

What else can our message be? If we say 'the Lord is coming' we will see some people immediately write us off as the sort of messengers who want to walk round with a sandwich board which says 'the end of the world is nigh'. Ours is not a message of doom and gloom, but of hope and peace. If our message is to be ‘Christ is coming’ we need to explain what this means – what it meant 2000 years ago, what is has meant to us and what it might mean to a waiting world.

The coming of Christ for Andrew meant a new direction in life – following Jesus, leaving his nets and learning what on earth Jesus meant when he told his new friends they would ‘fish for people’.
Andrew followed Jesus, and saw in his life the promises of Isaiah fulfilled – that ‘God would bare his arm, and that all nations would see the salvation of God’. As Andrew looked at Christ he saw God in the material of life, touching it and healing it and making life whole again.

For Andrew, to follow Jesus meant to recognize the love of God in his life, changing the world for the better. For us, following Jesus means just the same – recognizing that God with us in Jesus, made a material fact in the birth of a baby 2000 years ago, is a living truth today and forever.

Our message is vital - and the world needs it now more than ever – it is ‘God is with us’. God cares for this world he made, and is determined to live amongst us.

Of course our message is more than what we say - it is how we live and how we treat people.
If our following Jesus has taught us something about who he is and what his coming means, we need to share this with our neighbours somehow.

This advent, we need to share with others words of hope, or joy, of love. We need to be living proof that the Christ who came to Bethlehem still comes into the hearts and lives of all those who need him.

I can’t do better than the words of John Betjeman:
We need to show
‘That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine’.

Take this holy sacrament to your comfort, and be ready to share its truth with all you meet this Advent
To God’s praise and glory. Amen.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Advent Sunday & St Andrew's Day

Since this Sunday is our patronal festival at St Mary & St Andrew our readings will be

Isaiah 52: 7-10
Romans 10: 12-18
Matthew 4: 18 -22

But I think these also fit the Advent theme pretty well.
The world does not need the church to tell it that it's nearly Christmas - every advert is shouting it at us, and tomorrow we get to start opening our Advent calendars.
But what the world does need us to tell them is...
what?
If we say 'the Lord is coming' we will see some people immediately write us off as the sort of people who want to walk round with a sandwich board which says 'the end of the world is nigh'. And yet our message is vital - and the world needs it now more than ever.
Of course our message is more than what we say - it is how we live and how we treat people.
If our following Jesus has taught us something about who he is and what his coming means, we need to share this with our neighbours.. somehow.

Just opening thoughts - more to follow soon I hope!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Sunday 23rd November

For those who know me & have asked - I'm fine, thanks: down to 3 month check-ups at the dermatologist now & all nasty moles removed with no sign of more cancer.

Meanwhile, back at the coal-face:
This week's sermon so far (will need finishing off later/ tomorrow morning:

Christ the King
Today is the very last day of the current lectionary year – next week a new year begins for the church, with Advent Sunday. That means today we mark ‘Christ the King’.

You might wonder what it’s all about. What does it mean to acknowledge Jesus Christ as King – and why are we doing it now, just as Advent is about to start, rather than after Easter, perhaps even at Ascension, when the hard part is all done for Jesus and he is about to take up his triumphal place in heaven.
And anyway, you might well be wondering, does the lectionary and its themes really make any impact on our real lives?

What’s it all about? This week’s gospel reading is another well-known one, but another quite tricky one to understand.
Jesus tells the story of the end of time, and the separating of people, like sheep and goats.
At one level, it seems Jesus is warning his listeners about what will happen “When the Son of Man comes in his glory.. all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another”. This is the moment of truth: the final judgement – the time when people will be made to see whether they have served Jesus Christ.. or whether they are to face eternal fire, for neglecting the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Jesus could be warning his listeners ‘be nice to strangers.. because in serving them you are serving me’.

This is a perfectly straight-forward message, and plenty of Medieval churches used to have ‘Doom’ paintings in them, with pictures of people on Jesus’ right being whisked up to heaven – and the unfortunates on the left being forced into the terrible suffering and flame of the underworld. If most medieval worshippers had been able to read it might have said ‘Be good.. or else!’.

To be honest, I feel really uncomfortable about such a theme of 'judgement' – perhaps because I fear ending up in the wrong group – of turning out to be a goat when I’d hoped to be a sheep, but also because I don’t believe this is consistent with the gospel Jesus taught through his whole life. Jesus taught grace, the undeserved love of God, the free gift of forgiveness and acceptance which delights in the return of the prodigal and the repentance of the sinner. Jesus doesn’t anywhere tell people to love others in order to gain heaven – he says simply ‘follow me’ and ‘believe in me’. In the very next chapter of Matthew’s gospel, when his disciples criticize a woman for spending money on costly ointment instead of on the poor, Jesus says ‘she has performed a good service for me’. The gospel cannot be reduced to ‘serve the poor and earn a place in heaven’.

So perhaps there’s another way of reading this story which is more consistent with the whole of the gospel.
This story of the sheep and goats comes towards the end of a chunk of the gospel where Jesus has been teaching in parables. If the kingdom is like this.. then what do you think? I want to focus for a moment not on God’s judgement of us but on our judgement of the situation.

Perhaps it is best to treat this story as another parable, which tells us about God’s kingdom. It seems to me that the last few weeks have all been building up to this - wise or foolish virgins; thankful, hard-working slaves or head-in-the-sand people; sheep or goats. It's not so much about God's judgement of us (and certainly not about condemnation) but about our choices, our discernment. ‘Where do you stand?’ says Jesus ‘what do you think? Are you going to be wise and thankful and care for others… or are you going to be foolish and begrudging, and too concerned to be ‘religious’ to live your life for anyone else?’
Are you in this kingdom, subjects of the King, or not?
If, in the end we discern that Christ is King, this has HUGE implications for our lives - this means following Christ is not just a leisure option but the basis for our whole lives.

If you’re wondering what difference the lectionary makes to us – today it is forcing us to look at the biggest question for life of all.
What are we here for? What is the point of our lives?
If you judge that we are meant to be living as children of God, servants of Christ the King, and followers of his way, then your life is meant to be lived in the knowledge that we can joyfully spend our lives in love of God and of others, and even risk losing our lives, knowing that in the mercy and grace of God we will be made whole and be accepted and loved and received into the bliss of heaven.

And if Christ is King then this has implication for our celebration of Advent (starting next week!).

We are preparing for the coming of the King – but wrapped in the flesh of a helpless baby. We are preparing to receive not just a messenger from God but the message made flesh.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Christ the King

So - we nearly made it to the end of the lectionary year!
Readings this coming week are:
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

I feel really uncomfortable about the theme of 'judgement' - but it's inescapable.
But I think I want to focus on our judgement.
It seems to me that the last few weeks have all been building up to this - wise or foolish virgins; thankful, hard-working slaves or head-in-the-sand people; sheep or goats. It's not so much about God's judgement of us (and certainly not about condemnation) but about our choices, our discernment.
If, in the end we discern that Christ is King, this has HUGE implications for our lives - this means following Christ is not just a leisure option but the basis for our whole lives.
And if Christ is King then Advent (starting next week!) is also a BIG THING - not just a messenger from God but the message made flesh.
More to follow when I've calmed down a bit!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Parable of the Talents

This Sunday's gospel reading is Matthew 25: 14-30 - the parable of the talents.

I'm not preaching - so I thought I'd post up a sermon I KNOW I wrote on this only a couple of years ago. But I can't find it - which is odd. I know that then I took a fairly hard line on 'this is about money - stop trying to squirm out of it'.

But maybe that isn't the message for the four churches where I'm currently serving. I think here there are more issues about the other resources we have - especially of buildings. Who are our buildings for? And what does Jesus want us to do with them??

One of the great challenges of serving four churches is four potential set of headaches about maintenance - but I don't see anything in the gospel here which supports us using our buildings as clubhouses - isn't that the equivalent of burying the talent? - so we need to be more imaginative, more engaged, more prepared to have things get a bit messy in order to serve our neighbours, and through them to serve God.
Use those resources! Jesus says.

Amen!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Notes for Sunday

These may be even more 'note-like' than usual - since I'm not sure what kind of congregation we'll get on Sunday (whether we'll have any children present, whether there might be a bigger turnout than usual, etc, etc) so I'll have to play things a bit by ear.

Remembrance Amos 5: 18-24 Matthew 25: 1-13

What is the purpose of Remembrance Sunday ?
Surely this question is what they call a no-brainer – Remembrance – it’s for remembering – duh!
As a child I used to watch my grandad (who fought at the Somme) watching the festival of remembrance, with tears rolling down his cheeks as he watched the poppies fall in memory of his dead friends. We must not forget those who die at war.
But it’s not enough to remember, it’s not enough - even though it can be very costly if our memories are painful.

Of course it’s vital that we do not take for granted the lives laid down in war - but our Bible readings remind us that there is more to life than simply remembering – or even remembering and being grateful.

The prophet Amos delivers a very scathing message from God.
God does not want empty gestures or mere thoughts – ‘I hate, I despise your festivals’. God requires people to live what they proclaim – ‘let justice roll down like waters’.
Amos is warning people who feel they are OK because they are the people of God that it’s time to act. They talk of ‘the day of the lord’ – a time when God will come and sort everything out for good. On the day of the Lord, the wicked better watch out, because God will punish them. But Amos warns that God’s own people are not blameless, and that it’s not enough to rest back on your identity as God’s own. If the people of God are to truly be the people of God they must act like it, and not just talk like it.

Similarly our remembrance of war must show itself in action – in a commitment to peace.
It is not enough to remember, even to cry, if we are not changed and our resolve to work for peace is not strengthened by our remembrance. Our remembrance should lead to our commitment to peace - not in spite of those who go to war, but in honour of them. We remember, we give thanks and we commit ourselves to peace in the future. Our remembrance should lead to action.

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus is also concerned about action. At many levels this is a strange parable. It comes in a little collection which are all about the final coming of God’s kingdom – what will happen on the ‘day of the Lord’, when time as we know it will end, and what followers of Jesus should do to be faithful.
The bit at the end of the parable ‘Keep awake therefore..’ doesn’t really fit the story – because all 10 of the bridesmaids fall asleep.
It’s not the lack of sleepiness that makes half of the10 wise – they are wise because they have done something to be ready for the coming of God’s party – they have gone out and bought spare oil.
They are wise because they wanted to see God’s kingdom come and they were willing to do something to get ready for it.

They didn’t just sit back and doze and wait for the arrival of the bridegroom and hope it would all be alright then – they were wise because they were active and prepared and they thought about what the coming of the bridegroom might mean.

So what does this mean for us?
There are some people who say there will always be war, it’s human nature and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it in Whittlesford.
But we know it is God’s will that there should be peace and justice for all people – and the Bible tells us that at some point in history (and we don’t know when) God will step in and stop war forever and bring all conflict and suffering to an end. Our task is to be active in trying to help make this world more like God’s place. We can’t perform an act of remembrance and then shrug our shoulders at the state of the world. We are to be active workers for peace – in small ways or large ways: praying for peace with justice for all people; treating anyone we meet with love and fairness; never taking human lives for granted; being part of the people of God who long for peace.

Our communion meal, too, is all about remembrance – remembering Jesus’ life which was given to bring peace to all the world.
When we eat and drink we give thanks for Jesus’ life, and we share in the bread & wine to show that we are ready to be active workers for peace in the world, as followers of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
To God’s praise and glory
Amen.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Remembrance Sunday thoughts

With All Saints & All Souls last weekend, our Tuesday memorial service next week and Remembrance Sunday this week it seems the whole theme of memorial is hanging in the air. Sunday will see us standing at the war memorial for the 2 minutes' silence at 11 o' clock (& this year, for the first time, I'll be at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in the afternoon).. But I want the service (at 9.45) to be one of commitment to peace - not in spite of those who go to war, but in honour of them.

Our readings are Amos 5: 18-24
Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13

Thessalonians is concerned about the dead & their 'fate' in God.
Amos & Matthew are both concerned with 'values'.
Amos contains the 'I despise your sacrifices... I require mercy & justice' bit.
Matthew is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
We may have some cubs at the service so I guess they might hook into the 'be prepared' element of the story of the virgins - but surely Jesus meant to say something a bit more than this?
And how do wisdom and justice and discernment bring peace?

Hmmmm.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

All Saints' celebration

I've spent the week thinking about the sermon - on & off - but not got round to posting - for which (if anyone ever reads this) - apologies.

As you'll see from the notes below I have a baptism at one church - but this is the sermon for the other church (if you see what I mean). It may seem very simple - but I wanted it to be. Maybe my brain has been in a half-term sort of mood - or just frozen solid by the cold weather! Anyway - her it is:

Fully Alive! 1 John 3: 1-3 Matthew 5: 1-10

Yesterday was All Saints day. Some people’s impression of saints is of people who gave up all fun in their lives to follow Jesus. But one of my favourite saints is St Teresa of Avila – who was once travelling with a younger nun who was shocked to see Teresa tucking into a dish of partridge with great relish. ‘Haven’t we devoted ourselves to a life of prayer?’ asked the younger woman, to which Teresa wiped her mouth & said ‘at prayer time, prayer – at partridge time, partridge!’.

Or to put it rather more reverentially, in the words of Irenaeus,
‘The glory of God is a human person fully alive’.
This is what it means to be a saint – to be fully alive: alive to God, alive to others and alive to the best self that we can be.
And alive to the communion of saints – aware of our place in that wonderful, quirky, fully alive bunch of people who are the saints of God.
And I don’t just mean the sort of people who end up in stained glass windows and having little booklets written about them – I mean all the saints of God – every single person who tries to follow Jesus, each member of that huge family stretching around the world and down through the centuries.

We can all be saints.

The passage we heard from John’s first letter explains that this has nothing to do with our efforts to be good. It begins with God’s love for us – which makes us the children of God – loved, special, able to live in relationship with God.
This is why this morning at Pampisford we were baptising a baby – Matilda – baptising a young child who cannot even speak for herself yet reinforces the message that God’s love is a gift for us the moment we are born – we don’t have to earn it.
John’s letter also makes it clear that God’s love grows in us through our lives and enables us to become more and more like the fully-alive saints God has made us to be.
This sign of God’s love in the water of baptism is only the beginning for Matilda – God’s love will be there for her all her life, and if she chooses to respond to that love she will be able to grow more and more like Jesus Christ, more and more ‘saintly’, if you like.

And what’s true for Matilda and everyone in Pampisford is true for all of us in Duxford, too. God’s love is there, offering us life in all its fullness, offering forgiveness and peace and a growth towards saintliness.

This doesn’t mean that life in the love of God is easy – you have only to think of some of the more gruesome ways in which saints have died to know that God isn’t offering us an insurance policy.

Saints have it hard – whether it’s Peter & Andrew, crucified like their Lord, or Catherine of Alexandria on her wheel, or just ordinary struggling saints like you or me. Being a saint doesn’t make you immune to life’s difficulties.
But Jesus, in that part of Matthew’s gospel which we call ‘the sermon on the mount’ makes it clear that whatever life throws as the saints who follow him and live in God’s love, in the end, in the words of another Saint – Julian of Norwich – ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.
Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful..” for he knows that despite – sometimes even because of their difficulties all these saints of God will know God’s love more and more, and share in God’s presence at the end of their lives.

You might wonder what proof we have of God’s love for us – why should we believe that we are as precious to God as a new born baby to its parents?
The answer comes in this celebration of communion in which we can all share – as bread is broken and wine is poured out we remember that in Jesus Christ, God came to our earth to live and die and to be raised from death to show that there are no limits to God’s love for us.

All are welcome to eat and drink and to receive this sign of God’s love through which we are fed with food for our pilgrimage and strengthened to follow Jesus Christ.

So welcome to this communion - a celebration for saints – not because we are perfect, but because we are all God’s children, and God loves us always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Finished notes for 26/10/08

Who do you think you are?

Those who don’t watch TV might have allsorts of different answers to this question.
But many of us here will immediately be thinking of our family trees:
‘Who do you think you are?’ is the title of a BBC series, which helps famous people to look into their family trees. Often the programme is surprising, it can be very moving, and whenever I’ve watched I have found it fascinating.

A recent one that sticks in my mind saw Ainsley Harriott – the bubbly chef whose origins were in the West Indies – discover that he was not descended only from slaves, as he had always thought, but that his family tree also included a slave owner.
Poor Ainsley was left pondering questions of his own sense of identity – he had previously felt proud that his ancestors had struggled against and risen from slavery, and now he says he feels more mixed emotions – with the knowledge that his family were more complicit in the slave trade then he previously thought.
For many of us, ‘who we are’ is shaped by stories of the past: that is part of the fascination of the programme and of genealogy in general.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus has been facing questions from the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Saduccees – questions about taxes, questions about life after death, and now this question about the greatest commandment. The commandments are what shape the people of God – they are part of the great story of the past which gives the Jewish people a sense of identity as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the people who followed the great Moses through the wilderness to the promised Land. The commandments are part of the past that shapes the present: so the question is ‘where does Jesus stand?’ ‘who does he think we are?’ when he is asked which of the commandments is greatest?

You can see how the trap might work – if Jesus says the greatest commandment is ‘do not kill’ they can say he’s soft on idolatory: or maybe the question reflects a genuine desire to see whether Jesus thinks it is more important to love God than to preserve the life of others.
Jesus’ answer is brilliant: the books of Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus are full of laws, statutes and commandments of God – but Jesus brings together just two that manage to summarise all the others – Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:5) and Love your neighbour as yourself (Lev 19:18).
Jesus honours all God’s commandments, he doesn’t seek to leave any part of the past behind, and yet he frames all that has been said in the past in a new way. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus because they see him as a trouble-maker, who encourages law-breaking (such as eating with sinners and forgiving sins) and may well cause insurrection against Rome – they want to discredit him and ultimately they want to be rid of him.

Jesus is clear about who he is- someone firmly rooted in the past but pointing to a new way of relating to God – the God who is with us now, and not only in the past.

The past is important – and it helps us to live today. Today we’ve received the wonderful church record which reminds us of all the treasures of the past we have inherited here.
We have evidence of the many gifts and talents with which people of past centuries have expressed their love of God and neighbour.
But I’m sure Jesus would not want us to keep our eyes firmly on the past, but would want us to be inspired by the example of the past to use our gifts and talents in our love of God and neighbour.

And I also think there’s a third element to our love which Jesus also exemplifies and which we came across in our reading from the letter to the Thessalonians. Paul is writing to a new Christian community – only 20 years after the death of Christ. They are not people who share a great history, they would certainly not be all Jews, but Paul reminds them that they do share in the good news of the coming of God’s love in Jesus. He also talks about the love he, Paul, has for them, and the love they share as a family in Christ.
Love God and love your neighbour is Jesus’ summary of the law, and as Paul tries to instruct the Thessalonians in sharing the love of God with their neighbours he says also ‘love one another’ – be like brothers and sisters to each other. Paul models care for the church, and speaks of how he has treated them gently. Paul wants to build a loving community, which has a healthy interest in its shared past, and which remembers the teaching of Jesus to love God and love neighbour. Such a community will know who they think they are – to the glory of God.

And so we meet around Christ’s table – eyes on the past but feet firmly in the present as we seek to form a loving community which will show what it means to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.. and all to God’s glory.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The thoughts of others...

I found it helpful to look at the revgalblogpals site today (I often do!) - there's a link just to your right >>>> see!
I posted this back to my e-friends (mostly across the pond)

"I did a bit of reading around the Thessalonians & came up with a good question 'who do we say that we are?' - would fit with Reformation Sunday, too.
But I'm not sure yet how to address the question:
People of God, of course - not just following Moses, but following whoever God sends
People of Love - for God & neighbour
People of the way - loving one another, forming a new community who follows Jesus..."

and since then I've thought - people of the past (thinking about the church record)
people of the future - surely God hasn't finished with us yet.

Nearly meeting time, so I'll try to come back with more thoughts - or even the final notes - by Friday (Saturday IS my day off - and some kind poeple have been reminding me of that!).

26th October 2008

The readings (if we're not celebrating Bible Sunday):
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 The death of Moses
1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8 How the gospel was brought to Thessalonica by Paul
Matthew 22: 34-46 Yet more opposition to Jesus - with the question 'which is the most important commandment?' - Jesus answers that the greatest commandment is 'Love God & your neighbour as yourself'.

Realising I knew nothing about Thessalonians I did a bit of reading around. I was surprised to learn that this is thought to be the earliest of Paul's letters (about 50 AD/CE): to a very new group of Christians from the artisan class of Thessalonica. They are facing persecution because their rich employers feared that by turning away from worship of the pagan gods these new Christians would jeopardise the prosperity of the city.

The question for the church in Thessalonica was 'who do we say we are?' - Paul is anxious to build up a sense of belonging, of family-like relationships, of shared values.

Then from the very new to the very old - Jesus gives an answer to the Pharisees which makes it clear that he is not teaching something new, but something very old and very basic - love God & your neighbour.

I think I can see some links here, from the law & prophets, through Jesus to the new church - & on to us.
But what about Moses??? Still thinking about that - although I note that the reading also contains a mention of Joshua.. maybe the people of God had to face the question 'who are we? - if not followers of Moses, then what?'.
And to add to the complexity we are receiving a church record on Sunday - a wonderful and careful record of all that is in the church..all that we have inherited.. but the past isn't all that we are.
The question 'who do we say we are?' may be the key...
More posting when I've done more thinking!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sermon notes for Sun 19th October

What is Caesar’s/ what is God’s

If you came to church to get away from news of the Credit Crisis and global recession – I’m sorry, but you can’t.

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to treat church as a holy space, where the worries of the world can’t intrude: sometimes we preachers make this worse by talking about ‘going out from here back into the world’. But the fact is that we are still in the world as we sit here in church. We may find here a sanctuary where it is a little easier to remember we are in the presence of God, but we cannot shut out the world: we remain in it, like it or not.

And neither are we here to exchange platitudes about what God might think of the state of the world. We are here to wrestle with what it means to be followers of Christ in our world, with all its headaches and its wonder.

There are apparently 66 more shopping days til Christmas, and you won’t thank me for mentioning it today! A friend sent me a link to an internet site ‘is it Christmas yet?’ – and when you click on it, it just has in large letters ‘NO’.

But Christmas will come, and with it a celebration of the fact of God become human (which is central to Christmas – at least for some of us) reminding us that God knows what it is to wrestle with the world, with flesh, dirt and blood, and with money, politics and economics.

In our Gospel reading today we hear how the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trick Jesus with their question of taxes. Some of us were looking at this passage at the Four Churches meeting on Wednesday evening and remembered that the Herodians were the politically-savvy, the ones supporting Herod as Rome’s puppet-king: they would have argued that paying taxes was necessary for the smooth-running of the country (by Rome).
Meanwhile the Pharisees were the ultra-religious, the ones who believed in the people of Israel as the people of God.
They would have seen any coins bearing Caesar’s image and the inscription declaring him emperor and god as a blasphemy – this is why there were money-changers in the temple, because sacrifices for the One true God couldn’t be bought with this terrible Roman coinage. You will have realised that the Pharisees were anti-tax paid to Rome.

Faced with a question of politics versus religion, what does Jesus say? Does he argue that he’s a religious person and won’t proclaim on political matters? Does he side with one or the other of these groups, and therefore alienate the other side? He gives a wonderful, wise and thought-provoking answer. Politics or religion? Caesar or the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob? Tax or no tax?
He refuses to allow them to be separated:
“Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s”
Caesar made the coin – give it back to him.
“and render to God that which is God’s”.
But where is God’s stamp seen? The reading from Exodus reminds us that even Moses could not see God’s face – no-one could point to God’s image on a coin and say ‘that coin is God’s’.
Jesus leaves us pondering – what is it that we have to give back to God? Where do we see God’s image?
Well, surely we have to give back to God what God has first given us: at our meeting on Wednesday we reflected that we often speak of giving up our time for a meeting – but actually that time is first given to us by God. When we meet to do God’s work we are only giving back to God some of the time he has given us – rendering to God that which is God’s.

And where do we see God’s image? The book of Genesis tells us that God made human beings in his own image – we each bear the stamp of God.
If we are to “render to God that which is God’s” we will be giving back our very selves – there is nothing that we are, nothing we can do, nothing we can earn that is not God’s.
Jesus deals with the political question of taxes – and places it firmly within the context of God’s ownership of the world, God’s kingdom.

I think this leads to three conclusions for us in the present credit crisis.

Firstly, we need to be aware of the human stories within the economic figures. We cannot separate the political from the wider human picture – we cannot forget that behind each figure is a person, beloved of God. 1.6 million unemployed in the UK at the moment means 1.6 million people seeking meaning for their lives, as well as a stable income. So we must pray and hope and support the people behind the headlines where we can.

Secondly, we cannot simply stick our heads in the sand and say this is a political problem and nothing to do with us – we cannot just leave this to others, perhaps to politicians to worry about.
The writer of the first letter to the Thessalonians says faith leads to action; love leads to labour; hope leads to perseverance. We cannot shrug and say we are religious and not political people – Jesus refuses to separate the two. As God’s people in God’s world we must think and act in God’s name.

Thirdly, when we are hit personally by what is happening – by the loss of a job by the falling value of assets, by reducing income, by worries about our pension – we can hold onto the fact that God is intimately concerned with us and by what happens to us. The Jesus who wrestled with the question of taxes is alongside us as we wrestle with the questions of our day.
When despair & panic are the order of the day we can remain calm, held in God’s hands, in a world in which the political and the religious are linked,
now and forever
Amen.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Thinking...

Readings:
Exodus 33: 12-23 - God says to Moses you shall know my name & Moses asks to 'know God's ways' but God's face remains hidden
1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10 The writer says faith leads to action; love leads to labour; hope leads to perseverance
Matthew 22: 15-22 Jesus faces the question about taxes & tells his questioners to render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, & to God that which is God's.

Over the last few weeks I've been trying to start my sermon with an 'issue' and then see what the Bible has to say t us on that issue (what do you mean, you hadn't noticed??).

The big issue at the moment remains the credit crisis.
What can we do in the face of greed, of gloom, of lack of confidence??
I'm aware of a number of people here in the villages who have lost their jobs, so I don't want to sound smug on this - it is hard to work out 'God's ways' in all this.

So what does Jesus say... 'give to God what belongs to God' - the Caesar bit is simple, it is marked with the face of Caesar - but we can never see God's face marked on things - we need to be more attentive, it isn't so obvious. But what do we have that isn't what God has first given?? Surely everything is God's - so we need to be ready to give it all to God, to use it all for good, to live as those who know we are recipients of God's generosity.

So... I need to give this some more thought!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Sermon for Sun 12/10/08

Philippians 4: 1-9, Matthew 22: 1-14


What God gives/ what God requires

On Thursday night I had the very noisy pleasure of an evening with the cubs!
We were talking about the My Faith badge, and one of the activities they need to do to get that badge is to talk about a reading or prayer which means something to them. To get them thinking we made a foldy thing (demonstrate) in which normally you write something silly like ‘you smell’ but to get them thinking about what faith might mean to them they were writing inside something they thought was important.
They had some great ideas ‘love God’ ‘love your enemies’ ‘forgive people’ .. though I think ‘you’ve got a big head’ did creep in there somewhere!
But it got me thinking about the relationship between what we do and what is important to us, and the love God offers us. All the things the cubs came up with were about what is required of us, how we have to behave. They were very good at valuing things like ‘peace’ and ‘harmony’, and they even remembered the things Jesus said such as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and ‘turn the other cheek’, but not one of them talked about the love of God for us which Jesus showed us.
Perhaps we would all have done the same and focussed on Jesus laws of love rather than the love itself. We know it isn’t simply that if we behave well, God will love us: God loves us first – we celebrate that at every baptism and every communion service. Yet often we remember what is required of us and forget the offer of love God gives us. How can we fill our lives with the good things which God wants to give us?

The writer of the letter to the church at Philippi gives clear instructions
‘All that is true, noble, just, pure, loveable, attractive, excellent, admirable, think on these things’.
If we can fill our minds and our lives with what is good, then we will experience joy – the joy of the Lord, the joy that comes from knowing we are children of God living in God’s world and surrounded by God’s love. This, says Philippians, brings peace to each one of us, enables us to show others consideration, and takes away all traces of anxiety.

The problem with human nature is that we sometimes behave as though God’s love was a reward for doing good: when actually we know, if we stop to think about it, that God’s love is a free gift to us. If our life and our heart is cluttered with all the things we know we should be doing we can miss the simple, liberating truth of God’s love for us.

Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet.
Those who are originally invited don’t turn up. They each have excuses –but they each refuse to come. The host of the banquet decides he must fill his hall with guests – and so he sends his servants out into the streets to round up anyone they can find and invite them in to eat and drink.

So far, this is a wonderful story about God’s generosity and the free gift of God’s love for everyone. This is good news for those who think they are not good enough for God – God comes and finds us and welcomes us into the banquet. See how generous God is – even those of us who think ourselves not fit to be God’s guests find ourselves at God’s table.

But then comes a second part of the story. The host finds a man who is not dressed properly for the banquet, and has him thrown out. At first reading this is hardly fair – the man was virtually dragged in off the street so how was he to know that he needed to wear his best clothes?

Think for a moment what would you do if you were invited to a party at the last minute?
You’re sitting on the sofa, pyjamas on, drinking your cocoa and watching the TV. Your doorbell goes… and it’s your next-door neighbour inviting you in to join a party because they haven’t got enough guests. You could make your excuses and slope off back to the sofa, or you could decide to go & quickly change into your glad rags. But what you wouldn’t do is go straight in without changing out of what you were wearing, as if you were doing them a favour by being there. If you’re invited to a party, however unexpectedly, you try to respond appropriately and look the part.

That is the point Jesus is making. The invitation to the banquet is sudden and unexpected, and the new set of guests are all jolly lucky to be there. But there is still something expected of them – they should try to dress right and look right, behaving like the honoured guests they are.

The kingdom of heaven is like this. The cubs were right about the things Jesus said about how we should live – these are the appropriate ‘clothes’ for people of God’s kingdom. These things are our response to God’s invitation: as loved children of God, we are expected to love God and love others in return.

Here, today we are freely invited by Jesus to join God’s banquet for all those God loves. All can eat and drink and know God’s love for them. Yet as honoured guests we are also expected to live the part – to go from here as God’s people to share God’s love with others.
So go with the food God gives, strengthened to be God’s own for the world, in the name of Jesus.
Amen.


Note: the demonstrated 'foldy thing' is known to some as a 'cootie catcher', Directions for making & playing below:

Playing with Cootie Catcher.

Choose a color then close-and-open the Cootie Catcher once for each letter in that colour, leaving it open at the end so that you see four numbers inside.

Second, choose one of the four numbers, and close-and-open the Cootie Catcher that many times, again ending with it open.

Last, choose one of the four numbers, and lift.


Directions to make:

Use a square piece of paper.

Fold two opposite diagonal corners together, then open back up.

Fold the other two opposite corners together, then open back up.

You should have folded lines like this. The lines cross at the center of the paper.

Turn paper printed side down. Fold all four corners to the center of the paper.

Flip your paper over.

Again, fold all four corners to the center of the paper.

Fold any two sides together. Make sure the numbers are in the inside.

Slide your thumbs and fingers under the four flaps.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Final version

Too much going on at the end in the last one - plus the mistake, I think, of introducing another text from outside the lectionary, when there's enough to think about as it is.. so here is the final version


A friend of mine has one of these funny T-shirts – ‘God loves you – but I’m his favourite’. She doesn’t wear it very often – it’s hard to know just when is the right occasion: but it got me thinking. Do we really believe that God loves everyone – or do we secretly think that some of us have the right to wear a T-shirt like that without it being a joke? Does God actually have favourites? Are some people ‘insiders’ when it comes to God’s love, whilst others are outsiders?

The story of the vineyard can be quite dangerous – it can lead us to the conclusion that some people – namely Christians, are definitely more ‘in’ with God than others – namely Jews. The danger comes from how we read the story - when we look at this story of the parable of the vineyard there is a real danger of reading the story as an allegory – where each figure in the story stands for a particular person or group of people.

It’s easy to get sucked into this. ‘The vineyard’ is used in the Old Testament as a term for the people of Israel: they are ‘God’s vineyard’ – so it is tempting to see the first tenants as the Jewish leaders. Then the servants who first go to collect the rent are the prophets, and of course the Son of the owner is Jesus himself.

I think Matthew was probably pretty convinced by this sort of allegory – he even changes the order which Mark gives – they take the son, kill him & throw him outside the vineyard – and changes it round to sound more like the crucifixion of Jesus –
they take him, put him outside the walls of the vineyard (just as they took Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem) & kill him.

The problem with this sort of reading of the story is that it ends up becoming very anti-Semitic. If the story tells us that the first tenants are replaced, doesn’t this mean that the Jews reject God’s message & so are thrown out of the vineyard, punished by God, & that then the vineyard, God’s kingdom of love, is given to someone else – the Christian church? It is hard to believe that Jesus meant to tell a story which would entirely dismiss the Jewish faith when we remember that he and his disciples were of course Jewish themselves.

But Jesus begins by saying that this story is a parable. And in any parable we have to not try to work out what each part of the story ‘means’ but what the whole story teaches.

To do this one approach is to look for the surprise in the story. And the surprise here isn’t the way the tenants behave, but the behaviour of the owner of the vineyard – and particularly his persistence.
If you had this sort of trouble with tenants, wouldn’t you be tempted to just give up altogether, cut your losses & give up on wine-production?
But God doesn’t give up: he goes on and on hoping, trusting, trying to find people who will work with him.
We must, I think, understand this story in the context of God’s amazing trust in human nature.
This isn’t a story about the limits of God’s love – God’s love for one group and not another group of people. It is a story about the limitlessness of God’s love.
God keeps trying, keeps sending messengers: he doesn’t give up on his vineyard. And when the bad tenants are finally evicted… he tries again, he puts in more tenants.

This persistence and limitless love of God is consistent with Paul’s story which we heard in the letter to the Philippians. Paul states that he could lay claim to the love of God because of who he is – because of his birth and his belonging to God’s people - but that now his horizons have been broadened by understanding the love of God in Christ, which is for everyone.

So there is a place in God’s love and in God’s vineyard for everyone.

This parable tells us of God’s constant invitation to be part of the life of the kingdom. Whether you fancy yourself as religious or not, whether you are from one racial group or another, God keeps on inviting you to be part of his project of living in a way which shows love for God and neighbour & establishes a community of justice peace & joy. There is no ‘in’ and ‘out’ with God – everyone is invited, again and again, invited to be part of life of God in the world, called to follow Jesus & required to show in our lives the fruits of the Spirit.

As we meet around Jesus’ table, we come to share the meal of his life, and to declare that we are prepared to follow him and be part of the life of God’s kingdom.
As we eat and drink may we know Christ’s risen life and be fed and strengthened to live to his glory. Amen.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Well on the way to Sunday

Here are the notes for Sunday - not happy with the ending yet but I'll come back to it sometime tomorrow..

God's vineyard Matt 21: 33-46 & Philippians 3: 4b–14

A friend of mine has one of these funny T-shirts – ‘God loves you – but I’m his favourite’. She doesn’t wear it very often – it’s hard to know just when is the right occasion: but it got me thinking. Do we really believe that God loves everyone – or do we secretly think that some of us have the right to wear a T-shirt like that without it being a joke? Does God actually have favourites? Are some people ‘insiders’ when it comes to God’s love, whilst others are outsiders?

The story of the vineyard can be quite dangerous – it can lead us to the conclusion that some people – namely Christians, are definitely more ‘in’ with God than others – namely Jews. The danger comes from how we read the story - when we look at this story of the parable of the vineyard there is a real danger of reading the story as an allegory – where each figure in the story stands for a particular person or group of people.

It’s easy to get sucked into this. ‘The vineyard’ is used in the Old Testament as a term for the people of Israel: they are ‘God’s vineyard’ – so it is tempting to see the first tenants as the Jewish leaders. Then the servants who first go to collect the rent are the prophets, and of course the Son of the owner is Jesus himself.

I think Matthew was probably pretty convinced by this sort of allegory – he even changes the order which Mark gives – they take the son, kill him & throw him outside the vineyard – and changes it round to sound more like the crucifixion of Jesus – they take him, put him outside the walls of the vineyard (just as they took Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem) & kill him.

The problem with this sort of reading of the story is that it ends up becoming very anti-Semitic. If the story tells us that the first tenants are replaced, doesn’t this mean that the Jews reject God’s message & so are thrown out of the vineyard, punished by God, & that then the vineyard, God’s kingdom of love, is given to someone else – the Christian church? It is hard to believe that Jesus meant to tell a story which would entirely dismiss the Jewish faith when we remember that he and his disciples were of course Jewish themselves.

But Jesus begins by saying that this story is a parable. And in any parable we have to not try to work out what each part of the story ‘means’ but what the whole story teaches.

To do this one approach is to look for the surprise in the story. And the surprise here isn’t the way the tenants behave, but the behaviour of the owner of the vineyard – and particularly his persistence.
If you had this sort of trouble with tenants, wouldn’t you be tempted to just give up altogether, cut your losses & give up on wine-production?
But God doesn’t give up: he goes on and on hoping, trusting, trying to find people who will work with him.
We must, I think, understand this story in the context of God’s amazing trust in human nature.
This isn’t a story about the limits of God’s love – God’s love for one group and not another group of people. It is a story about the limitlessness of God’s love.
God keeps trying, keeps sending messengers: he doesn’t give up on his vineyard. And when the bad tenants are finally evicted… he tries again, he puts in more tenants.

This persistence and limitless love of God is consistent with Paul’s story which we heard in the letter to the Philippians. Paul states that he could lay claim to the love of God because of who he is – because of his birth and his belonging to God’s people - but that now his horizons have been broadened by understanding the love of God in Christ, which is for everyone.

So there is a place in God’s love and in God’s vineyard for everyone.
And what does God look for from each set of tenants – from all the people with whom he tries to establish a relationship? He asks for a harvest – for the tenants to care for the vineyard so that there is healthy growth and the production of fruit, & then God asks for an acknowledgement of whose land it is – so that God is included in the sharing of the harvest.

This parable tells us of God’s constant invitation to be part of the life of the kingdom. Whether you fancy yourself as religious or not, whether you are from one racial group or another, God keeps on inviting you to be part of his project of living in a way which shows love for God and neighbour & establishes a community of justice peace & joy. There is no ‘in’ and ‘out’ with God – everyone is invited, again and again.
If we are to be part of life of God in the world we are called to follow Jesus & to show in our lives the fruits of the Spirit.

The picture of a vineyard has one more thing to tell us. I’m sure we can’t hear the word ‘vine’ without thinking of that part of John’s gospel where Jesus says ‘Iam the true vine.. you are the branches. Anyone who dwells in me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit’.

Our life and health will always come from being united with Jesus Christ. We meet around his table, to share the meal of his life, to declare that we are prepared to follow him and be part of the life of God’s kingdom.
The church is Christ’s body. As we eat and drink may we know his risen life and be fed and strengthened to live to his glory. Amen.

Monday, 29 September 2008

So what happened?

Well, yes, 28th Sept come and went & no sermon!!
a) I've had a really busy week or two - 5 funerals in 2 weeks is a bit much on top of everything else
b) Our internship student, Findy, preached on Sunday (very well!) - so I got something of a day off
c) I did do an 8am sermon - but since I wrote it by hand (between Strictly Come Dancing & Casualty on Saturday night) - it never got onto the computer
Oh yes, & I was on a conference/retreat Mon-Wed
Is that enough excuses??

Must do better this week.
Sorry anyone who reads this!

But don't the cobwebs look great in the garden? Wish I had a digi camera & I could share them with you.
Lovely misty, moisty mornings & then (if we're lucky) - some sun!

Off to school harvest festival next...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Finished notes for 21/9/08

Parable of workers in the vineyard/Jonah

It’s just not fair!

It seems that one of the earliest and strongest human emotions is a sense of fairness – listen to any children playing in a park and after a while you are likely to hear ‘it’s not fair.. it’s my turn now’ ‘it’s not fair.. your half is bigger than my half’ ‘it’s not fair.. she started it’.

It’s an emotion we never grow out of.

Published in the Guardian yesterday (Saturday 20/9/08), Gordon Brown has written a column entitled ‘Fairness is still our guide’ – in which he talked about the current economic situation and spoke of the government’s ‘commitment to fair rules, fair chances and a fair say for all.’ Gordon Brown wants to be known as a man who is fair-minded.
Perhaps this is a way of securing votes – since we all want life to be fair.
You may know that I happen to have been asked to conduct a number of funerals in the area recently – one here, two in Whittlesford, and this coming week I have one at the crematorium and one in Duxford. In meeting with the families I quite often hear the comment ‘it’s not fair’. ‘She was a lovely person, it’s not fair that she was burdened with emphysema’ ; ‘he was no age at all, it’s not fair that he should be taken from us so soon’; ‘I’ve already lost three members of my family this year, it’s not fair that another person has been taken from me’.
And all I can do is try to be empathetic, to understand how it might feel, and to listen – because no, it often isn’t fair. Good people die too young, whilst unkind ones stagger one for decades more – life (and death) can be downright unfair and it would be foolish of me or anyone else to try to say otherwise.

And perhaps there is another deep sense of unfairness, too, at funerals, which affects those of us in the church.
The message of the gospel and the words about ‘the hope of the resurrection to eternal life’ are exactly the same whether the person who died is the holiest saint or the worst rascal. There is no scope in our funeral services for declaring that one person is entitled to a place in heaven because they were a faithful member of Christ’s church, whilst another’s place is pretty uncertain given their lack of church attendance.
In any funeral service we place the deceased into the merciful hands of God – and we declare the promise of Jesus Christ of eternal life for all, even (perhaps especially) the sinner and the one who had difficulty believing.

We who sit here today are no more special to God than the person who will only come here when they are carried in and placed on the trestles.

I’m sorry if that seems shocking – but it’s the gospel.
We might want to cry to God, with Jonah ‘I knew you were going to be forgiving to the sinners – it’s not fair!’

It’s not fair – but Jesus tells the story all too clearly.
Those who labour in the vineyard all day are rewarded with the pay they had been promised. But then... those who’ve only just slipped in at the last hour are given exactly the same reward! Those of us brought up on trades unions and talk of differentials are as up in arms as the workers themselves – it’s not fair!
The kingdom of heaven is like this, says Jesus: God is not fair, but God is merciful.

This isn’t fair – but this is Good News.
Because in the end we don’t want God to reward us only for what we have done in this life (and punish us for the bad bits) – we want God to receive us home, as one of God’s own.
We want to hear the words ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ and know that we can stop and rest & enjoy God’s loving presence forever.

Why does God have a change of mind about destroying the people of Nineveh? Because God created them all, and wants to love and forgive, not to punish and destroy.

Why does God reward life-long service in the same way as death-bed conversion? Because God is waiting to receive each one of us whenever we are ready.

Why should God love me just as much when I'm being a twerp as when I'm having a good day? Because God is merciful, and he loves us. All. Always.

This is Good News!
Thanks be to God
Amen.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

September 21st

With this week's two funerals now done I can turn my thoughts to this week's readings!

They are
Jonah 3: 10 - 4:11 the bit where God has pity on Nineveh & Jonah gets the hump!
Philipians 1: 21-30
Matthew 20:1-16 The parable of the workers in the vineyard

The clear link to me seems to be a feeling of 'it;s not fair!' - why should God forgive Nineveh - why should the owner pay his workers the same, being generous to the last to come in - why should God love a rascal as much as a God-fearing Christian.
Why should God love me just as much when I'm being a twerp as when I'm having a good day?
Why? - because he's God, and he loves us. All. Always.
Good News!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sunday 14th September

This week is going to be a busy one, so I sat down yesterday and thought hard about the service.
At one church we have 'creative church', where we are focussing on the parable of the unforgiving servant & the issue of Fair Trade. Below is almost the complete sermon for a communion service where the readings will be
Matthew 18:21-35
& Romans 14: 1-12

It feels quite strange to be so ahead of myself - but with a funeral this week & two next week it's probably just as well.

Thoughts for Sunday 14th September

Today we will be praying for Zimbabwe. It is difficult for us to understand the intricacies of what has gone wrong to the hopes of independence in that country, but all the news from there seems bad. Inflation is astronomically high, which means that everyone’s wages are next to useless. There are terrible shortages of food and fuel, and the country seems riddles with corruption, from ordinary police officers confiscating food from people, to armed men threatening those who want to vote for the opposition party, and a president who it seems simply won’t step down whatever the result of any election.

The whole country seems to be in a terrible mess, and we might wonder what on earth can help to sort it out.

Only a decade or so ago, South Africa seemed to be facing similar problems, with gang violence, lack of trust in politicians, and deep concerns about how to move forward as a nation. South Africans responded by setting up the Truth and Reconciliation commission – a way of examining crimes of the past so that those who were in the wrong could admit their crime, and move forward into a crime-free future of justice for all. Not surprisingly the church was at the heart of this work, stressing the need for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness, and today we’ve heard just one of his parables – the story of the unforgiving servant.

The first man owed 10,000 talents. This is a huge sum – a talent was about 15 years’ wages for an ordinary person, so his debt represents about 150,000 years’ wages. We might wonder how on earth he got so in debt! His plea to the king ‘have patience with me and I will repay you’ is blatantly untrue - there is no way this man will ever be able to pay back his debt. And yet the king forgives him and wipes out the debt.

The second man owes the first man 100 denarii – a denarius being one day’s wages – so a total debt of hundred days’ wages – it might take this man about 6 months to pay the first servant back: he has only to be patient with his fellow servant – but of course he refuses.

Jesus wants our minds to boggle – there is just no way the first man could ever pay back his debt. The only way out for him was the mercy and forgiveness of the king.

And of course in all of Jesus’ parables the king represents God.
Jesus wants us to know that God’s forgiveness is staggering – and that when we know forgiveness we too can afford to be generous in our forgiveness of others.

The first man’s predicament seems unmanageable – but he only has to ask and he is out of trouble.

Jesus teaches us to ask for God’s help – whether our need is for personal forgiveness, for help in an awful situation, or for prayer for a country which is in a mess.
We have only to ask, to pray, to have faith in the staggering love and forgiveness of God.

As we share communion, we see before us a sign of that love – a remembrance of the life and death of Jesus, who was able to pray from the cross ‘Father forgive’.
Here we may take and eat and drink and be filled with the forgiveness, love and peace of God.
In Jesus’ name.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Sermon 7/9/08

Following Christ.

On the 21st August, Professor A C Grayling reader in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, wrote an article in the Guardian about David Miliband’s future political hopes and the fact that he is a declared atheist.
‘It would be a great advantage to everyone to have an atheist prime minister’, states Grayling. His arguments are that an atheist will form decisions based on rational argument, not ‘messages from Beyond’; that an atheist PM will not give special treatment of funding to religious groups, but will treat everyone fairly; and that an atheist will be down to earth about lifting up the poor of society, rather than simply offering them a heavenly reward.
All this shouldn’t surprise us from the man who in March 2007 took part in a public debate arguing ‘We’d be better off without religion’.

Meanwhile, in the States, Sara Palin, the Republican Vice-presidential candidate, is making a lot of her credentials as a creationist, anti-abortion, fundamentalist Christian.

I hope we reject both these extremes: being a Christian is neither ‘being so heavenly –minded as to be no earthly good’ ; nor is it coming to any discussion with hard-line intractable views. So what does it mean to be a Christian – whether a Christian politician or just an ordinary person in the street?

The letter to the Romans makes it very clear what standards of behaviour are expected of those who follow Christ. ‘Love your neighbour… for love is the fulfilling of the law’.


Christians are to live as children of the light – not spending their lives in revelling, debauchery, quarrelling and so on: we are to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light – we are to put on Jesus Christ, so that our identity as Christians is apparent in the way we live our lives, and so that we are shielded and kept safe by Christ himself.

But in this day and age loving our neighbour has to go beyond simply doing good for those who happen to live near us. Our world is facing an environmental crisis, and how much food we eat and how much oil we burn has a direct effect on our ‘neighbour’ on the other side of the world.
In the Indian, Eastern state of Bihar, the flooding has been the worst for 50 years and over 2 million people have fled their homes. Global warming is starting to seriously affect the word’s weather patterns – and as always it’s the world’s poorest people who are hardest hit.

So AC Grayling is wrong – a Prime Minister who is a Christian rather than an atheist cannot simply tell people to raise their eyes to the heavens and pray for help – he or she must take seriously the commandment to love our neighbour, and ask what this means for environmental protection measures.

And Sara Palin is wrong – whether the motto is ‘Alaska First’ or ‘Country First’ a truly Christian motto would be ‘neighbour first’.

Yet of course knowing what to do about such a complex matter as environmental change as a Christian is not easy. Jesus offered no teaching on global warming. But he did offer the teaching we heard in today’s Gospel reading.
“If another member of the church sins against you…& if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you” and later “if two of you agree n earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my father in heaven”. Jesus reminds us that the best way to follow him is in company with others, so that together we can help each other see the way ahead clearly. We are all fallible, we can all go astray, but as 2 or 3, as part of the body of Christ, we are less likely to stumble. And if one of us does stumble, there are others around to help set us back on our feet.

So being a Christian is not about banner-waving or claiming a label for ourselves; and it is not about leaving practicality and reason behind us, it is about being a thoughtful and faithful member of that band who together seek to follow Jesus.

And, crucially, we are not left alone to muddle through as best we can. “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them” promises Jesus. We are here to celebrate the presence of Christ among us, symbolised in bread and wine and made real to us through his Holy Spirit.

Here as we eat and drink we declare that we are Christ’s people, fed and nurtured by him and led by him into the paths he would have us walk.
Here we discover time and again what it means to be a Christian, to be clothed in Christ, to follow him as a member of his company.
Here we are renewed and sent out into the world to bravely bear the title Christian.
To God’s praise & glory. Amen.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Worrying news...

AC Grayling has apparently written that it will be good for the country if David Miliband becomes PM because he is a declared atheist - this will mean he is interested in earthly, not heavenly matters and that he is more rational.
Meanwhile in the States the VP candidate for the Republicans, Sara Palin, is making a lot of her fundamentalist, anti-abortion, creationist view-point.

All of which leads me to ask, what does it mean to be a Christian in a world where faith has become a dirty word or a political label?

There is something in the gospel reading about the role of the church in helping us discern what to do: our faith can never be purely an individual choice, but has a corporate element which helps us help each other walk with Jesus.

Now I must choose hymns for our organists & return to thinking about the sermon tomorrow morning.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Sunday September 7th

Readings for this week are:
Ezekiel 33: 7-11
Romans 13: 8-14
Matthew 18: 15-20

A funny little collection of readings, with no real stand out 'stars' among them.
But just as we heard about turning back to God in last week's Jeremiah reading, so there seems to be a theme of turning back to God here. So far I'm thinking about September as a 'back to normality' time of year - 'here we go again' - but in the midst of all the picking up of the same old reins there is a sense of being called to stop and ask just where we're headed and with whom.

I can't get out of my head the last line from a baptism hymn, which speaks of God 'Calling the world to become what it is'.
We should never feel we're on the same old track, because all is shot through with the glory of God.
More thoughts as they emerge, I hope...

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Sunday Aug 31st

Where have I been all week?
Trying to catch up after the holiday, in short - plus we had a (lovely!) wedding yesterday.

As it's a baptism again this week and I'm responding to a request to relate the sermon more directly to life questions and not always start from the Bible the 'sermon' is actually 3 short reflections.
So here they are:

Reflection 1:

We might wonder what we are doing in church today.
We have come to worship God;
We have come for Tracy & for Hayden’s baptism;
Perhaps we’ve come for a bit of peace and quiet in an otherwise hectic life.
We each have our own difficulties or problems, things in our lives we might want to say sorry for, or things for which we want to give thanks.
Here we all are, gathered in this place, where for hundreds of years people have come to be reminded of the presence of God.

Later we will have demonstrations of God’s love for us, shown in the water of baptism and the bread & wine of communion.

But first we are going to hear from God’s word, the Bible.

The first reading from Jeremiah will remind us of how we can always turn back to God. Jeremiah has become a word for a gloomy guts: he starts out complaining that his life isn’t going as he wants it to – although Jeremiah has tried to be good his life is full of pain. God’s answer to him is that he, God, is there and Jeremiah needs to turn and see that: Jeremiah needs to learn to trust God.

The second reading, from the letter of Paul to the church in Rome, gives advice for how people who trust God should live – loving, hoping and giving generously.

Let’s hear those readings now:

Jeremiah 15: 15-21: Romans 12: 9-21

Reflection 2
Throughout this baptismal service we will keep talking about following Jesus Christ and being part of his church. You might wonder what following Jesus really means: obviously it was one thing for the fishermen that Jesus actually met and talked to and said ‘follow me’ – and it means something slightly different for us today.

First, like Jeremiah, we need to learn to trust God and believe God is with us: not just when life is good and easy, but when things are difficult, too.

Secondly, being one of Christ’s followers means changing the way we live – being forgiving to others, sharing what we have with those who don’t have enough, showing hospitality – and doing all this as people who are full of love, hope and joy.


But you might be wondering what can make us trust God’s love in the first place – what evidence have we got that God actually loves us? The best sign that God loves us comes to us in Jesus. In Jesus Christ, God became a human being like one of us. To show us the true extent of God’s amazing love Jesus came prepared to suffer and die on the cross. This was hard for his first followers to understand, as we learn in Matthew’s gospel – which we’ll hear now:

Matthew 16: 21-28


Reflection 3
God, in Jesus, puts each one of us before his own needs – he loves us so much that he’d die rather than give up on us, and his love for us so great that even death can’t extinguish it.

And Jesus tells his followers that we have to do the same as he does – to be prepared to put other people first, to ask ourselves what God wants us to do with our lives, not just to go after what we want.

So in baptism, Hayden & Tracy will be accepting God’s love – a free gift of grace which has been there for them since the day they were born.
We, too , can remember that we are God’s special children – each one of us.

And then, in the bread and wine of communion we will remember Jesus’ gift of his life given up for us –

his body broken and his blood poured out as the greatest sign of all of the greatness of God’s love.

Everyone is welcome to share in the symbolic meal as together we remember Jesus and promise to become part of his life in the world today. Strengthened by God’s love we can go out to be God’s people in the world, following Jesus Christ and putting others first.

So may God touch each one of us this morning, in the name of Jesus. Amen

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Draft One

I am concerned about the length of the Moses reading - given that it's a baptism service: so whilst taking the message of the story, I am thinking of omitting it from the service itself. So here is the first draft of the sermon on Romans & Matthew alone.

I am taking Saturday as my day off this week (entirely! - a resolution I made whilst on holiday: be sterner with myself about getting service prep done & not letting it spread over into Saturday) and have a funeral on Friday, as well as the all age service still to prepare - so this first draft may be 'it'!

Part of the body

The reading we had from the Gospel all about Peter might make us think that to be a really good Christian we need to be some kind of superhero.

But let’s look more carefully at what Jesus says – not ‘you are Peter & I want all my followers to be like you’. (After all this is the same Peter who will betray Jesus just before the crucifixion – Peter certainly isn’t perfect!). But, actually, Jesus says ’You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church’.

Jesus’ followers will be built together, into a team. Like Peter they will have to learn to answer the question ‘who is Jesus?’, to understand what it means to say that Jesus is the Son of God, and then they will need to work together to tell the world about God’s love which we see in Jesus.
This working together is what it means to be what St Paul calls the body of Christ. Each of us working together to do God’s work in the world, each of us using the different gifts and abilities to work together. We can’t all be stars of the show or heroes of the faith – but we are all vital.

I confess that I’m a big fan of the Olympics – and I’ve been really enjoying the heroes who have emerged – especially the British ones:
Rebecca Adlington in the swimming,
Chris Hoy in the cycling
Christine Ohurougu in the running.
But I’m even more impressed by the teams taking part: especially where sometimes the best individuals don’t necessarily make the best team.
Even at the Olympic level brilliant individual runners can make a complete Horlicks of a relay race – if they don’t work together effectively.

And so, through baptism, we welcome Connie into the body of Christ and onto the team today.
We thank God for all that she is and all she will become.
We pray that the power of God, God’s Holy Spirit, will touch her and bless her and bring her close to the love of God.
She may or may not turn out to be a hero of the faith – but she will always be loved and special in the eyes of God.

And the gift of love offered to Connie is also offered to each one of us here. All are welcome to eat and drink at the table of Christ – to share in communion as we remember all that Jesus did for us by his life and his death.

This food and this drink is all we need to share so that we can be part of the body of Christ, members of the team whose task it is to spread the Good News of God’s love for all people.
At this table God accepts us in Christ’s offering, feeds us in Christ’s love, and makes us one in Christ’s body.

And to God in Christ be all glory in the church and in the world forever, Amen.

Peter

Here is the sermon I preached at Petertide (which included this same gospel reading, but with the relase of Peter from prison in Acts ch 12): pity I'm in the same church or I could 'pinch' bits!!

Petertide

I have always had a soft spot for Peter. Despite the confidence-inspiring nickname – the Rock – there has always seemed to me to be something very human about him – more rocky than Rock.

Peter, it seems, is a blurter-out of what’s in his head.
When Jesus asks ‘who do you say that I am,’ the others disciples don’t have much to say. They’ve been quick enough to talk about what other people have been saying, but when they are suddenly asked what they think, they go very quiet. You can imagine finger-nails being examined, clothing being picked at for imaginary fluff and sandals being drilled into the floor.
But Peter splurges ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’. He must have glowed with pride to hear Jesus respond ‘good for you, Simon’. Yet just verses later he swaps the victor’s crown for the dunce’s hat. Jesus talks of his forthcoming suffering & Peter says ‘that will never happen’ – and he is immediately rebuked by Jesus.

We can easily think of other mistakes Peter makes – the daft bit at the transfiguration about building little shelters for Jesus, Elijah & Moses; the refusal at first to allow Jesus to wash his feet at the last supper; and of course his denial of Christ – with his subsequent forgiveness.

Even in the amazing heroic tale from the Acts of the apostles, featuring Peter’s release from prison by an angel, Peter wonders whether all this is really happening – and in fact is convinced this is only a vision to encourage him, not a real live happening.

It must have been Peter himself who told the story of his release – what happened, what was said, and what he thought: he is not afraid to admit that he got it wrong and thought he was only dreaming of release.

Perhaps it is Peter’s very humanity, his ability to admit his mistakes but to be open to what God can do for him and through him, that makes him the Rock on which Jesus can build his church.

Jesus chooses an ordinary person – perhaps better at using his heart than his head – and definitely fallible and imperfect. This is Peter - a rock in the sight of Jesus – someone Jesus will take and teach and forgive and fashion into a stable foundation.

As we give thanks to God for the Rock which is Peter, let’s also give thanks for the God who by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ can take each one of us, rocky as we may be, and build us up into the body of Christ, the church founded on Peter, God’s agents in the world.
To God’s praise and glory
Amen.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Sunday August 24th

I had a great holiday - but often find it harder to get back to planning worship when I return..why is that?

Readings for this coming Sunday are:
Exodus 1:8-2:10 - the beginning of the story of Moses
Romans 12:1-8 - living sacrifices as the body of Christ
Matthew 16:13-20 - Peter the rock

We have a baptism at one church - I think I'd like to say something about Christianity as a 'team event' (well, yes I have been watching bits of the Olympics) and each of us as part of God's greater plan.
Moses may seem like the start of the show, but without the heroism of Shiprah & Puah, his mother & his sister, and Pharoah's daughter & her maid, he wouldn't have survived the first 3 months. Through baptism Connie joins the 'team' which is the body of Christ.

At the other church we have an all-age service, so I think I'd like to focus on Moses - telling the story in an inventive way.
It helps that the second week of my holiday was spent in the Norfolk broads, so I've still got water & rushes in my mind.

More as it comes...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Holidays!!

I'm now off for two weeks.

Next Sunday I am preaching will be August 23rd - so normal service (no pun intended) will be resumed then.
I hope any readers find the next 2 weeks restful, too.
God bless you.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Draft sermon

Poor Paul got dropped in the end! But hell be back, no doubt.
So here's the finished for now sermon - I'll probably have another look at it this evening & make a few changes on the hard copy - but this is nearly what I want to say!

Jacob at Peniel
I don’t want to start with the ‘cosy’ story of the feeding of the 5000 this morning. I want to start with the much more difficult reading about Jacob wrestling at Jabbok.
What happens? Jacob, returning to face his cheated brother, Esau, has sent his flocks and his family ahead of him, to try to curry favour with his brother. As he crosses the river Jabbok after them, alone, ‘a man came and wrestled with him until just before daybreak’. Who is this ‘man’ – what is going on? There are many ancient stories of wrestling and conflict at river crossings, of people being challenged by supernatural beings and emerging, triumphant, with a blessing. Some have interpreted this story as being an encounter with an Angel, with a messenger of God. Jacob’s account is “I have seen God face to face” – he feels he has met God himself. Some commentaries describe this as a spiritual struggle, as Jacob wrestling with his own conscience.

Rembrandt’s version of Jacob wrestling with the angel which is in the gallery in Berlin shows Jacob as a small, furious man, being restrained and almost embraced by a much larger, more kindly-looking adversary – much as an adult might restrain a toddler with a tantrum until their anger has dissipated. Did God wrestle with Jacob in order to give him chance to cool down and catch his breath before facing Esau?

We can’t know, of course, quite what Jacob encountered – but we can see the difference it makes to him.

When we look at the story of Jacob, he really doesn’t come across as a pleasant character . Born just after his twin, Esau, Jacob means ‘heel catcher’ and he seems to have lived up to that reputation as one who cannot entirely be trusted.

I remember many years ago joining in with a game a youth group were playing, one that involved chasing one another around a circle. I was just managing to stay ahead of Andy when suddenly I tripped and went my length. It was only afterwards, as I bathed my bruises, that someone who’d been watching said ‘you know, he tripped you. He reached out and tapped your heel as you were running’! I learnt the hard way never to trust a heel-catcher.

Jacob certainly lives up to his name. When he and Esau are grown, he tricks the hungry hunter into giving up his rights as first-born, when Esau returns home desperate for the stew Jacob has made.
Then when his father Isaac is old and blind he tricks him into blessing Jacob and not Esau. And so Jacob has to run off to live with his uncle, Laban, to avoid Esau’s revenge. There he marries Laban’s daughters and tends his flocks, eventually deciding to return to his homeland. Even then he manages to trick his father-in-law into giving him the best animals from the herd.
Still frightened of Esau, Jacob has sent 220 goats & 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows and 30 donkeys ahead as a gift for Esau, trying to fob off his brother with gifts, while he hides at the back.

We can see why Jacob would be feeling unsure and uncertain. In the darkness of the night, all alone, it’s not surprising that he wrestled with something, even if it was only his inner demons.
But whatever happens at the river Jabbok, Jacob emerges from the encounter as a new man, convinced that God will use him and bless his descendents. He emerges as Israel, the one who struggles with God, and his family will become the great tribe of Israel, and will continue to encounter and struggle with God.

And surely if God can use a sneaky, deceitful trickster like Jacob, the blessing of God is there for all of us – using our imperfections, making us his people in spite of ourselves.
When we feel to be at the point of crisis, when we feel alone or abandoned, when we feel we are wrestling with some thing greater than ourselves, God’s grace can take us and change us, and use us for his kingdom.

I described the feeding of the 5000 as ‘cosy’ earlier. We might think of it as a pleasant pastoral scene, something like a church picnic. But whenever we encounter a gospel story about Jesus and bread it is hard not to think of the Last Supper, eaten before Jesus’ death on the cross. The blessing, breaking and sharing of bread all came to symbolise, to the disciples, Jesus’ giving of himself for the world.

In this incident in the gospel Jesus first heals the physical ailments of those he meets, then he feeds them, he satisfies their deepest need, he shares everything he has and everything he is with them. This is grace – but it is costly.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to do the same. We are ourselves fed by Jesus so that we are able to ask of others not ‘how little can I get away with giving them’ but ‘how much do they need’? When we allow ourselves to wrestle with God and be blessed by God and then shared with others, need can be satisfied.

Let no-one doubt that the God who changed Jacob will receive us all, and can use us all – all those who are prepared to struggle will receive his blessing and can be made agents of the gospel in the world.
To his glory.
Amen.