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

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...