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.