Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve communion service

Christmas Eve
Busy time, Christmas, isn’t it!
Sometimes you have to work hard just to keep going and keep smiling.
So it was good to sit down in front of the TV last night and watch “A grumpy guide to Christmas” – though those who know me well might say I don’t need any tips on being grumpy! But right there in the middle of all that grumpiness there was a profound theological truth – just when you think you’ve finished work for the day.

One of the grumpy old men was being scathing about the so-called wise men and their gifts – gold, he said ‘well fair enough coz it’s worth a bit’ ‘and maybe incense is good to get rid of smells’ ‘but what’s with myrrh – that’s what people use on dead bodies: what is he saying there? ‘congratulations on being born,kid – you’re going die?’…
Well... yes. The amazing truth of the incarnation – of God becoming a human being in Jesus, is that God was accepting not only the whole risky process of entering this world, and the painful business of learning to live in this world, but God was accepting the natural and only way of leaving this world – everyone who is born must, one day, die.

This is what it means to become truly human – accepting the whole package.

One of the great lives which ended in 2009 was the poet U. A Fanthorpe. Her poem ‘The Wicked Fairy at the manger’ imagines a dialogue between the wicked fairy (who in the style of Sleeping Beauty has come to curse and not bless the baby) and the baby, who of course is Jesus.



My gift for the child:


No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes.
But the wrong sort –

The workshy, women, wimps,

Petty infringers of the law, persons

With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;

The bottom rung.


His end?

I think we’ll make it

Public, prolonged, painful.



Right, said the baby.
That was roughly

What we had in mind.

Our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ begins this night with the memory of a birth, in extraordinary circumstances. (Though I wonder what would be ordinary circumstances for the birth of the Son of God?).
But our celebrations continue with the Eucharist, in which we remember the whole life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and give thanks that this whole story tells of God’s care for each of us.

And as we come to receive this bread and wine in Jesus’ name, or as we sit and reflect on this amazing story, Jesus is born again, this night, in each of us.

Thanks be to God for this gift beyond words.

Amen.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The mystery of the incarnation

How to tackle this? Every year I try and every year I marvel at the wonder of the true joy of Christmas.

At the Christmas eve midnight service tomorrow I will probably use this:

The Wicked Fairy At The Manger 
by U.A. Fanthorpe


My gift for the child:


No wife, kids, home;

No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes.
But the wrong sort –

The workshy, women, wimps,

Petty infringers of the law, persons

With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;

The bottom rung.


His end?

I think we’ll make it

Public, prolonged, painful.



Right, said the baby.
That was roughly

What we had in mind.


Whilst on Christmas Day I will use a tatty old wooden orange box to reflect on the amazing contrast of the baby in the stable - the king of heaven made flesh.

Of course I have tomorrow morning & most of the afternoon to sort myself out!
Hope the mystery is opened to you this Chirstmas, faithful readers!
Happy Christmas.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Advent 4

Here's another sermon I'm not going to use (actually from 3 years ago.. I'm going to be using Lythan's very apt reflection on Mary's story instead - it's good to have talented friends!

Mary – the voice of a prophet Luke 1: 39 – 45 & 46 -55

I deliberately split this passage up into two to give us some sense of time passing. Often we hear the story of the angel appearing to Mary & rush into this visit to Elizabeth & Mary’s little speech which is sometimes called the Magnificat – as if it all happens in the space of the 5 minutes it takes to read it all.

But let’s just pause and think.
Imagine you’re a young girl, you’re betrothed to Joseph, a nice reliable carpenter – and one day an angel appears and tells you that you are going to have a baby which will be God in a human form. Your first reaction is not ‘My soul tells out the greatness of the Lord’. Your first reaction is probably shock, disbelief, even horror. The angel tells you that there is another sign that God is at work – your cousin Elizabeth, who has had no children in her many years of marriage, is pregnant. Because, the angel says ‘God’s promises can never fail’.
Well, there is certainly something to think about here – can God really be acting in the land of Judah, in the lives of an old woman and a young girl?

So Mary rushes off to see Elizabeth – who is indeed 6 months pregnant. And when Elizabeth sees her she says the baby within her leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice: ‘Happy is she who has faith that the Lord’s promise to her would be fulfilled’.
Then Mary knows – what the angel said about Elizabeth was true – she has been blessed with a child - and so Mary now comes to believe that she, too, will have a son – the Son of God.
And this is when Mary praises God.
And not just with any words – Mary’s words are very like those of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, when she has finally had a son in her old age. Mary sings a song which is not just her song, not just about her situation, it is a song about the greatness of God in all generations – it is a song of a prophet.

Mary says this is how God acts – he never abandons his people, generation after generation; he uses lowly and weak people and overturns great kings; he takes care of the needy, the hungry and the poor; his promises are always kept.

Mary, like all the other prophets, wants us to know that the love of God is real, the promises of God are true, and the presence of God is forever. Mary puts her hand to her belly and says ‘God is here and God will save us’. Jesus is born and shows how right she is – healing, teaching, living & dying… and being raised from death to show the reality and the power of God’s love.

So may we all praise God for his goodness, shown in Mary and in all our lives – and may we know and rejoice in the love of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The sermon that never was!

Things have gone a bit pear-shaped this week - the upshot being that I'm not preaching a 'main' sermon this week.
Here are the notes as far as I'd got:

Well, what are you lot doing here?
You’ve come to try to save yourselves have you? – worried that God will put a black mark against your name if you don’t come to church?
Or maybe you just had nothing better to do this morning?
Or perhaps you’re looking for something that will make you feel more Christmassy?
You know, it’s no good just sitting there looking and listening unless you’re really wiling to do something!


I bet you’re wishing this sermon wasn’t going to be about John the Baptist – his style is abrasive and his words are hard to hear. And I decided not to call you a brood of vipers!

It’s hard at first to understand what John is doing. The crowd he is addressing is filled with the people who have bothered to come out into the desert to hear what he has to say. It feels a bit like the teacher who rants at the members of the class who are there on time because the rest of the class are late.

But John is warning people that what he has to say needs to have consequences in their lives – it’s no good just listening to John and carrying on life as before – his good news is a call to repent, to turn your life around, to change the way you do things.

And when his listeners ask what exactly they should do, John says
‘share .. coats or food. Treat others fairly and honestly and be satisfied with your wages.’.
If the people in the crowd have come out to him to change their lives for their own sakes, John comes not just to baptize but to throw cold water on their ideas, too. Repentance and salvation are not about what I do to save my own skin: it is about changing the world, making it more and more into God’s kingdom. The things which John tells his listeners to do are all things which will improve the world at large, not just their own lives.

So what John has to say is good news, after all – for the Messiah is coming, God is coming to his people, to give them the hope of the kingdom of God – and to strengthen and enable people to live new lives.

We remember John the Baptist in Advent because he points to the king who is to come, and the kingdom which must be built.
What would John have to say about our celebrations of Christmas?
Its easy to imagine that he might have been very negative about our celebrations – a man who lives in the desert on locusts and wild honey and dresses in rough animal skins doesn’t sound like someone who knows how to have a good time. But John points resolutely to Jesus, and would perhaps tell us that as long as we remember the coming of Jesus Christ then our celebrations are appropriate.

But John might challenge us if we begin to think that Christmas is only for our personal pleasure, or even that of our own family and friends. The coming of the king and the coming of the kingdom is for everyone – John would want to challenge us to social action, to fair shares, to speaking out for the lowest and the least of society.

So it isn't all bad news – and we can hear the more obvious good news of our reading from Philippians.
Rejoice in the Lord always.. do not worry.

Don’t worry about how to ‘keep Christmas’ as Dickens describes it in a Christmas Carol. If we can rejoice at the coming of Jesus and commit ourselves to action to bring a fairer world that reflects the values of God’s kingdom, then we will know God with us – not just for one, but for all.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Advent 3

The readings are

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This is my VERY busy week, but I'm held in thrall by John the Baptist's words - and the challenge to not just observe the events of Christmas but allow them to work in us and change us.
Wondering about 'You brood of vipers!' as an arresting way to start the sermon! (No, I'm not kidding!).

I still think John the B is a great antidote to the 'theme park' Christmas we're offered in so many places.

I'm wondering quite when I'll find time to write the sermon - but will try to post it here when I do!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Advent 2

Readings for this week are
Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Last week's Advent 1 readings were about warnings of the End Times - a reminder that God is in charge of human history, and that the coming of Jesus is part of a larger plan. Advent has a timeless quality, in that it relates to then (the birth of Christ), now (our preparations) and what is to come (God's unfolding plan & eventual kingdom in its fulness).
Although (due to St Andrew) I didn't have to preach on it, I tried to think about it, as part of celebrating the whole of Advent.

This week I'm not preaching at all (due to some social plans - but also a welcome deep breath before the hectic next few weeks), but again I have wanted to think about Advent 2 as a part of the whole.

So Malachi reminds us of the astringent nature of God's message and God's messenger - Refiner's fire & fuller's soap.
Luke's gospel tells us of the coming of John the Baptist - possibly a man in need of soap, by all accounts, but certainly astringent & ascetic. No wonder poor J the B never makes it onto any Christmas cards!
I find these two readings a refreshing change from the syrupy 'soft soap' of much of the Christmas hype. Christmas as a time for gladness and joy is of course right - but it is also a time for reflection, change, challenge.

This advent I have been leading the Godly Play Advent stories as part of a short reflection each week. This talks of 'getting ready to enter the mystery of Christmas' - and whilst the 'to do' list seems horrendously long, I feel spiritually more clam and ready this year than for a long time.

The Philippians reading is a very positive outpouring of appreciation for the good news the church at Philippi have proclaimed - maybe if we can preach a message that cuts through some of the syrup to the reality of God with us the world will feel as grateful for our message.

The other advantage of not having to prepare worship for this week - I can try to get ahead on the remaining services before and including Christmas day. 'May hope keep you joyful' (Romans 12:12) keeps ringing in my ears!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sermon notes 29 - 11- 09

St Andrew’s Day and first Sunday of Advent

I recently had reason to watch again the film ‘The Miracle maker’ – a clay animation version of the life of Jesus which was made about 15 years ago.

In the film Andrew is voiced with a Scottish accent – perhaps a nod at his position as patron saint of Scotland, as well as his role as a ‘simple’ fisherman.
Whilst Simon’s first reaction to Jesus is shown as rather scowling and uncertain, Andrew’s expression is one of open acceptance, even slight amusement, as Jesus begins to talk to them.

Depending on which film you watch or which version of the gospel you read, you build up a picture of Andrew as someone who is very ready to follow Jesus even before he really knows what this might mean, and who encourages others to come and join the adventure too. In John’s gospel he is a disciple of John the Baptist, and when John tells him to follow Jesus, Andrew asks Jesus ‘Where are you staying’ ‘Come and See!’, says Jesus – and after spending the rest of the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately fetches Simon to come and see, too.

Andrew the simple fisherman becomes Andrew the simple disciple and Andrew the simple evangelist. I love Andrew for his openness to new ideas, for his enthusiasm and for his concern for others. These are the characteristics of an evangelist – of someone who wants to draw others to follow Jesus.

When not watching films, I’ve been reading a book written about 3 years ago by two US researchers into church life, Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger called ‘Simple Church’. Their theory is that those churches which are growing healthily and affecting the world around them most are those which have a simple focus for their work.
Simple churches concentrate on helping people to love God, connect with others, and serve the world around them. When these simple churches are thinking about their programme of events, they ask which of those 3 things they are aiming to do with that activity – help people to love God, connect with other, or serve the world. Simple churches try top make sure that they have a balance of all three things in the life of the church, and encourage their members to have balance in their lives too. They ask people to do three things as part of their Christian lives each week, but to make sure that they do something to help them to love God (which might be Sunday worship), something to connect with other Christians (like a fellowship group or Bible study), and something to serve the world (which might be shopping for a neighbour or helping run a church meal).

It’s simple. It might have appealed to Andrew. But one of the questions people ask about this book is whether the concept of Simple Church is ‘Biblical’ or whether it is just a marketing ploy.

Our Bible readings today were the lectionary readings for St Andrew’s day, so I didn’t choose them with the Simple Church ideas in mind. But they seem to help us to reflect in the Simple Church concepts – love God, connect with others, serve the world.

The passage from Deuteronomy might seem a bit of a puzzle at first ‘the word of God is not far away…it is very near, in your heart & in your mouth’. So what is it? What is the crux of a life of faith, for the writer of this part of Deuteronomy? The answer come in the previous verses ‘love God with all your heart and with all your soul’. That is the summary of the law, so that it is not too hard. This is the Shema – the centrepiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer ‘hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’. These are the words spoken by the lips and written on the heart.
Love God. Simple.

In our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus calls Simon & Andrew & James & John to be his followers, his disciples, his ‘gang’. They are to follow him and learn by living with him and each other how to love and serve God in their actions and in their words.
Love God - Connect with others. Simple.

In the letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, and reinforces the importance of knowing and following the word of God, and learning to love God. But he is also concerned that the Christians of Rome understand the Good news that ‘Jesus is lord’ & hold into the faith that Jesus was raised from death. But this good news is not only for the salvation of those who know it for themselves - this is to be shared with those who have not heard. Paul wants the Roman Christians to learn to live with the needs of others in mind.
Love God – Connect with other – serve the world. Simple.

Today is the first Sunday of the new lectionary year – Year C, if you’re counting! The first Sunday of Advent, of course and the beginning of the United Reformed Church’s Vision for Life Prayer Year.
Maybe as we start to think about what we might do for the Prayer year, or as we feel oppressed by all the things we still have to do before we’re ready for Christmas, we need to think about a simple Advent, a simple Christmas and a simple new year.

Perhaps we need to learn from Andrew and concentrate on following Jesus and so learn about Loving God, connecting with others & serving the world. In the name of Jesus.
Amen.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Thoughts...

I've been reading 'Simple Church' by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger. It's based on research done on churches in the US, so you have to 'translate' a bit, but the basic premise is that churches which are growing are simple. They are based on loving God, loving others & serving the world... all that these churches do falls into one or more of these areas of focus, and the church stands back from time to time to ensure that all 3 areas are in balance in the life of the church, and that people are encouraged to move from one area to another, and to give each of them balance in their lives. I am very drawn to this - and can't help seeing a link with the simplicity and enthusiasm of Andrew. Though he hasn't really sussed who Jesus is, he is happy to follow, and keen to draw other along, too, though he was just a simple fisherman.
Maybe we need a simple Advent, a simple christmas and a simple new year??

Monday, 23 November 2009

Advent Sunday & St Andrew's Day

Yet again these things come together for our four churches.
I think I'll take the St Andrew's readings:
Deuteronomy 30:11-14
Romans 10:8b-18
Matthew 4:18-22

& at the moment I'm thinking along the lines of our responsibility to go into a stressed and anxious world with the good news of the advent hope.
Deuteronomy says 'the word is very near you' - whilst Romans underlines our responsibility to others. As disciples we are also apostles - sent out with good news. Andrew could not have understood quite what it was that Jesus was bringing, but nevertheless wanted others to share in it. I hope that we have seen enough of the joy of Christ's coming to want to share it, too - even if Advent reminds us Jesus' kingdom is not yet fully come...

I think I want to encourage people to watch & pray this Advent and to be bold to enjoy & share Christ.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Christ the King

Last day of the liturgical year (which means Advent next week - ulp!) and also baptisms in both churches.
But here's my go at it!

Christ the King (John 18:33-37, Revelation 1: 4b- 8)

I wonder if you’ve ever been asked what you think God looks like?
I love the story of the little 8 year old, busy drawing away, who was asked by his teacher ‘what are you drawing?’.
‘I’m drawing God’ he answered.
‘But no-one knows what God looks like’ said the teacher
to which the boy replied, ‘They will when I’ve finished!’.

Trying to describe or draw, or even talk about God is very difficult. But somewhere in there you would want to include some kind of ‘Wow’ factor.

The book of Revelation is the very last book of the Bible, and is an account of a series of visions to one man, John of Patmos. In writing down these visions, John tries to describe how amazing God is.
In the reading we heard, he describes God as the one who was and is and is to come, and calls Jesus ‘the ruler of all the kings of the earth’. In our hymns, Jesus is often called the king of kings.

I don’t know if you saw any of the pictures of the Queen at Ely & in Cambridge on Thursday – or at the opening of Parliament on Friday, but it was pretty impressive – amazing cars and coaches, fine fabrics and fur, gold & crowns… and John is saying that Jesus is the King who is better than all that – everywhere in the world!
That’s quite a ‘wow’.

But here today we’ve seen something else that makes me go ‘wow’ – we’ve seen the young life (lives) of Leah
(of Molly & Mabel) celebrated and we’ve heard God’s promise that every young person (and every old one, come to that) is a child of God. New babies are always pretty amazing anyway, aren’t they, & God loves every one, every child, each one of us – we’re precious. wow!
In the Gospel reading we heard Pilate, the Roman governor, questioning Jesus just before he is killed – and Pilate is trying hard to understand what sort of king Jesus is. Is he the sort of king who has an army who will come to try to rescue him? Jesus says, no ‘my kingdom is not from this world’ – Jesus is king of everything, not just a little country of the world, and he has come to earth to show us that God is with us. He will allow Pilate’s soldiers to take him and kill him, so that he can show us how much God loves us – and so that God’s great power can raise him from death.

Pilate can’t understand – to him kings are powerful and don’t allow anyone else to push them around.

But we can try to understand – because soon we will start to get ready for Christmas, when we remember that Jesus is the king who gave up his kingdom to be born as a tiny baby in Bethlehem.

Here’s another ‘wow’ moment – God come to earth, not as a great king but as a little scrap of humanity – so that we can know God’s love.

God comes to us in Jesus – the king who is greater than any king or queen we could ever know – but who instead of traveling around in a great coach or a vintage Bentley walked alongside normal people. Jesus the king is also an ordinary man, to teach us that God loves ordinary people.

God loves each one of us as a precious child of God – from royalty right up to each one of us here today.

So let’s celebrate the love of Jesus the King – today and forever. Amen.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Two before Advent 15th November

As it happens I did most of my thinking about this sermon away from the computer - so here are the notes more or less 'fully formed'

Mark 13; 1-8; Hebrews 10, 11-14, 19-25

After today there are just 5 more Sundays until Christmas. If you’re anything like me that thought makes you panic slightly: each year there seems to be more things to think about – cards, presents, food & drink, and Carol services galore.

And those are just the material preparations that need to be done – there is also the need to be spiritually ready for the coming of Jesus Christ – the rule of all things and prince of peace.

It might seem when we look around at the world that we will never be ready for Jesus – the world seems, in so many ways, to be in a mess.
News of the financial crisis, the state of the banks, and growing unemployment all fill the bulletins.
We might be struggling with personal worries about our health, or about family, or about work.
And sometimes it just seems the world is going to the dogs: just yesterday on the BBC news website the top 3 stories were:
Woman killer flees on escorted visit to shop
Four boys killed as car hits wall
and 100 mph winds batter the South of England.

Against all this, how can we possibly claim that all will be well, that Jesus is coming, and that God is in charge?

The gospel reading shows us Jesus warning the people of his time that they needed to put their trust in God, whatever happened around them.
One of the disciples, walking with Jesus near the temple in Jerusalem says ‘‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”.
The temple was a source of great pride to the Jewish people in Jesus’ time.

The building of it had begun about 50 years before, and it grew to cover 20 acres, with courtyards, stairs & colonnaded walkways, with marble pillars 10 metres high. For the people of Jesus’ time this was a sign that God was with them, his chosen people, and that they would be secure and safe.
But Jesus warns his followers not to trust in the temple as certainty of God’s presence.
He says ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

And Jesus is to be proved right, as the temple was almost completely destroyed by the Roman Army in AD 70 – leaving only the wall we know as the Western or Wailing wall left.

Jesus warns that there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, but whatever happens, God is in charge, and all will be well.
Jesus describes all the trials and difficulties of life as being like birth pangs of God’s kingdom – signs that God is present and in charge in this world, but not fully, yet – things are not yet exactly as God’s will would have them be.

In Advent (starting in just 2 weeks’ time!) we celebrate the coming of the king and the coming of the kingdom, but this rule of God does not arrive instantaneously, but gradually and even painfully. In Jesus we see a glimpse of the kingdom to come, but we know, given the state of the world, that this is not yet fully God’s place.

In the meantime, Jesus’ message is not to panic or despair. Don’t be fooled into thinking that when we see the magnificence of something like the temple it is a sure sign of God with us. God’s presence is more earthy and real than this – and sometimes surprises us.
Even when all seems hopeless, when everything crashes around our ears, God has a plan and in God’s time, God’s kingdom will come.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ – his coming to us, dying and rising for us – is the start of his plan.
It begins with the message from the Angels ot the Shepherds ‘Do not be afraid’, it continues with trye birth-pangs, and a birth, a life and a death and a living forever.
And so the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says:
‘let us approach God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful’.

Like the shepherds, we should not be afraid, but look for signs of God’s kingdom of love, joy, justice & peace.

In the coming of Christ
In Advent 2009
and in God’s promise for the future.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Memorial service

Tonight is our annual service for those who've been bereaved. I'll post the sermon below. Again, it isn't a great theological treatise, but I hope it will be appropriate for those who are at the service.

Memorial service (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-5)
I hope we find those words from the Wisdom of Solomon comforting.

Of course there is terrible pain when we lose someone – we miss them, in ways that might change as time passes, but we never stop missing them. Many people who have been bereaved have commented to me that the pain doesn’t go away as time passes, it just changes with the months and years.

But the Christian hope is that although we feel the pain of loss, those we have loved are ‘In the hands of God’.

We cannot know for sure, this side of death, what it might be like to be in the hands of God, but we know what it means to feel secure, to feel loved, to feel comfortable and relaxed – and the Bible promises that heaven is like all the good things we know in this life.
On of the psalms – Psalm 16 – says

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

And if you’re wondering whether this is anything more than wishful thinking, the evidence that God is able to keep our loved ones – and ultimately each one of us, safe in his hands, is that this is what happened to Jesus Christ – who was brought safely through death to resurrection life.
So Paul writes to the Philippians
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” — Philippians 3:20-21

Not only are we told that those who have died are in the hands of God, we are also told ‘They are at peace’.

Very few lives are untouched by some kind of pain or struggle – and only we may know the difficulties faced by those we loved. But in the end, in the hands of God, and in the beauty of heaven, there will be perfect peace.
Sometimes when someone has died we feel that there are things we could have done differently. But God promises that the person who has died is at peace and offers us peace too, through the forgiveness of God.

They are at peace – and we can be too.

Finally, our reading says that at the end of their lives on earth ‘God found them worthy’. The God who made us knows us through and through, he knows the reasons why each of us is not perfect – but that doesn’t mean that each of us is not worthy of God’s love. Whoever we are, whatever we do with our lives, God never stops loving us. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross shows us the depth of God’s love for every one of us.

We can hear God’s word in the Bible and know that we can trust the love of God to have carried our loved ones safely in his hands, to a place of great peace, where they will be loved as precious in God’s sight.
And though we are separated for a while, we, too are held by God until we are all one in God’s eternal peace.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

The sermon below may seem very simple. there are various reasons for this - there is so much that could be said on Remembrance Sunday, but actually so many people are lost in their own thoughts and find it hard to listen; there is always a timing issue, so that the 2 minutes' silence comes at the right point; and the service I'm leading will have (who knows how many) brownies, cubs & scouts in it, so I don't want to 'go on' too much.
And in any case, I'm a fairly simple soul...

Remembrance : Isaiah 52: 7-12 Romans 8: 31-39

After about half an hour here in the church we’re going to gather outside to read the names on the war memorial, and to stand for 2 minutes’ silence.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet and the British Legion ‘Roll of Honour’ we can find out a lot about the men whose names are on the memorial.
There are 15 men who died in the First world war & 9 who died in the Second world war.
They’re called ‘world wars’ because so many countries were involved, and that means that those young men from Duxford died in many different countries and places.
In the first world war, 9 died in France, and 4 in Belgium, but there was also one who died in Egypt and 2 who died in Iraq (which was then called Mesopotamia).
In the second world war, 3 died in the UK (many RAF pilots in particular died in training) 2 at sea (1 of those was on a submarine), and 1 each in Egypt, Burma, Germany, and Italy.

What a long way from home some of them were, fighting for our country and its freedom. It’s important that we remember that they weren’t just names, but that they were people, with homes and families and friends.
One reason for our act of remembrance is to pause and give thanks for those who laid down their lives for others. There is no doubt that their sacrifice made life and freedom possible: that they fought for peace, just as our forces are fighting for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Our Bible readings talked about peace and war, and God’s presence.

The prophet Isaiah talks about a time when war will be over, when the watchmen, instead of seeing enemy armies arriving over the hill, will announce that peace has come. Then people will know that God is looking after them.
But it isn’t just when there’s peace that we know God is there. Paul’s letter to the Romans states that whether we are experiencing peace or conflict, life or death, God never abandons us. ‘Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God’

And better than that, Paul expresses his faith that God can change death into eternal life.
‘God did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all’.

The death of Jesus Christ shows us the amazing depth of God’s love; and the resurrection of Jesus shows us the astounding power of God’s love – greater than death, great enough to bring all of us safely through death to eternal life.

So our remembrance today should teach us to be thankful.
• Thankful to those who have laid down their lives for others.
• Thankful that peace can come
• And thankful that God’s love is with us always.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

All Saints' Day 1st Nov 09

Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44

On first hearing, today’s readings for All Saints Day might seem to be about the rewards which are waiting for God’s saints.

The story of Lazarus, raised from the tomb by Jesus after 4 days, is an extraordinary one. Lazarus is a friend of Jesus, who is moved to hear of Lazarus’s death. His subsequent rising is a source of great joy to his sisters, and perhaps a sign of how much Jesus loved him. You could say that the story illustrates the resurrection which awaits all the friends of Jesus…they will not be allowed to lie forgotten and decaying in the grave.

I am reminded of the story of St Cuthbert – one of the Celtic saints of Iona. He had been dead and buried for nearly 200 years, and was greatly revered both in life and in death as a great man and a saint, when there was a danger of Viking attack on the Island of Lindisfarne. In order to prevent his body from falling into the hands of the Vikings, the monks of Lindisfarne exhumed Cuthbert’s body, only to find that it was uncorrupted, in a remarkable state of preservation. Stories such as this are relatively common among stories of the saints – perhaps because people believe this is an illustration of how special and how blessed they are.

But I think there has to be more to it than this.
Surely Jesus is offering more than the reward of life for those who are especially good?
In the story of Lazarus. Jesus himself says to Martha ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’.
The raising of Lazarus is not just some kind of reward by Jesus for his friend, to help him to cheat death for a little while, it is a sign of God’s ultimate will, of God’s rule and purpose.
Lazarus being raised after a number of days is a foretaste of the raising of Jesus after 3 days in the tomb, which itself is just a foretaste of eternal life for all people when, as the book of Revelation describes it, there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain.

It is God’s will that all people will know his presence : the voice in the account in Revelation declares ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them’. Ultimately God’s rule will come, once and for all, and all things will find their home in him… but in the meantime we are given glimpses of that perfect kingdom of God.

The raising of Lazarus is one of these glimpses.

The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is of course the greatest and longest sign of the kingdom of God.

And I believe that as we celebrate All Saints Day we would do well to give thanks to God for those saints who give us other glimpses of the kingdom.
The ones who declare God’s love, fight for God’s truth, struggle for God’s justice, display God’s peace, and light up with God’s joy… In all these saints – whether the formal ones or the people we have known ourselves – we see glimpses of Gods great rule and God’s wonderful future.

We meet around the table of the Lord – where another foretaste or glimpse of the kingdom is set before us. In this bread and wine we receive the very life of Jesus Christ, given for us.

Strengthened by this foretaste, we commit ourselves to celebrating the saints and looking for the kingdom they allow us to glimpse.

But more than that, we are challenged to allow this communion meal to change and strengthen us so that we, too, may be saints to others: showing in our lives and our words glimpses of the love, joy, peace and justice of the kingdom of God.

So may God feed us hear and use is in the world to share the Good News with all we meet, so that God’s purposes may be fulfilled,
In the name of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sermon notes 25-10-09

Might want to look at these again tomorrow sometime - but this is basically what I feel I have to say.

Mark 10: 46-52
Perhaps we hear this story as yet another healing story: miraculous and wonderful for the man who regains his sight, but just another example of Jesus helping and healing someone who needed it.

But the story contains a most intriguing question:
‘What do you want me to do for you?’.

Jesus asks this question of blind Bartimaeus – a man who cannot work because he cannot see, and so who has to beg for a living. A man so low-down the social pecking order that when he first calls out to Jesus people around tell him to shut up, they don’t want him bothering Jesus, the great teacher & healer.
What does blind Bartimaeus want? He wants to see, he wants his life back, he wants the gracious power of Jesus to change him.
He wants to be healed.. and he is.

And at one level that’s all we need from this story – a story of Good News for Bartimaeus.

But this story can tell us so much more, if we’ll let it. It’s position here in Mark’s gospel is pivotal – this is the last conversation we have recorded between anyone and Jesus before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and all the passion and pain and glory which follows on from it.

This encounter might remind us of others that have come (just) before:

Remember the rich young man, who came to Jesus and asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’. He didn’t wait for Jesus to ask him what he wanted – he came right out with his request – ‘I want eternal life – how do I get it?’.. and ultimately he went away grieving because although he can keep the commandments, he can’t give away all his riches and follow Jesus: he just hasn’t got the faith to trust jesus instead of his riches.

But here’s Bartimaeus, ready to show us what faith really looks like.
Although he is physically blind, he sees Jesus for who he really is, and he throws himself on the mercy of Jesus ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me’. He refuses to be diverted by the stern voices around him, telling him to be quiet, and he throws off his cloak – he leaves what little security he has behind, and puts his whole trust in Jesus. And then when he has been healed, he follows Jesus on the way, without Jesus even asking that of him.

Or compare this conversation with the one that comes immediately before it: where James & John come to Jesus with their request – that they can sit one at the right hand and one at the left in his glory. They don’t wait for Jesus to ask them what they want – they march straight up and almost demand ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’. You see how this is the almost exact opposite of what happens between Bartimaues and Jesus. James & John are demanding a right – Bartimaeus is receiving a gift.
And James and John – who have spent so many months or even years with Jesus – cannot see what ‘blind’ Bartimaeus can – they cannot see who Jesus is. He has told them plainly that he will suffer and die – and only then be raised to glory. But they don’t get it, they don’t ‘see’ it. By contrast, when Bartimaues ‘sees’ who Jesus is, he knows he has to go to him, to ask for his mercy, to receive his grace.

In all three of these stories, Jesus does not turn anyone away, or reprimand them for the way they ask things from him. But it is in the Bartimaeus story that we see the grace of God in Jesus most clearly in action – drawing Bartimaeus to him in faith, meeting his deepest needs, and drawing from him a response of true discipleship.

Can we be more like Bartimaeus in our approach to Jesus?
more trusting, more persistent, more devoted… and ready to hear Jesus ask ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ and ready to be given grace and healing and a new start.

In Jesus’ name, son of David, giver of life.
Amen.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

More ideas

.. still half-baked.

I'm frustrated because as minister of 4 churches I preach at 2 of each on alternate weeks - so I can't draw a parallel I'd like to draw between last week's gospel & James & John 'Master we want you to do whatever we ask of you!' and Bartimaeus 'Have mercy' - to which Jesus responds 'What do you want me to do'.

And I'm struggling to work out what I want Jesus to do for me - is that because I'm too rich.. or too blind?

Monday, 19 October 2009

First thoughts about Oct 25th

Readings for the day are:

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

It is often the case that the Gospel reading strikes me first - and within this I am struck by Jesus saying to a blind beggar 'What do you want me to do for you?'. As teenagers of my association might say 'Like, Duh!' - he's blind, so can't work, so has to beg: it's hard to imagine that anything other than 'sight' would be what he wants.
But as I think about myself, and others who need to hear the Good News, isn't it worth stopping to wonder 'what do we want Jesus to do for us?". And I wonder whether those things we might think of are things we need Jesus to do, or whether we can do them for ourselves.
Not sure where I'm going with all this at the moment - and whether I want to stray into what the church needs to be doing to serve people around us - do we need to ask 'what do you want?'..

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Sermon 18th Oct

Whoops - a busy week, so here is what I preached this morning:

Mark 10: 35-40 ‘The baptism Jesus is baptized with’

I am very lucky in having two big brothers. I love them both very much, but neither of them would dream of coming anywhere near a church. One, Frank, refers to my faith in God as a ‘teddy bear’ to make me feel better about life, and the other, Paul asked me once ‘if Jesus is meant to be God why is he so cryptic in what he says?’.

I thought of both my brothers as I read today’s gospel reading. James & John are brothers, and they don’t get it either.
Jesus is a homeless teacher and healer but they believe he is the son of God and they see a chance of grabbing a bit of the limelight which is surely to come. ‘Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and one at your left’ – they want the prime places of honour with Jesus.

And then Jesus seems to get cryptic ‘Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’.
But if we think about it for a moment we know what Jesus means.
We are quite familiar with speaking about drinking from a cup to mean experiencing some sort of suffering – as when we use the phrase ‘poisoned chalice’ to mean that someone has accepted a difficult or even impossible task.
And we also use the phrase ‘baptism of fire’ to mean a tricky, even overwhelming time of our life – reflecting the form of adult baptism where a person is entirely immersed in water.

So much for my brother Paul’s charge against Jesus – it’s not so cryptic after all.
Jesus is trying to tell James & John that being his right & left-hand men is not all glory & honour, but that there will be suffering and difficulty in following him – because his path in life is leading to death on the cross and only through the pain of crucifixion will Jesus gain the glory of resurrection.

And here, too is a message for my other brother Frank – Jesus doesn’t offer his followers a cuddly-teddy-bear sort of discipleship. Following Jesus means accepting the gritty reality of life but seeing that through it we keep company with God in Christ, until we receive eternal life.

When Jesus talks about ‘dying’ he means not only facing the prospect of actually being killed for their beliefs, as he will be.
James & John need to learn that thet will also need to die to the sort of life that looks for recognition, or honour, or glory. They will need to put to death their desire for security and identity – at least the sort of security and identity that the world can offer.

Having been put straight by Jesus on the sort of lives they are to lead – looking to be faithful, rather than looking to be glorious, James & John find, not too surprisingly, that they are in trouble with the rest of Jesus’ disciples. So Jesus says something to them all about how they are to work together as a community.

‘You know that …recognized rulers Lord it over their subjects... it shall not be so among you.’
Jesus is pointing his followers to a new way of relating together, where whoever wants to be great must be a servant.
This is how Jesus has always lived his own life – serving people, not trumpeting his own importance. So there is to be another sort of death – the death of the self as the focus for all life.

The followers of Jesus then, as now, are called to leave behind selfish thought and action, to help and support each other, to serve other people and so to serve God. Jesus has formed a new community where the lowest and the least are to be treated with as much honour as those who think more highly of themselves.

And the sign of this new community will be their sharing in this communion meal.
There is a place at this table for everyone – we are all honoured guests of the Lord himself. In this simple act of sharing bread and wine we remember how Jesus died to selfish ambition, died to seeking honour and glory, died a villain’s death to offer life to the whole world.

As we all seek to follow Jesus, we remember that he came to earth to serve others, and we try, in following him, to serve in his name and to his glory. Amen.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Complete sermon notes

Ouch! The Word of God. Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31

“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
Years ago, before I had Eleanor, when I was moving into a flat, a friend of mine gave me this knife (It's a very sharp, broad-bladed kitchen knife). She had 2 young children and she was terrified that one of them would get their hands on it, so she wanted to get it out of the house and gave it to me. Perhaps I’m not such a caring mum, or maybe it’s the difference between having one and having two to look after, but all through having Eleanor as a baby and then a toddler and now as a very sensible teen-ager, I have kept this knife. Yes, it’s sharp, yes it’s a bit scary, but it’s a really useful knife – especially for cutting meat – and I’ve never yet hurt myself with it, because I’m always really careful how I use it and it always goes back in this cardboard sleeve before it goes back in the drawer.

The letter to the Hebrews warns us that the Word of God is like this scarily sharp blade. What's important is how you handle it.
If you use God's word as a weapon to attack others, the chances are you'll get caught yourself and find you are the victim of its sharp edge.
At the same time if we are forgetful of the Word (the equivalent of sticking it, uncovered, in a drawer and trying to forget about it) it can damage us as we try to go about our lives and suddenly come upon it, unaware.
What we need to do is handle it with respect and care and use it as a useful tool where a little 'trimming' is needed in our lives.

So to the gospel.

The young man recognizes that Jesus is the Good Teacher who can answer the most vital question: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Firstly Jesus puts the young man’s focus back onto God… only God is good. Maybe he could have stopped the conversation right there – “you ask ‘what must I do?’ Remember how good God is, and stop trying to earn God’s love”.
But Jesus wants to help this young man…so he points out ‘You know the commandments’ – better than that, this young man has actually kept the commandments.
Then comes the bad news ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

We might well understand why the young man, who is rich, goes away grieving. We might wonder, though, why Jesus is so harsh on this young man who, after all, has broken no commandments. It seems like Jesus is sticking the knife in this young man’s ribs – but actually Jesus is wielding it more like a surgeon’s scalpel – to help, not to harm. Mark is keen that we realize why Jesus speaks like this : his gospel tells us:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own…’. “

Jesus wants to help this man.

Why would someone who kept all the commandments worry about inheriting eternal life - surely he knows that he is right with God – he has kept all the laws! But he clearly is worried, as he wants to ask Jesus the question of what more he needs to dd. It seems he wants to add eternal life to the already large pile of his possessions and accomplishments.

Jesus wants him to find the happiness which he lacks, to understand that there is nothing that can separate him from God’s love… except everything he owns and his attitude to it.

Everything. Can Jesus really mean him to get rid of everything?
the young man’s reaction shows that Jesus has hit the nail on the head. His possessions or his pride in being rich, or his comfort, mean more to him than being right with God – and having asked Jesus what he should do he finds cannot do it.

How is the sharpness of the Word challenging us? What do we need to trim away? Perhaps not just our possessions like this rich young man, but our attitudes to our possessions, or to the law, or to other people? Can we think of one thing we could not possibly do if Jesus asked us? If Jesus said “One thing you lack go and…” what would it most grieve you to hear? (pause to allow people to think). Perhaps it is that very thing which is getting between you and God – preventing you from realizing fully God’s love for you.

As God’s love shown in Jesus comes to you in this bread & wine, open your hands to receive and pray for the wisdom to let go of anything that comes between you & God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Second part... (of three I think!)

So to the gospel....

The young man recognizes that Jesus is the Good Teacher who can answer the most vital question: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Firstly Jesus puts the young man’s focus back onto God… only God is good. Maybe he could have stopped the conversation right there – “you ask ‘what must I do?’ Remember how good God is, and stop trying to earn God’s love”.
But Jesus wants to help this young man…so he points out ‘You know the commandments’ – better than that, this young man has actually kept the commandments.
Then comes the bad news ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

We might well understand why the young man, who is rich, goes away grieving. We might wonder, though, why Jesus is so harsh on this young man who, after all, has broken no commandments. Mark is keen that we realize why Jesus speaks like this : his gospel tells us:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own…’. “

Jesus wants to help this man. Why would someone who kept all the commandments worry about inheriting eternal life - surely he knows that he is right with God – he has kept all the laws! But he clearly is worried, as he wants to ask Jesus the question of what more he needs to dd. It seems he wants to add eternal life to the already large pile of his possessions and accomplishments.

Jesus wants him to find the happiness which he lacks, to understand that there is nothing that can separate him from God’s love… except everything he owns and his attitude to it.

Everything. Can Jesus really mean him to get rid of everything?
the young man’s reaction shows that Jesus has hit the nail on the head. His possessions or his pride in being rich, or his comfort, mean more to him than being right with God – and having asked Jesus what he should do he finds cannot do it.

How is the sharpness of the Word challenging us? What do we need to trim away? perhaps not just 'stuff' but attitudes to stuff, or to law, or to others?

Still a bit more to finish this challenge off.. hopefully with fingers intact!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Ouch! First part of sermon,,,

Ouch! The Word of God. Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31

“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
Years ago, before I had Eleanor, when I was moving into a flat, a friend of mine gave me this knife. She had 2 young children and she was terrified that one of them would get their hands on it, so she wanted to get it out of the house and gave it to me. Perhaps I’m not such a caring mum, or maybe it’s the difference between having one and having two to look after, but all through having Eleanor as a baby and then a toddler and now as a very sensible teen-ager, I have kept this knife. Yes, it’s sharp, yes it’s a bit scary, but it’s a really useful knife – especially for cutting meat – and I’ve never yet hurt myself with it, because I’m always really careful how I use it and it always goes back in this cardboard sleeve before it goes back in the drawer.

The letter to the Hebrews warns us that the Word of God is like this scarily sharp blade. What's important is how you handle it.
If you use God's word as a weapon to attack others, the chances are you'll get caught yourself and find you are the victim of its sharp edge.
At the same time if we are forgetful of the Word (the equivalent of sticking it, uncovered, in a drawer and trying to forget about it) it can damage us as we try to go about our lives and suddenly come upon it, unaware.
What we need to do is handle it with respect and care and use it as a useful tool where a little 'trimming' is needed in our lives.

So to the gospel....

... to be continued

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sunday October 11th

This week's readings:

Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

My initial thoughts are - The bit about the Word being like a sword. What's important is how you handle it. If you use God's word as a weapon the chances are you'll get caught yourself and find you are the victim of its sharp edge.
At the same time if we are forgetful of the Word (stick it in a drawer and try to forget about it) it can damage us as we try to go about our lives and suddenly come upon it. What we need to do (there had to be third point, yes?) is handle it with respect and care and use it where a little 'trimming' is needed in our lives.

So to the gospel. How is the sharpness of the Word challenging us? What do we need to trim away? perhaps not just 'stuff' but attitudes to stuff, or to law, or to others?

I think I'll be taking my sharpest kitchen knife to church on Sunday. to illustrate the point!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

..and in case you think I've ducked out... 4-10-09 (2)

8am 4-10-09
This is one of the hardest parts of Mark’s gospel – but if we find it hard. how much harder was it for Jesus.? To test him he is asked the question ‘ Is it lawful to divorce or not?’
Jesus’ response is “What does Moses say?”. Moses lays down the law – and the law is clear that there is a means of getting a divorce – and yet this is a ‘live’ issue for Jesus’ time (as it is for ours) – because there were some husbands who were effectively abandoning their wives using the legal system. Jesus can’t support the law which allows a wife to be abandoned simply on her husbands say-so, and yet in Jesus time as in ours there are marriages which have failed and which need to end.
So Jesus does not answer the question directly, but stresses the seriousness of the marriage bond.

Jesus warns that divorce cannot be treated as a state of eradicating the marriage, ‘as if it never happened’ – and so he teaches that it is like adultery to enter into a 2nd marriage – these may be Rabbinic shock tactics, like last week’s teaching to pluck out your wandering eye. Perhaps if Jesus had known the words of our marriage ceremony he would have said that divorce was not be entered into lightly or thoughtlessly…

Jesus teaches people to think Why is the law? not just what is the law? – Jesus wants people to live their lives seeking good and love, not seeking to trick others and pin down exactly what they should do.
And so he speaks of receiving the kingdom like a child – loving, not squirming out of our responsibilities, and accepting that the greatest god and the greatest power of God’s rule of love. Amen.

Notes for Sunday 4-10-09 (1)

Reflective service using Psalm 8 &
Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2: 5-12


It’s not often that I base a sermon or reflection on just one word. but I am so struck by the word in the psalm, which is quoted here in the letter to the Hebrews – the word ‘mindful’.
The psalmist asks God ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them?’.

There are people who find it hard to believe in a God at all – and some who will try to say that you have either to believe in a creator or in an evolving universe. But most people, looking up at the stars, getting a glimpse into the marvels of the universe, find that it is hard not to believe that there is a creating force at work.
But the psalmist does not stop at the idea that there is a God who created the stars, our earth, and everything in it. He says that this God is mindful of human beings – there is a relationship between this great creator God and the people he has made.

And to help these people to be mindful of the God who loves them, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews spells out how God has related and is relating to his people. First there were the prophets, but now there has come the Son. Jesus is greater than the angels, God’s messengers, he is the one through whom God created all things, he is everything God is, he is the heir of all things, and yet he came to earth to suffer and to die.

For the Psalmist it is a wonderful thing to think of a God who is mindful of mere human beings and their needs – but in the letter to the Hebrews we encounter the God who is so mindful, so caring, so concerned for our well-being, that he comes among us in Christ.
Here is the very heart of God’s care, God’s mindfulness of us.
To come, to be lower than the angels, lower than most human beings, the lowest of the low nailed upon the cross, dying a criminal’s death: suffering the very worst we can imagine, to try to reach out the hearts and minds of human beings.

If the Psalm points us to the God who looks down from heaven to be mindful of us on earth, then Hebrews goes so much further, telling us of the God who comes down to earth to lift us all to heaven.

I am deliberately not using many words this morning. I want our communion to speak to us.
This is the physical reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. Body broken, blood poured out. This is the evidence we need of a God who is supremely mindful of each of us – who never forgets our abandons his people, but will do absolutely anything to prove to us how we much we are loved.

And this is the reminder of the feast prepared for us in heaven.
We are loved to the uttermost, and we are made for love and service and glory.
We are truly a little lower than the angels – yet made glorious sons and daughters of God by the gift of Jesus Christ.

Let us share is the gift of love and be raised by that gift be the people we were made to be, mindful of God’s love and living to God’s glory. Amen.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

And for the lectionary...

The Mark reading is particularly knotty this week - so here's a short reflection for the 8am service!

Taking responsibility.. for one another Mark 9: 42-50

“If your hand causes your downfall.. cut it off”.
Can these really be the words of Jesus? In our world we are a familiar with Islamic Shariah law as a proposed punishment for theft – cutting off the hand of a thief - and the thought of it is awful and barbaric. But Jesus is not suggesting a form of punishment – he is not talking about what we should do to others – he is using dramatic language to encourage people to take responsibility for their own actions. “If your foot causes your downfall – cut it off”.
In other words, have nothing to do with the sort of excuse for behaviour which says ‘it wasn’t my fault, it was my roving eye, my lousy childhood, my physical urges – that made me do it. Jesus wants us to take responsibility for our own bodies and what we do with them.

But Jesus is also clear that our responsibility does not end with responsibility to ourselves – we are also responsible for what we do to others “if anyone cause the downfall of one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck”. We are responsible for what we do with our lives – and responsible for the damage we might do to others.

And finally, Jesus says “you must have salt within yourselves and be at peace with one another” – our responsibility to others shouldn’t stop at not doing others harm – we must actively seek their good.
And if all this talk of taking responsibility for ourselves and for others and for peace itself feels like too much – it is good that we meet around the Lord’s table. Here as we face the challenge of his Word to us we also receive the promise of his gift to us – God’s gift of his very self, to feed and strengthen us, and to be present with us always.
Amen.

Sermon for Harvest

27-9-09 Harvest
I’m probably betraying something about my age if I say that one of my favourite funny films is ‘Ghostbusters;. I was reminded of a particularly silly line from it when I looked at today’s psalm.
One of the ghostbusters , Ray Stanz, is investigating a building and says ‘listen…do you smell something?”

Were you struck by the similar line in the psalm
‘Taste – and see that the Lord is good’.

Maybe it is a deliberate mixed metaphor – taste and see: or maybe the writer of the psalm means that we can use many of our sense to find that God is good.

We have certainly used our senses today.

We felt the refreshing splash of the water of baptism – promising Daniel the love and presence of God with him always.
We see around us the bounty of harvest – and perhaps smell it, too, if we’re lucky: the apples are always my favourite smell, and the flowers look gorgeous too. Our senses are full of the wonderful things the earth has produced, and we have heard the reading from Joel reminding us that we should give thanks to God, who made this earth and sends the rain so that we can enjoy our harvest.

It may be that we have sneaked a taste of something already: but if not we have the bread and wine of communion to look forward to. Taste and see that the lord is good; taste and remember all that Jesus said and did; taste and be given a sneak preview of the feast which waits for us in heaven.

This harvest festival – especially as we celebrated Daniel’s baptism – I hope you can use all your sense to enjoy God’s gifts to us.
But Psalm 34 says a bit more than just ‘God is good’ – it starts
‘I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.’

And Jesus warns his listeners ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’.
Harvest thanksgiving isn’t just about saying ‘we’ve got lots of food, yippee!’. It is about growing in thankfulness towards God.

An Australian pastor, Brian Houston, talks about ‘ 5 Ways To Build A Healthy Soul’ and states that one of those is ‘Teach your soul to boast.’
If we boast about our own achievements or wealth, we reveal our own insecurity, but if our soul boasts in God, it shows we are remembering who is really responsible for all these good things.
I think Brian Houston’s other ways to build a healthy soul also relate to our celebrations today:

Teach your soul when to be quiet.
Sometimes we need to just stop and take in everything God has done for us – using all our senses.

Educate your soul

We have used our sense of hearing to listen to God’s word, and so our gratitude to God is not just about this harvest – or even God’s love for Daniel, but about all God’s gifts to all people throughout all time.

Fill your soul with hope
The great thing about remembering God’s gracious love to us is that we know it never ends – God gives this and every harvest, love Daniel and every child, is with us today and every day.

Finally:
Teach your soul to be accountable
God gives us the earth, gives us the seasons, gives us the rain: but we still have to rely on human work to produce a harvest. And we each have to eat responsibly – too much of the wrong sort of food from God’s
harvest is bad for us.

So may this harvest, this water of baptism, these Bible readings and this communion delight our senses and build healthy souls, so that we may live and grow to God’s glory.
Amen.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Come ye thankful people...

Harvest celebrations on Sunday (27th Sept) and a baptism, so I'm going with the theme of 'taste and see that the Lord is good', and basing worship on the 5 senses 'taste, hear, smell, feel & see that the Lord is good'.
we have the water of baptism to feel, the Word of God to hear, the harvest goods to smell, the communion to feel (& taste) & everything around to see... that the Lord is good.

I'm taking the year B harvest readings but adding in Psalm 34, so my readings are:
Joel 2: 21-24 & 26
Psalm 34: 1-8
Matthew 6:25-33

I want the service to have a really celebratory feel.

OK - better go & think some more.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sermon notes 20-9-09

With apologies for late posting!

Following Jesus (James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a Mark 9:30-37)

Who’s the best? Who’s the greatest?
The new Guinness Book of Records has just been published. I know this because various news bulletins have been full of amazing people – the tallest man in the world (8 foot 1), the woman with the most body piercings (4,225) and the person with the longest fingernails (over 28 feet long). I admit I find every edition of the book fascinating: who is the fastest, the first, the best.

The first title for the followers of Jesus – even before they were called ‘Christians’ was “followers of the way”.
What would it mean to be the best follower of the Way?

Jesus’ disciples, in the Gospel reading that we heard, give a great example of what it does NOT mean.
‘What were you talking about while you were on the way?’ asks Jesus.
The disciples say nothing – they are ashamed. If you listen carefully you can actually hear feet being scraped on the floor in that reading.
It’s one of those questions, like when a teacher says ‘what that in your hand?’ – as you are about to pass a note to your friend that says exactly what you think of that teacher – and yes, that’s the voice of bitter experience talking..
‘What were you talking about while you were on the way?’ says Jesus.
‘Help!’ They’ve been been found out - because the disciples had been arguing precisely over the question of which of them was the greatest. Perhaps they were wondering which of them was the most loyal follower of Jesus, or which of them was his favourite, or which of them was considered by other people to be the most important. They wanted to know who was the best.

Jesus has something to teach them about being a great follower of the Way. A follower of the Way must not think of being best, but of being least, the servant of all. Then he finds a child, and puts them in the centre of the group. ‘Whoever receives a child like this receives me’.

This is even more surprising than we might think – because children of Jesus’ day were not thought to have any human rights, as we would think children should have today: until they reached adulthood children had very little voice in society. Following Jesus, being a follower of the Way, is about accepting a humble position and being ready to give a place to someone who is even more humble or unimportant in the eyes of the world. The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, but Jesus makes it clear they shouldn’t be looking for the greatest, but making sure they find a space for the least.

Of course the Followers of the Way are just human beings, they are not perfect and they make mistakes. The letter of James is obviously written to a Christian community that were experiencing problems! In last week’s reading James complained about the harm that the human tongue can do, and in this week’s reading he turns to this age-old issue of rivalry and competition. ‘What causes this strifel among you?’ he asks.
Perhaps this community was asking ‘who is the best?’. James attacks jealousy and bitterness and upholds values of modesty, wisdom, consideration, and kindness. The followers of the Way, says James, are to be peace-makers.
But how can people ‘make’ peace?

It might seem a trivial example – but the rival sport shoe firms of Adidas and Puma are showing the way. Adi and Rudolf Dassler started making sports shoes together in their mother's wash-room in the 1920s. They fell out during World War II, probably over political differences, and founded the two firms - Adidas and Puma on either side of a river in southern Germany in 1948. The town of Herzogenaurach was also split, with residents loyal to one or other of the only major employers. Tomorrow, for the first time ever, employees of both companies will shake hands and then play a football match. The two companies have arranged this to support the Peace One Day annual non-violence day, which is always held on Sept 21st.
We can choose to be peace-makers: we can reach out the hand of friendship, or we can shake a fist in rivalry.
James is clear that a Christian community, followers of the Way, should be seeking peace.

For those who want to be the best at following Jesus, we need to forget ourselves, stop striving for accolades, seek peace instead of competition. When we follow Jesus more closely, we find him in the lowest and the least (just as we find him in broken bread & wine poured out).
If we would be true followers we need to accept a role as servant of all, as Jesus did.

Then the glory will be God’s, not ours, and we will be truly the best because we will be truly blessed.
Amen.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thinking... about 20th Sept

Readings for this coming Sunday are:
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

about wisdom and about greatness, and the values of the gospel. My thinking so far is about walking more closely with Jesus - reflecting on the bit in James 'draw near to God and God will draw near to you' - how do we get close to God, how do we live better lives, how do we nurture wisdom.

There is something stirring in me about the dangers of the celebrity culture and the denigration of gentleness and peace...

Will hopefully find time to think about this more carefully tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

September 13th sermon

Racial Justice (Mark 8: 27-38, Isaiah 50: 4-9a)

You might wonder why we need to bother with racial justice Sunday, here in leafy Whittlesford. But I honestly think that as Christians we all have a responsibility towards understanding other people and challenging those aspects of our society which, sadly, are still racist.

A few years ago, when I was living in Oxfordshire a member of my church was hosting a young man from the Gambia, Isaac, who had come to the town to have an artificial leg fitted. He had lost his leg when he had broken it playing football and an infection had set in. While he was waiting for the leg to be made after an initial fitting, he used his time to learn about provisions for teaching blind children in the UK – because he was a teacher of blind children back home. He was fascinated by the gadgets available for teaching blind and partially-sighted children and very quickly worked out how he could make those things simply and cheaply for his pupils. But he didn’t like going out into town: not because it was hard to get about with one leg & a crutch – he could run up & down stairs faster than I can – but because people stared at him… because he was black. He felt excluded, unwelcome, a stranger in a strange land. I wonder how he would have felt in Whittlesford?

Wherever we are, the people of God are called to welcome the stranger, to fight injustice and to stand up for the marginalised.
We are called to be messengers who proclaim God’s good news of love and acceptance for all.

We have heard the words of Isaiah about one chosen to be a messenger, one who hears the word of God and has the gift to deliver it, one who will submit to suffering at the hands of people, because he knows that God is his helper and defender. It is hard to hear those words without thinking of Jesus: the chosen of God.

When Jesus asks ‘Who do you say I am’, Peter is quick to answer ‘the Messiah’ In other words, the one who is anointed – chosen by God to be the saviour of God’s people.
Jesus goes on to say ‘anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self.. and follow me’. Jesus is for anyone and everyone who will follow – not to save their own skin but to serve God and others.

At the heart of Jesus’ identity is the desire to reconcile the whole world to God – this is good news for each one of us here.
But it isn’t Good News we can be selfish about - because when we recognise who Christ is we must also follow Christ in loving others – and so be reconciled to those who are different from us. We need to remember that Jesus, who was so different from us: a Galilean, a Jew, a speaker of Aramaic – is the Christ who makes us all one in him.

It isn’t always easy to speak out against division and mistrust, and the words of Isaiah might come back to us.
The one who is chosen by God as messenger has to be ready to suffer for the message, and will be prepared to do this because they know God will help and protect them.

If standing up to racism (or sexism or homophobia) singles us out for ridicule or even suffering, we must still be prepared to stand up for God’s message of inclusion, because this is what it means to follow Jesus.

So when we speak of all people being welcome at this table, we need to mean it. If we are all one in Christ Jesus then we are all welcome as his guests.
So come to this table: you who have much faith, and you who seek it.
You who know you are made whole and you who feel broken.
You who know you are rich and you who have great need.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, come and eat & drink and be strengthened to share God’s welcome with all.
In Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

September 6th sermon

Mark 7: 24-30; James 2: 1-10

Next Sunday is marked by some churches as Racial Justice Sunday. You might wonder why the churches feel they ought to get involved in action against racism. But today’s reading from the letter of James certainly states quite clearly our responsibility as Christians to the ‘other’ or the ‘stranger’. James writes:
“If you are observing the sovereign law laid down in scripture ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ that is excellent. But if you show partiality, you are committing a sin and you stand convicted by the law as offenders.”

Racism, exclusion of any kind, judging others by their skin colour, or clothes, or background, is a sin. It is laid down in law that we are to love our neighbour, and in the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus makes it crystal clear that our neighbour is the foreigner in need we come across on the road just as much as it is the person rather like us who happens to live next door.

And yet what a puzzling Gospel reading we had. This same Jesus, who told people to love their neighbour, even the despised Samaritans, seems at first to reject this mother’s plea for healing for her daughter, on the grounds that she is a Syrian and not a Jew. We shouldn’t think that tensions in what we call the Middle East are anything new – Jews, Syrians, Roman soldiers, Samaritans, were all living cheek-by-jowl in and around the narrow strip of land where Jesus lived.
Jesus begins by being very clear that he has come for the people of Israel “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”.
The woman comes back at him “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps” – and Jesus changes tack and heals her daughter.

This is an amazing story – it comes right in the middle of Mark’s gospel and in many ways it signifies a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
I think for many years I went along with the understanding that Jesus was just testing this woman – that he meant all along to heal her daughter, but he was wanting to make sure she understood what a big thing she was asking for and that this was, indeed a turning point. Rather like the teacher who waits for the child to catch on before revealing the answer,
Jesus only seems to be saying ‘no’ to her. He’s actually saying ‘healing the daughter of a foreigner doesn’t look right, does it?’
So she can realise ‘no, but I’m a person, too!’
And he can smile and say ‘that’s right, you are’.

But what if Jesus himself is really changed by this encounter?
It could be that Jesus meant it when he said ‘no’ to her at first – that he was only seeing his mission as being to Jews – and maybe to Samaritans, who were like ‘first cousins’ rather than true Gentiles, true foreigners. And it could be that this woman opens Jesus’ eyes to the truly global nature of the gospel and makes Jesus realise that the kingdom of God really does mean a message of love, healing and acceptance for the whole world.

If this seems too much, there is a middle way of understanding what is happening here – that the Syro-Phoenican woman forces Jesus to revise his timetable for salvation. Jesus had come ‘first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ but then, through them to the whole world. This woman may be bringing the time for the Gentiles to experience God’s love forward to right now, rather than waiting for some time in the future.

Whatever is happening in the heart and mind of Jesus in this conversation, the message is clear that God’s love is for all people, even those previously considered a foreigner.
God’s love demands racial justice, impartiality and love for all, an end to discrimination and an embracing of true respect for diversity.
So racial justice becomes a Christian concern, not just something liberal-minded Guardian readers need to think about. And how we read or hear the stories of our world is a spiritual matter, not just a political one.

Robert Beckford is a black British theologian who has presented TV shows on channel 4 about the church and also written, particularly about how the black-led churches need to get involved with issues of racism. He writes:
“If every urban church were to set up a media watch group to listen, critique and when needed complain about oppressive imagery and language, it would go someway towards changing the current negative media approach to representing black life”.
I think what he says could be applied to all of us in the church. When we read stories of a great influx of Polish people looking for jobs, can we ask whether what is written is fair and just to those people – are they stealing the children’s bread, or just gathering up the crumbs? Most people I meet from Poland, Romania and Ukraine and so on are doing the jobs I don’t want to do, and for a lot less money than I think I need to live on.

If Jesus is teaching us to show God’s love to the foreigner, how can we do this, as individuals or as churches: in our attitude to the people we meet or those presented to us in the media? The challenge for us, as it was for Jesus, is to broaden our horizons.
We accept the fact that we are called to love our neighbours and ask for God’s Spirit to save us from falling into the sin of intolerance.
We remember that we were once the foreigners and that God’s love has embraced us and the whole world.
And we take on the responsibility to get involved with building God’s kingdom where all races are honoured and each person is precious. To God’s praise & glory. Amen.

Monday, 24 August 2009

30th August

So apart form being away from home, trying to sort out a final draft of the wedding sermon & get ready for Sunday (given that Saturday is all mush too exciting!), I'm fairly relaxed this week!

here is first draft of Sunday's (baptism) service:

30-8-09

If you stop to think about almost anything you do in life it can seem a bit strange. I spend quite a bit of my leisure time staring at an electrical device which produces a changing patterns of dots on a screen – we call it television: it brings me news reports, amazing scenery, and the everyday goings-on in Albert square, to inform & entertain me.

And then there’s church – singing together, listening to a book which is thousands of years old, and perhaps oddest of all – sprinkling water on a baby.

Why do we do it? What does God want from us?

Well there are people who might say that God wants us to be good.
Help old people across the road, remember birthdays, come to church, that sort of thing. These are the sort of people who talk about religious duty, or about being a ‘good church-goer’. But actually Jesus never said anything about going to church.

In the gospel reading we heard Jesus getting into trouble with the religious authorities of his day for not sticking to some of the religious rules. Jesus followers are criticised for not performing a ritual washing of their hands before eating. The point of the criticism is not about washing dirt off, but about obeying rules to show that their hands were clean in God’s sight. Their answer to the question ‘what does God want from us’ is “God wants clean hands and a pure heart”.
They believed that God wanted them to be clean, to be part of the club who followed careful rules about what to touch and what not to touch, what to eat and what not to eat, even how to wash your hands, and food and pots and pans.
But Jesus says that he is more concerned about how people really live their lives, not whether they’re sticking to rules about being clean. Jesus wants people to know they are loved – he wants them to open themselves to God’s love which does not depend on them following any rules. Then when a person is open to God’s love, they will live a life which is loving to others.

So this baptism of Jessica is not about washing her clean, about us doing something so that God will love her. We only use a small amount of water, because it’s only a symbol of the way in which God’s love is there for her. We are acknowledging something that God has already done for Jessica and for every one of us here. God’s love was there the moment she was born – and it will be there for her every step of her life – a love that can fill her and change her and make her more clean and new than any washing could ever do.

What does God want from us?
To accept the love he wants to pour out on us, and to allow that love to change us. James writes, in his letter
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”
We don’t care for others so that God will love us: God’s love in our lives enable sus to respond by being loving. Coming here to church is about being reminded of God’s love, in our worship, in our Bible readings, in our hymns, and in this baptism. When we remember how loved we are we become better people, who live as God made us to live. Or as Jesus puts it – we learn to love God and love others.
We pray that Jessica will learn to do both those things.
By the grace of God. Amen

Thursday, 20 August 2009

And now for something completely different!

Thought some people might like to read this sermon I've written for a family wedding on August 29th - a week on Saturday!
This is draft 2 - probably will get worked over again before the Big Day!

What does love look like? (Ruth 1: 15-18, 1 Cor. 13: 1-8a, 13.)

We are here today to celebrate love – but what does love look like?
I tried Googling ‘love’ to see what images came up: predictably there were hearts, red roses, kisses… less predictably pictures of Courtenay Love, Swizzels Love Hearts and some rather interesting diet advice with graphic images of love handles.

So let’s leave the internet to one side and ask what this wedding service teaches us about what love looks like.

I love the part of the wedding service in 'Worship from the URC' in which is written in the opening prayer, of the bride and groom:
‘Make them today a sign for us of your love in all creation’.

One answer for ‘what does love look like?’ is here right before our eyes – in Grace & Stephen. Love looks like two happy people, a new chance in life, a working partnership, the ability to be more yourself than you thought possible, a happy family. That’s what love looks like.

It shouldn’t surprise us that we see love most clearly in other people – love is made to be incarnate, to be made flesh, it is seen best in human form. When we feel a loving touch, when we receive a loving glance, when we hear a loving word – it is then we know what love is, what love looks like. Here is love – in these two people about to be married.

Our reading from the book of Ruth reminds us that love is not only about married love: the words we heard were said by daughter-in-law to mother-in-law, but they are undoubtedly words of love.
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay – your people will be my people and your God my God”.
Ruth expresses a love which looks like devotion and loyalty and a commitment to travel together always. That, too is what love looks like.

Our other reading, from the letter to the Corinthians, spells out in more detail what love looks like to St Paul.
His list begins
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…”.
When Grace told me they had decided on this reading for today, she said, very sweetly “I want this because I can put the word ‘Stephen’ in everywhere it says ‘love’ : Stephen is patient & kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” Grace then went on to admit that she fell at the first hurdle - ‘Grace is patient’.
Given that we’re all sitting here right now and not in July 2010 as we first expected suggests she might have a point!

Perhaps it will help you, Grace, and others of us who are impatient, to remember Galatians 5 v 22
‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’

There’s good news here on two fronts – firstly that patience gets relegated to number 4 on the list, but secondly and more importantly, that patience, along with love and all the rest are described as fruits of the spirit – gifts from God.
A gift from God for each one of us – a gift for us to enjoy, and a gift which will grow in us. A divine gift – that’s what love looks like.

And since I started by quoting Susan Durber and the URC wedding service, I’ll finish with St Augustine. He says:
“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of others. That is what love looks like.”

We are here to celebrate and share your love today, Stephen and Grace. We pray that love will fill you today and in the days and years to come, and that in that love you will be a blessing to many others.

In the name of Jesus – who shows us best of all what love looks like. Amen.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Holiday time!

With apologies to those who read this each week (and with thanks for your faithful support) - I'm off on a church holiday on Saturday so won't be preaching on Sunday 23rd but I will be getting ahead for Sunday 30th and will post ideas here asap.

I think the focus for the 30th will be
James 1:17-27 and
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The contrast between living 'religiously' and living in a way which is 'Godly' is what jumps out at me from the readings.
I'm wondering whether to grasp the nettle of high profile 'debates' within the church and how they detract from following Jesus...
will keep thinking.

Friday, 7 August 2009

August 16th sermon - early!!

True bread Proverbs 9: 1-6 John 6: 51-58

Yet again the lectionary reading from John presents us with Jesus saying ‘I am the bread of life’. If we ask ‘what does the bread of life mean’, there is no simple answer – there are many answers, or many layers of answers, and it seems that John’s gospel wants to take our understanding deeper and deeper.

Alongside the listeners of Jesus wondering ‘how can Jesus be bread?’, we heard today from the book of Proverbs.
This contains a collection of wise sayings and also many exhortations to take time to listen to the words of the wise and to become wise. The passage we heard uses the image of wisdom personified as a lovely woman, inviting people into her house to eat and drink and learn how to make the right choices in life and live as wise people do.
Eating & drinking is used as a symbol of fellowship, of companionship – by ‘eating and drinking with Lady Wisdom’ people are committing themselves to seeking wisdom itself.

Similarly, by eating and drinking with the lost and the broken, Jesus has committed himself to them and to true friendship with them. In his teaching about bread, Jesus is offering life and he is offering friendship.

But there’s more… in today’s teaching in John, Jesus persists with the metaphor of bread & says ‘the bread which I shall give is my own flesh, given for the life of the world’. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those listening to Jesus have questions about what this means.

Jesus is speaking about bread as doing more than symbolising life or signifying companionship.

He says:
‘My flesh is real food; my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him’.

You really can’t blame the people in the synagogue for not being able to grasp what Jesus is talking about that day. If John’s chronology is to be believed, this is very early in Jesus’ ministry. But it really only makes sense in the light of Jesus’ death on the cross. More than that, it only makes full sense in the context of the Last Supper, Jesus’ subsequent death and resurrection, and his continuing presence with his followers in the Eucharist.

This may only be the beginning of the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the bread of life, but it seems that Jesus wants his followers to understand that he is giving himself, his own life, to be broken like bread in order to feed the world.

Jesus tells them and tells us that if we want to share in the life that God offers his people, we must eat the living bread, we must accept the gift Jesus gives us, and take his life into our hands and into our very selves.

This is hard, deep stuff to understand and of course Jesus didn’t expect people to grasp it straight away, he spent his whole ministry trying to show people and teach people what God’s love with us really means.

Jesus is God’s gift of himself – given to the world. This is as necessary for us as daily bread, as healing as true friendship, it is a gift we are called upon only to accept.
God’s love for us knows no bounds: God is prepared to be broken for the world to be shared with the world. And so God’s presence with us and in us is as real as the bread we hold, and accept and eat.

At the service we’ve just had at Pampisford we have, straight after this sermon, shared communion.
This is the most easily understandable way of sharing in Jesus Christ, the living bread.

But as people in a Reformed tradition we know that Jesus is also present as the living Word, that Jesus is present when we break open God’s word as surely as he is when be break a loaf or a communion wafer.

God is present in this service of the Word, and feeds us as we remember that ‘humankind cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord’.

So may we be fed by the bread of life and the Word of life, today and always.
‘The one who eats this bread will live forever’
To God’s praise and glory. Amen.

9th August

The sharp-eyed will see overlaps between this sermon, last week's & next week's - but given the readings what chance so I have! and given that I'm at 4 different churches, and trying to fit in some time off, maybe it's forgiveable.


Bread
Bread
Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’.
Hang on a minute – didn’t Jesus say that last week – and maybe even the week before?

In the film 'Groundhog Day' Bill Murray plays a TV reporter who keeps waking up to the same day over and over again, the same events, the same things said. We seem to be stuck in a kind of Groundhog day in John’s gospel – we seem to hear Jesus saying the same thing over and over again.
I was at a meeting of ministers last week where we were all bemoaning being stuck with 'I am the bread of life' - but then we began reflecting that perhaps Jesus has a reason for stressing the point. Bill Murray has to learn to behave differently in Groundhog Day - maybe we need to think differently about Jesus, the Bread of Life.

First John tells us the story of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus is the one who can feed the people, who can take care of their deepest needs – not only for bread but for all that is needed in life.
At first we might say
'Nice trick with the loaves and fish Jesus'
and Jesus replies
- yes, but I am the bread of life.

Then we hear the story of the feeding of the people of Israel in the wilderness – and John tells us how people compared Jesus to Moses. But Jesus is not just the leader who points people to what God is sending from heaven – Jesus is the one God sends.
So secondly we might ask Jesus
'You’re like Moses, then, giving us manna?'
but Jesus redirects us
- no, I am the bread of life.

And finally in today’s reading John tells us of opposition to Jesus, as those who have heard os what he has done start to wonder how he can have done it. They say
'But aren't you just Jesus - son of Mary & Joseph?'
To which Jesus responds
- more than that - I am the bread of life.

Maybe this repetition helps us to realise that we have to keep coming back to this as the central point of believing in Jesus.
Jesus is the bread-giver, the one sent from God, and the very life of God come to us.

What does this mean for our identity as followers of Jesus?
The reading from Ephesians reminded us that ‘we belong to one another as parts of one body’ and that ‘as God’s dear children, you must be like him’.

We are to be bread for those who hunger – the body of Christ, given for others.

Being followers of Jesus can never mean that we sit back & rest in the knowledge that we are in a living relationship with God.
We are all challenged to follow Jesus and to seek out the needy of our world, to offer them sustenance in the name of the living God.

Whoever and wherever we are we need to have our eyes open to the needs of the world around us and to ask what, in the name of Christ, we can do.
We who have received the living Bread of heaven can offer bread to the hungry, medicines to the seek, encouragement to the down-hearted: either in person, or through others.

And if we wonder whether we are strong enough to be of any help to other people, if we wonder what it is we have to offer, we need to remember what we receive at this table: God’s gift of himself, offered in Jesus Christ, offered as bread for the world, so that wherever we go we are sustained by his life and his love. To God’s glory. Amen.