Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Lent 5

I'm not preaching this week: not tried going away in Lent before but really looking forward to a deep breath before Holy Week.

But readings for this week are:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

I'm always fascinated by the story of the Greeks coming to see Jesus - and being told 'the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified'. It seems to me that Jesus is pointing towards a sense that it is not enough to see him as a good teacher or healer - to 'see' Jesus, to really understand and encounter who he is - they (and we) must understand Jesus the one who is crucified and who then rises from death.
The whole of Lent & Easter is about helping us 'see' Jesus - see what he has really done, who he truly is, and accept what it means to be in communion with him, to enter into the new covenant promised by Jeremiah.

Sorry, I won't be elaborating on these thoughts as I'm trying to get ahead on Planning the 9 services of Holy Week.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Lent 4 addition

After preaching this very brief sermon I celebrated communion & realised as I did that in the window above the altar was an image of Christ on the cross, just behind the altar is a silver cross bearing the emblem of the lamb in the throne, so as I lifted up the host the 3 symbols came together: I also reaised that we then declared this same threefold symbolism of the lifting up of Christ : "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again". I hope perhaps some of the congregation also shared this moment of realisation!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Lent 4

Only a short sermon for the 8am (Mothering Sunday being marked at the main services - and I'm not preaching)

Numbers 21: 4-9
John 3: 14-21

The story from Numbers is a strange one to our ears.
The people of God, wandering for 40 years have many times when they grumble to Moses about their fate. On this occasion , they are punished for it – God sends poisonous snakes & then provides a cure through the symbol of the very thing that has caused them harm.

John, in his gospel, has Jesus refer to this story, when he speaks of his own ‘being lifted up’. John’s gospel is full of signs which reveal who Jesus truly is and what his mission is: this is one of those signs – the sign of being lifted up.

This could refer to Jesus’ crucifixion – being literally lifted up on the cross. Then that symbol of the very thing which causes people harm – evil and suffering an death – becomes the cure for humanity. When Jesus dies he transforms death and we need no longer be afraid.

Or ‘being lifted up’ might be a reference to Jesus resurrection and ascension through the power of God – elevating humanity’s sights from the squalor of earth ot the beauty and glory of heaven.

And here at this communion we see Christ lifted up – as we offer bread and wine with the sacrifice of our praise. Sickened by our failure to be God’s true people, we see Christ lifted up – and our failure is wiped away by his great love for us.

Let us celebrate Christ – cure for all our sickness.
Thanks be to God. Amen

Friday, 13 March 2009

March 15th sermon

I have decided to use 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
instead of Exodus - since at the Parish church we will be getting the 10 commandments in any case (being Lent).

The sermon is sort of done - I'll look at it again tomorrow to try to make the end less abrupt - but this is more or less it:

Lent 3 (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22)
One of the great things about reading the Bible is that every now and then you read or notice something that is completely new to you. That happened to me this week, reading the gospel reading set for today.
The cleansing of the temple by Jesus – we read it every Lent, it’s part of the story of the growing opposition to Jesus from the religious authorities: opposition which ultimately leads to the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew relates it in chapter 21, just after his account of Palm Sunday.

But this year we read it in John. Chapter 2. Hang on – chapter 2, that’s very early in Jesus’ ministry, surely. Yes, John places this story very early, after his prologue, the story of John the Baptist, the call of the disciples and the wedding at Cana – just before the story of Nicodemus, the death of John the Baptist and the story of the woman at the well.
Here, in the early chapters of John, is Jesus ‘setting out his stall’ – the baptism by John, the calling of the disciples, the performing of a miracle, and then the cleansing of the temple.

John must have thought that this was an incredibly important act of Jesus, to put it so early in his account of Jesus’ ministry. This is what Jesus is all about – the first sign which reveals his glory to his disciples– the wedding at Cana – and then the clearing of the temple. This story comes in John before even the classic John 3: 16 statement to Nicodemus ‘God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

What is happening in this story is more than just a skirmish between the money-changers & Jesus.

So what is Jesus doing?
John describes the action as taking place in the temple precincts – in the outer court of the temple, the space that was known as the ‘court of the Gentiles’. When the temple was built, the idea was that space was deliberately made for non-Jews to come to worship God. Over the years this space had been cluttered up with the money-changers and animal-dealers – and Jesus once again makes room for those not born as Jews to be part of the worshipping community.
More than that, he puts the money-hangers & animal- dealers in their place.

Money had to be changed because Jews couldn’t bring ordinary money into worship, to give as their offertory. The ordinary money in use had the Roman Emperor’s head on it – together with an inscription that declared him to be a god. It would be sacrilege to offer this graven image with its blasphemous inscription to the God of the Jews – and so special temple money had to be used, bought by ordinary money, to be offered back to God.

Similarly animals needed to be bought to be offered as sacrifice in the temple. Remember when Jesus is brought to the temple as an infant, (and spotted by Simeon and Anna) Joseph and Mary have come to offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. These animals had to be the best that could be offered – most people would have bought them at the temple itself, so they could be as fresh and as perfect as possible.

There was a need to have money-changers and animal-dealers: but where there is a human need there is also, often, human greed. These merchants were taking up valuable space in the temple, and perhaps also they were charging a little more than they strictly needed to for their services. They were getting between people and the worship of God both physically and financially.
And Jesus says they have to go.
Nothing must get between people and God – not animals, not trade, not the greed of others. Jesus is creating a clear path into the presence of God. This is the purpose of his ministry.

But what about us? We don’t find our way to worship blocked with money-changers (we can happily put simple sterling onto the offertory plate). And we aren’t left haggling with animal dealers over the best price for a sacrificial animal.
What, if anything comes between us and God? And what does Jesus do about that blockage?

The answer to the question ‘what comes between you & God’ may be different for each one of us.
But it seems to me that a huge blockage many of have about God centres around the problem of suffering: if a good God exists, why does that God allow suffering in the world?

You will guess that at this point in the sermon I don’t intend to give a comprehensive answer to that question. But I do believe that the life and death of Jesus gives us some kind of answer, and that Jesus is determined to clear this blockage away for us.

Yes – there is a good God, a loving, healing, creating God – we see that God in the flesh in Jesus.
Yes suffering happens – we see that in the life and death of Jesus too: ultimately we see Jesus nailed to a cross. But suffering and evil cannot have the last word – as we see in the resurrection of Jesus. Love and life are stronger than death and evil.

And we can celebrate the life of Jesus Christ – given for us to clear our way into the presence of God – in this bread and wine.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lent 3

This week's readings:

Exodus 20:1-17
John 2:13-22

I'm thinking along the lines of barriers to God: the law, meant as a way into relationship with God, can become a barrier when we fall into the 'earning God's love' trap; the temple precincts, meant as the court of the gentiles, is over-run with people wanting to turn a profit; Jesus comes to remove barriers & restore relationship. So what blocks us from God? and how can Jesus help us?

Not sure how to answer my last questions, though!
Except that many of the conversations I've had with people over the last week or so have been about making sense of suffering: is suffering the barrier which keeps us from God? Then Jesus deals with that - embracing the cross to pass through suffering & demonstrate that God's love is stronger than death.

Monday, 9 March 2009

It's not big & it's not clever...

Some weeks I think and read and pray and write and re-write and finally craft a sermon I feel pleased with. I preach... and no-one seems to be listening, no-one reacts, no-one comments on anything other than the weather.
This week I thought the sermon was 'light' - based on one reasonable idea but I didn't really have time to turn it anything much.
And a number of people said 'you told us what we already know, but you reminded us of what's important & it was just what I needed to hear this week, Gods word came alive' (or words to that effect).

And the lesson for this preacher today is:

“But we have this treasure in clay jars
to show that its extraordinary power
comes from God and not from us.”
(2 Cor. 4:7)

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Sermon March 8th

Readings: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15 & 16, Mark 8: 31-38

This is a very 'particular' sermon for just one congregation but I hope there's something of value here for anyone who reads it - I really am excited by the idea that God is still doing what he did to Abraham!

Lent 2
Do you ever wonder what the story of Abraham (from about 4000 years ago) can possibly have to do with us?
Then let me tell you an amazing story from nearer home.
This week the European Court has ruled that employees can be forced to retire at 65 – and I know many of you here would say that that means you’ve still got enough energy to enjoy your retirement. But we all know that as the decades pass we have slightly less energy than before – and I hope that whatever happens to working lives in the future, by the time I’m 70 I’m allowed to slow down a bit!

When we’re looking for people to do jobs in the church, we often look around for someone younger –with more energy – who God might be calling to so a piece of work. Who would think that God would call an older person to do new work in the church?
But this is precisely what is happening right here in Whittlesford.

We have been praying about a new elder for this church: aware that David Gower (one of our younger members, of course) will be moving away in the summer. I started to wonder who we could be ask. Who would have the energy, the sense of caring for others, the depth of prayer & Christian love, and the good sense that is needed to take on the responsibility of being an elder?

We need someone new, someone with energy, someone who can serve the church with a real sense of purpose. The name I will be bringing to church meeting in April is – Marjorie Slipper.
I don’t want to be rude to Marjorie, and of course I would never ask a lady her age, but it might surprise you at first to think that God is calling Marjorie.
But I had no doubt, the minute I thought about it –her work as pastoral care officer, her care for others, her wonderful, joyful, loving personality – Marjorie is a great person to consider for the eldership.

And when I turned to the readings for today I had to smile: I wondered how Abraham would react to the news that Marjorie is being called to eldership? Probably Abraham would say something like ‘there goes God, at it again, turning someone’s life upside down, just when you think you’ve reached the final, quieter chapters!’.
Our God is great and wise and uses all kinds of people to fufill the purposes of the kingdom – if we are just open to being led.

And we all need to be open to being led by God as we follow Jesus Christ – led into new things, surprising things, even led into suffering for the sake of the gospel.
When Jesus tells his disciples that ‘the Son of Man must suffer and die’, Peter rebukes Jesus for being so gloomy, at which Jesus says to him “get behind me Satan, you think as men think, not as God thinks.”
Jesus doesn’t say that he might suffer, or that he fears he will suffer, he is emphatic – he MUST suffer and die – only by facing up to the worst that could be done to him and carrying on through death to resurrection could the ultimate power of God be demonstrated.

But then Jesus says something even more shocking to his disciples – “Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; he must take up his cross and follow me”.

Jesus is warning his followers that faith in him is not a spectator sport, it is something in which they have to get up and get involved, just as Abraham’s faith wasn’t a ‘sit by the fireside and tell stories’ kind of faith. It was a faith which led him to leave his home in Ur and travel to Haran; a faith that made him leave his new home of Haran & travel into the desert – a faith of such trust in God that the impossible became possible, yet a faith that demanded trust in action from Abraham.
Jesus demands this kind of faith in action from his disciples.

So what does it mean to us to take up the cross and follow Jesus?

I think it means many things:
It means being prepared to lay down our lives, to give ourselves completely to God, to ask first in any decision ‘what is God’s will?’ and not simply to follow our own inclinations, to be open to new ways of serving God in what we do.
Taking up our cross means actively seeking the way Christ calls us to follow, even if that way is difficult – and living with the consequences of knowing we could just have opted to stay where we were and stay comfortable.

I don’t know what taking up the cross might mean for each one of us here, I don’t know what new things God might ask of us as he asked of Abraham – and yet Jesus clearly tells us to take up the cross and follow.

Yet, if all that seems a gloomy message – remember the last part ‘take up your cross...and follow me’. The road may be difficult but we walk it with Jesus – whatever happens he is there to catch us, for each journey he is the guide and the goal.

So have faith, take up your cross, and follow him.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

'Creative church' for March 8th

This is a different style of service, with breaking up into groups & an informal feel... will also post the sermon when it's thought about!

‘What is Lent all about?’


Call to worship
Sing: ‘Will you come and follow me..’

Scripture: Mark 8: 31-38 (as dramatic reading - below)

Sing: Take O take me as I am (Iona - unaccompanied)

Each person given a ‘fold-up’ cross & proceed to one of 3 stations (to rotate around) – or under 5s may go to children’s area

(We sing ‘take O take me’ as we move each time)

Station 1
On Ash Wednesday we ask God for a new start as lent begins
Take a quarter of the cross shape
Write on it the things you would like God to take out of your life
Burn it (Ian can decide how best to do this!)
The ash could be placed on the forehead on back of hand, in a cross as a sign of forgiveness

Station 2
Life is about balance.
Lent is about GUS (give something up) & TOM (take on more)
Take 2 more quarters of the cross and write on them something you want to give up, and something you want to take on – place them on the ‘balance’

Station 3
We give thanks to God for all he gives us – and respond with our offertory gifts and with the offering of our prayers for others.
Use one quarter of the cross to write your prayer for another.
Place these burdens at the foot of the cross (on the High Altar) – the prayer box will also be there, and the offertory plate.

Gather back together
Now our hands are empty – all four parts of our cross have gone – we can receive.
Lent is about pausing and emptying our lives of some of the business & thinking about Easter – Jesus death on the cross and his living again.
Everyone is given a second cross, to take away with them. You might like to jot down on each part of the cross what you thought about at each of the stations.
We cannot take away any part of the cross – Peter wants to leave out the suffering of Jesus, but it is necessary. Jesus tells us to take up our cross – to accept life contains suffering, to give all of our lives to God.

Sing; Take my life and let it be

Say Lord’s prayer together


Mark 8: 31-38 as dramatic reading

Narrator: Jesus began explaining things to his friends:
Jesus: The Son of Man must go through suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religious scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.
Narrator: He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it. But Peter grabbed him in protest.
Peter: Impossible, Master! That can never be!
Narrator: Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter.
Jesus: Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You think like a human being, you don’t think the way God thinks.
Narrator: Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said
Jesus: Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you are with your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.