Thursday, 30 April 2009

Sheep! 3rd May sermon

Caring for the sheep John 10: 11-18 1John 3: 16-24

What are sheep like?
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a day on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It was a fantastic sunny day and I walked around the harbour, past the Castle and the Gertude Jekyll garden, along part of the coast, and back along the footpath called the Crooked Lodden… but nearly everywhere I went I had to walk through fields of sheep.

Most of them had lambs with them and I soon learned that the best way was to walk steadily and quietly if I was going to get past the sheep without disturbing them too much. Occasionally another walker would be less considerate, or would have a dog with them on a lead, and the sheep would run in wild-eyed panic, scattering in all directions, often ewes and lambs would be separated and great duets of baa-ing would break out until the sheep found each other and settled down again.

It occurred to me that if there was a real danger, if a wolf attacked for example, the sheep would certainly need help and protection – sheep are not good in a crisis.

The Shepherd
Jesus’ listeners know how dependent the sheep of their day were on the shepherd – even more so than in ours. Their sheep were not fenced off in lush green fields like ours – they were out in the wilderness where crops couldn’t be grown, dependent on the shepherd to help them find food and water as well as to keep them safe from the many hungry wild animals.
So when Jesus calls himself ‘The Good Shepherd’ he is painting a picture of himself as the one who will care for and protect the sheep, leading them with his voice, and knowing each one by name. Unlike the hired hand, who doesn’t really care about the sheep and who will run away in the face of danger, Jesus is prepared to lay down his life for the sheep.

Who are the sheep?
So far Jesus is painting a very positive, comforting picture of the care he is offering. But to whom is he offering his loving care?
Those listening to Jesus, his followers, are his sheep. Later on in this same chapter (10: 24) Jesus is asked by Pharisees ‘are you the Messiah?’ and he says to them ‘My deeds done in my father’s name are my credentials, but because you are not sheep of my flock you do not believe’. It may be that the Pharisees, who should be leading the people of God into a loving relationship with God, but who are failing the people, are the ‘hired hands’ Jesus talks about.

So Jesus is aware that not everyone to whom he speaks will follow him. But he also makes it clear that ‘There are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold’ – that there are other people to whom Jesus has come offering loving care, who at the moment are considered outsiders. The first examples of these outsiders in the early church were the Gentiles, non-Jews: originally that would have meant all of us.

But as we read this passage today I wonder how we feel?
We are now the insiders, we are safely in the fold, we can be assured that the love of the Good Shepherd is always there for us.

But does everyone feel like this?

Care for the outsider.
Or are there people even today who feel like outsiders in the church, who wonder whether it is for them? They are every bit as much the flock of Jesus as we are, even though they have yet to be brought into the fold.
How can we make those who feel like outsiders in the church feel welcomed and a part of the love of Jesus which we share?

The challenge for the church.
We may need to be ready to do things differently here, out of love for those who think differently to us.
I think this is part of what the first letter of John is talking about when he writes ‘Children, love must not be a matter of theory or talk, it must be true love which shows itself in action’ and ‘Christ gave his life for us. And we in our turn must give our lives for our fellow Christians.’

What does ‘giving our lives’ mean if it doesn’t mean literal martyrdom (which is unlikely to be demanded of us today)?
It can mean being prepared to change the way we do things for the sake of others, especially those who are outsiders, or who feel marginalised.

This may mean offering chances for prayer and worship other than on a Sunday morning; singing hymns or songs we don’t like ourselves, but recognising that someone else loves it!; putting up with a service that isn’t our ‘cup of tea’ for the sake of those who like that sort of thing; being always ready to be challenged by the Spirit to risk something different.

And if all that sounds a bit scary, don’t be like silly frightened sheep: listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling you by your name, reassuring you that God loves you and will always care for you. Come what may, we are safe in the arms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

And may all that we are and become as a church be to his praise & glory.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Sermon 26/4/09

I may elaborate on this as I preach it, or I might keep it deliberately short and simple - but these are the notes:

Easter 3 1 John 3: 1-7 Luke 24: 36b – 48

There are many Easter stories we might be used to hearing or seeing on film or TV, and quite a lot of them seem to involve food and drink. Jesus eating the last supper with his friends, being offered wine as he hangs on the cross, the women with spices finding empty tomb as the sign of resurrection, and the moment when Jesus breaks bread and the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize him.

But Luke tells us this odd story – Jesus appears to his friends and they are amazed but also a bit scared – they wonder if Jesus is just a ghost or if this is just wishful thinking. So Jesus eats a piece of cooked fish. Not very glamorous, is it? Not very exciting or ..well 'Bible-y' really.

Bread, wine - we're used to them as symbols rich with meaning and significance - but fish is just a bit of supper left over on someone's plate. But perhaps that's the point - Jesus is real: not a ghost, not an nice idea, real life, down-to-earth - back from the dead, but back - really!

The followers of Jesus have to learn that he is alive and will be with them always – but now in the flesh-and-blood way they’ve known for the last 3 years – but still really with them. They need to learn to look for God in the ordinary.
And so today, as modern-day followers of Jesus, we are still looking for God in the ordinary things: in water, in Ben’s young life, in a loving family.

These are ordinary – and also wonderful things: and God is here with us.

God’s love is ordinary because we can know God’s love in these real, everyday things we can see and hear & touch. But God’s love is also wonderful because it is this real life love which reaches out to touch everyone here. It is not just for Ben – it is for everyone: and it is real and amazing and deep and changes everything.

When Jesus ate that bit of fish he wanted his followers to know he is alive and with them and that his love is greater than death. So they don’t say 'oh: fish, right' but so they say 'wow: Jesus wonderful!'.

Jesus is alive: he is with us: and he calls us to follow him. He promises to be with us, and he shows us that his love for us is even stronger than death.

So everyone is welcome here – and everyone can eat and drink as a sign that God is with us. Thankfully we don’t have cold fish – but the bread and wine of communion. And in these ordinary and wonderful things – this bread & wine, the water of baptism and the life of Ben – God comes to us.


Thursday, 23 April 2009

Easter 3 April 26th

Lectionary readings are:
1 John 3: 1-7
Luke 24: 36b - 48

I have a baptism so don't really want 3 readings (so many words in the service already!).

I'm struck by a piece of broiled fish (thankfully, not literally). Not very glamorous, is it? Not very exciting or ..well 'Bible-y' really.

Bread, wine - we're used to them as symbols rich with meaning and significance - but fish is just a bit of supper left over on someone's plate. But perhaps that's the point - Jesus is real: not a ghost, not an nice idea, real life, down-to-earth - back from the dead, but back - really!

I want to link this to the baptism - God in the ordinary, but also utterly extraordinary - in water, in this new life, in a loving family.

I also want to challenge everyone who's there - Jesus wants his followers to know he is alive and with them and that his love is greater than death, not so they go 'oh fish, right' but so they go 'wow Jesus wonderful'.
How do we recognise God in ordinary - the amazing depth and power of God's love in our lives...?

This needs work but I feel like I'm getting somewhere...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sermon April 19th

Whoops! Sorry - forgot to post...

Easter 2: Acts 4: 32-35 John 20: 19-31

Last Sunday we were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the transformation of his dejected band of followers into a living and thriving church.

Our reading from Acts gives us a glimpse of what is happening to the early church just a matter of months after the resurrection of Christ.
‘The whole company of believers was united in heart and soul.. everything was held in common’.
It sounds almost like a Utopian dream – everyone happy, united, caring for one another. The disciples – those who have followed Christ – are now described as apostles – those who have been sent by Christ into the world with the good news of his resurrection. And the writer of Acts tells us that they bear witness to that resurrection with great power.
It seem there is a joy and a lightness of heart in these apostles which enthuses and engages everyone around them. This gospel changes lives and makes those who hear it want to care for others around them who might be less fortunate. And because of this sharing, the apostles are able to devote themselves to continuing the work of Christ: preaching and healing in his name.

We might feel rather wry if we compare this sense of unity and purpose with the church in our day. I saw a TV programme just this last week entitled ‘Deborah, 13 – servant of God’. It showed a little of the life of a young girl who has been brought up in an evangelical Fundamentalist Christian family. She falls asleep at night listening to Creationist, anti-evolutionary theory sermons. She wants to tell other young people of her age that they are sinners and that unless they repent they are going to hell. She was a rather grim, very determined and I might say blinkered young girl.
I certainly didn’t feel much unity of heart and soul with her. But we are each Christians, we are each seeking to follow Jesus Christ. How can we have reached such different conclusions about how to live, what to believe & how to talk about what Jesus Christ shows us about the love of God?
The gospel reading is perhaps more familiar to us, and certainly more comforting to read.
Jesus appears to the disciples, who have locked themselves away in fear – and begins their transformation by breathing the Holy Spirit on them.
But Thomas is not with them, and when the other 10 (for they are also without Judas) tell him they have seen the Lord, he asks for his own proof.
A week later – the next Sunday – today – Jesus appears again and offers his wounds for Thomas’s inspection. Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas, even proclaiming Thomas – he goes further then any of the other disciples “my lord and my God”.
And Jesus says ‘happy are those who find faith without seeing me’. This is an important story for the on-going history of the church of Jesus Christ. Soon Jesus will return to heaven, eventually those who have seen him for themselves will die off, and what will be left will be a community which believes because of the faithful witness of others, a church which continues to exist by passing on the story of Jesus to those who cannot meet him for themselves.

What strikes me is that at no point in this story do the disciples try to convince Thomas themselves. They tell him their story, but when he does not believe no-one tries to talk him round, or even worse, to throw him out of the community of disciples because he does not yet believe as they do.

Going back to the early church of Acts, the story is faithfully proclaimed – with great power – by those who met Jesus, but no sanctions are applied to even try to discover the beliefs of others, let alone to do anything about trying to bring them into line.
The whole company is one in heart and soul – but not necessarily in belief. Somehow it is possible for this church to love each other, to share with each other, and to care for each other without falling into the trap of questioning one another’s beliefs.

There is a lesson here for me – it is not for me to question the belief and the work of that young girl. We are one in trying to follow Jesus Christ, and for the early church that was enough. The matter of what people believed, of what their own experience was fo the risen Christ, was left in the hands of Christ, not taken into the hands of other believers.

If Deborah, and others like her, believe that they are loved by God, if they believe that they should live in friendship with Christ, and if they believe that the Spirit can empower them to help others, then who am I to question how they try to follow Christ.

I am happy to bear witness to my own understanding of what God has done for humanity – but it is simply not my place to question others. Like the first disciples, I need to leave it to Christ himself to sort out another person’s encounter with the truth; then like the early church, perhaps I can learn to live in unity of heart and soul with others.

Perhaps the lesson for me can be a lesson for the whole church. I am not suggesting we pretend we are united where we are not, but perhaps we need to concentrate on what unites us in heart and soul, and try to have a more civilised debate about any divergence of belief we experience. Jesus is ready to include Thomas as one of the apostles, we cannot imagine him casting Thomas to one side because of his lack of belief.
So let us come as one to this table – where we will declare that all are united in this one bread and one cup.
For the sake of Jesus Christ and to the glory of God, may it be so. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter 2 April 19th

Some years I have taken the week after Easter off - but this year I'm glad to be preaching.
The gospel reading is
John 20:19-31

- poor old Thomas!
Just as Mark tells us the women took a while to work out a proper response to the resurrection (at first 'they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid'), so Thomas cannot be blamed for being slow to grasp the reality of Christ's rising.
Instead of judging Thomas, perhaps we should pause & reflect on how amazing, how strange, how unlikely the resurrection really is.

More thoughts to follow as the week goes on...

Easter Sunday

Here are the notes from which I preached - I think I went 'off piste' quite a bit!

Easter Sunday Isaiah 25: 6-9 Mark 16: 1-8a

Mark’s account of the resurrection allows an amazing story to unfold, although his abrupt end leaves us still hanging on the edge of true revelation.

After the dashed hopes of Palm Sunday, and the utter desolation of Good Friday, the story of Easter Sunday begins with a faithful group of women going out, just after sunrise, to perform a final act for their Lord – to anoint his body.

They are the ones who had watched the terrible act of crucifixion from a short distance away. Whilst the men who followed Jesus had scattered and fled in fear, these 3 women – Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James & Salome – are named as being amongst those who stood watch while Jesus died. It may even be that it is their eye-witness account which Mark used to write his gospel.

They are the ones who know for sure that Jesus is dead; and Mary of Magdala & Mary the mother of James are also named as those who watched where Jesus’ body was laid by Joseph of Arimathea. They watch and mark where Jesus’ body is so that once the Sabbath is over they can go and anoint the body.

They do not go with our sense of excitement that first Easter Sunday – they expect only to find the body of their Lord.
They knew that the tomb had been sealed with a huge stone, and they were wondering how to move it to get in to reach the body.
They find the stone rolled away – the tomb open and empty except for a young man dressed in white who tells them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus of Nazareth is risen.
‘Then they went out and ran away from the tomb, trembling with amazement. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’.

We cannot blame the women for needing some time to get to grips with what they have discovered. This is the story which will change the world.
And of course the story does not end there: if those women had not eventually found a way to tell the story, if others hadn’t learnt of the resurrection of Jesus for themselves, we wouldn’t be here celebrating today.

But here is the start of the story which moves all of Jesus’ followers from fear to belief: here is the unleashing of the power of God and the love of God which is greater than all evil, greater than the death we all fear. Here is the proof of the power of God which leads us all into supreme freedom as loved children of God.
Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is who he says he is – the Son of God. Proof that in Jesus we do not see a good man prepared to die for his friends, but God in human form, come to live and die for the whole world, and to live again to offer us all new life.

And so the feast begins: ‘See this is our God!’
Come and eat & drink & celebrate the love of God which never dies. Come and celebrate God’s love for you.
Come and receive God’s love and power and be made new. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Maundy Thursday - stripping the altar

We are having a Seder meal & communion first, in the church room, around tables, then I'll invite people into the church for this liturgy. Those who want to stay in vigil afterwards will be given Psalm 22 to reflect on if they want it.

Stripping of the altar (removing all ornaments, linens, and paraments) is an ancient custom of the Church done on Maundy Thursday. It is symbolic of the humiliation of Jesus at the hands of the soldiers.

After the Last Supper, less that 24 hours remained in the earthly life of our Lord. Events moved rapidly: prayer in Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, arrest, mock trial, painful beating, the trudge to Golgotha and execution.

As His life was stripped from Him, so we strip our altar of the signs of life to symbolize His purposeful, redemptive suffering and death for us. Plants are new life springing forth. In the passion and suffering of Christ, human life ebbs from Him. In recognition of this we remove the palms from our altar.

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” The events of Golgotha snuffed out the human life of Jesus, the Light of the world. As even creation was dark when He suffered, so we extinguish our candles and remove them.

Our offerings represent one way of serving God and others. They reflect God’s greatest offering to the world and to us in sending His Son, Jesus, in human form. As the offered body of Jesus was removed from sight in burial, so we remove our offerings.

The missal stand holds our worship books that guide our worship life together as we sing praises to God. As Jesus suffers, joyous songs are not heard. As these sounds of joy are removed from our lips, we remove the missal stand.

Jesus’ offered Body and His shed Blood have been give to us in the bread and wine of communion. As He was removed from us in the grave, so we remove the elements and vessels of this Sacrament.

Our altar is in the form of a table. It is here where our Lord Jesus serves us as both host and meal at His banquet feast. The coverings are made of material appropriate for feasting with our King. As our King’s body was stripped in crucifixion, so our altar is stripped of its coverings.

There is no benediction or postlude at the end of this service, which indicates that the service has not concluded. [Our worship continues on Good Friday.]

Holy Week

Where to start??

This evening is our 'community worship' - which sets out to be different from Sunday worship, hopefully a bit easier 'entry' and possibly appealing to a different group of people (you'll notice lots of 'possibly & hopefully' going on there!).

I've decided to focus the service on George Herbert - inspired by his poem 'agony' (see posting RevGalBlogPal below).
As I found out more about George Herbert I thought it was worth reflecting on his life & work: someone who gave up political ambition & wordly success to follow God's will, someone whose ministry lasted only 3 years, and yet someone who left a wonderful legacy - seemed like a good source of reflection for Holy Week.
Plus his writing is truly inspiring Here;s another one I'll use tonight:


I cannot ope mine eyes,
But thou art ready there to catch
My morning-soul and sacrifice:
Then we must needs for that day make a match.

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or star, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

My God, what is a heart,
That thou shouldst it so eye, and woo,
Pouring upon it all thy art,
As if that thou hadst nothing else to do?

Indeed man's whole estate
Amounts (and richly) to serve thee:
He did not heav'n and earth create,
Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.

Teach me thy love to know;
That this new light, which now I see,
May both the work and workman show:
Then by a sunbeam I will climb to thee.

Reading around some critical reflections, the thinking is that the 'sunbeam' is a deliberate pun: on 'son beam' - the beam of the cross holding Jesus christ, the son. We could just spend an hour thinking about that!
I think I'll also use 'Easter Wings'. There's a really helpful analysis at

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:

With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.

With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

I think I could become a George Herbert bore!

Meanwhile - Maundy Thursday is largely done - a Seder meal and (first time for me) stripping of the altar. I'll post the liturgy I intend to use for the stripping but Seder meal is not on my computer, unfortunately. I'm very lucky to have a Jewish member of our congregation who can take us through the Seder & then I step in to celebrate communion & let people see the connections between the Last Supper and the Lord's Supper.

Good Friday is not my responsibility this year - which is a little sad in a way, but certainly takes the pressure off and I'm looking forward to being able to go & just worship for once!

And then Easter Sunday - post to follow!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Palm Sunday sermon

Here is a short sermon. I may go back to it later and add bits - but this is the gist

Readings will be:
Mark 11: 1-11
Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
Mark 15: 1-39

Palm Sunday
So Holy Week begins.
There are many events we will be led through this week. From today’s praise of Palm Sunday, through the more muted celebration and remembrance of the Last Supper, then the utter desolation of Good Friday, the strange sense of waiting which is Holy Saturday, and finally to Easter Sunday and uncontainable life and joy.
We have a lot to remember, a lot to celebrate, and many emotions which we might feel at different times.

It can feel like a strange roller-coaster. From the height of Palm Sunday, down to the depths of Good Friday, and back up again as we celebrate resurrection. Our worship might mirror the life of Jesus – laid down to be given back: placed in the tomb and rising to new life.

But today is about more than the celebration of the events of Palm Sunday: we have heard the gospel of the palms – but we have also heard the gospel of the passion. We are faced with a number of paradoxical statements about who Jesus is:
The Messiah – come to die rather than to rule
The King who is Servant of all
The one who suffers and yet is the beloved of God.

We are faced with Palms and Passion.

Perhaps this paradox is best expressed in the cry of the crowd “Hosanna”. We are used to thinking of this as a cry of praise – something like “Hooray!” – but the original word in Hebrew “Hoshana means “please save” or “save now”. The crowd are not just happy that Jesus is among them, they recognise that in Jesus there is the prospect of salvation, the hope of God with them.
Some of you know that I had a 5-day Lenten break last week, which meant that I missed the final session of our Lent course, which took the theme of ‘Hope’. I’m told it wasn’t an easy session, and I’m not surprised.

There are many dangers in talking about hope: we can fall into a slough of despond, where we realise how tough life is sometimes, and how hard it is to have real hope for the future given the difficulty of the present; or we can go to the opposite extreme and “hope for the best”, or as the Boy Scouts used to say “whistle and smile in all difficulties”. But true hope lies somewhere between – or maybe beyond – those extremes.
Hope looks suffering squarely in the eye, it doesn’t resort to the language of “never mind, it’ll all turn out all right” or “mustn’t grumble”, hope acknowledges that help is needed, that life can be tough.
But hope cries out ‘Hosanna’ – pleading for salvation, looking to God for help, not simply crying out into the darkness and the lonely void.

Hosanna: save now, please save, save us Lord…

There is no point in crying out unless there is the hope of being heard, being answered, actually being saved.
Palm Sunday shows us God with us in Christ – not in the frantic echoes of triumphant hoorahs, but humble, seated on a donkey, and calmly and deliberately going to suffer and to die.

On the roller coaster of life and in the roller coaster of Holy Week, God is with us – suffering servant, king on a cross, dying and living.
Here is the one who gives us the hope of salvation by staying with us throughout it all.
Here is the one to whom we cry “Hosanna”.
Here is the one who comes to us in bread and wine.
Here is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – to save us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Palm/Passion Sunday

Hopefully the completed sermon will be posted before lunch (late lunch?) - having had my lovely break I'm now trying to fit a week's work into 3 days: ouch!

I've been thinking about palm AND passion - centred around the word 'Hosanna', the difficulty some people have with 'Hope' (the theme of the last session of tour Lent course), and the sense of 'God with us' through Holy Week: and the cheers and in the pain.

Back to it!


It was finding the Rev Gal Blog Pals site which first got me thinking about creating this blog. I find it an interesting site to get me started when I'm thinking about preaching: and sometimes there's a posting there which really gives me food for thought.
So for the first time I'm trying to do the 'Friday Five': five questions which I answer & then link from that site to this. So with some feeling that it might not work, here are my answers:

So faced with a busy week:

1. What restores you physically?
I need to remember at least 5 times a day to drop my shoulders: sitting at the computer, having a meal, talking to people - all the tension goes to my shoulders & they end up, up round my ears! If I'm alone I can acoompany the relaxation of my shoulders with a big 'huff!' - for extra effect.

2. What strengthens you emotionally/ mentally?
It might sound corny, but being grateful. I am a very fortunate woman: I have a job I love, a wonderful family, and good friends. I can walk in the sunshine, shelter from the rain, and appreciate God's creation. This doesn't mean I haven't known mental illness, great sadness and health scares - but I'm blessed with a positive attitude to life and thank God for it.

3. What encourages you spiritually?
Time spent in prayer and reflection - alone and with my most trusted friend

4. Share a favourite poem or piece of music from the coming week.

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom'd the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk'd with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

by George Herbert 1593-1633

5.There may be many services for you to attend/ lead over the next week, which one are you most looking forward to and why? If there aren't do you have a favourite day in Holy week if so which one is it?

The Seder meal on Maundy Thursday last year was very special.
I also have a 'community service' on Tuesday & no idea yet what I'm going to do: a blank canvas is in equal parts scary & wonderful!
But Easter Sunday has to be the best of all!!