Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Notes for Sunday June 28th

Baptism 28/6/09

These might have seemed strange readings for a baptism. Baptisms are wonderfully happy occasions: we are celebrating Joseph & Eloise’s life & the love God has for them.
But the very eventful reading from Mark’s gospel seems to be full of illness and death and worry. We needn’t worry too much, though, as the turning points in this story comes with the healing Jesus offers first to the older woman and then to the young girl.

The story is rich with similarities and differences.
There is a young girl/ an old woman
A request for healing from an important man / an attempt to gain healing without being noticed from a very unimportant woman
Someone who has suffered 12 years of bleeding and therefore of being considered untouchable & unclean/ 12 years of a privileged life as the daughter of the leader of the synagogue.
This is a very complex and beautiful story of healing.

And the story is amazingly told – with the tension of one story interrupting the other – you can sense the impatience of the disciples when Jesus stops and asks ‘who touched me?’…we almost want to shout at Jesus to get on with hurrying to Jairus’ daughter before it’s too late.

The question ‘is it too late??’ is a big question for both the young girl and the older woman. Remember it says that the woman had tried many forms of healing before – she has spent all her money seeking a cure. Is it too late? And if Jesus faffs about with her will it be too late for the daughter of Jairus?

But it’s all OK – because the answer is that with Jesus, it's never too late.

So it turns out this is a good reading for a baptism – because it reminds us that God’s love shown in Jesus is there for us right at the start of life.. and throughout our lives – it is never too late to respond to God’s love – it will always be there for us.

And our other reading reminds us of who is included in this love of God. Paul, in his letter, tells us that Jesus Christ became poor so that we may become rich. This means that the barriers between God and humanity and the barriers we humans set up between ourselves, are all broken down, or perhaps it would be better to say are all healed, in Jesus Christ.

This baptism service is about God’s love for Joseph & Eloise, but in it we are reminded that we are all loved and precious children of God - whatever our age, our condition, our status.

The healing love of Jesus is there for us throughout our lives – and is present in a visible way in this bread and wine.

When we eat and drink in communion we are accepting the place that God’s love has in our lives – a love that in Jesus heals and touched and then dies and lives again.

Whether you want to come and receive communion or a blessing, or whether you prefer to sit quietly and reflect, God’s love is here for you – whoever you are.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

June 28th

Readings for this week are:

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 - Christ for our sake became poor: Paul encourages the Corinthians to give to others
Mark 5:21-43 - the interwoven healings of Jairus' daughter & the woman with the haemorrhage

A few weeks ago I did an informal creative writing group on this story from Mark (inspired by some work we had done on a minsters' Spring school). The story is rich with similarities and differences.
A young girl/ an old woman
A request for healing from an important man / an attempt to gain healing without being noticed
12 years of bleeding and being untouchable & unclean/ 12 years of a privileged life as the daughter of the leader of the synagogue
The big question for both - is it too late??
And the answer - not with Jesus, it's never too late.

So what does all this mean for us ('us' this week being a baptism at one church & an all age service at the other).

Paul reminds us that Christ became poor so that we may become rich - the barriers between God and humanity and the barriers we humans set up between ourselves, are broken down in Jesus christ. We are all loved and precious children - whatever our age, condition, status - and we are therefore all one in God's family.
'God's family' will probably be the theme for the all-age service.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sermon notes: Father's Day

Father’s Day (Job 38: 1-11, Mark 4:35-41)

I hope it doesn’t come as news to any of you that today is fathers’ day…if you did forget – there’s always the phone!

You will probably have heard sermons before on the subject of the fatherhood of God – it is an image with which we’re very familiar.
We might need to get over some of the difficulties of associating God too strongly with someone we think of as an unhelpful model of fatherhood. But if we can set aside any prejudice, we can probably cope with the idea that God is like the best father we can possibly imagine – caring, warm, strong, someone to whom we can always turn.
Perhaps we imagine our Father God as the one who can give us the wisest answers to our deepest questions.

That may have been what Job thought, too. The passage we’ve heard today is God’s answer to Job’s deepest questions – questions about his suffering. Job has had terrible things happen to him – he’s lost everything, he’s covered with sores, he’s lying in an ashpit. Job asks God the very understandable question..
‘Why?’ – ‘why this suffering?’ ‘why me?’ ... ‘Why, God?’

And this is God’s answer:
‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth or when I made the hippopotamus?’

A couple of weeks ago I was in conversation with someone who's been bereaved, and Job’s answer from God came up. We agreed that as far as answers to the question of suffering go, 'where were you when I made the hippopotamus?' has to be one of the lousiest!

Come on, Dad – you need to do better than that!
But that’s all the answer Job gets – God firmly reminds Job that he, God, in the creator of everything, that all of creation is safe in his hands. Even poor old suffering Job is still safe in God’s hands.

And to Job’s credit, he realizes that he will never understand God’s creation and the role of suffering in it, and he has to trust that his heavenly father knows what he is about.
It’s just one notch up from the earthly father who in exasperation in reply to the thousandth ‘why’ of the day says ‘because!’.
God says to Job in effect ‘I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but I haven’t failed to notice you, or abandoned you, I am still your loving creator, but you will just have to take my word for that, because I know it all looks completely bleak’.

It’s all the answer we’ve got – maybe it’s all the answer we will understand – why suffering? God knows.

And right now, in the cool calmness of this church, I can accept that answer. But in the heat and the press and the storm of life, and when the suffering is really starting to bite, it’s a different matter. Then, with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, I want to scream 'don't you care?'.

There are times when it seems the one who should be saving us is asleep – when we feel absolutely alone. We need rescue, we want superman, we scream for help…

Yet Jesus' answer to all his disciples is to calmly remind us who he is - master of sea and wind - maker & redeemer of all.
Finally Jesus steps in, and all is calm again.
Some have argued that Jesus was testing the disciples; he waited to see how they would react to the storm. Some people see a parallel in the story of Jesus asleep in the boat with the story of Jonah, where he is found asleep in the hold during a storm, and is sent up on deck to pray for help – then when help doesn’t come he is held responsible for the storm and thrown overboard. By contrast, Jesus is shown to be in charge of the storm – he has the power of the creator God over the sea and wind. Some people see this as a story about trusting Jesus.

But why doesn’t Jesus just stop the storm from happening in the first place? Why does a loving Father God make a world in which suffering seems inevitable?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d know how to make a hippopotamus!

But I do believe it’s better to have this gritty reality than to live with the pretence that there is no suffering, or that we can be kept insulated from harm, wrapped in cotton wool. What sort of father fails to tell his children to expect some knocks in life?

And ultimately the answer to the disciples’ question to Jesus ‘don’t you care?’ comes on the cross. In Jesus we see the God who cares enough about our suffering to endure it for himself, to take it and remake it and transform death itself into new life.
In the end - beyond this life we know - deep at the pillars of existence - God will not let us down and will not let us die.

This communion meal is a foretaste of all that is to come, the gift and promise of God with us: in all our suffering. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Sunday 21st June 09

Readings this week are:
Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-4

The Gospel reading is the stilling of the storm and I think I want to steer away from a reading that says 'whatever your storms in life, Jesus can calm them'. Not because that isn't true, but because often it just doesn't feel like that.

The Job reading came up in conversation a couple of weeks ago with someone who's been bereaved. We agreed that as far as answers to the question of suffering go, 'where were you when I made the hippopotamus?' has to be one of the lousiest!

With the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, I want to scream 'don't you care?'. Yet Jesus' answer is to calmly remind them who he is - master of sea and wind - maker & redeemer of all.

What sort of answer is this? Why does a loving Father God make a world in which suffering seems inevitable?

But isn't it better to have this gritty reality rather than living with the pretence that we can be kept wrapped in cotton wool? And somehow the reality of God's care is reflected in what Paul says - We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

In the end - beyond this life we know - deep at the pillars of existence - God will not let us die.

This is tough stuff! I need more time to think!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Notes for Sunday June 14th

Here is just one version of yesterday's sermon!
It was a very exciting day but I must admit I'm very tired today.

June 14th sermon

Our service is full of words and thoughts today – so this sermon will be short. Perhaps it will be like a mustard seed – very small, but effective!

We have heard the Godly Play story of the mustard seed and heard the prophecy about God taking a sapling and growing it into a tree. This shows us the amazing potential of a seed or a cutting. In even the tiniest seed, there is everything needed except water to begin growth – and then as long as the seed is in good rich soil, and the light conditions are right the seedling can grow into a mature plant, ready to set its own seed in the future.

Jesus tells us that God's kingdom is like a seed – it grows in secret, by small amounts and yet everything needed for that growth is already there. Whenever we feel that we are getting nowhere in God's work, we need to remember that we are not responsible for the coming of the kingdom - God has that in hand already - we have to take heart, do our small part, and trust in God, who is the one who brings growth.

Today small but significant things are happening among us – cause for real celebration. We are welcoming Llandre as a new church member and ordaining Marjorie as an elder. These may seem like small things in the great scheme of things - but they are signs of God's kingdom. They show us that God’s Spirit is active among us, stirring new life in us.

We thank God that Llandre and Marjorie have heard God’s call on them. And we might wonder what will happen next - what will be the next signs of God’s work being done among us? It may be there are others here feeling a call to new service in some way – I encourage you to pray about it and talk to me or one of the other elders about it. God’s kingdom is in God’s hands, but we need to be alive to the signs of growth around us.

And it is good that we will also be sharing communion this morning. The amount we will actually eat and drink is tiny, little bigger than a mustard seed, but this is all we need to be fed. This is God's gift of Godself, this is where again we see God’s kingdom among us and where God opens heaven to us.

The kingdom of God is present among us in this bread and wine, in each individual in this church, in every small seed and sign of God's activity. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

June 14th

Readings this week are:
1 Samuel 15: 34 - 16 (Samuel anoints David): 13 or Ezekiel 17: 22-24 (the people of God is like the top of a cedar tree)
2 Cor 5: 6-10, 14-17
Mark 4: 26-34 (The kingdom of God is like a seed growing in secret: like a mustard seed - a tiny thing which grows into a huge bush.)

I want to focus on the Godly Play story of the mustard seed - which shows us the amazing potential of a seed. God's kingdom grows in secret, by small amounts and yet everything needed for that growth is already there. Whenever we feel that we are getting nowhere in God's work, we need to remember that we are not responsible for the coming of the kingdom - God has that in hand already - we have to take heart, do our small part, and trust in God.

In one church I will be doing an activity with all ages - planting seeds & talking about how they grow.

In the second church we are welcoming a new church member and ordaining an elder. These may seem like small things in the great scheme of things - but they are signs of God's kingdom, We will also be sharing communion - again the amount eaten and drunk is tiny, little bigger than a mustard seed, but this is all we need to be fed: it is God's gift of Godself, and opens heaven to us. The kingdom of God is present among us in that bread and wine, in each individual in the church, in every small seed/sign of God's activity.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Sermon notes for Trinity

For those who like to see the finished article - because these notes were quite short I probably went 'off piste' more than usual! In particular I was struck by the great unasked question from Nicodemus 'What do I have to do to be in a relationship with Go?' - and Jesus' amazing answer 'be born!' - this works for me on three levels. Just as we can't choose to be born, we don't choose to be loved by God - it just happens! The qualification from being loved by God is to be born - ie God loves everyone. Becoming aware of God's love and our status as God's children is like a re-birth - it changes evrything. I hope the inclusion of some of this made it a better sermon!

Trinity (Isaiah 6: 1-8, Romans 8: 12-17, John 3: 1-17)

All over the country - indeed all over the world - preachers are wrestling today with the idea of the Trinity. How can we possibly condense all our wonderings about the mystery of the God who is one and yet three in Trinity, into a manageable length of sermon? And to help us we have heard three readings any one of which is a big 'chew' theologically speaking...

Perhaps the easiest way is to focus on just one of the many things that the concept of the Trinity teaches us about God. The idea of God – Father Son & Holy Spirit tells us of the God who is relationship. The God who can only properly be expressed in a loving relationship - both within the Trinity & reaching out to include us.

On the face of it the Isaiah reading is just rather terrifying glimpse of the awe and wonder of God.
Isaiah sees the Lord in the temple, on a throne, surrounded and attended by amazing seraphim. Isaiah’s response to this sight is entirely understandable – he cries out ‘woe is me’ – faced with the awe of God he is very aware of his own sinfulness. Yet one of the seraphim cleanses Isaiah & then God seeks him out ‘Whom shall I send & who will go for us?’ – this insignificant mortal is called into the service of the almighty God. God is always seeking out ways of relating to humanity: the God of relationship within himself also longs to include people in that relationship.

So how do we relate to God, as servants and as those to whom God speaks?

In the gospel reading we heard a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that being holy, being part of the kingdom of God is about being a child of God, and that this is a gift, not an earned right. The phrase we usually translate 'you must be born again' can also be translated 'you must be born from above' – but in either case, this re-birth, this being born as God’s child, is not a work of our doing. It is God's will that we should know God: not only as mighty God but also as loving Father, as Saviour and as Comforter.

Jesus tells Nicodemus 'God so loved the world he sent the only son...' - God in Trinity reaches out to embrace and love the whole world. Our job is only to accept it. And so today at Pampisford we were baptizing children, because we were remembering God’s gift of love poured out to us before we are even old enough to understand it.
We do not earn baptism, we cannot demand a relationship with God, we do not deserve it in some way. God’s love is there – we have only to become aware of it & claim it for ourselves.

The letter to the Romans says ‘those who are led by the Spirit are sons (and I want to say daughters) of God. Paul, who wrote this letter, writes of the spirit of adoption. The Spirit, the power of God moving in us, leads us more deeply into a pre-existing truth, that which is already true, even if we do not know it – the fact that we are children of God.

God is made of a relationship of Father, Son & Holy Spirit. We are included in the relationship at the heart of God in Trinity, to be loved and cherished and to grow as God’s children.

And so we come to the Lord’s table.
Here God the Father send us God the Son, so that inspired by the Spirit we might know God’s gift of love to us here.

As daughters and sons of God let us all celebrate our place in God’s family, accept God’s love for us, and pray that we might grow in that love of God and of others, all our lives long.
Amen.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Trinity Sunday!

Aah - the most frightening Sunday of the year for preachers - how to condense all our wonderings about the Trinity into a manageable length of sermon? Well, I think I gave up that a few years ago, and instead go for a 'one facet of a very complicated thing' approach instead.

Readings are:

Isaiah 6: 1-8
Romans 8: 12-17
John 3: 1-17

Wow! Any one of those readings is a big 'chew' theologically speaking...
So, thoughts so far: at one church I have a baptism, at the other the ordination of an elder - but I think in both cases I want to focus on what the Trinity tells us about the God who is relationship - both within the Trinity & reaching out to include us.

Baptism teaches us about our place in the family of God.
The Isaiah reading speaks of a God of awe and power, who nevertheless reaches out to humanity with God's word.

So how do we relate to God, as part of the family?

Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that this is a gift, not an earned right. The phrase we usually translate 'born again' can also be translated 'born form above' - in either case, it is not a work of our doing. It is God's will that we should know God 'God so loved the world he sent the only son...' - God in Trinity reaches out to embrace and love the whole world.

Then Romans speaks of the spirit of son (and I want to say daughter)-ship, of adoption. The Spirit leads us more deeply into a pre-existing truth, what is alread tru, even if we do not know it - that we are children of God.

We are included in the relationship at the heart of God in Trinity, to be loved and cherished and to grow.