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.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

'Do you want bread of life with that?'

I was at a meeting of ministers today where we were all bemoaning being stuck with 'I am the bread of life' - but maybe we have to keep coming back to this as the central point of believing in Jesus.

'Nice thing with the loaves and fish jesus'
- yes, but I am the bread of life

'You like Moses, then, giving us manna?'
- no, I am the bread of life

'But aren't you just Jesus - son of Mary & Joseph?'
- more than that - I am the bread of life.

Hmmm......

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sunday August 2nd

After a good break & week of catching up - back to business as usual!

Bread for others Exodus 16:2-4,9-15 John 6:24-35

What is bread? Bread is what we need to live, to survive. We pray ‘give us today our daily bread’, meaning not just bread itself, but all the material things we need to continue to keep body & soul together.

So John in last week’s gospel reading, tells us the story of more than bread when he tells us about Jesus feeding of the 5000. Jesus shows the people that he is the one who can feed them, just as God fed the people of Israel in the desert with manna. This sign from John’s gospel shows that Jesus is the one from God who can do the great works of God, and that he is worthy to be followed. Jesus is the 1 who feeds people.

Jesus, in today’s reading, explains to people that it wasn’t Moses who fed them, but God. They mustn’t pay too much attention to the one who told them to expect the bread, they need to concentrate on God, who gives them what they need.

John does not stop his story at the point at which Jesus provides bread. The people return to him and he says “I am the bread of life” – showing his disciples that he is greater than Moses, the great leader of the people of God in the desert. The bread of life which Jesus is offering is greater than the manna which kept the people alive for a time.

So Jesus is teaching his followers that instead of seeing Jesus as being like Moses, they should see him as being like bread, the thing sent from God in heaven above in order to save God’s people.
Jesus is doing more than offering people bread, he is offering them eternal life.

Bread is a sign of what we need to live, not just to survive but to really live – and Jesus offers us that.
So Jesus says "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

What else is bread? Bread is also a sign of friendship – a ‘companion’ is literally one we break bread with.

Jesus was continually criticised for eating with tax collectors and sinners – he would break bread with the lonely and the outcast and those considered ‘unclean’.
So in offering people bread Jesus is saying more than just ‘come and eat with me’, he is offering acceptance and fellowship.

When Jesus talks about himself as the bread of life – the one who gives himself to give life to others, he invites all to eat . And when he gives life to his followers he strengthens them so that they can share that life with all whom they meet.

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 sick, 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 are about to receive: God’s gift of himself, offered in Jesus Christ, offered as bread for the world, so that wherever we go we can be sustained by his life and his love.

So may God feed us at this table and may we go in the strength of Christ to be life for the world, bread for the hungry, God’s own for the world.
To the glory of God. Amen.