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.