Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sermon notes 29 - 11- 09

St Andrew’s Day and first Sunday of Advent

I recently had reason to watch again the film ‘The Miracle maker’ – a clay animation version of the life of Jesus which was made about 15 years ago.

In the film Andrew is voiced with a Scottish accent – perhaps a nod at his position as patron saint of Scotland, as well as his role as a ‘simple’ fisherman.
Whilst Simon’s first reaction to Jesus is shown as rather scowling and uncertain, Andrew’s expression is one of open acceptance, even slight amusement, as Jesus begins to talk to them.

Depending on which film you watch or which version of the gospel you read, you build up a picture of Andrew as someone who is very ready to follow Jesus even before he really knows what this might mean, and who encourages others to come and join the adventure too. In John’s gospel he is a disciple of John the Baptist, and when John tells him to follow Jesus, Andrew asks Jesus ‘Where are you staying’ ‘Come and See!’, says Jesus – and after spending the rest of the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately fetches Simon to come and see, too.

Andrew the simple fisherman becomes Andrew the simple disciple and Andrew the simple evangelist. I love Andrew for his openness to new ideas, for his enthusiasm and for his concern for others. These are the characteristics of an evangelist – of someone who wants to draw others to follow Jesus.

When not watching films, I’ve been reading a book written about 3 years ago by two US researchers into church life, Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger called ‘Simple Church’. Their theory is that those churches which are growing healthily and affecting the world around them most are those which have a simple focus for their work.
Simple churches concentrate on helping people to love God, connect with others, and serve the world around them. When these simple churches are thinking about their programme of events, they ask which of those 3 things they are aiming to do with that activity – help people to love God, connect with other, or serve the world. Simple churches try top make sure that they have a balance of all three things in the life of the church, and encourage their members to have balance in their lives too. They ask people to do three things as part of their Christian lives each week, but to make sure that they do something to help them to love God (which might be Sunday worship), something to connect with other Christians (like a fellowship group or Bible study), and something to serve the world (which might be shopping for a neighbour or helping run a church meal).

It’s simple. It might have appealed to Andrew. But one of the questions people ask about this book is whether the concept of Simple Church is ‘Biblical’ or whether it is just a marketing ploy.

Our Bible readings today were the lectionary readings for St Andrew’s day, so I didn’t choose them with the Simple Church ideas in mind. But they seem to help us to reflect in the Simple Church concepts – love God, connect with others, serve the world.

The passage from Deuteronomy might seem a bit of a puzzle at first ‘the word of God is not far away…it is very near, in your heart & in your mouth’. So what is it? What is the crux of a life of faith, for the writer of this part of Deuteronomy? The answer come in the previous verses ‘love God with all your heart and with all your soul’. That is the summary of the law, so that it is not too hard. This is the Shema – the centrepiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer ‘hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’. These are the words spoken by the lips and written on the heart.
Love God. Simple.

In our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus calls Simon & Andrew & James & John to be his followers, his disciples, his ‘gang’. They are to follow him and learn by living with him and each other how to love and serve God in their actions and in their words.
Love God - Connect with others. Simple.

In the letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, and reinforces the importance of knowing and following the word of God, and learning to love God. But he is also concerned that the Christians of Rome understand the Good news that ‘Jesus is lord’ & hold into the faith that Jesus was raised from death. But this good news is not only for the salvation of those who know it for themselves - this is to be shared with those who have not heard. Paul wants the Roman Christians to learn to live with the needs of others in mind.
Love God – Connect with other – serve the world. Simple.

Today is the first Sunday of the new lectionary year – Year C, if you’re counting! The first Sunday of Advent, of course and the beginning of the United Reformed Church’s Vision for Life Prayer Year.
Maybe as we start to think about what we might do for the Prayer year, or as we feel oppressed by all the things we still have to do before we’re ready for Christmas, we need to think about a simple Advent, a simple Christmas and a simple new year.

Perhaps we need to learn from Andrew and concentrate on following Jesus and so learn about Loving God, connecting with others & serving the world. In the name of Jesus.
Amen.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Thoughts...

I've been reading 'Simple Church' by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger. It's based on research done on churches in the US, so you have to 'translate' a bit, but the basic premise is that churches which are growing are simple. They are based on loving God, loving others & serving the world... all that these churches do falls into one or more of these areas of focus, and the church stands back from time to time to ensure that all 3 areas are in balance in the life of the church, and that people are encouraged to move from one area to another, and to give each of them balance in their lives. I am very drawn to this - and can't help seeing a link with the simplicity and enthusiasm of Andrew. Though he hasn't really sussed who Jesus is, he is happy to follow, and keen to draw other along, too, though he was just a simple fisherman.
Maybe we need a simple Advent, a simple christmas and a simple new year??

Monday, 23 November 2009

Advent Sunday & St Andrew's Day

Yet again these things come together for our four churches.
I think I'll take the St Andrew's readings:
Deuteronomy 30:11-14
Romans 10:8b-18
Matthew 4:18-22

& at the moment I'm thinking along the lines of our responsibility to go into a stressed and anxious world with the good news of the advent hope.
Deuteronomy says 'the word is very near you' - whilst Romans underlines our responsibility to others. As disciples we are also apostles - sent out with good news. Andrew could not have understood quite what it was that Jesus was bringing, but nevertheless wanted others to share in it. I hope that we have seen enough of the joy of Christ's coming to want to share it, too - even if Advent reminds us Jesus' kingdom is not yet fully come...

I think I want to encourage people to watch & pray this Advent and to be bold to enjoy & share Christ.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Christ the King

Last day of the liturgical year (which means Advent next week - ulp!) and also baptisms in both churches.
But here's my go at it!

Christ the King (John 18:33-37, Revelation 1: 4b- 8)

I wonder if you’ve ever been asked what you think God looks like?
I love the story of the little 8 year old, busy drawing away, who was asked by his teacher ‘what are you drawing?’.
‘I’m drawing God’ he answered.
‘But no-one knows what God looks like’ said the teacher
to which the boy replied, ‘They will when I’ve finished!’.

Trying to describe or draw, or even talk about God is very difficult. But somewhere in there you would want to include some kind of ‘Wow’ factor.

The book of Revelation is the very last book of the Bible, and is an account of a series of visions to one man, John of Patmos. In writing down these visions, John tries to describe how amazing God is.
In the reading we heard, he describes God as the one who was and is and is to come, and calls Jesus ‘the ruler of all the kings of the earth’. In our hymns, Jesus is often called the king of kings.

I don’t know if you saw any of the pictures of the Queen at Ely & in Cambridge on Thursday – or at the opening of Parliament on Friday, but it was pretty impressive – amazing cars and coaches, fine fabrics and fur, gold & crowns… and John is saying that Jesus is the King who is better than all that – everywhere in the world!
That’s quite a ‘wow’.

But here today we’ve seen something else that makes me go ‘wow’ – we’ve seen the young life (lives) of Leah
(of Molly & Mabel) celebrated and we’ve heard God’s promise that every young person (and every old one, come to that) is a child of God. New babies are always pretty amazing anyway, aren’t they, & God loves every one, every child, each one of us – we’re precious. wow!
In the Gospel reading we heard Pilate, the Roman governor, questioning Jesus just before he is killed – and Pilate is trying hard to understand what sort of king Jesus is. Is he the sort of king who has an army who will come to try to rescue him? Jesus says, no ‘my kingdom is not from this world’ – Jesus is king of everything, not just a little country of the world, and he has come to earth to show us that God is with us. He will allow Pilate’s soldiers to take him and kill him, so that he can show us how much God loves us – and so that God’s great power can raise him from death.

Pilate can’t understand – to him kings are powerful and don’t allow anyone else to push them around.

But we can try to understand – because soon we will start to get ready for Christmas, when we remember that Jesus is the king who gave up his kingdom to be born as a tiny baby in Bethlehem.

Here’s another ‘wow’ moment – God come to earth, not as a great king but as a little scrap of humanity – so that we can know God’s love.

God comes to us in Jesus – the king who is greater than any king or queen we could ever know – but who instead of traveling around in a great coach or a vintage Bentley walked alongside normal people. Jesus the king is also an ordinary man, to teach us that God loves ordinary people.

God loves each one of us as a precious child of God – from royalty right up to each one of us here today.

So let’s celebrate the love of Jesus the King – today and forever. Amen.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Two before Advent 15th November

As it happens I did most of my thinking about this sermon away from the computer - so here are the notes more or less 'fully formed'

Mark 13; 1-8; Hebrews 10, 11-14, 19-25

After today there are just 5 more Sundays until Christmas. If you’re anything like me that thought makes you panic slightly: each year there seems to be more things to think about – cards, presents, food & drink, and Carol services galore.

And those are just the material preparations that need to be done – there is also the need to be spiritually ready for the coming of Jesus Christ – the rule of all things and prince of peace.

It might seem when we look around at the world that we will never be ready for Jesus – the world seems, in so many ways, to be in a mess.
News of the financial crisis, the state of the banks, and growing unemployment all fill the bulletins.
We might be struggling with personal worries about our health, or about family, or about work.
And sometimes it just seems the world is going to the dogs: just yesterday on the BBC news website the top 3 stories were:
Woman killer flees on escorted visit to shop
Four boys killed as car hits wall
and 100 mph winds batter the South of England.

Against all this, how can we possibly claim that all will be well, that Jesus is coming, and that God is in charge?

The gospel reading shows us Jesus warning the people of his time that they needed to put their trust in God, whatever happened around them.
One of the disciples, walking with Jesus near the temple in Jerusalem says ‘‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”.
The temple was a source of great pride to the Jewish people in Jesus’ time.

The building of it had begun about 50 years before, and it grew to cover 20 acres, with courtyards, stairs & colonnaded walkways, with marble pillars 10 metres high. For the people of Jesus’ time this was a sign that God was with them, his chosen people, and that they would be secure and safe.
But Jesus warns his followers not to trust in the temple as certainty of God’s presence.
He says ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

And Jesus is to be proved right, as the temple was almost completely destroyed by the Roman Army in AD 70 – leaving only the wall we know as the Western or Wailing wall left.

Jesus warns that there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, but whatever happens, God is in charge, and all will be well.
Jesus describes all the trials and difficulties of life as being like birth pangs of God’s kingdom – signs that God is present and in charge in this world, but not fully, yet – things are not yet exactly as God’s will would have them be.

In Advent (starting in just 2 weeks’ time!) we celebrate the coming of the king and the coming of the kingdom, but this rule of God does not arrive instantaneously, but gradually and even painfully. In Jesus we see a glimpse of the kingdom to come, but we know, given the state of the world, that this is not yet fully God’s place.

In the meantime, Jesus’ message is not to panic or despair. Don’t be fooled into thinking that when we see the magnificence of something like the temple it is a sure sign of God with us. God’s presence is more earthy and real than this – and sometimes surprises us.
Even when all seems hopeless, when everything crashes around our ears, God has a plan and in God’s time, God’s kingdom will come.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ – his coming to us, dying and rising for us – is the start of his plan.
It begins with the message from the Angels ot the Shepherds ‘Do not be afraid’, it continues with trye birth-pangs, and a birth, a life and a death and a living forever.
And so the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says:
‘let us approach God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful’.

Like the shepherds, we should not be afraid, but look for signs of God’s kingdom of love, joy, justice & peace.

In the coming of Christ
In Advent 2009
and in God’s promise for the future.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Memorial service

Tonight is our annual service for those who've been bereaved. I'll post the sermon below. Again, it isn't a great theological treatise, but I hope it will be appropriate for those who are at the service.

Memorial service (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-5)
I hope we find those words from the Wisdom of Solomon comforting.

Of course there is terrible pain when we lose someone – we miss them, in ways that might change as time passes, but we never stop missing them. Many people who have been bereaved have commented to me that the pain doesn’t go away as time passes, it just changes with the months and years.

But the Christian hope is that although we feel the pain of loss, those we have loved are ‘In the hands of God’.

We cannot know for sure, this side of death, what it might be like to be in the hands of God, but we know what it means to feel secure, to feel loved, to feel comfortable and relaxed – and the Bible promises that heaven is like all the good things we know in this life.
On of the psalms – Psalm 16 – says

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

And if you’re wondering whether this is anything more than wishful thinking, the evidence that God is able to keep our loved ones – and ultimately each one of us, safe in his hands, is that this is what happened to Jesus Christ – who was brought safely through death to resurrection life.
So Paul writes to the Philippians
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” — Philippians 3:20-21

Not only are we told that those who have died are in the hands of God, we are also told ‘They are at peace’.

Very few lives are untouched by some kind of pain or struggle – and only we may know the difficulties faced by those we loved. But in the end, in the hands of God, and in the beauty of heaven, there will be perfect peace.
Sometimes when someone has died we feel that there are things we could have done differently. But God promises that the person who has died is at peace and offers us peace too, through the forgiveness of God.

They are at peace – and we can be too.

Finally, our reading says that at the end of their lives on earth ‘God found them worthy’. The God who made us knows us through and through, he knows the reasons why each of us is not perfect – but that doesn’t mean that each of us is not worthy of God’s love. Whoever we are, whatever we do with our lives, God never stops loving us. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross shows us the depth of God’s love for every one of us.

We can hear God’s word in the Bible and know that we can trust the love of God to have carried our loved ones safely in his hands, to a place of great peace, where they will be loved as precious in God’s sight.
And though we are separated for a while, we, too are held by God until we are all one in God’s eternal peace.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

The sermon below may seem very simple. there are various reasons for this - there is so much that could be said on Remembrance Sunday, but actually so many people are lost in their own thoughts and find it hard to listen; there is always a timing issue, so that the 2 minutes' silence comes at the right point; and the service I'm leading will have (who knows how many) brownies, cubs & scouts in it, so I don't want to 'go on' too much.
And in any case, I'm a fairly simple soul...

Remembrance : Isaiah 52: 7-12 Romans 8: 31-39

After about half an hour here in the church we’re going to gather outside to read the names on the war memorial, and to stand for 2 minutes’ silence.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet and the British Legion ‘Roll of Honour’ we can find out a lot about the men whose names are on the memorial.
There are 15 men who died in the First world war & 9 who died in the Second world war.
They’re called ‘world wars’ because so many countries were involved, and that means that those young men from Duxford died in many different countries and places.
In the first world war, 9 died in France, and 4 in Belgium, but there was also one who died in Egypt and 2 who died in Iraq (which was then called Mesopotamia).
In the second world war, 3 died in the UK (many RAF pilots in particular died in training) 2 at sea (1 of those was on a submarine), and 1 each in Egypt, Burma, Germany, and Italy.

What a long way from home some of them were, fighting for our country and its freedom. It’s important that we remember that they weren’t just names, but that they were people, with homes and families and friends.
One reason for our act of remembrance is to pause and give thanks for those who laid down their lives for others. There is no doubt that their sacrifice made life and freedom possible: that they fought for peace, just as our forces are fighting for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Our Bible readings talked about peace and war, and God’s presence.

The prophet Isaiah talks about a time when war will be over, when the watchmen, instead of seeing enemy armies arriving over the hill, will announce that peace has come. Then people will know that God is looking after them.
But it isn’t just when there’s peace that we know God is there. Paul’s letter to the Romans states that whether we are experiencing peace or conflict, life or death, God never abandons us. ‘Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God’

And better than that, Paul expresses his faith that God can change death into eternal life.
‘God did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all’.

The death of Jesus Christ shows us the amazing depth of God’s love; and the resurrection of Jesus shows us the astounding power of God’s love – greater than death, great enough to bring all of us safely through death to eternal life.

So our remembrance today should teach us to be thankful.
• Thankful to those who have laid down their lives for others.
• Thankful that peace can come
• And thankful that God’s love is with us always.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.