Friday, 29 January 2010

Notes for Sunday

The 'handout' has an image of Rembrandt's 'Simeon in the temple', the quote from Luke 2 in the Message version, and an outline of the sermon...
(and if I've learnt how correctly, the image is here!)

Seeing what God is doing

As you came into church this morning you were, I hope, given a sheet of paper with a picture and a ‘plan’ of this sermon on it. The gospel reading is all about seeing Jesus Christ, and it would seem strange to talk about the importance of what was seen in that story, but rely only on your being able to listen to what I’m going to say.

So this is a sermon about seeing – and a sermon you can see: in the picture and in the plan of what the sermon is going to be about. If you get lost at any point in the sermon, what you have there is a bit like a map, to help you see where we’ve got to – it also means you can see when we’re near the end – which is often good news in a sermon!

If you like you could just spend this time looking at the picture – it is the last painting every done by the Dutch artist, Rembrandt – it was found on an easel in his house after his death. Some people believe that the woman in the picture is Mary, Jesus’ mother, others think it’s meant to be Anna, the old prophetess. Experts reckon that the brush-work is different on the woman, and that she was added later.
The main part of the painting shows Simeon, the old man who almost lived in the temple, praising God that this baby he is holding is the Son of God – the one through whom God has come to people to show them the way of life.
It’s a wonderful painting, which shows the old man, and the tiny child as a pool of light in the darkness. Here we can see what God is doing, being born into our world in this baby, Jesus. We can see, just as Simeon sees.
The Message version of the Bible puts it like this:

Simeon took [the child] into his arms and blessed God: “God, you can now release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation, it's now out in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.”

Simeon – an old man who can hardly see – can see who Jesus is and he thanks God for him. He sees what God is doing in Jesus.

So thanks to Rembrandt we can imagine what Simeon saw that day – but where in our world do we see what God is doing?
The answer comes in the reading we had from the letter to the Corinthians. Paul has just talked about all the ways in which the members of Christ’s body, the church work together – teaching, healing, sharing the Good news of Jesus’ love. All sorts of work in the church is important, but then Paul says ‘but I will show you an even better way’ – LOVE.

If people around us are going to see what God is doing, the most important thing we can do is to show them love. This makes perfect sense, when you think about it – if we had not known love from our friends and our families, we might find it hard to know what it means to say God loves us; if we want to know what it means to say that God’s love is with us in Jesus, it helps to read stories which remind us of the way that Jesus loved those he met; when we want to know how much God loves us, we look for signs of that love in the world around us and especially in the life and the death of Jesus Christ.
Where love is, God is: Love is what allows people to see what God is doing.

So the tricky question – can we be sings of love in the world?
What would that mean, what do we have to do?
Paul is clear. In one of the most fantastic things ever written about love he says:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
That has to be how we try to live, if we are going to be signs of love in the world. It might sound almost impossible – but the gift of love has already been given to us by God. God’s love has already come to us – we can see it there in Simeon’s lap – and we remember it in all our Bible readings and in the bread and wine of the eucharist. God’s love comes to us, changes us and makes us signs of love in the world: a God-revealing light to the world.

We have come together today as seven different churches. It’s just after the end of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and it’s good to remember that by being together. But we might want to ask for the grace to see what God is doing in our churches. How can we be a God-revealing light in this area? Simeon and Anna are alive to what God is doing – they meet Jesus Christ and they see God’s love. When they see, they become part of the story – they talk to other people about what God is doing, they help others to see God with them.
We do not know exactly what the future might look like for our seven churches and five villages, but may God help us to be alive, to see what God is doing, and to be filled with God’s love and grace and able to join in. To be a God-revealing light in the darkness and to bring others to Jesus Christ. In his name. Amen.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Jan 31st

Readings I'm looking at are:
Luke 2: 22-40 Presentation of Christ in the temple.
Together with 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

It's quite a challenge - a sermon for the week of prayer for Christian Unity ( a bit late!) to 7 churches, with children present but probably only the older ones really listening while the younger ones make themselves busy at the back of church.

Thoughts so far:
Give everyone a 'handout' with a picture of Rembrandt's Simeon with the Christ child in the temple: for some they might just like to look at this & ignore everything else! Also the handout will have an outline of the sermon - to help young people (in particular but not exclusively!) to follow the sermon & see how it's structured.

The theme - I suppose 'love', but love for christ, love with a purpose...

It's only Monday - more to follow.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Jan 24th 2010

The 'core' of the readings I'm using are:
1 Corinthians 12: 14-27
Luke 4: 16-21

I know the lectionary readings slightly overlap these, but I had the interesting experience of trying to remember what they were for someone yesterday (so that they can get readers for one of the services) - and when I looked at a BIble they seemed about right.

That's the sort of week I've had, really - doing the best I can with the time available. I was trying to have a 'study week' to get the first draft of my dissertation finished - but of course things kept intruding in (as they do in ministry). The result is I've gone from about half way to about two thirds of the way through the diss; but I am feeling a bit frazzled. Writing is not my natural form of communication (better just talking on my hind legs with no notes!) and I find swapping between 'academic' writing and sermon-writing quite difficult.

Anyway - enough of the moan (and of course it is precisely that same flexibility and unpredictability that I love about ministry!).
Here's the sermon:
Unity 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a Luke 4: 14-21
I don’t know if you remember the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons, Charlie Brown, Snoopy the dog & my favourites: a girl of about 7 called Lucy and her younger brother, Linus. In one cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organised like that?"
It’s the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and yet sometimes it seems like the Christian churches are just like that – we can’t seem to get organised into an effective single unit!

Paul offers us inspiration with his talk of the body. He says to the individual members of the church in Corinth, and through them to the individual churches into which the followers of Jesus’ are drawn. Christ is one body, but made up of many parts. There are different tasks for the different parts of the body to do, but they must work together for the good of the one body, because they are all working through the one spirit.
We might describe this as diversity in unity. Paul isn’t telling people to fall into line, to all be exactly the same, to all do exactly the same things, he doesn’t see Christians working together like an army of ants – each uniform and identical and losing their individuality.

But he does point to an underlying unity.
The week of prayer for Christian unity is not just about getting organised so we can be more effective, it is about celebrating and committing ourselves to that underlying unity which we already have, because there can be only one body of Christ, however many different parts of it there are.

Division of Christians is not just foolish or wasteful of resources, it is fundamentally wrong and sinful. There is only one body of Christ, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, says St Paul.

So what steps do we have to take as Christian churches to reclaim our underlying unity?
One thing is to understand that unity is not uniformity. We cannot expect the Catholic church to do things as we do, or the Salvation Army, or the Baptists or even other Anglicans! But we do have to ask whether what we are doing is for the health of the whole body, building the kingdom of God, or whether we are stuck in competition with one another and are building our own little fiefdoms.

We need, above all, to remember that when we work together as the body of Christ we are doing it for God and God’s world, not for ourselves.

And this is where the Gospel reading can help us.
The story we heard comes directly after the temptation of Jesus. Turning stones to bread, throwing himself down from the temple, seeking domination over the world – all these were temptations for Jesus to place himself at the centre of his ministry.
Then he comes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to declare good news for the poor, release of the captive, recovery of sight for the blind’.
Jesus announces that he has not come just to live out his life or tell his own story, to become some kind of legend by exalting himself.
He has come to be part of God’s story, to align himself with God’s kingdom, to be a sign of what God is doing in the world.

When the Christian churches remember that they are part of the one body of Christ, we too will align ourselves with what God is doing in his world – we will forget our own agendas and do God’s work, building up God’s kingdom.

But remember Paul’s point about diversity in unity – being part of God’s story doesn’t mean that our story is unimportant. For the body of Christ to enjoy health and vitality we need to be ready to listen to one another’s stories, as different Christians and different denominations, so that we come to appreciate what it is that each of the different parts of the body, weak or strong, beautiful or bashful, have to offer to the whole.

This week of prayer for Christian Unity, let’s commit ourselves to telling our own story and listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that the whole body of Christ may be honoured and its underlying unity in the one Spirit and the One Lord be declared – to the glory of the God who is Unity-in-diversity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That's the Anglican 'sermon' - Now I just have to think about the all-age service at the United Reformed Church...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Sermon notes 17-1-10

With thanks to a blogging friend who's reflections on Haiti helped this make sense as God's word to us today:

Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11)
The story of the wedding at Cana is described by John as the first ‘sign’ performed by Jesus: this ‘revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’. Before Nicodemus, before the woman at the well, before any healings – Jesus does this.

There are many things we can take from this story.
It’s interesting to see Jesus in a very ordinary context, at a wedding, celebrating with his friends and his family. Sometimes people chose this reading to be read at a wedding – Perhaps because it’s nice to think Jesus celebrated as we do, and perhaps because it helps remind people that Jesus is present at their wedding, too.

Some people are interested to read a story about Jesus enjoying wine, having a good time and encouraging others to celebrate by making sure the wine does not run out. In a world where sometimes Jesus can be painted as a bit of a killjoy it’s good to remember that in his time he was criticized for being a wine-bibber, a bit of a party man.

And some people concentrate on the six stone jars, there for ritual washing, which would have held 20 or 30 gallons each – that is a lot of wine! And there may be something in this story about Jesus’ sign of the coming of the kingdom, which comes with amazingly abundant grace poured out, where previously there has been careful attempts to be clean and deserve favour.

I’ve preached on the wedding at Cana quite a number of times over the years, but I think I’ve always tended to concentrate on what the readings tells us about Jesus, rather than thin about what we, as followers of Jesus, might do.

I came across this quote from Richard Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals in the States: When I die, God isn't going to ask me "Did I create the Earth in six days or five days?" but "What did you do with what I gave you?"

So what does this story have to tell us about what we should do with what God has given us?
To answer this I’d like us to spend some time thinking about a character in the story other than Jesus.
Jesus is enjoying the party, he’s surrounded by his friends, and it’s Mary, his mother, who comes to him and says ‘they have no wine’. We can’t know of course how the story might have panned out if Mary had not been there. Maybe Jesus would have noticed his glass was empty and eventually have chosen to do something about it himself.

But in the story as we have it Mary has an important part to play, in bringing the situation and its potential solution to Jesus.
Notice that she doesn’t tell Jesus how to address the problem, but she is confident enough in his ability to help to say to the servants there ‘do whatever he tells you to do’. And of course Jesus is able (and eventually willing) to provide more than enough to satisfy the needs his mother has told him about.
What does the story tell us to do?
I don’t think I’m being fanciful as seeing this as a story which can teach us important things about our role as those who bring prayers to God, especially prayers of intercession for others.

We don’t need to use fancy words, we can just state the facts.
We don’t need to suggest a solution, simply trust that God knows what God is about.
and we don’t need to doubt that at the right time and in the right way, the super-abundant grace of God will sort out the situation.

Of course we are almost overwhelmed by the terrible news from Haiti of the severe earthquake.

We might feel we don’t even know how to begin to pray… but perhaps Mary can teach us.

‘They have no homes, or food or water’
and we know that God hears this cry and knows this need, and is ready to act, to pour out healing and grace.
We may even be the water that is changed to wine – we may be the answer to someone’s prayer. We may be challenged to give in order to help.
In the name of Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Wedding at Cana

Another well-worn Gospel path this week:
John 2: 1-11

There is important stuff here about this 'sign' of Jesus' identity (particularly as we continue in the season of Epiphany); about the amazing super-abundance of God's grace, which provides gallons and gallons, not just a few bottles of wine; and about a Jesus who embraces human relationships, by attending a wedding, and who endorses human celebration, by providing wine for the party.

But I was struck by reading the UCC in-depth Bible comments (at - which mentions the role of Mary in the story.

What would have happened if Mary had not told Jesus about the need "they have no wine"?

So I think the direction I am taking will be not related to weddings, or to the revelation of Jesus' identity, but to our role as those who pray for others. What's important is not the way the request is worded, but the great abundance of grace Jesus pours out to answer our requests. And yes, we will be singing 'what a friend we have in Jesus'!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

8am sermon on Baptism of Christ

The Gospel reading is Luke's version of the baptism of Christ: surely one of the most commonly recurring stories of the lectionary!
This is the start of Jesus' ministry. John the Baptist has been offering the people of Jesus’ time baptisms for repentance from sins. He is full of talk about threshing and winnowing and unquenchable fire, which is all a bit scary, as he exhorts people to turn from their wicked ways.. or else. With the baptism of Jesus, God gets a word in edgeways and when he does he expresses not displeasure or judgement, but delight in Jesus, the Son.

What better start can there be for Jesus’ ministry than to hear the Father’s blessing and know God’s presence and encouragement.
And so Jesus himself begins to spread Good News – of love and acceptance and delight.

I hope it’s not too far into tthe New Year to hear this as a message of encouragement for each one of us here. I'd like us to know God's delight in us - offering a new start, cleansing and refreshment and setting our feet on the road of purpose and love in 2010.

So come to this table to share the feast of life – not in fear and trembling because of your short-comings, but in faithful acceptance of God’s love for you.
In the name of Christ. Amen.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

1st after Epiphany

Readings are:

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The Gospel reading is Luke's version of the baptism of Christ: surely one of the most commonly recurring stories of the lectionary!
This week I want to give it a 'New Year' twist for our Creative church service 'A new start'. This is the start of Jesus' ministry, and while John the Baptist is full of talk about threshing and winnowing and unquenchable fire, which is all a bit scary, when God gets a word in edgeways he expresses pleasure in Jesus, the Son.

I'd like to encourage people to feel God's delight in them - offering a new start, cleansing and refreshment and setting !our feet on the road of purpose and love in 2010.

It will be cold in church! - so we will worship in the (heated) space of the church room, but I think I'll invite people to dash out into the church to experience the cleansing water of the font. I'll put boiling water in before the service, and hopefully it will just be pleasantly warm when we get there. I want it to feel good that we are bathed in God's love, not like it's a punishment!

Sunday, 3 January 2010


For reasons that are too complicated to go into, I ended up doing a rather off-the-cuff 8am reflection on Epiphany (the main gist of which (I think) was that the magi were looking for the greater light which is the glory of God come near in Christ, not the lesser light of the guiding star - it is the former which is the light which dispels the 'deep darkness' to which isaiah refers).
Then at 9.30 I assisted a bishop with a baptism (he was Bill Godfrey - Anglican Bishop of Peru & grandfather to Benjamin, the baby being baptised! And at the 11am I preached on presentation of Christ in the temple - or rather I reflected on Rembrandt's wonderful depiction and what it says about Epiphany - the glory of God coming close to us - in our hands and our laps and lighting up our faces...

All of which was a rather hairy 're-entry' into work: normal service (s) will be resumed soon!

But it was good to have chance to think about the glory which is revealed in Christmas and in the Christ-child.
I hope to carry some of those reflections (in every sense of the word) into this new year!