Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Early -but short!

"Only" the 8am service to preach for this week - so here's the notes...

Luke 19: 1-10

‘The son of man came to seek and to save what is lost.’ Not ‘who is lost’ but what is lost. Yes, Jesus had come to save Zaccheus, but it wasn’t that Zaccheus was thoroughly bad and lost whilst everyone else around was thoroughly good and OK. Jesus has come to save what is lost – the bits of Zaccheus that had gone astray. And Jesus had also come to save the lost compassion of the crowd around Zaccheus, to show them that this man wasn’t beyond redemption, and that maybe they needed to be ready to love the sinner amongst them. Jesus comes to save what is lost, and this is good news for us – there are bits of our lives where we feel lost, things we know we have got wrong - and Jesus has come to set things right.

That’s the saving bit – putting right what is wrong, bringing hope where there is hurting. But Jesus also says he comes to seek – to look deeply where other have only glanced and dismissed. Everyone knows Zaccheus is a bad ‘un – a tax-collector & a nasty piece of work ; but only Jesus sees the Zaccheus who can turn his life around, pay back four times what he has defrauded & become a loved member of society and a follower of Jesus.

Being God’s faithful people and followers of Jesus involves being ready to be saved by the love of God, but it also means seeing things differently. Jesus comes to seek and save what is lost and one of those things which is lost may be our ability to see what is of God in the world. Can we join with Jesus is seeing differently - in seeking and saving?

We meet here to share bread and wine. What do we see? Not just simple elements – but a share in a heavenly banquet – a gift from God – the gift of a sharing in the life and death and resurrection of Christ. Christ comes to us in this bread and wine to seek us and to save us. So we can be strengthened to follow Jesus – to share in the seeking and saving of all that is lost – in us, in our neighbours, in the whole world.
To God’s praise & glory

Saturday, 23 October 2010


Readings for this week:
Joel 2: 23-32
Luke 18: 9-14

Stung by an article on Friday's "Women's Hour" (on Radio 4) that sermons never deal with the political realities - I've taken the current political situation as my starting point this week - we'll see how it goes!

Pharisee & tax-collector.

So finally this week we have heard where some of the cuts are going to fall as the coalition government tries to reduce the deficit.

Inevitably comparisons are made: who will be hardest hit? who will get away with minimal changes to their lifestyle? and the question to which we all want the answer – how will this affect me?

It is human nature to be concerned about ourselves and where we stand in relation to others. We would not have survived as a species if we had no concern at all for our own well being. But as people of God we need to be concerned for others, as well as ourselves, and we should beware any thinking that makes us believe that we are a cut above others.

I think this is part of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the parable we heard today.
The Pharisee is full of self-importance, he has done all the right things, spiritually speaking – and he knows he’s streets ahead of the tax-collector when it comes to righteous living. He has done all the things expected of a person seeking a healthy spiritual life – he fasts twice a week, he has given a tenth of what he has to charity – and here he is in the temple at prayer. He’s doing everything right – except that he looks at his neighbour with contempt, and not with love. He has forgotten the promise of Joel that God will pour our his spirit on all flesh – young and old, slave & free, men & women. God’s love is for all, not just for the Pharisee.

Meanwhile the tax collector dare not even look up to heaven, but says only ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’. Jesus says that it is repentant tax-collector who goes away made right with God.

Well, yes - this is the way grace works we believe. It is not what we do that makes us loveable in God’s sight, but it is our readiness to accept God’s love and forgiveness.

But what then?
If the tax-collector simply goes away forgiven and thinks only of his own standing before God, where does that get him?

The more I read this parable, the more I think that Jesus does not mean us to stop at the judgement that ‘all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted’ – we are meant to question our own relationship with God and with others.
I said it is human nature to compare ourselves with others, but Jesus isn’t asking us to judge between the Pharisee and the tax-collector, he is not even asking us to choose which of them we will behave like: he is offering us 2 slightly cartoon-like stereotypes, so that we are forced to question our own response to God and to others.

Each of the characters offers us pointers about how to behave, and a warning against taking that behaviour too far.
Like the Pharisee, we should think about how we should behave so that we honour God – how we treat our bodies, how we respond to the needs of others, how we worship – these are all important questions. But beware getting so caught up in your own religious behaviour that you start to look down on other people, says Jesus.
Like the tax-collector, know that it is only God’s mercy that can save you, and go home made right with God. But beware getting so concerned only about yourself and about God that you forget the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself.
When you get home, made right with God, look around and ask how as a forgiven child of God you can share some of the love with those you meet.

So – back to the cuts.
However we are feeling about the impact on ourselves, all the analysis of what has been done seems to say that it is the poorest in our society who will be hit hardest by what has already happened and what is to come.
How do we respond to this – as Christians and as churches?

Already I hear some people suggest that David Cameron’s idea of a ‘Big Society’ means that churches and other charities will be required to help those who until know have relied on a state-run system of Social Security.

Jesus’ parable challenges us to see ourselves in relation to God and to others as people who receive the great grace of God’s love – who know ourselves forgiven and loved - and who then act towards our neighbours in a way which helps them, too, to know they are beloved children of God.

May God grant us grace to know what is good and to do it. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


I'm off to a 3-day meeting: so this had to be done early. I'm sure I will want to come back to it before Sunday - but these are my thoughts thus far:

Oct 17th: 
Genesis 32:22-31 
Luke 18:1-8

One of the problems with listening to any Bible readings is that our minds can be so full of other issues. I wonder what’s bothering you as you sit there listening this morning. Perhaps you’ve been worrying about a member of the family – an elderly relative with health problems, or a younger one in financial difficulty; perhaps you’re worried about your own health, or fearful of the future in some other way. Perhaps you’ve confided in someone else or maybe you’re the only ones who knows what it is that you’re bothered about.
With all this potential for distraction going on in our minds and in our live, who are we meant to listen to the Bible? And what can it possibly have to say to us, even if we do manage to still our internal storms for long enough to let the Bible speak to us.

Perhaps as you listened to the readings some sort of image of the events came into your mind. I remember the story of Jacob wrestling with a stranger from a children’s Bible I used to have - it showed 2 bearded men in long gowns standing ankle-deep in water as sun begins to rise. Maybe that doesn’t make you feel any more confident that the story is relevant to your life.

But let’s put the story in context: Jacob has been extremely sneaky – he’s been out of land of his birth since tricking his brother, Esau & fleeing for his life. The years have been good to Jacob: he now has wives, children, huge flocks of sheep, goats, camels, donkeys & cattle - and he is planning to return home. But he is still frightened of his cheated big brother – so he sends groups of animals ahead, telling the people driving them to tell Esau they are a gift from Jacob.

Finally Jacob brings up the rear - but just as he is about to cross final river and enter his homeland he meets... Who or what? Perhaps Jacob is facing his own resistance, fears, guilt personified - is he fighting with his past? in his mind fighting with Esau? fighting with God?

We, clearly, are not wanderers in the desert skulking back home to a murderous brother - but the idea of apprehension, of wrestling with demons inside ourselves if not with angels, may be familiar to us.
Jacob is convinced that in his struggle God is with him - he names the place where he wrestles, ‘Peniel’ - the face of God. Jacob is left limping by his encounter with the stranger, but he feels sure that God has been with him in the struggle.

The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable is also struggling with a stronger force - verbally rather than physically. The story needs to be read carefully: Jesus is NOT saying that to get a blessing out of God we have to nag & harass. Point of the story is to compare the judge with God - to lay this example alongside Jesus’ teaching about God. If an unjust judge will give justice to a widow, even though she has no legal rights, because she plagues the life out of him, how much more will God, who wants to bless people, bless those who are persistent in prayer, says Jesus.

Whatever we have come to church carrying in our minds and hearts, we are not here to batter on God’s door and demand help, or to wrestle with God to wring a blessing out of him.

We are here to pause form all the wrestling and to remember that God’s blessing is with us : even when life feels incredibly tough.
Whatever challenges we face we have here the knowledge that God is with us - not in some namby pamby way, but wrestling, struggling, sweating & grunting. We are here to worship the God who is not aloof and unconcerned but here on the ground in Jesus, struggling with us, dying despite us, defeating death for us. And that same God offers us bread and wine as a sign of that presence which is with us always.

In this communion meal we are offered a blessing from the God who is always waiting to hear, rather than being a despot who bolts the door to us & responds to us only when battered into submission.

So in the midst of the difficulties of life, what does God offer today?
1. Knowledge of his strong presence when things are tough.
There is a lovely phrase in the prayer book, which talks of a God who is ‘ever more ready to hear than we are to pray’. God is there in all our struggles.

2. Promise of a place in the household of God - here is a sign for all of us that the arms of God are waiting for us each time we want to return. The arms of God will not wrestle & rebuff, they are not arms folded in arrogance and reproach - they are arms which enfold and embrace - the arms of the God Jesus called ‘Father’.

A final thought – it could be that in the parable of the widow and the judge we, the church, are the judge & Jesus Christ is the widow – pleading for us to listen, to respond to the voice of love, whatever problems are assailing us. So may we all know God’ love and blessing with us today and forever. Amen.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Short & sweet

What a week it's been - 2 funerals, an art exhibition at one of the churches this weekend, and someone very ill ( but thankfully getting better) in hospital, on top of all the 'usual' stuff. Very little time to think about a sermon - so here's the notes for the 8am 'Reflection', then I must go back to the short sermon for the thanksgiving service (in which I've decided to use the Luke reading but also Mark 10: 13-16 - Jesus blessing the children).

The gospel reading from Luke tells us of the 10 healed lepers – only one of whom came back to thank Jesus – and he was the foreigner, the Samaritan.
I think I remember being taught in Sunday school that this shows we should always remember to say thank you.
As I’ve got older I’ve taken this story as a great comfort when I’ve felt taken for granted. Even Jesus, who could heal people of leprosy, only got a 10% ‘thank you’ rate.
But this time round, I was very struck by hearing this together with the Jeremiah reading.

Jesus heals and receives thank from a Samaritan – it is great to see God’s inclusive love in action. But Jeremiah challenges us to be even more radical and inclusive in our love. The people of Israel, who have been carried off into exile in Babylon, are told to build houses, marry wives, grow food, and generally to settle in the hated land of exile. They are then told to seek the welfare of the city of exile. The people are not exactly told to say ‘thank you’ to the foreigners who have done them such harm, but they are certainly told to bear no grudge. Did you notice the little mention by the Lord God of ‘the city where I have sent you into exile’. Whatever their feelings about what has happened to them and whatever the state they now find themselves in, the people of God are to remember that God is in control of their destiny, that nowhere is beyond his love and concern, and that reflecting God’s radical and universal love, they should not hate or despise anyone.

This is the astonishing gospel of Jesus Christ – no-one is beyond God’s love: not the foreigner, not the down-trodden, not even the ungrateful. All can receive God’s love shown in this bread & wine. Amen.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sunday October 10th

Readings for this week:

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

For me there's something here about attitudes:
God tells the exiles to get on and live in Babylon, and not to waste their years in pining for what they've lost.
In the gospel reading, Jesus heals 10 lepers & only 1 comes back to give thanks. I think I want to go beyond the stereotypical Sunday school 'So you should always say thank you, children' to say that it is right for Jesus to heal all 10 even if only 1 thanks him - what's right is right, even if it's unmarked or unmentioned.
I like the Timothy reading too: talking about our identity in Christ.
I don't think we'll quite have time for all 3 readings - so may just go with Timothy & Luke (one of the services includes thanksgiving for the birth of a child). What does it mean to live as people touched by God's love in Christ - even if a lot of the time we don't notice it?