Friday, 26 March 2010

Palm Sunday sermon notes

Palm Sunday

It’s no good looking through today’s gospel reading for mention of palms – you won’t find them in Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Luke has the followers of Jesus placing their cloaks on the path before him – the palms are in John’s gospel – with another little mention of ‘branches’ in Mark.

And perhaps you were a bit puzzled to find yourself carrying not a palm branch but a branch of Christmas tree in the procession – and you don’t have to be eagle-eyed to spot that the cross here is made from the trunk of a Christmas tree, too.
So is it just time the vicar had a holiday? Quite possibly – but I wanted these Christmas tree branches to help us not only to celebrate Palm Sunday, as we wave them, but to remember our celebrations of Christmas.

Perhaps our Christmas tree branches can help us to rediscover the sense that I’m sure Jesus’ disciples had as the events of Holy Week unfolded – that this is not what we expected.
The same crowd crying ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord’ on Palm Sunday will be baying ‘crucify him’ on Good Friday.

Palm Sunday looks like victory…Good Friday looks like defeat…but the real victory is still to come on Easter Sunday. It is a little baffling. Just 3 months ago we remembered the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – and now we’ve fast-forwarded more than 30 years and arrived at the pinnacle of the whole point of Jesus’ existence: his death.

Jesus’ followers arrive at the city of Jerusalem waving their palm branches in joyful expectation of what Jesus has come to do – and they must have been utterly amazed by all that happens next.
The crowd with Jesus on Palm Sunday want to sing for joy about the coming of the Lord’s servant, Jesus, and they naturally use the words of a psalm (Psalm 118)
'Hosannah, LORD, hosannah!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'; In other words - Here comes the Lord’s servant, here comes the one through whom we have seen God acting, here comes the one who shows us that God is good.

They have seen God in action in Jesus, and they praise God with singing and shouting and psalms of joy – and probably with the waving of palm branches & strewing of clothing and palms.
The psalm speaks of the blessing of the one who walks in God’s way…and the followers of Jesus prepare the way for him to enter into the city as the one who walks in the way of the Lord.
But the events of the week to come will really surprise these enthusiasts for Jesus. The followers of Jesus on the day of his entry into Jerusalem were praising God for all that they had seen him do in Jesus – all his teaching and healing…yet they were not to know that the best was yet to come.

We sit here in the knowledge of what Jesus was to face – we sit knowing this is Holy Week, we sit facing the cross, reminding us of the horrors and cruelties to come on Good Friday.
It was not what the crowd were expecting. Jesus wasn’t in Jerusalem to accept the plaudits of the crowd, but to submit himself to the worst that human injustice and malice could do to him and yet to bear death on the cross out of love for the world.
‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ – but he will not be spared suffering and death, but will be brought through them to new life.

Following Jesus can bring unexpected challenge. It is demanding, the Way of Jesus which we walk is costly: it requires self-surrender, service of others, refusing to meet violence with violence. It is not an easy way: it is not only bedecked with cheerful spring flowers and fluffy Easter bunnies. It is lined with images of suffering, as surprising and as thought-provoking as a Christmas tree turned into a cross.

The Way is hard and costly – but it is the way to ultimate triumph, as we realise that the cost of Holy Week ends in the glory of Easter Sunday and the power of God to bring Jesus through suffering and death to resurrection.

Following Jesus is not the way of avoiding suffering and difficulty, but the way of getting through it – The Way is one both of challenge and of comfort.

And of course this is not entirely new and unexpected – we read in the psalms ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me’.

May we walk The Way through Holy Week with Jesus and know that we are never alone, and that he will lead us home.
Thanks be to God
Amen.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Palm Sunday

.. what? already??

Interesting footnote to last week: as ever I went 'off piste' from the notes somewhat into a bit of a discussion about Judas, his possible motives, his role in the Passion of Christ. What was interesting was the way people picked up on 'Judas as the good disciples of Jesus' - yet the one who gets it wrong. Is it Judas' extreme fallibility which makes him interesting and attractive to people? I find myself hoping that, on another shore, Judas has the 'restoration conversation' with Jesus which Peter gets after Easter day, on the shore of Lake Galilee... but I digress.

Readings this week:
Luke 19:28-40 and Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
(for observing the procession of the palms)

We will be processing.
There will be palm crosses.
I also have a slightly wacky idea of using branches of a Christmas tree & a cross made from its trunk - something about Jesus overturning expectations, and our willingness to face ridicule as we follow. Also I have some dim idea forming of the joy of Christmas being subverted by the desolation of the cross and yet transformed by the resurrection. Annoyingly, because I'm in 4 churches i can't carry through the idea by decorating the bare cross for Easter Sunday as I know others have done before (the daffs will be out perfectly for that!). I might pass the idea 'baton' to the person who is leading worship in this place next week?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

lent 5 notes

So this is what I'm taking into the pulpit tomorrow... the backbone of what I'll say (but with the possibility of elaborating or even imaginatively diverting as the Spirit leads.

Lent 5
As we travel with Jesus through Lent, we reach this story from John’s gospel, in the build up to Palm Sunday – which we mark next week – and the beginning of Holy Week.

It is a story which we read knowing that Jesus life is drawing towards its end and it’s a story which teaches us a lot about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

There are a variety of stories about Jesus having his head or his feet anointed – but in this story in John, it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus who brings expensive ointment and anoints Jesus’ feet. When he sees what is happening, Judas asks ‘why could this ointment not have been sold, and the money given to the poor?’ and John adds ‘he said this because he held the common purse and used to steal from it’.
John wants us to know that Judas is in the wrong – and I think that one of the reasons John does this is that Judas asks a perfectly reasonable question. Judas has heard Jesus’ teaching over the last 3 years. Judas presumably heard Jesus telling the rich young ruler ‘go and see everything you have and give the money to the poor’. Judas has seen how Jesus has time for the lowest and the least – reaching out to heal those whom other people would cast aside. Judas knows that following Jesus is about serving the poor, giving your all, doing the right thing.

In the folk song ‘said Judas to Mary’ the writer obviously sympathises with Judas, because he has Jesus say ‘the poor of the world are my body, he said, to the end of the world they shall be. The bread and the blankets you give to the poor you’ll find you have given to me, he said: you’ll find you have given to me’.
Here is an echo of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats ‘in as much as you have done it for one of these little ones of mine, you have done it for me’. But actually Jesus says nothing of the sort in this story: he say to Judas ‘leave her alone’! Judas is not absolutely wrong, and I’m not sure that we have any other evidence that Judas was a thief – it is just that right now, Judas is missing the point.

Mary is showing what it means to follow Jesus. It is first of all to be with Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to worship Jesus. There are similarities here with the earlier story with Mary & her sister Martha. Remember how Martha is busy trying to serve Jesus a meal & berates her sister, Mary, for sitting still and listening to Jesus. Then Jesus doesn’t say it is wrong to serve, but he firmly says that Mary has chosen the better part. Before we serve Jesus, we must listen to Jesus. Mary teaches Martha how to be a follower of Jesus: listening and learning from Jesus as well as serving him. Mary teaches that to follow Jesus we must listen to Jesus before we rush off to serve Jesus.

I'm struck in today’s story by what Mary teaches Judas of what it means to be a follower – not only to listen and act, but also to love Jesus. In this almost erotic act of annointing Jesus’ feet, Mary shows the importance of focusing on Jesus. Before she can serve Jesus in the world, and feed the poor, Mary has first to recognize who Jesus is and what he is doing for the world by his forthcoming death.

In an activist world the idea of adoration and worship and spending time being with Jesus is an important one. And it means that the service of the poor offered in Jesus’ name is an outpouring of gratitude for what God in Jesus has first done for us.
This is why it is right that as Easter approaches we spend time thinking about the events of Holy Week, and worshipping God for what has been done for us in Jesus. When we spend our time and our effort in worshipping Jesus we are getting it right as followers of Jesus. Of course we cannot love God an ignore the world: but neither are we true followers of Jesus if we spend all our time and all our money in serving the world and have nothing left to give to God.

We know that Jesus told the rich young man ‘sell everything you have & follow me’ but Jesus did not say that to everyone he met. Perhaps it is that Jesus recognizes that it is his wealth that is the stumbling block for this would-be follower – the gospel tells us the man went away very sad – it seems Jesus hit the nail on the head. Whatever we would place above Jesus is that very thing which we must put aside to follow Jesus properly.
Jesus accepts this adoration from Mary of Bethany, but did not seek it at other times and places. Mary shows us what it is to put Jesus first.
And Jesus teaches Judas that if feeding the poor is what Judas would put first, Judas needs to be prepared to set even this good thing to one side in order to put Jesus in the right place in his life.

As Easter approaches, what is Mary teaching us? What might we need to set aside to worship Jesus as we should? How can we each put Jesus first?
We can only search our own hearts for the answer to the question ‘what are you putting before Jesus?’.

Whatever it is, ask for the strength to set it to one side, and worship the God who comes to us in this bread and wine, to feed and to save us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Lent 5 so far...

Lent 5
As we travel with Jesus through Lent, we reach this story from John’s gospel, in the build up to Palm Sunday – which we mark next week – and the beginning of Holy Week.

It is a story which we read knowing that Jesus life is drawing towards its end and it’s a story which teaches us a lot about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

There are a variety of stories about Jesus having his head or his feet anointed – but in this story in John, it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus who brings expensive ointment and anoints Jesus’ feet. When he sees what is happening, Judas asks ‘why could this ointment not have been sold, and the money given to the poor?’ and John adds ‘he said this because he held the common purse and used to steal from it’.
John wants us to know that Judas is in the wrong – and I think that one of the reasons John does this is that Judas asks a perfectly reasonable question. Judas has heard Jesus’ teaching over the last 3 years. Judas presumably heard Jesus telling the rich young ruler ‘go and see everything you have and give the money to the poor’. Judas has seen how Jesus has time for the lowest and the least – reaching out to heal those whom other people would cast aside. Judas knows that following Jesus is about serving the poor, giving your all, doing the right thing.

In the folk song ‘said Judas to Mary’ the writer obviously sympathises with Judas, because he has Jesus say ‘the poor of the world are my body, he said, to the end of the world they shall be. The bread and the blankets you give ot the poor you’ll find you have given to me, he said: you’ll find you have given to me’. Here is an echo of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats’ in as much as you have done it for one of these little ones of mine, you have done it for me’. But actually Jesus says nothing of the sort in this story he say to Judas ‘leave her alone’! Judas is not absolutely wrong, and I’m not sure that we have any there evidence that Judas was a thief – it is just that right now, Judas is missing the point.

Mary is showing what it means to follow Jesus. It is first of all to be with Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to worship Jesus. There are similarities here with the earlier story with Mary & her sister Martha. Remember how Martha is busy trying to serve Jesus a meal & berates her sister, Mary, for sitting still and listening to Jesus. The Jesus doesn’t say it is wrong to serve, but he firmly says that Mary has chosen the better part. Before we serve Jesus, we must listen to Jesus. Mary teaches Martha how to be a follower of Jesus: listening and leanring from Jesus as well as serving him.

I'm struck in today’s story by what Mary teaches Judas of what it means to be a follower – not only to listen and act, but also to love Jesus. In this almost erotic act of annointing Jesus’ feet, Mary shows the importance of focusing on Jesus. Before she can serve Jesus in the world, and feed the poor, Mary has first to recognize who Jesus is and what he is doing for the world by his forthcoming death.
In an activist world the idea of adoration and worship and spending time being with Jesus is an important one. And it means that the service of the poor offered in Jesus’ name is an outpouring of gratitude for what God in Jesus has first done for us.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lent 5

Readings are:

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

I think as we travel with Jesus through Lent it's only natural to focus on the gospel.
Which means (this week) this lovely story of Mary of Bethany annointing Jesus' feet.
It's a story that seems to have been following me around over the last year or so and we've kept bumping into each other - which means that I almost have too much I could say.
I think I'm most struck by what Mary teaches us of what it means to love Jesus - this almost erotic act of annointing his feet; the importance of focussing on Jesus, not rushing off in service too quickly, listening to what Jesus has to say and learning. In an activist world the idea of adoration and worship and spending time being with Jesus is an important one.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Ooh - so near the bone!

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Because sometimes we all need a laugh!

This cartoon rang bells for me - my desk is usually in a 'state'!

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Draft 1 - already!

I have to be away Wed/Thurs so I wanted to get ahead this week.

God as father & mother Luke 15: 1-3, 11b – 32, 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20

The prodigal son. One of the best known of Jesus’ stories.
A story so well-known that the true meaning of the word ‘prodigal’ – ‘recklessly wasteful’ is often forgotten among understandings about repentance & return. A story so well known that in my family when I was growing up, when my sister came home from college we used to talk about opening the ‘fatted tin of apricots’, those being her favourite.

So I was interested to see that the lectionary reading included the beginning of the chapter – the context in which Jesus tells the story. People are criticising Jesus for the bad company he keeps, and he answers with three stories of what God is like. He tells the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son: or more accurately, in order to teach his listeners what God is like, Jesus tells the story of the shepherd who goes out in search of the lost sheep, the woman who searches her house to find the lost coin, and the father who rushes out to meet his returning lost son.

Jesus wants people to know that God is not content to sit back and suck his breath in through his teeth at the predicaments people get themselves into – tax-collectors & sinners – tut! God searches for the lost, God will not rest until all are found, God is the ever-patient, ever-watchful, ever-forgiving parent.

So today we have the great story of the father who welcomes back the wasteful, prodigal son.
I have a question for you: Where is the mother?
There must be one, or there must have been one at some stage. She doesn’t appear in the story at all – not even to roll her sleeves up and get cooking at the end.
Yet what Jesus does tell us about is a father who also acts like a mother.

Forget the Bible for a moment and think about other forms of story – films, perhaps, or novels. Who is likely to be the character who sits pining by the window looking out for the wastrel son? Who is likely to be the one who throws dignity to the wind and rushes down the road to meet the returning wanderer? Who is the one who we’re most likely to see flinging arms around the son and kissing him? The mother.

If we’re to understand what Jesus is saying about God in this story we have to put aside our stereotypes about fathers and mothers – forget the English stiff-upper lip father who would say ‘how are you, son?’ and shake the lad’s hand. All that is good and loving about fathers and mothers in our experience: all the strength, all the caring, all the providing, all the practical advice, all the hugging, all the rocking, all the feeding, all the soothing of a fevered brow, every act of love of any parent is how Jesus speaks of the love of God.
we need to think of God as father and mother – not just because this is mothering Sunday and we have a gospel reading about a father – but because Jesus invites us to see in the love and acceptance of God the love of the best parent we can imagine – father or mother.

There are some people who get terribly upset by the idea that we could describe God as a mother – they say that Jesus referred to God as father, and that is true. But the Bible as a whole is very free in the way God is described – Rock, Fortress, Light, Shepherd, Potter, Judge, Warrior, and of course Parent. In many prophecies God describes Israel as ‘my child’ without actually specifying whether God is father or mother.

The problem with any words for God is that we tend to base what we think about God on what we know about people. This is where the idea of God an old man with a beard comes from! We want to find a way of depicting God as wise, guiding, the foundation of all things.
But whatever language we use for God, I think we want to get away from thinking of God as just an old man in the sky.
One of the particular difficulties is that God is both male and female – if we think back to Genesis it says very clearly ‘In God’s own image God created them: male and female God created them’. How to imagine a God who is both male and female and yet is personal, not an ‘it’ , is very difficult for us.
Maybe Jesus’ answer is in these three stories from Luke’s gospel – God is in the first a man who has lost a sheep, in the second a woman who has lost a coin, and in the third a father who acts like a mother, who has lost a son.

Maybe the best we can manage in our language for God is to try many different ways of describing God’s love, recognizing that no one picture tells the whole story. And whatever language or picture or story we use, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians spells out what kind of God to which all these images point:
‘God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has enlisted us in this ministry of reconciliation’.

God is love, forgiveness, new life. God loves us and wants only to relate to us as a loving parent to a child. I think we should use whatever language for God helps us to understand this about God – God loves us as the most wonderful parent we can imagine.
And when we turn to God the arms of welcome are always ready to be flung around us.
God our Father loves us.
God our Mother loves us.
God our brother, our sister, our lover, loves us.
God loves us – what more do we need to know?

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Lent 4

Which means - Mothering Sunday as well as
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The story of the prodigal son.
- so my question is where is the mother in this story?
I'm thinking of getting people to sit up and listen by retelling the story with the mother as the parent - the father in Jesus' story acts much more like a mother than a middle Eastern patriarch - the 'zing' is then that God acts like this - like a mother, or whoever we find easiest to imagine as the most amazing, loving parent. God defies all our stereotypes of stern parent to fall on our necks in sheer delight when we come home.
This is Good News.

Monday, 8 March 2010

And the winner is...

No, I didn't win an Oscar - I wasn't even up for one.
But I did have 3 young people in one of the congregations yesterday, and so adapted the sermon a bit as I went along to make it more immediate for a younger age-range. I think it's really important that if young people are in the congregation they feel included but not patronised and that is what I was aiming at (it helped that i already had the 'dead donkey' reference in there!). As I left the church (to go off to the third service of the morning) the dad of the family said to me 'my daughter is too shy to say but thought the sermon was really good'. I asked him to say thank you for the feedback.
Sometimes it all feels worthwhile!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Sermon notes 7-3-10

Here's a first draft - I have to confess I've enjoyed my wrestle with this (lesser known, to me anyway) parable.

Lent 3
Today’s readings
tell us a story of 2 trees. The story of the burning bush and God speaking to Moses is very familiar to us – but how can God speak to us from Jesus’ parable of the fig tree?

So many of Jesus’ parables begin with ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this..’ – but it seems that this parable springs from the questions with which people are coming to Jesus.

Here’s the introduction again:
“There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

People want reassurance from Jesus that when bad things hit people it's a sign that God is judging bad people, not ordinary people like them. People are wondering about these disasters, just as we might be wondering about the disasters in Haiti, Chile & so on.

Jesus warns his listeners that these people overtaken by terrible events are no different from them – but stresses that the story of these disasters should act as a wake-up call that they should take the opportunity to change their lives and repent.

Then Jesus tells the parable, to turn our attention away from judging others & onto judging ourselves – don’t busy yourself with why other people might be suffering and whether it means they might have been sinners. Look at your own life, at the time you have left, and ask how you are living. Surely we should be living our lives so that they bear good fruit.


A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard – presumably because he liked figs. There’s not much advantage to planting a fig tree in a vineyard otherwise – they just take nutrients out of the soil. And they are, apparently, very 'hungry' plants - a friend tells me "you should always bury a dead donkey under a fig tree” - eeeugh! But the vineyard owner decides to sacrifice some of his soil’s nutrients to gain some delicious figs – which are normally produced by the tree after 2 years. Unfortunately even after 3 years this tree is not producing fruit.
The obvious thing to do with this fig tree is cut it down.
But the tree gets another chance, the gardener doesn’t side with common sense, but decides to stick up for the tree.
“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down."

This is good news for the fig tree – and since Jesus tells the parable as a way of encouraging people to repent, it is good news for each of us.
The gardener is patient with the tree, just as God is patient with us and gives us 'time to amend our lives' as some prayers of confession put it.
But Jesus tells this story as a cliff-hanger.
The owner wants to cut the tree down, the gardener pleads for a second chance and offers to try digging around and adding more compost. And…
…what happens?? Does the tree take the opportunity it is given to produce some figs and justify its place in the vineyard??

We don’t know. There Jesus hands over to you as the listener – what will happen to the tree depends on the tree. What will happen to you depends on you. Are you going to take the opportunity to change & be more fruitful?


We might think that the news stories of disasters test us – they test our faith in a loving God and a predictable world. But Jesus tells us that the real test is what you do with your life-chance.
God, the gardener, wants us to be fruitful. I was asking a gardener this week why he thought this tree was given another chance, and he said ‘well you always give them one more year to come good – no-one likes to give up on a plant’.
If that’s how we mortals feel about a mere plant, how much more does God long to see us become fruitful, to give us a chance to turn our lives around and become more likely to display the fruits of the spirit (love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness self-control).

And God not only wants to see us become fruitful, he send his Spirit to help us to do that – he digs around our roots and gives us compost – he helps us become the fruitful people we were made to be.

Receive God’s gift of this communion meal, and seize the opportunity to become more fruitful, to the glory of God. Amen.

Posting from revgalblogpals

I think I'm getting there with the fig tree.
People want reassurance from Jesus that when bad things hit people it's God judging bad people, not PLUs (People like us). Jesus tells the story to turn attention away from judging others & onto judging ourselves - we should be bearing good fruit.
The obvious thing to do with this fig tree is cut it down (they are, apparently, very 'hungry' plants - a friend tells me "you should always bury a dead donkey under a fig tree" - eeeugh!) - but Good News! - the tree gets another chance, just as God gives us 'time to amend our lives' as some prayers of confession put it. But what happens?? Does the tree take the opportunity?? There Jesus hands over to you - are you going to take the opportunity to change & be more fruitful?
We might think that the news stories (Haiti, Peru, Uganda...etc) test us - but the real test is what you do with your life-chance.

Well.. that's the gist - will now try to make that a sermon that lasts longer than 3 minutes (do I hear disappointed sighs out there?).

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Lent 3

Lectionary readings are:

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Moses and the burning bush - a tree with a message that is easy to understand.
Jesus and the parable of the fig tree - a tree with a rather elusive message.

The context is people talking to Jesus about those who have suffered - and Jesus warns that they mustn't fall into the trap of thinking that it's sinful people who suffer. In the light of Haiti, Peru, and (today's news - a mudslide in) Uganda I really want to hear what Jesus has to say to us... but then we get this parable of the unfruitful fig-tree in the vineyard. The owner wants to chop it down - the vine-dresser/gardener asks for another year to give the tree a chance. And... that's it.

So far I think I see that Jesus might be saying that instead of looking at others we should attend to our own lives & our own fruit, and that the judging time will come in the end...but so far that's it. I wonder what happened to the tree?