Monday, 29 November 2010

More thoughts...

Have just been thinking about wilderness, largely because I readthis

Jesus' story ( as told by Matthew) begins with the genealogy, but also with the wilderness.
jesus' ministry starts with 'you are my beloved son' but then Jesus is sent to the wilderness.
Even creation itself starts with wilderness and then the naming of humanity.

Is there something about the desert, the bleak place, the emptiness that helps us to take in what this sense of being one of God's own people really means?

Advent 2

Readings for this week are:

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

All of which seem to speak of continuity, of descendants, of relationship over time.
Where are we in this succession?
I am reminded of a recent morning spent mooching around Canterbury cathedral, where the windows depicting the figures of Old & new Testament were described as an early version of 'who do you think you are' - linking the monks in worship with their roots in the people of God.
I also notice that December 1st commemorates Nicholas Ferrar, deacon of Little Gidding and founder of a religious movement there, devoted to prayer and study of the scripture. Before his death he said to his community: `It is the right, good old way you are in; keep in it'.
I think I'm minded to say something about our true roots, our true way, our real 'tradition' in Christ: at this time of year when we tend to think about family & friends & where we have come from only in terms of our little span of life.
Being a descendant of Jesus means choosing to follow, to keep in the right, good, old way. And maybe there's a link between keeping in the way and that old phrase 'keeping Christmas'...

Friday, 26 November 2010

Advent Sunday sermon notes

Advent Sunday

Isaiah 2: 1-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44


It’s coming. You can’t stop it. You can’t slow it. You can’t avoid it. You can’t escape it. It’s coming and it will catch you up and engulf you & there is nothing you can do about it.

No, for once I’m not ranting about the impending celebration of Christmas: I’m talking about the love of God, the presence of God, the reign or kingdom of God.
Advent Sunday is about the start of the season when we get ready for what God does at Christmas.
It is about shifting our attention away from ourselves and from human activity and looking for what God is doing and will do. If there is a pithy Advent message today, it is stop trying so hard and doing so much and simply accept that God is coming to you – nothing is required of you except to accept it!


I’m reminded of the hoary old preacher’s story fo the 5 year old boy who got lost out in the forest near his home. As ot grew darker and darker and as the temperature and then the snow started to fall, his parents grew wild with worry and began searching frantically, each going in a different direction to cover the ground more quickly. Then the boy’s father spotted him, huddled under a bush, wrapped up tightly in his thick coat, fast asleep. As the father lifted him up the boy opened his bleary eyes and said ‘Daddy, at last I’ve found you!’.

We are no more capable of finding God than that boy was of finding his father – and we need to remember at Advent, that it is God who does the travelling – God comes to us – we reflect on God’s activity not our own.
So we hear from Isaiah of a time when God’s place, God’s mountain, will be the highest and greatest in the world – when all people will be drawn to God and when there will be absolute peace – when swords will be hammered into ploughshares. This was a wonderful promise for the people of God of the first Isaiah’s time: the kingdom of Israel has been split into two and both the kingdom of Israel, in the north and the kingdom of Judah, in the south were facing threats from neighbouring kingdoms. War was a fact of life for the people to whom Isaiah was prophesying, and they must have longed for the kind of peace, brought by God, that he promises.

The letter to the Romans looks forward to a time of salvation for all – when the day – the day of the lord – will finally come and all will be light. Although the church at Rome knows they live in a time of darkness, when God’s light has not yet fully dawned, they are told to be ready, and told to put on the armour of light, to be children of light and followers of Christ, even in the darkness that surrounds them.

And Jesus warns his followers that they do not know when the end of time will come, but that it will come unexpectedly and suddenly.
Immediately following this teaching, Jesus tells the parables of the wise & foolish virgins, and of the sheep and the goats – stories of being ready, and of being judged at the end of time.

God will come; life as we know it will change forever; there is nothing we can do except wait for God’s time.

But what are we meant to do with these promises?

They sound a bit like empty promises – ‘a time of great peace & salvation’ – you don’t see much sign of that happening anytime soon, do you? Maybe these prophets got it wrong – maybe God has given up on his world, after all.

Or maybe these promises make us feel that there really isn’t anything we can do except to wait, passively, for God to act. I said that Advent was about God coming to us – so let’s wait & see what God is going to do.

But of course we are not waiting in a vacuum for God to act – we are approaching Christmas and remembering that God has come into the world.
God has come – we don’t need to search or seek or strive. Advent means God is coming to us – whether we like it or not.
And Jesus Christ came to announce that ‘ the kingdom of God is among you’ – we may not be able to see a world of perfect peace yet. But we can live as those who belong to the kingdom, because we know God is here already, that the reign of God has begun, even if God’s rule is not yet complete.
God’s rule of the whole world is not complete, and the timing of that is God’s and not ours, but we can try to make God’s rule more and more complete in our own lives.

Both Isaiah and the letter to the Romans challenge us to walk already as people of the light. Advent is here – God is coming – so live as those who are already people of light and be ready to celebrate the God who in Jesus comes to us and dwells among us and will never leave us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Notes for 21st November

Christ the King: Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23: 33-43

This week we have heard the news of the engagement of Prince William, our future king, and Kate Middleton. I couldn’t help thinking that the plans of a couple who have been together for 8 years to get married next year is hardly ‘news’ – but of course as it’s William then this is a Royal Wedding we’re talking about – and Kate becomes, on marrying him, a prospective queen. I even heard the comment made that their years together so far have helped to give Kate an insight into ‘how the family works’. She needs to know what it will mean for William to be King; to understand the responsibility, the expectations, the role.
I imagine that how you feel about royalty will colour how you feel about the news: is it a great source of national celebration, a wonderful excuse for a party, or a terrible waste of public money and time?
As we stand on the threshold of Advent, the lectionary invites us to think about royalty, too, and to consider ‘Christ the King’.
Our expectations of kingship, what we know of how royalty works, how we feel about the relationship between the king and his subjects – all these things will influence how we respond to Christ, the King.

The gospel reading reminds us that as King, Christ does not always rule as people expect. Just as we are getting ready for Advent and preparation for a celebration of the start of Jesus’ life, we are reminded of the end of it.

One of the thieves crucified with Jesus, hearing that he is referred to as ‘King of the Jews’ wants Jesus to prove his kingly status by rescuing himself. ‘If you are a king, get down from this cross’ and he might have added ‘& while you’re at it, rescue us too’.
But the second thief says only ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
Somehow this wretched, dying thief sees a divine truth – that Jesus is a king – is The King – but not as people expect, his kingdom is not an earthly one.

Jesus has shown in his teaching that he is on earth, among people, in order to bring in the kingdom of God, but that his role is one of servant, not sovereign. Jesus is the promised good shepherd, the one for others, the one who lays down his life for the sheep.
For those who expected an earthly king to overthrow the Roman forces and anyone else who would resist God’s will, Jesus is the wrong sort of king. Christ the King is seen enthroned on a cross – not ruling in pomp, but dying in humble service, to teach us that the way of God is not the human road of power.

We have to be ready for Christ the King to overturn our expectations.

Yet our Bible readings also encourage us to think about what we know of Jesus Christ and what else this means for Christ’s Kingship. In the reading from Colossians we meet the image of the one who reigns supreme, who is like God and is sent by God to reconcile all things to God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created”.

As the annual drama of Christmas approaches – both the church drama of the telling of the familiar story, and the domestic drama of cards, presents, food, plans and preparations – amid all that drama we do well to pause and let the amazing truth sink in yet again.
This child who is coming, this baby in the manger, this scrap of life and hope, this squalling bundle of humanity.. is the King of creation. If the phrase ‘God made flesh’ has failed to make our eyes pop, our jaws drop, and our hair stand on end with awe and amazement, then we’re not taking it in properly. Christ the King become the baby of Bethlehem – God made flesh to save us. That is what our Advent and Christmas should point us towards and help us to realize.

Our expectations of kingship and our knowledge of Christ the king will colour all the celebration that is to come. That just leaves the question of the relationship between King and subjects – between Jesus Christ and each one of us.

How de we relate to Christ the King – are we prepared to let Christ really rule our lives?
What would this mean for each life here?

If we recognise Christ as King it means allowing our lives to be subject to his rule: putting the kingdom of God first in our decisions. What we do and say and think, the power we wield, the money we spend, the way we treat other people: maybe even our response to Royal news – the whole of our lives are not our own, but are part of the kingdom of God. We need to be living as those who wish to see God’s love, peace and joy for all. If Christ is our King we are part of his rule – seeking his will, doing his work, being his body.

May we be ready this Advent to meet Christ the King in ever new and surprising ways and to live our lives more and more as his subjects and servants in this world.
To the glory of God.
Amen.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The end of the year

Well the end of the liturgical year: Christ the King.
I like this chance to take stock before we're catapulted into the madness of Advent & Christmas. Before we get too carried away with babies in mangers, let's not forget that the one who is coming is Christ the Lord of all.
Readings are:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

God will raise up a shepherd from the stock of David.
He is the image of the invisible God first-born of all creation.
The crucified one is recognised as king.

Plenty of food for thought there...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday thoughts

Today is, of course, Remembrance Sunday.
We may be caught between many different feelings: some may wear a red poppy to honour those who fought – especially those who didn’t return. Others may wear a white poppy to pledge themselves to peace. Some may want to look back and thank God that ‘our boys’ won and that this country remained free. Others may want the freedom to be proud of ‘our boys (and girls)’ who are fighting today without facing an accusation of racism. Some may want to remember the victory of self-sacrifice… and others want to be able to forget the horror of war.

Caught in the complexity of all these many feelings, it is tempting to focus on the reading we heard from Isaiah – looking forward to a time when God will create a new heaven and a new earth – with love and peace and prosperity for all people. This is a fantastic reading to remind us that life will not always be this hard and that in the end God will sort it out.
But the letter to the Thessalonians gives Paul’s warning to those who are prepared to wait for God to sort things out and so fritter their lives and their time away sitting around. ‘Do not be weary in doing what is right’ says Paul. Sometimes we cannot simply dream of peace – but have to be prepared to struggle with all the issues to work out what is the right thing to do.

And so we think about our Gospel reading, where we are caught between realism & hope.

This is a relentlessly difficult reading. Jesus says to his followers quite clearly – don’t get carried away by the splendour of the temple – the fine stones and ornaments. Don’t put your trust in your fine building – because it won’t last. In fact, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army about 40 years later – but even if that hadn’t happened, it would be hardly be as good as new, 2,000 years on – buildings can’t last.

So if we can’t put our trust in buildings, in solid bricks & mortar, what can we trust? People?
Jesus says “Take care you are not misled. For many will come saying ‘ I am he’ and ‘the time has come’. Do not follow them”.
So however charismatic a leader, or whatever the claim they make for themselves, we mustn’t put our trust in other people, either.

No, Jesus says, when you’re really up against it, when you’re seized and persecuted and made to stand up in court to defend yourselves “I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute”. God’s Spirit, given by Jesus, will be what saves us when we face the ultimate test.

We can’t and we shouldn’t trust buildings or people: but we can trust God – the power of God the Father, given by the Son through the Spirit: God is what we can always rely on.
That doesn’t let us off the hard wrestling of ‘what are we to do?’ – it doesn’t mean that we can sit back & hope God will sort it out. God’s spirit, the power of God, will come to help those who follow Jesus – but only when they are really up against it – arrested, imprisoned, and put in trial. Yet in the midst of that trial God will strengthen them and give them the right words to say.

This Remembrance Sunday as we face the question ‘in the face of suffering and warfare and conflict – what are we to do?’, then the Gospel doesn’t release us from that question, but perhaps it helps us to frame the question in a new way - ‘What would God have us do?’. What does it mean, today, to remember, to forgive, to give thanks, to pray for peace? How can we be open to the work of the Spirit in the way we treat other people, especially those with whom we disagree? How can we allow God’s Spirit to change us this Remembrance Sunday, so that we can be agents of peace and forgiveness in a world which longs for both.
God help us, God change us. Amen.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Initial thoughts

This week's readings:
Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Today I led a reflection on these readings for a meeting, based on the gospel reading. I think this will be my starting point for Sunday - which also needs to bring in Remembrance! :

We are caught between realism & the hope of the gospel.

Jesus says to his followers quite clearly – don’t get carried away by the splendour of the temple – the fine stones and ornaments. Don’t put your trust in your fine building – because it won’t last. In fact, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army about 40 years later – but even if that hadn’t happened, it would be hardly be as good as new, 2,000 years on – buildings can’t last.

So if we can’t put our trust in buildings, in solid bricks & mortar, what can we trust? People?
Jesus says “Take care you are not misled. For many will come saying ‘ I am he’ and ‘the time has come’. Do not follow them”.
So however charismatic a leader, or whatever the claim they make for themselves, we mustn’t put our trust in other people, either.

No, Jesus says, when you’re really up against it, when you’re seized and persecuted and made to stand up in court to defend yourselves “I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute”. God’s Spirit, given by Jesus, will be what saves us when we face the ultimate test.

We can’t and we shouldn’t trust buildings or people: but we can trust God – the power of God the Father, given by the Son through the Spirit: God is what we can always rely on.

That doesn’t let us off the hard wrestling of ‘what are we to do?’ – but it helps us to frame the question in a new way ‘What would God have us do?’.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sermon notes 6-11-10

Stand firm (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17; Luke 20: 27-38)

Do you ever think about this church in 20 years’ time? or even 10 years’ time & wonder ‘What will it be like?’. I hope it won’t come as shocking news to anyone here that the church as we know it is changing. We know that numbers here on a Sunday are not what they were, let’s say 20 years ago. I can tell you that increasingly when I talk to couples getting married, about what hymns they would like in the service they don’t just say ‘I’ll ask my mum’ they say ‘I’ll ask my gran’. We are all getting older, of course – but research tells us that the average age of our congregations is rising. The church is changing. The church as we know it is dying.

But the church of Jesus Christ is nearly 2000 years old: and in those 2 millennia it has changed time and time again – new movements have been born, and died, but the Church is (as a friend of mine put it

recently) ‘theologically indestructible’. She meant that although the form of the Church will change, as it always has, the message of the gospel, the desire of God to reach out to humanity with the Good News of love and welcome and eternal life – that message is eternal. But, yes, this form of the church is dying. So what will it be like?

We might think the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees is all a bit pointless and irrelevant to us. The Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus with the ridiculous case of the woman widowed 7 times. They do not believe in life after death and they are presenting a case which is almost a riddle to try to illustrate their belief that there is no heaven and no afterlife. Because they cannot imagine the afterlife, they believe it does not exist. I have some sympathy with them.

Often when I meet people to talk about a funeral service the question ‘what is heaven like?’ comes up. The best I can manage is ‘I don’t know – but Jesus promises there is one’. There’s that question again ‘what will it be like?’.

But Jesus answers the Sadducees with the argument that there is eternal life – just not as they are imagining, a life that is merely a continuation of this one. What will it be like? Different, says Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t really answer the riddle of what it will be like. Instead Jesus paints of a picture of the God is who is out of time and eternal – the God of the living – in whose sight all are alive.

Whatever the church of the future is meant to be, we are meant to be the Church of God, the followers of Jesus Christ, the ones who seek the guidance of the Spirit.

Paul exhorts the church at Thessalonica, too, to ‘Stand fast.. and hold firm’.
It seems there are worries in that church about the return of Jesus at the end of time – and questions about why it hasn’t happened yet. But Paul wants them to remain calmly confident that the God who has cared about them since the beginning of time will never abandon them.
The God who has cared about us since the beginning of time will never abandon us. The God who has cared about you since the beginning of time will never abandon you.

So as we cope with the march of time, both these readings can give us hope because they remind us that although we experience time as a linear journey through the year and into the next– God has a different perspective.
Sometimes all we can do is hold on & wait for it all to make sense: then we can trust in the God who is with us, to stick by us.
The God who lives yesterday, today and forever will hold us safely through the journey of what we know as time: and in this lies our hope.

At the heart of the life of the church is a relationship between people and God, through Jesus Christ. That relationship is unbreakable, unbeatable. There will always be a church – the fellowship of those live as people who know God’s love. While God still loves the world there will still be a church. What will it look like? I have no idea. But if we are faithful followers of Jesus we will see God’s will done – and it is not God’s will that the Church should cease to preach the Good news, even if the shape and form of the church changes utterly.

I’m going to give the last word to The Revd Reg Dean who celebrated his 108th birthday this week on the 4th of November – he is believed to be Britain’s oldest man. Reg was ordained as an Anglican and served as a chaplain in India and Burma in World War 2. Following his divorce in the 50s he became a Congregational & then a URC minister.

Asked about the recipe for long and happy life, Reg said: “A faith I can trust; looking for the best in people rather than the worst; the love of friends; and doing things for the joy of it rather than rewards.”.

Of such is the kingdom of heaven – standing firm, trusting God, knowing and preaching love.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Feeling Gloomy

So is it the lack of sunshine on my pineal gland, the shortening days, or the putting away of Summer sandals & breaking out of Winter boots - but I'm feeling gloomy. Actually it's none of those things, it's most likely the fact that one of my churches is having a wobble about existence. It doesn't matter which one it is - all four could point to falling numbers on Sunday mornings, lack of people to do jobs, wondering how to be relevant to the world around... you get the picture. The problem (I am told by a wise friend) is the Decline of the Christian Church in the West. Please note the capitals - this is a BIG phenomenon and as such it is not my fault. But I am the one who will get up on her hind legs on Sunday to preach the gospel to people who are worried about the future.

So what to say?
The readings are:
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 or Job 19: 23 – 27a; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17; Luke 20: 27-38

At first sight the OT & Epistle look like 'keep on going' kind of messages and the Gospel looks way off beam with the Sadducees question about marriage in heaven (errr... who cares?). But I am starting to see a link - a shared concern between us and the Sadducees to get the future sorted out, to know exactly what's going to happen. But Jesus doesn't tell us, he just tells us to trust.
And wait and see what God is going to do. And remember that soon it will be Advent & the Lord will come - but not as we expect.

Full notes to follow as & when available!