Friday, 7 December 2012

'Repent'


 Philippians 1: 3-11 and Luke 3: 1-18.

Advent is a strange time. It is about getting ready to celebrate Christmas – but that preparation doesn’t mean all the stuff we all think we have to do – cards & presents & food and all that. It means reflecting on what it really means to say that God is with us in Jesus Christ and asking what difference it makes in our lives.

Last week's Advent 1 readings were about warnings of the End Times - a reminder that God is in charge of human history, and that the coming of Jesus is part of a larger plan. Advent has a timeless quality, in that it relates to then (the birth of Christ), now (our preparations) and what is to come (God's unfolding plan & eventual kingdom in its fulness). We can’t celebrate Advent and not ask ‘what difference is it making to us here and now? What new things is God going to do this Christmastime?’

Luke's gospel today tells us of the coming of John the Baptist. Here’s an odd bit of the Christmas story – a bit that never finds its way into our Christmas cards.
John the Baptist comes to prepare the way for Jesus and tells people to repent: to turn around, to change their ways. He is full of the news that God is coming – but he is also clear that people need to be ready, prepared, new people ready to receive God’s gift of Jesus Christ and ready to respond to that gift in the way they live their lives.

John the Baptist is about as far as he can be from the cuddly cute message of our time, that Christmas is a ‘magical time’, which we should all enjoy by lighting candle and sitting back in the warm glow.

John the Baptist says  ‘prepare the way of the Lord …Bear fruits worthy of repentance….Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’
John tells people that they must repent, change their ways, be ready for God’s coming among them. This is a refreshing change from the syrupy message of much of the Christmas hype. The adverts tell us Christmas is about sharing, about families, about spending money. That Christmas is a time for gladness and joy is of course right - but it is also a time for reflection, change, challenge.

But before you start labeling me as a Scrooge, or a kill-joy, let me say clearly that this is still Good News.

Through John the Baptist God tells us to change our ways – to be more tuned in to what God is doing and is going to do in the world, and not so cluttered up with all the other things life tells us are important.
Simplicity, reflection, being ready to receive from God, all these things are Good News.


Because the Good news is that God came, and is coming, and will come to us. He will come to help us to change, to make us new, to bathe us in light and love and joy just as surely as John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan.
If we will only try to be ready for God, he will come into our hearts and our lives and make us new.

Did you wonder why Luke begins this third chapter with all this stuff about who was king and governor where and when? He wants his readers to see where they fit into all that has happened. He wants them to know that God came to their place and their time when Pontius Pilate (oh yes, we remember him!) was the governor of Judea.
God isn’t just floating around in a vague sort of way. God became flesh and came to that place and that time and people had to be ready to look and see and accept and rejoice.
God will come and God will make a difference.

The Philippians reading talks about the difference God makes. It is a very positive outpouring of appreciation for the good news the church at Philippi have proclaimed. Paul is clear that it is God’s love which has made them such good and generous people and God’s love that will make them even more people of God’s kingdom than they are already.

So if you think Christmas is old hat – you’ve seen and done it all before: be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to see God come to you in new ways this Christmas.

If you think Christmas is all about being busy and spending too much money – and if that either makes you over-excited or very depressed – be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to see that celebration is good and can help us remember that we are blessed with the Good News of God’s presence.

If you think the church has nothing new to offer people in our technological world – that we should just let Coca Cola & John Lewis take over it all – be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to tell people the most astonishing and relevant story – of the God who comes to us – as one of us – to bless us and change us.

Be ready to receive God’s presence.
Take this bread and wine and as you hold it and eat it & drink it, know that it comes as God’s gift to you. Let God’s presence enter you, and see what change God can bring.
In Jesus’ name
Amen.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Advent themes

So.. if I was preaching each Sunday of Advent what would I say?

Week 1, as you have seen, was 'Hope'.

Week 2, I think, will be 'Repent'
taking Philippians 1: 3-11 and Luke 3: 1-18.
I know the lectionary splits John the Baptist's story in two but really, I think we can get too much John the Baptist in the lectionary (he must have a good publicist!).

Week 3 would be 'Rejoice!' Taking Zephaniah 3: 14-20 and then 'borrowing' the Magnificat (Luke 1: 39-45) from next week's lectionary

Then week 4 is 'Prepare' - we're left with Micah 5: 2-5a but to be honest I think we're wall-to-wall carol services by then as we're only 2 days off the great day itself.

In a multi-church situation, such as the one I'm in here, it's hard to maintain a 'series' over a number of weeks, but I wanted to think the season through in my own mind.
Life is getting full of celebrations - but I will try to post sermons/reflections here as they get written.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Friday, 30 November 2012

The days are surely coming…

Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-36 



Today is Advent Sunday. Christmas really is coming. Four more Sundays to go…23 more days…love it or loathe it, Christmas is coming and it will soon be time to celebrate the coming of Jesus. So it’s time to get ready to celebrate.

But what are we celebrating? An event of 2000 years ago, that still has some attraction to us? A chance to meet up with family & friends and have a holiday?

Or dare we actually hope for something new to happen – for God to act here and now?

Jeremiah prophecies that the day will come – the day will surely come when God will cause a branch of David to spring up : “and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety”.

God does not just promise a king, he promises a king whose kingdom, whose rule, will mean peace and justice and a new world order. God’s people have to wait and hope that in all the mess of their lives – as other world powers battle around them and invade them, and oppress them, God will come and sort it out.

And so they wait. And hope. And trust in God. 

And when Jesus is born, the angels will sing about peace on earth, goodwill to all people – and everything will change forever.

Or will it? Jesus is born and after a flurry of birth stories & one story of going missing in childhood, everything will go quiet for 20 years or so until Jesus begins his ministry.

Then, perhaps God will act, will overthrow the Romans, will bring peace and stability and God’s reign will surely come.

But those 3 years of Jesus’ ministry will end not in peace & justice, but in injustice and crucifixion and death. Except that even that will not be the end, but will be the gateway to resurrection and new life and the promise of a new creation. So now will God bring in the kingdom for his battered creation? Or must God’s people continue to wait?

Advent serves to remind us that in Jesus our hope is set alight – we are given a glimpse of what God’s rule will look like – the lame shall dance, the deaf shall hear, love and peace & justice will overflow like wine at a wedding… and yet the kingdom is still to be hoped for in its entirety.

The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago was the start of what God promises, but still we wait in hope.
I’m reminded of the words of Churchill after the battle of El Alamein “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

So this Advent, we need to hear the prophet’s message – God will come, in Jesus. And we can celebrate in this bread and wine the presence of the risen Lord with us, strengthening and feeding our hope.

But we also need to be sure, this Advent, that God has not finished coming – that our world is not yet the kingdom of God.

We hardly need reminding that our world is not God’s kingdom – wars, disasters, misery, fear…
Jesus is clear that his coming has not swept all this away at a stroke. 

So in Like’s gospel we heard him warn his followers “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”.

This sounds a bit like our world, doesn’t it? A mess, if we’re honest, not much like God’s rule at all. But we remain hopeful because Jesus makes it clear that these terrible things don’t mean that God isn’t with us, or that Jesus wasn’t God’s son, it is a sign to us that God’s kingdom has not finished coming – it is not here fully yet, but it will surely come,

Advent tells us of the coming of God and renews our hope that one day God will come and finish making all things new.

He may come to us individually and lift us to be with him – as we are perfected in death – or we may be among those who are living when God will finally fold up this earth of ours and bring the end of all things we know. But he will come, he will surely come, and when the end comes there will be the perfect peace and justice and eternal life for which we long and we hope.

This is the Advent hope, and this is what we celebrate in the coming of Jesus Christ.

So celebrate God with us – in Jesus, in bread & wine & in the glorious end which will surely come. Amen.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Don’t panic, don’t panic!!


        (1 Samuel 2: 1-10, Mark 13: 1-8)
Just when we need Corporal Jones most, news came to us the week before last that Clive Dunn, the actor who delivered those memorable lines, is dead.
It seems our world is full of bad news – whether it’s the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, renewed violence between Israel & Palestine, or the fact that there’s just over 5 weeks to Christmas… it’s enough to make us panic.

This is nothing new – Jesus lived in times of great uncertainty. Sickness and death were far commoner than they are for us, the land of Israel was permanently ruled by the Roman foreign power, and Jesus’ whole ministry is punctuated with questions and resistance.

No wonder Jesus’ followers wanted to find something solid and reliable in their lives – and they turned to the temple. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”.

But Jesus wants them to understand true solidity and reliability. First they need to understand time.
If Jesus has known Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Our God our help in ages past’ he might have sung ‘time like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away’. Instead he says "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.".

But then Jesus refuses to be drawn into a game of predicting or guessing when this will happen. ‘Not a stone will remain’ is a true observation not an attempt to make people panic. Things don’t last; time moves on; life is fleeting.

So what is Jesus' answer to this sense of time trickling through our fingers? ‘These are but the birth pangs’. God’s rule will come in the end. Jesus’ followers need to get a perspective on time to give them the hope and faith they need to face the future. That hope & faith will be far more solid than any temple,

I have recently been reading a book by Stephen Cherry about what he calls ‘time wisdom’ rather than time management: one of his ideas is that we should see time as a gift, not a commodity which is in short supply, so that we ask ‘what can I do?’ rather than panicking about what cannot be done. In his own way, I think Jesus suggests a kind of time wisdom – to see time as God’s time.
In fact, whatever we are panicking about – the swiftness of the passage of time, the state of the world, the fate of the church – we can help ourselves if we have the wisdom to remember they belong to God.

This is God's time, God's world, God's church.
Do not worry – this all belongs to God - God is here.
And the fact that this is God’s time is not just a soothing thought – it makes a real difference, because it is God’s constant habit to break into this time of his, this world of his.

We hear this in the ‘Song of Hannah’. Her years of misery, hoping and praying and yearning for a child, are over. God has broken into her misery, and she has given birth to a son, Samuel. The name Samuel means ‘God heard’ – God heard Hannah’s plea and answered it – this is God’s reply – Samuel.

She is so sure that this is God’s blessing to her, that Hannah gives her son back to God – she sings this song after presenting the young Samuel to the old priest Eli in the temple, where he will be brought up.
Hannah thanks God for his gift of new hope. There are echoes in her song of the song of Mary, the Magnificat.
Once again God will break into time into his world, and offer a child - God's gift of himself to the world -  as a sign of hope.

So don’t panic – this is God’s world and God’s time.
 Christmas is coming – but more importantly Christ is coming into this world, into hearts & minds & lives.
God has a habit of breaking into his time and his world – into our time and our world – into our lives.

So with Advent starting in just 2 weeks, expectation can build – even among those of us who are secretly looking forward to the time after Christmas when we can catch up on sleep!
The wisdom of the ages teaches us  that God has come, is coming and will come into the world.

Our own lives reflect this truth for the whole world – that Jesus comes to us again & again &  promises ‘I will take you to myself, so that where I am there you will be’.
God’s breaking into the world bridges earth & heaven – so that he can come down to us & so that we will ascend to him. Don’t panic, but trust in God’s truth.


PRAYER
Lord, when we panic, grant us wisdom, hope and joy . Help us to know your presence and to serve you faithfully, giving you all that we are to be used in your kingdom.
Inspire us with your spirit that we may be your servants and live as the body of Christ to your ends in your world. And bring us at the last to be one with you, Father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday


Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
I love this reading – Jesus says “beware of those who like to walk around in long robes.. and have the best seats….” (I will at this point sit in my large armed chair in the church, in my cassock alb!).
Well, that only seems to apply to one person here, (me) so what does the warning mean for all of us – and particularly on Remembrance Sunday?
Beware.. what exactly? Beware posturing, beware the scramble for honour or glory, beware an attitude to faith or religion or occasion which says ‘look at me!’.
So on Remembrance Sunday, beware the sort of pomp that becomes more about who’s there, who’s seen, who’s important enough to have a front row seat. Beware turning this day into a glorification of people’s position in society or importance or even, God forbid, the glorification of war.
And having warned his followers about those who will posture and glorify only themselves, and grab power and influence, Jesus turns their attention to …an insignificant widow.
Widows in Jesus’ times had little power, little influence, often little money. That’s why he criticizes the scribes for fleecing widows.
A widow, a poor woman, the opposite of the scribes with their position and their power, puts her tiny gift into the temple treasury. It is tiny compared to the other gifts, but Jesus says it is all she has to live on – she gives everything she’s got – she sacrifices her own livelihood in order to respond to God with thanks.
Jesus invites us to contrast the pompous and the self-serving with the humble and the self-sacrificing. Jesus invites us to think about how we use our lives – to glorify ourselves or to serve other people? And Jesus invites us to celebrate those who lives are lived for others rather than those who seek recognition.
Today is about remembering. Remembering the sacrifice, remembering the loss, remembering those who still today offer their all to protect the rights and peace of others.
As we remember and celebrate we also dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace and justice. Let us pray for the strength to give our all to be used by God in his wisdom for the good of others.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Saints


Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44

It was All Saints' Day on Thursday and I heard on the radio a short piece by The Rev Richard Coles, who is a broadcaster and who has written a book called the Lives of the Improbable Saints. In the broadcast he outlined the roles of some of the less famous saints and described how to pray to the patron saint of car parking, Mother Cabrini: "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a space for my parking machinery."

I can see you’re not a bit convinced. So what is the point of saints?

I love the description from the US theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”.
The image Buechner is conjouring up is of the young woman, trying to catch the eye of the young man, who ‘accidently’ drops a handkerchief so that he can pick it up and engage her in conversation.
God wants us to know that his love and concern are here in the world, and so he drops handkerchiefs – the saints.

I think this applies to all God’s saints, not just the official ones. Each life lived walking in God’s way becomes a sign to the rest of us that God is there. So part of what we do to celebrate All Saints Day is to give thanks to God for all those people who have acted as “God’s handerchiefs” for us – who have allowed us a glimpse of God’s will and God’s love for God’s world.

We might also, today, ask God to help us to be more like “God’s handerchiefs” for others: more loving, more caring, more holy in our lives, so that when others see us they are given a glimpse of God’s love in action.

The problem with this sort of exhortation to be more loving is that there are times in our lives when we just can’t – when we’re bruised, broken or just plain exhausted. Times when the last thing we feel able to do is be a sign of Good News to anybody.

On Tuesday evening we held the annual memorial service at Whittlesford: when we invite the families of all those for whom we’ve conducted funerals in all 3 villages, in the last year. We deliberately do this at this time of year – near to All Saints’ Day, and near to Remembrance Sunday. People come to remember their loved ones and I hope they find a place where there is comfort and peace: the service tries to give a sense of assurance that in all our weeping, God is present to help us, and that as it says in the Wisdom of Solomon “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”.

What strikes me is the way in which at that service, having heard God’s word and reflected on God’s strength, the families there seem able to support one another – there is a sense of real fellowship and care.

So where does this ability to care, even when we are at the end of our resources, come from?

Our readings each make it clear that it is God who dries our tears.
In the book of Revelation the promise is given that at the end of time God will fold all things back to himself – “Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”

God himself will be with them and he will wipe all tears from their eyes. 
This is the sort of promise that gives us hope – for our loved ones and for ourselves. God never abandons us to our pain, but will care for us himself.

In our gospel reading, Jesus is moved by the tears of those who have loved and lost Lazarus. Mary is weeping, those with her are weeping, and Jesus himself is deeply moved by their pain. In Jesus we see God alongside us, not aloof from us, sharing in the human misery that is grief and loss.
And Jesus doesn’t just tell Mary & Martha to cope with their pain and to try harder to be signs of God’s presence to those around them. Jesus reaches out to them and shows them that God’s power will bring Lazarus back to life.

To demonstrate God’s power, Jesus does it there and then, but there is strength here for each one of us, that God’s love will not allow death to have the last word – not in the life of Lazarus, not in the life of Jesus, and not in the lives of all those we know.
Death will end, Tears will end. God will vanquish death and care for us forever.

Perhaps we feel to have come a long way from the Saints as God’s handkerchiefs. But our Bible readings remind us that important though the saints might be in helping us to glimpse God’s love in the world, they are nothing without the power of God.

In the end it is God’s love which is revealed in the lives of the saints, it is through God's power that they can be the signs of Good News that they are.
And it is God’s love which comes to us today, to heal our brokenness, to dry our tears, to feed us in this bread & wine & to enable us to be signs of God’s love in the world.
To God’s praise and glory.
Amen.


Friday, 26 October 2012

What do you want Jesus to do for you?


Mark 10: 46-52

I find the story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus an amazing one.

It’s amazing that when everyone else in the crowd is telling the blind beggar to shut up, Jesus notices him calling out & stands still. Even though Jesus & his followers were just on their way out of the town of Jericho, Jesus stops & says ‘call him here’.

It’s amazing that Jesus can and does heal Bartimaeus – Jesus somehow makes him to see again, and then instead of sitting and begging, Bartimaeus can decide to follow Jesus.

But I think the most amazing bit of the story is when Jesus asks Bartimaeus, a blind man who cannot work and who just manages to scratch a living, the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’.
It might seem obvious what Bartmaeus is asking for – but Jesus takes time not only to listen to his call and to heal him, but he takes time to find out what Bartimaeus wants.

And Jesus asks us that today. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Our answer to the question might depend on what we think Jesus can do. Bartimaeus is sure that Jesus could make him see again – and he did.
What can Jesus do for you? What can he do for me?

Today we celebrate the fresh start – of baptism – that Jesus offers Grace and Jack. A chance to celebrate being born into a world where they are loved by their family and loved by God. And that fresh start isn’t just for today – Jesus will keep offering them a fresh start whenever they need it. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Give you a fresh start? It’s yours.
Maybe today we want to celebrate love in our lives: the love of family, the love of friends, the love of God who knows everything about us, knows all our bad habits and mistakes and failures – and loves us anyway. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Help you know that you’re loved, whoever you are? He can give you that.

Or maybe today you’re facing a difficult stage of life. Maybe you just want to know that someone is with you, even when it’s tough. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Be with you in everything life throws at you? He’s there.

We’ve heard just this one story from the Bible of what God, in Jesus, can do for us. The Bible is full of stories of all sorts of ways in which God’s love reaches us to people. God reaches out in Jesus and in other ways too – healing, loving, comforting, guiding. So today I have a gift for Grace & Jack – a book of Bible stories. I hope that as they hear them and as friends and family read them to them, they will learn what God can do & wants to do in their lives.

And I also have a gift for everyone here – the bread and wine of communion. When we eat the bread and drink the wine we remember that in Jesus the love of God was so great that he gave his life – suffered and died – for us. So whatever you want Jesus to do for you, you are welcome to eat this bread and drink this wine as a sign of  the promise of God’s fresh start, of God’s love & of God’s presence with you your whole life. Of course you might prefer just to sit and think, or to come up for a blessing rather than communion itself – it’s your choice.

But whatever you choose, may everyone here know God’s blessing, today and always. Amen.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Who do you think you are?


A sermon for One World Week: Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45

Thanks to the BBC show about famous people’s family trees, it’s maybe not so bad as it used to be for someone to say ‘who do you think you are?’.
But it’s all in the tone: ‘who do you think you are?’ can be a warning that you’re thinking too highly of yourself, that you’re putting on airs and graces. Like James & John in today’s gospel reading.

They want to be great: they want places of honour in this kingdom Jesus keeps talking about. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

But what does this glory look like? What does Jesus think greatness looks like? 
IF James & John think they want to be Jesus’ right and left-hand men, perhaps they should have listened more carefully to Jesus talking about who he is.
Jesus warns the 2 brothers that he cannot grant them the positions of honour they long for – though he can promise them they will share in what will happen to him. Then the others disciples get angry with James and John: ‘who do they think they are?’ , trying to grab the best places in Jesus kingdom…

Jesus makes it clear to all of them  You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Who do you think you are? Well, if you’re a follower of Jesus you are someone interested in being ‘servant of all’, as Jesus is.
The letter to the Hebrews also deals with this question of who we think we are: the issue of our place in God’s kingdom. Is it a place of honour? Or a place of servanthood?

Chapter 5 verse 4 is clear ‘one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was’. If we see ourselves as deserving a place of honour in God’s kingdom, we might want to grab the goodies for ourselves, as James & John try to. But if instead of seeing our role as priests in God’s kingdom as a reward, we see it as a responsibility, then we arrive again at a position of servant to others.

The high priest referred to in Hebrews was one who helped to bridge the gap between God and God’s people – who presented prayers and offerings from the people to God and who led the people in worship of God.
Jesus, our great High Priest, offered himself, his own life as the offering to God the Father – he did not try to grasp power or status.

And having given himself for the world, Jesus gives us a place in the kingdom – a share in the work which he has begun. This is One World Week, when we remember our responsibility to caring for our planet and all God’s children on it. Caring for one world is not just about ‘being green’ but recognising  that it is all God’s world – the world Jesus came & died for.  We have the honour of being precious children of God, but we also have the responsibility of caring for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

As priests – as part of the body of Christ – we have to offer worship to God which is not just about what we do in church, but is about how we live our lives.

The link between One World Week and our Christian faith isn’t just that as Christians we want to support a Good Thing. The words of Jesus to James and John and the letter to the Hebrews each remind us that one expression of following Christ is to realise our true place in God’s kingdom as servants who care for and cherish the world.

Just this week I was talking to a colleague who spent some time in the late 1990s as a missionary in the Pacific islands. He said he was faced by the question  ‘What does gospel look like in the Pacific, where the Christian West is blamed for global warming and the destruction of land?’. Concern for One World is central to the good news there, not just an extra or and add on to the ‘real’ message of God’s love.
The Good News is that God loves the Pacific islands as much as he loves our islands – that Jesus lives and died and rose for the whole world.
If you love your neighbour, that means accepting responsibility even for our brothers and sisters who are far away.

Who do we think we are?
Hopefully, we see yourselves as servants of the world, as Jesus was. We are loved children of God the Father, with a responsibility to the whole of God’s family. And hopefully, too, we see yourselves as people who can be helped by the Spirit to invigorate our imaginations to see this as God’s world, and to live our responsibility to this One World. In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Post harvest blues?


A cure for the post-harvest blues?

There is something about harvest-time that always leaves me a little bit unsettled. I don’t think it’s just the thought that with harvest safely behind us and the autumn colours really starting to take off we can settle down for the coming winter. I’m left with what I can only describe as the post-harvest blues.

It’s good that once again we have remembered to give thanks for the fruit, the flowers, all our food. And although the harvest has not been a bumper one, and we know that world food prices are up, even so we can give thanks that we have enough.. and more.

But somewhere I am left with a feeling that thanking God for the harvest is alright as far as it goes. I think I’m always left wondering quite where the Good News is in the harvest message of simple thanks to God who made all that we have.

So I was glad of today’s readings which have encouraged us to think about the beauty and wonder of creation, but also to think about the relationship we have with God the creator.

It is good to marvel at creation, it is good to give thanks to God for all the gifts of creation, but it is also important to remember that we are part of the created order, that we too are created beings.

In Psalm 8 the writer begins by praising the vastness of the heavens and the glory of God we see in them. When the Psalmist looks at the heavens, at the moon and stars – we might add and the billions of galaxies – the Psalmist asks ‘why do you care about humans?’.

In all the enormous vastness of space, why would the almighty creator God care about us – these tiny specks of life on the small blue-green planet we call Earth?
But, the psalmist writes ‘ you have made us a little lower than you yourself, and given us power over sheep, cattle, wild animals, birds and fish’.

God has made the immensity of space, but here on Earth he has placed us to be stewards. So it is right that often our thoughts at harvest-time turn to our important role in caring for our planet, and of sharing the bounty of the earth with other people and with all creation.

We cannot read Psalm 8 and then allow our thanks to be only about what we have stored up ‘ere the winter storms begin’. We thank God for making us and for giving us responsibility in his world.
Even so, I’m left with the post-harvest blues.

It’s almost as if  we are implying that God has made us this beautiful world, placed us in charge of creation to care for it and each other, and then… left us to it.
If we only praise the God of creation, we are left as inhabitants as a beautiful but essentially empty world. If we’re not careful, we relegate God to the role of an absent parent, who surrounds us with wonderful gifts, but never actually spends any time with us.

So I’m grateful for the letter to the Hebrews, which  makes it abundantly clear that our relationship with God our creator goes beyond this.

We are part of the created order and we are given responsibility for the rest of creation. But that is not enough – that is certainly not all there is to the relationship we have with God.
God has not made us to be just caretakers, God has made us to be God’s beloved children.
We mustn’t let the beauty of creation blind us to the fact that God is not only the almighty creator, who wants us to serve him. God is our loving parent, who wants us to know and love him.

So the letter to the Hebrews is clear that God’s fullest attempt to communicate love to us is through Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save the lost.

God has not just created the world and set us in it. God has come to his world in Jesus to love and heal and touch and convince us that wonderful as the world can be, it is only a part of the reality that is God. We can see reflections of God’s glory here, but we are made to know the fullness of life lived in God, through the eternal life beyond this created order.

We are not created by God to live loveless lifes as caretakers of an abandoned earth – we are loved and cherished. God is not an absent or impersonal creative force – God is with us and for us and surrounds us with love and care.

Here is a cure for the post harvest blues.
Here is bread and wine – gifts of creation but here at the Lord’s table much, much more. Here is God with us – here is the gift of the body and blood of Jesus – here is the promise that as we take this food and drink into ourselves we take the promise of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit.
Creating us and sustaining us – but also abiding with us and in us – as a cure for the post harvest blues and for all that ails us. In his name – father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Harvest.. and a baptism


Joel 2: 21-27
Matthew 6: 25-33

It would be easy to be smug today, wouldn’t it?
The church looks beautiful, the weather’s picked up again, and of course Ellie is gorgeous – and the rest of us have scrubbed up Ok too.
Is there really anything more to say than ‘aren’t we lucky!’ and maybe ‘thank you God’.

But I think there is a bit more to say than that – as we’ve heard from our Bible readings  - one kept saying ‘be not afraid’ the other ‘do not worry’.  On the face of it they’re not very cheerful and ‘harvesty’ – nor are they particularly good news for a baptism.
But actually if we were to wish Ellie anything at this start of her journey of faith, then freedom from fear and freedom from worry would be a pretty good start.

We meet surrounded by flowers and fruit and we heartily give thanks for all the gifts with which God has blessed us. But we are reminded that people do worry about the harvest, that they are sometimes afraid that there won’t be enough, that there will be drought, or flood, or pests. This is a reality for many people in the world today, even if we have learnt to rely on our freezers, or tinned goods and our imports.

What if there isn’t enough? What if something terrible is waiting for us just round the corner? What if God somehow forgets us the next time he’s dishing out the favours? Do not worry. Don’t be afraid. God is with us.

The reading we heard from Joel were the words of a prophet at a time when God’s people were largely reliant on the food they could grow for themselves, and when their harvest had suffered terribly over a number of years from drought and then from locusts. But speaking on behalf of God, Joel says to the people ‘never again will my people be shamed’ – they should stop fearing the worst and realise that God is with them, whatever happens.
Jesus takes this even further ‘do not worry about what to eat or drink or wear, your heavenly father knows you need all these things. But seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness’.
Once we remember that God is with us and cares for us and will make sure that we have the basics of life, we can turn our attention to what life is really about.

We are here – Ellie, all of us – to be part of God’s kingdom, to be people ruled by God. That means remembering that we are God’s children, fed and clothed and cared for by God; and it also means remembering to give thanks to God and finding time to ask what God wants of us. As loved children of God we are called to love others. So we shouldn’t just celebrate our harvest today, we should ask who around us hasn’t got enough and try to share with them. That’s why we’ve been collecting food for the Cambridge foodbank.

That’s part of what Jesus means by ‘seeking God’s kingdom’ and ‘seeking God’s righteousness’ – looking for the right way to live according to God’s rules, which are about being grateful for God’s blessings and loving enough to be a blessing to others.

So do not worry, do not be afraid. Do not forget that we are all God’s loved children – all as precious and special to God as Ellie is to her family.
And surrounded as we are by God’s gifts to us, let’s be truly thankful and ready to play a part in making our world God’s place, where all will be blessed as we are.
Today and every day. Amen.

Friday, 21 September 2012

What does it mean to be a disciple?


Mark 9: 30-37

As we’ve been plodding through Mark’s gospel in the last month or so this question has kept coming up one way or another: What does it mean to be a disciple?

Marks’ gospel is 16 chapters long, so more than once you might have heard me say in a sermon on chapters 8, 9 or 10 ‘we’re about half way through Mark’s gospel’. You might have heard me talk about tipping points, or see saws, or points of no return. Mark’s gospel spend the first half talking about what Jesus said & did & where he went, and then from chapter 11 it’s the entry into Jerusalem & down hill all the way. Chapters 8 & 9 & 10 have a special, in-betweeny feel about them, and some things just keep coming up.

Who is Jesus?
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Who are his disciples?
How do we walk God’s way, not our way?
And today’s passage covers a lot of this ground.

Jesus talks about his suffering and death
The disciples don’t understand
They argue amongst themselves about who is the greatest?
Jesus shows them a child.

This is not the first time Jesus has spoken about his death: in fact it’s the second. The first time, thanks to the lectionary, was just last week in our timescale – just back a chapter in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus asks the disciples ‘who do you say that I am?’
Then he talks about his suffering and death
The disciples don’t understand – Peter tells him not to talk like that
Jesus tells Peter to think about God’s way not the human way
Jesus tells the crowd to pick up their cross and follow.
I don’t think the similarities are just coincidence – Mark is trying to make a point, as he puts his gospel together.
Jesus is walking the road that leads to Jerusalem and death. But this is not the way of defeat – it is God’s way, and Jesus wants us to follow him in God’s way. This is very difficult to understand – so the disciples get cast in the role of the people who find it hard to understand, so that we can see how they arrive at an understanding of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Jesus keeps telling them what will happen (he will do it again – for the third time in ch 10 v 33) & they do not get it at first. But finally – just before the entry into Jerusalem – it’s third time lucky and they will start to see – just as blind Bartimaeus will be enabled to see. And when Bartimaeus sees, Mark tells us.  “he immediately followed Jesus on the way”.

Mark wants us to see. He wants us to understand where Jesus is heading – to suffering and death & finally resurrection. When we see, we will then need to follow in that way.

So what does it mean to be a disciple?
It means asking ‘where is Jesus going?’ concluding that he is walking God’s way, and deciding to walk with him, so that we dedicate ourselves to walking God’s way, too.

In the snippet we had of Marks’ gospel today, the disciples, still clueless about the whole suffering and death of Jesus, are arguing about who is greatest. There can be no better demonstration of the fact that they haven’t grasped what following Jesus is really all about. They still hope that this is the way to glory and power and privilege, and that they had better manoeuvre themselves into pole position for this coming kingdom of God.
Jesus wants them to know that, again, just like Peter last week, they are thinking on human lines, making human plans, wanting human power, not walking God’s way. God’s power is shown in weakness, God’s kingdom will come through self-offering, God’s way is the way of service. God’s greatness does not look the same as human greatness.

And to prove the point Jesus takes a child – a little child, because Jesus scoops the child up in his arms – and says ‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcome me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me’.

In Matthew’s version of this teaching, Jesus talks about receiving the kingdom like a child – but here he talks about serving the kingdom in a child. There is no place in the kingdom for human status – the smallest child must be served, because in serving the littlest we serve Jesus, and in serving Jesus we serve God himself.
What does it mean to be a disciple? It means learning from Jesus how to walk God’s way & learning that walking God’s way means serving even the least person – even a small child – because in every child of God we serve God.

Over the next 5 weeks in the lectionary we will get more instalments of Jesus teaching to the disciples about what it means to be a disciple – as Jesus teaches them about serving others, living with others, keeping the law, being servants of all, and finally we’ll arrive at the healing of blind Bartimaeus, when we all get to see what’s going on!

But for today, we need to continue to ask ‘what does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?’ It means accepting God’s way, not our way, for our lives. It means looking for those who might be least and littlest in our world, but whom we should serve because through them we serve God.
As we worship as three churches together today, three groups of people all trying to be disciples of Jesus, perhaps we should be asking ‘how can we serve each other?’ ‘ how can we walk together in God’s way?’ and ‘who are the little ones beyond our walls whom we are called to serve?’.

May the God who in Christ opened the eyes of Bartimaeus open our eyes to see God’s world in God’s way and to seek to follow Christ in serving the world.
In Christ’s name. Amen.



Saturday, 15 September 2012

Who do you say that I am?


Mark 8: 28-37

Jesus has a question. It may not seem like it at first, but it is a vital question.
‘Who do you say that I am?’

Don’t you think it’s interesting that no-one gives the obvious answer – son  of Mary & maybe of Joseph (though the rumours are that Mary was already expecting before the wedding). Jesus the rabbi, the teacher. Jesus the miracle-worker. Jesus of Nazareth.

Clearly the disciples understand this is an important question – Jesus isn’t looking for the obvious answers – he wants to know what it is about him that makes people want to follow. It’s a question which asks ‘who do you think you’re following?’

Some say John the Baptist, other Elijah, or one of the prophets. This is not just a carpenter’s son  - this is someone one worth following, not just a teacher – a prophet – maybe the great prophet Elijah, maybe a more modern prophet like John the Baptist.

But who do you say that I am? asks Jesus.
Peter blurts out the right answer ‘you are the Messiah’.

Jesus is not just someone worth following, then – he is the one worth following – God’s chosen, the Christ.

You can’t just hang around with Jesus in an aimless sort of way – his idea is not to spend a few decades with his disciples doing a bit of good here and there.
If the disciples are truly following Jesus they need to be whole-hearted about it – they need to know that following Jesus is the most important thing in their lives. He is not just a good friend – he is God’s anointed and is they are following him they need to put their whole lives into it. He is the Messiah.

But for now this is a secret, and they are to tell no-one.
But Jesus lets them further into the secret – he is God’s chosen who will undergo great suffering and be rejected and will be killed, and after 3 days will rise again. Peter can’t stand any more – he tells Jesus to stop saying such things. And Jesus is clear ‘Get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’.
Human success may demand one course of action from God’s chosen, but Jesus is walking God’s path – and it is a path which leads to self-offering and death.
These whoe-hearted followers of his need to know that he is asking for them to walk with him on the most dangerous and life-changing road – which will lead through death to new life.

Then Jesus calls the crowd to him – once again Mark wants us to know that Jesus is about to say something everybody needs to hear. ‘If anyone wants to be my disciples let them take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever wants to save their life will save it’.

Following Jesus is a whole-hearted business, but it is not only for his inner circle of friends, it is for anyone who dares to give themselves completely to it. The crowd may not yet know what is in store, but Jesus tells them that if they will give up control over their own lives and put their whole trust in walking with him, they will save their lives.

As the story of Jesus’ life unfolds, the crowd will see him take up his cross and suffer and die. At first sight this might look like defeat, perhaps even proof that Jesus was not worth following.
But after 3 days Jesus will be seen to be risen from death, given his life back in a hew and eternal way by God the Father – given back his life and more in reward for being prepared to lay down his life for others.

Eventually the crowd will learn – the whole world will learn, what Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples.
Jesus is the one worth following with all your heart, he is the one walking God’s path. But God’s path is not an easy one, it leads to suffering and death and laying down your life. Yet beyond that it leads to God’s promise of eternal life.

I started by saying Jesus has a vital question.
It’s a question not just for the disciples, not even just for the crowd that day in Caesarea Philippi. It is a question for every living soul ‘who do you say that I am?’.

And we’d better be careful how we answer. If we are prepared to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, the chosen of God, then we’d better also ask whether we are prepared to follow, prepared to lay down our lives for his sake and for the gospel, prepared to walk in the ways of Jesus with every thing we have – with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

These are questions we don’t just answer once in life, they are questions for every day, perhaps even every hour of every day. Are we followers of Jesus? And do we know he is the Lord? And are we prepared to make him lord of our lives?

As we ponder these questions I’m not goijg to ask you to sing a hymn, but to listen to the music and silently follow the words – I think this way the words can sink in more.
371 ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee’ (remain seated)

Amen.