Sermon for 22nd August 2021 – Trinity 12 (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Ephesians 5: 21-32
“For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.”
Today’s epistle means that the subject of marriage is unavoidable. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
St Paul tells the Ephesians emphatically that marriage is rooted in Christian theology, a state of grace not just of nature – and that of course is why it took its place among the seven sacraments of the Church. Marriage, we are told is companionship, a companionship, as one old poem put it;
‘In care and in joy,
in bustle and in rest,
in loss and in gain,
in recreation and in work,
in risk and in fortune.’
As the marriage service tells us, a prime purpose of marriage is “for the mutual society, help and comfort, that the one right to have of the other, both in prosperity and in adversity.”
The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 31, so delightfully reveals that mutual society. Here is a wife by no means unsubordinated to her husband; “The heart of the husband trusts in her”, we are told; “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her; Many women have done excellently but you surpass them all.” The emphasis in Christian marriage is upon mutuality.
In an old marriage advice manual written about the time when the Book of Common Prayer was published in 1662, the picture on the opening page was of the bride and groom exchanging burning hearts. The symbolism was quite clear and is as relevant today as it was three and a half centuries ago. Love is not only kindled but it is deepened and enriched, it is fire fed and kept burning by the mutual sharing, friendship, companionship and pleasure in each other’s company, that are its essential attributes.
Some of the work of the great Dutch masters captures this beautifully. In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam hangs a delightful portrait painted by Frans Hals – he of the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ fame – entitled simply ‘Portrait of a Couple’.
Here we see Isaac Massa and his wife Beatrix van der Laen sitting together in a pose reminiscent of a holiday snapshot. Beatrix’s right arm is draped over her husband’s left shoulder in a casual, but unmistakeably affectionate, gesture, and the whole picture, with its happy, gentle smile of both husband and wife, vividly conveys the affectionate pleasure of married companionship.
However, my favourite picture of a husband and wife hangs today in Munich. It was painted by the great artist Peter Paul Rubens, and is a self-portrait of the artist and his wife Isabella Brant at the time of their marriage.
As with the Hals portrait, both sitters are looking out of the picture towards us. Once again there is a hint of a smile, and a glow of the deepest affection of one for the other. But the portait’s most arresting feature is the way in which Isabella’s right hand is gently placed over the right hand of her husband. In return the artist, with his hand, fingers curled around, supports and upholds hers. The husband’s support of his wife, and the wife’s gesture of reassurance for her husband, are quite magnificantly conveyed.
With both these portraits, we are left in no doubt that these couples belong to each other and that they glory in their relationship.
So too, the Epistle to the Ephesians underlines the nature of intimacy in marriage. “Husbands shall love their wives just as Christ loved the Church … Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies,”
Yes, I know that these are ideals; yes, I know that marriages often fall far short of these ideals; but that is what marriage, Christian marriage, should signify and symbolise.
This, wirtes St Paul, “is a great mystery, … let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
I close with a tender, poignant portrait of marriage, written by the welsh priest and poet R.S. Thomas following the death of his wife of over 50 years:
under a shower
Fifty years passed,
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
‘Come,’ said death,
choosing her as his
the last dance, And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird’s grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.
Intercessions for 22nd August 2021 – Trinity 12 (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Intercessor: Alison Taylor
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you promised through your Son Jesus to hear us when we pray in faith.
We pray for all the priests visiting our church during our interregnum, that you will continue to give them words of spirit and life as we continue to serve our Lord.
We pray for the person that you are calling to be our new Vicar, that you will draw him or her to our advertisement and to our church and that he or she will feel peace about applying for the post. We pray for those we have chosen to make the appointment, that you will guide them in choosing the person that you have chosen, a person who will have sensitivity to the promptings of God and enable the flourishing of the entire church family.
We pray for Deirdre and Phil as they lead us through our interregnum. May you grant them wisdom and strength and may they find joy in their service of our church.
We pray for our church, that you will build us together as the body of Christ, that your Holy Spirit will be present with us and that we will provide a place of sanctuary, love and healing for all who enter our building or who join us online.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for Afghanistan, praying that you will protect and rescue those in distress and that you will be close to all the broken-hearted there. We pray that you will restrain the hand of the new government and that those who have helped our forces and women and girls will not be harmed. We pray for the international community to have wisdom to know how to respond to the deepening crisis, praying, in particular, for wisdom for our own government.
We pray for Christians enduring persecution, praying particularly for protection on our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and in India where violence against Christians ins on the increase,
Lord, they call and you hear them, you save those whose spirits are crushed, you keep a guard over their bodies, do not allow those who hide themselves in you to be condemned.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for marriage across our community and across our nation, that it will be honoured and supported. We pray for those beginning married life, especially all those who have been married at All Saints, that you will show them how to love one another as they face the challenges of everyday life.
We pray for Peterborough, praying for our Council leaders that you will give them wisdom and vision as they seek to work for our city. We pray for the many charities that have their head offices in Peterborough, that you will equip them to continue to support the vulnerable in our nation. We pray for all those seeking work in Peterborough, that you will guide them to roles in which they will find purpose for their lives.
Father, we ask for your Holy Spirit to be present in our city, bringing a spirit of love, joy and peace to all people.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit, thinking particularly of Sandra Gait & Ann Dickinson and, in a moment of silence, anyone known to us.
Father of goodness and love, hear our prayers for the sick members of our community and for all who are in need. Amid mental and physical suffering may they find consolation in your healing presence. Show your mercy as you close wounds, cure illness, make broken bodies whole and free downcast spirits. May these special people find lasting health and deliverance, and so join us in thanking you for all your gifts.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for those who have completed their life journeys on Earth and now dwell with you in glory, thinking particularly of those whose anniversaries of death fall this week: Harold Mitcham, Robert Hicks, Bert Rofe, Doreen Cowling & Anne Thain
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them
Rejoicing in the fellowship and prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all your saints, we commend ourselves and all Christian people to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
Sermon for 8th August 2021 – Trinity 10 (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
John 6: 35, 42-51
If I go into the local school and ask the children what they think about if I say the word ‘birthday’ or the word ‘Christmas’, the first thing they always come up with is ‘presents’.
Mostly I thoroughly enjoy my presents, but occasionally I’ll put a present to one side because I can’t really see the need for it. And it sometimes happens that months later, when I’m desperate for some device to do a particular job, I’ve come across that discarded present and realised that I’ve had what I needed all the time. I just haven’t known that I’ve had it.
Something similar happened with one of God’s gifts. I’d been feeling rather unfit and quite stiff for some time, and during the lock down periods after trawling the internet for ideas on improving my health, I came across a website which suggested walking for fitness. I immediately knew that it was exactly what I both wanted and needed, since I’ve always enjoyed walking.
I started to walk all round the lanes round here and discovered not only a new dimension of enjoyment and increasing fitness but also, a new space and opportunity to be with God. And it occurred to me what a marvellous gift this was from God, one which had been there all the time but which I simply hadn’t noticed.
When Jesus was on this earth, some people realised what a huge and wonderful gift from God they had been given, But others were antagonistic and hostile, and in effect threw the gift back in God’s face.
It started in Nazareth, Jesus’ own village. There were all sorts of murmurings against Jesus. “Isn’t this the guy we grew up with? How could he be anything special? Get him out of here!” And Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home village, because of the attitude of those who knew him well.
In today’s gospel, we see the discontent spreading. At this point Jesus is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He’d just taken, blessed and broken the five loaves and two fish, and distributed them to the people. Somehow or other, from that meagre gift, people had eaten their fill. Now Jesus was using that incident to give some teaching.
Manna was the bread sent down from heaven by God during the wanderings in the wilderness roughly 1500 years earlier. This was at the time of the Exodus right at the beginning of the Old Testament, when Moses led the ancient Israelites to the Promised Land. That precious manna was thought to have been hidden by the prophet Jeremiah and it was expected to reappear miraculously at Passover, in the last days.
Jesus began to tie this idea of that hidden manna in with himself. “I am the bread of life,” he said. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In other words, I am the manna sent by God to nourish his people today.
Some people couldn’t handle such a gift. “Who is this guy?” they muttered to one another. “He’s nothing but a carpenter. Why, we know his parents. How can he possibly claim to have come down from heaven?”
The gift was no use to them. They couldn’t see its value, and they didn’t want to know. They’re unable to appreciate the gift and so they reject it, not realising that they’re rejecting the one thing which they need above all else.
It may also seem strange to hear the words, “whoever eats of my flesh will never die,” especially when we’re all very aware that the one thing the entire human race has in common is that everybody dies eventually.
What difference does eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood make? When we eat the bread and drink the wine at Holy Communion what actually happens? What does it mean to say we never die when it’s perfectly obvious that death and bereavement is just as painful to Christians as to everyone else?
The bread and wine are, of course, symbolic. But they have been blessed by God, so whenever we take Holy Communion we receive Christ into the depths of our being.
And although we die in this life, when we meet with God after death he isn’t standing there like a judge with a little black book totting up our sins on the one hand and our good deeds on the other to see whether we’re good enough to enter his kingdom.
All that has already been dealt with by Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross our sins, past, present and future, died with him, and so in effect when we meet God after death we have no sin – if we’ve received and enjoyed his gift of Jesus. And so there’s no entry permit. Heavens gates are wide open and we simply walk through to a new kind of life which goes on forever.
“Very truly, I tell you,” says Jesus, “whoever believes has eternal life.” Nothing about those who are good enough. Nothing about only those who do hundreds of good deeds every day. Nothing about only those who have grovelled sufficiently to be properly forgiven. All that is necessary for eternal life is belief in Jesus and receiving him as the bread of life.
What a present, what a gift! What will you do with it? Put it on one side in case you should ever need it? Give it to the next jumble sale? Or receive it, absorb it and use it here and now?
The gift is already there. All we have to do is to notice it and take hold of it.
Intercessions for 11th July 2021 – Trinity 6 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Intercessor: Deirdre Wellham
The psalmist wrote : -“Be still and know that I am God” – And so in the stillness we acknowledge the presence of our heavenly Father, the creator of all. In our prayers of intercession today we bring our hopes and concerns for God’s people both near and far, that in so doing we touch upon what it is to love our neighbour and to further that Kingdom of God as revealed through your son Jesus Christ.
We pray for the work of the Church in the world, that it may flourish and be seen to be active in places of need.
Lord, hear our prayer for all church led initiatives in areas of poverty and deprivation, in Africa, in South America, and closer to home in our towns and streets among the homeless and helpless. O God, hear the cries of the poor and the hungry. Help us to recognize your Son Jesus Christ in the midst of the least of our brothers and sisters, that we may recognize their needs and fill the empty palms they extend to us. Reawaken in us, as a church community, our desire for service, inspire us to work for justice. In the family, in the nation, across the world. Make your spirit blaze in our lives and in our church to establish fairness and justice.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for peoples in parts of the world ravaged by war, by sectarian differences, for all who live in troubled times and places. Creator God, so often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the suffering of this world, so often it seems to question your existence, so often it seems to eclipse your presence. But you are the Creator of heaven and earth, Your Spirit hovers over the waters of chaos. O God, listen to the cry of your suffering people who are caught up in the midst of meaningless armed struggles of the greedy and power hungry. Relieve them of their fears and fill their hearts with joy and thanksgiving.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
We pray for this our nation. Give wisdom and humility to all in government and authority at all levels of our society. We pray for open and honest debate and decisions which will help all our diverse communities. We pray especially for Elizabeth our Queen and the members of our armed forces who face difficult duties in so many parts of the world. We remember and ask your blessing on all who help us in our daily lives thinking of those who care for our health, those who police our streets and those on whom we can call in an emergency. For they follow in the example of him who came to serve us all; even our saviour Jesus Christ.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Lord, we pray for our young people coming to the end of one chapter in their lives and perhaps planning for new ones in new schools, colleges or in the world of work. Be with them as they make their choices and face new challenges in the months ahead.
We also pray for our families and friends and the neighbourhood in which we live out our daily lives. Lord Jesus, lover of children: bless our families and help us to lead our children to You. Open our hearts, Lord, and help us to listen fully to others, whether they are friends or enemies, help us listen to the words of people we may never meet, stories of people who need our help.
Lord be with those in special need in our own community, the sick, the frail, the vulnerable, the outcast, those saddled with un-payable debt not knowing where to turn. We pray for all those who minister to so many different needs and ask that you endow them with wisdom, strength and compassion as they go about their caring tasks.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Life giving God, who loves all that you have made and in whom nothing is lost. We pray that your everlasting arms will be a comfort to all of those who are grieving today over the loss of a loved one whether recent or on an anniversary. We remember Joan Martin, Frank Thain, Doris Hirst, Ronald Badger and Terrance Griffin.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Loving, and ever living God may our ears be quick to hear the words of grace, which you speak to us through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. May our heart be good soil in which your word is planted and so may grow and our souls be so receptive to your truth that we show forth-fruitful obedience to you in our daily living.
Merciful Father, Accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
7th February 2021 – Mark 1:29-39 Jesus healing and also needing to pray
We are fortunate today that healthcare is of a very high standard despite the large demands being made on the NHS. The number of deaths from covid is distressingly high yet the numbers would have been far higher in previous generations which experienced pandemics and plagues.
In Jesus day the sick would have had few options. There would have been folk remedies, for those who could afford it they could pay for the physician, but their interventions probably involved bleeding and the draining of fluids, which would more likely result in a worsening of health. There were also many religious healing practises, ancient religions had extensive teaching on healing.
The sick of Jesus’ day would stand out in a village, they may have been visibly scarred or marked, lepers were required to announce their coming by shouting or ringing bells. So most sick people became beggars or were wholly dependent on their family for support. An added burden was that suffering or sickness was seen as a punishment from God.
In the first reading we heard Job wrestling with the problem of why the innocent should suffer. Job has a rather pessimistic view of life. There are people today who ask why God allows so many to suffer so many to die. In the gospel we see Jesus’ answer to the problem of suffering and sickness. He did not accept that it was a punishment from God. God does not do evil. God does good. The gospel gives not so much an answer to the question ‘why is there suffering’ but Jesus’ response to actual suffering.
His response is practical. He is surrounded by many physically and mentally sick people. He gives himself to each of them, healing them, he didn’t separate himself from those in pain. He made himself available to the sick and wounded. He did not like to see people suffer and chose to make people well again. He showed compassion, casting out the evils of guilt, fear, shame, despair. …
The problem of suffering becomes an opportunity for Jesus – an opportunity to share what God is like – its an opportunity for us as well. We see so many people putting their God-given gifts to the service and healing of others through caring, calling, ministering, teaching, researching ….
Yet it is also true that giving oneself away in the service of others is draining. People can get caught up in their work , not having a minute for themselves. People can suffer burnout or breakdown. We need to take care of each other and ourselves, ‘to love our neighbour as ourselves ‘. It’s important to pay careful attention to our own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs so that we can remain healthy and capable of being a joyful, helpful presence.
Jesus himself needed to take time out as we can see from today’s gospel reading. He was in danger of being consumed but the clamour of so many people. Yet in the middle of this hectic scene, we read, ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’ Jesus prayed not just as a duty but as a need. That time in that lonely place enabled him to recover his energy, it helped him to keep focused, it helped him to maintain the most important thing in his life, the relationship with his heavenly Father.
Many people get their self-worth by doing. We find not doing anything, not saying anything, just residing in the presence of God rather difficult. It helps to have a special place.
God is, of course, everywhere and the same. But we are not. In our special place, or special corner, with a candle, an icon, a prayer book, God somehow seems nearer and more tangible. God speaks to us; through scripture, in the mountains, by the river, in the beaty of a new bloom, in silence.
It can be hard to find such a sacred place, especially when we may be confined during this pandemic with others. Yet we need it as Jesus needed it.
We lose touch with ourselves when we are too busy . The more we can balance work and space for God the more at peace, with whatever happens, we can be. We can follow the example of Jesus to combine action and contemplation. For healthy living we need to take care of both.
Jesus going away was not escaping or failing in his duties -but it lead to reengagement. He said “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and
Jesus goes on, proclaiming his message and healing.
Address – Candlemas Gospel Luke 2.22-40 2nd February 2021
The scene we have just heard took place in a very significant place; the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day it was the centre of religious life, considered to be the dwelling place of God on earth. It’s the place where as an adult Jesus would overturn then tables of the money changers.
The gospel tells us about Jesus entering the Temple, having been taken there by his parents to fulfil the requirements of the Law: the Purification after the birth of a child, and, secondly, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Jesus and his family are doing the usual things after the birth of a child. Maybe there were several other couples there, doing the same thing. Elders of the community were present.
If we carried on reading we would hear of Anna, ‘There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.’
It significant that we are given so much information to identify her. She must have been an important person. So we meet 2 old people they are connected with the past and with memory, like a devout remnant staying faithful to the ancient promises of God. They would be very familiar with the scriptures and the promises contained in them, so for instance from Isaiah, a couple of verse:
I will make you the light of the nations so that my Salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it. (40.5)
Simeon and Anna long to see the fulfilment of the promises. But they don’t just look back, their total concern is for the future. They don’t live in the past, but look forwards. Something still to happen fills their life. They are alive with expectation and hope, waiting for the one who will be the consolation of their people and the light for all people. They are an old couple who are totally open: they hunger for God’s presence, and wait for the day when they can see it themselves.
Their waiting is not in vain. Today we hear of the meeting between youth and old age, between young parents and the elders of the community, between hope and fulfilment. Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and says the words that we know as the Nunc Dimittis ‘now Lord ,let your servant go in peace , your word has been fulfilled’.
Every time we receive the Eucharist, we too like Simeon, can take Jesus into our hands, back to ourselves, we too can share in his life, and commit ourselves afresh to his gospel. No matter what age we are, we are faced with the same choice: do we take the Lord into our lives, and say yes to who he is , and the person he wants us to be.
May all Christians be responsive to the Holy Spirit and may we all know that we too can, in our time, depart in peace.
Sunday 10th January 2021
The service was based on a reading from Mark’s gospel about the baptism of Jesus: John the Baptist proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Address on this text:
During the coming year the gospel passages we hear in church will be mainly from the evangelist Mark. The first Christian communities did not commit the stories of Jesus to writing because they still had the apostles with them and they expected Jesus to return very soon.
But about 30 years after the death of Jesus it became important to bring together the stories of Jesus and put them into some shape. Mark was probably the first one to do this and his gospel is the shortest, has a fast pace, and was used by future writers.
Last week we were thinking about how the gospels tell the stories of Jesus’ birth and how they differ. Marks gospel does not begin with the birth of Jesus but with his baptism. It is at this point that Jesus emerges from obscurity, from his humble beginnings and is called to begin his unique and public mission.
We may wonder what Jesus had been doing for 30 years. Why did he wait so long? Yet a vocation requires formation. The experiences of life shape of persons character, what makes us who we are takes time. So during his first 30 years Jesus was growing in experience, knowledge and wisdom, he would have been reading and reflecting deeply on the scriptures. When the time was right , John had started a movement of conversion, a turning towards God, the tide was turning, and Jesus walked from Galilee to where John was managing a revival movement and into the water goes Jesus.
‘No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; my favour rests on you.’
In our mind’s eye we can ponder what that would have been like; we don’t hear about tearing apart again until Jesus dies on the cross and the curtain in the temple is torn in two – the barrier between heaven and earth is breached in Jesus. As we ponder, let us hear the voice of God: You are my son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you. (with you I’m well pleased) As those who are baptized that Spirit was given to us, those words spoken to us. We are the Body of Christ now; so the words are meant for us: You are my Beloved; with you I’m well pleased.
Perhaps it feels had to accept being the beloved of God? How does it feel? How does it feel to know, to really know in your inner being that God is well pleased with you? As we mature we forget – and may often believe that this could not possibly be God’s word to me, here, now, today.
Yet, this is to separate ourselves, our very self, from the love of God.
Such forgetting is the cause of so much that troubles us.
Such forgetting makes it so difficult to hear, follow and obey Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
It takes discipline to remember who we are and whose we are.
Lent begins next month and is our yearly invitation to deepen our connection with God.
It takes regular reminders to accept our being Beloved of God. It takes daily remembering, re-membering, to really take in this Good News of our Baptism – that God’s Spirit is alive within us and beyond us.
At thological college there were classes in preaching and the different structures that sermons can take. One point was to give people something to take away – to put into practice – or something to do during the week.
So how about looking up and reading psalm 139. Read it regularly.
It’s Good News. During the third lockdown we need Good News and we have Good News to share. God does not abandon us. God is with us in the hardest of times. The great stories of scripture assure us of a God who is with His people.
And another passage, the beginning of Isaiah 43:
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
Sermon: Advent Sunday 2020 (29th November) waiting – what new thing is ready to be born?
Waiting – for the next holiday, for a family member to return, for the birth of a child, for a visit to a care home; waiting is hard.
Waiting is part of life. Advent is the time when we are reminded that we have to wait for God. We cannot possess God, we cannot see God; we can only wait for God to reveal himself, and himself be known.
The modern world says that we should not have to wait – that supposed needs can be met immediately. Technology allows us to access virtually anything we want any time we want. Everything is sooner, faster, now. Get a faster internet connection – a quicker delivery time – a faster response to an email – it’s not all bad of course. For me, podcasts have been a great benefit during lockdown – stimulating debate or comedy just a click away.
Some things are much harder to speed up or shorten – biological processes for example. It still takes nine long months to have a baby, whether we want that wait or not. So now, we journey with Mary towards giving birth to Jesus, for the final month of the nine.. We’ve been doing other things for the first eight months, and now in her last month of pregnancy; we just take these four weeks of Advent and wait.
The first reading from Isaiah concerns waiting. The writer is marvelling at how different the God of Israel is from the other gods in the cultures of the time. And then the writer remembers, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”
The prophet is surprised not just by the mighty deeds like earthquakes – the writer is equally shocked that here is a God who works for the people, and the people for whom God works are the people who wait for God.
What is it like to wait for God? Many people know… We wait for God to explain why a family member died too young. We wait for God to make clear a path from a damaging situation to a place where healing might begin. We wait for God to reveal an open door back into a faith community.
And of course, this entire year has been a time of waiting. Waiting for self-isolation to end, waiting for test results, waiting for the end of lockdown, waiting for a vaccine, waiting even for toilet paper or flour perhaps! And Waiting to see family and loved ones whether at home or in Care Homes and waiting for the economy and employment to grow again.
2020 has been a year of waiting. Perhaps we are better able to do what scripture encourages – to wait upon the Lord.
We are doing two kinds of spiritual waiting at the moment. We’re waiting for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day, that great moment of incarnation when God comes to be with us in human form.
And we are doing another kind of waiting. We’re waiting for the signs of God’s presence, incarnation, in our own lives and community. We’re waiting to see what new things God is doing – new ways that God is active. God is with us, but where and how? We accompany Mary on the lookout for the new revelation waiting to be discovered among the ordinary and every day.
Many people are wearied by all the waiting we’ve had to do, all the times we’ve had to not do the things that we are used to doing – going out, socialising, holidaying….patience is not easy.
Has the waiting been a positive time or a wasted time?
Mary’s time of waiting was almost as long as ours has been. What has been and growing in our heart during this time of waiting? What new thing is ready to be born in our spiritual lives after having been forced to slow down and really ask what is most important about church?
As a PCC we will continue to reflect on what has worked well and we wish to keep, what should we bring back that we have lost, and what , perhaps, we don’t need to continue.
Mary’s time of waiting was to a purpose. She faithfully pursued it with God’s help. As we reflect on our waiting this year, what has God grown in us? What will be the gift we offer the world this Christmas?
The Good News is that during this painful time of change – God does not leave us alone – God is active within us and our communities. Isaiah tells us in our scripture today, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” We are God’s work of art, being painstakingly shaped into the vessel of incarnation that will bring the presence of Christ to the world. You are a masterwork. And a masterwork takes time.
And Paul reminds us of what we most need to hold on to through the long weary days of waiting for grace: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end.”
So, may we look back on this year and see the strength with which we have endured its trials. May we see the new ways God has enabled us to worship and serve? And so we come to this, the season of Advent, the time of waiting, of change, of grace and truth. And so, we pray that we may remain united and love, prayer and fellowship at this time. And Isaiah, the great prophet of the Advent season, announces the Good News: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Amen
Sermon: Remembrance Sunday (8th November 2020)
‘So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us’
May I speak in the name of God….
Today we come together, in ways we haven’t done before, on this National day of Remembrance to reflect on the different ways wars and conflicts have impacted our lives and the lives of others. We come together to be reaffirmed in our commitment to work for peace and support those working for the relief of the needy.
Today we remember and give thanks for all those who have given their lives in the service of their country and those whose lives have been changed by the injuries they have received. We remember too all the families who have lost loved ones and the pain they must bear for the rest of their lives. The money raised from the sale of poppies is so necessary for the ongoing care that needs to be given.
As we look back and remember we also look forward – building on the values and traditions we hold dear – and working towards a future in which divisions can be healed….
Poem by Siegfried Sassoon – Reconciliation
When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.
Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.
We are all too aware that there have been many conflicts since the war that was ‘to end all wars.’ We are mindful too of the real and potential conflicts in our own time; the increasingly divided societies, and the new ways that wars can be fought – with information, misinformation and attacks on the ways modern society communicates.
As we give thanks for those who strive to keep us safe today and all who made sacrifices in the past; one question comes to mind. What would we defend? What values of freedom, duty, and democracy do we consider worth fighting for? And even, laying down our lives for, as did those we remember today.
Nothing today is simple or straight forward. It can be hard to discover who is trustworthy. In his day Jesus steered a careful path between competing parties. People found in him a person of healing and truth. The Romans found no fault in him. Yet in the end he died on the cross. During his life he asked, from those who said they wanted to be his followers, for an approach to life that was different from all that was considered normal.
He recalled the vision of Isaiah – ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb,’ and, ‘swords shall be beaten into ploughshares.’ It was a dream in Isaiah’s time and also for Jesus. It must be our dream too however unlikely it may seem that such a radical change can happen.
Jesus called on people ‘to love one another as I have loved you’. He expanded that to, ‘Love your enemies’. And yet, all too often we don’t love our neighbours, or even know their names.
Jesus is calling for a new way of thinking. Go out of your way to help your neighbour in his need. Loving your enemies in that situation may demand a great deal of judgement and, in the end, a willingness to take a risk.
The world needs more people who can search for and find ways of cooperating with those they disagree with – of seeing what they share in common rather than emphasizing what divides.
We may not be able to change the world but we can begin by changing ourselves and becoming daily more Christ-like. We can also help the Christian community of which we are a part to grow daily more like Christ in its willingness to reach out and to heal.
People then will come to see a life enhancing body of people and the vision that inspires us; where justice, compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings are part of who we are.
Swords beaten into ploughshares – A vision for the future which we need to hold on to and make a reality in the church, in our community and in the wider world. We pray that we may hold that vision despite the appalling violence, hate and acts of barbarism that we see and hear about so regularly.
Let us pray today that God will bring near the day when wars shall cease and poverty and pain shall end, that earth may know the peace of heaven. Amen.
Sermon: faith and politics (18th October 2020)
‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
Nelson Mandela tells how when he began to get interested in politics a friend tried to warn him off, saying, ‘Politics brings out the worst in people. It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.’ Thankfully Mandela ignored this advice.
Gandhi was a religious man who also involved himself in politics. He said, ‘I am in politics because I cannot separate life from belief. Because I believe in God I have to enter politics. Politics is my service of God.’
There are those who go into public service not simply as a career, or a means of achieving power, but as a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God.
‘Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice’
This question to Jesus was an attempt to draw him into the world of party politics. Whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar was a serious question, and it put Jesus on the spot.
If he replied that it was lawful, he would be regarded as a traitor to the Jewish cause. If he said it was unlawful, he could be denounced as promoting rebellion against Roman rule.
‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
Jesus’ answer implied that there need not be a conflict between the demands of the State and those of God. Christians are citizens of their country and are also citizens of God’s Kingdom. We have obligations as Citizens of God’s kingdom. Normally Christians can fulfil their duties as citizens of both kingdoms.
There are four ways in which church and state may relate to each other. ‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
Sometimes this is quoted as evidence that there should be a complete separation of church and state. Yet this can lead to democracy being reduced to a battle ground between selfish interests, and Christianity reduced to a private activity – saving souls for heaven and letting society go to hell.
A second model is that Church and state are free of each other’s control but are neighbours who inform, consult, challenge and support one another to build up the common good.
We still see examples of other relationships; there is a religion’s control of the state, as in Iran
And fourthly, the state control of religion, active in Soviet Russia and increasing in China.
(Barnabas Fund reports on the persecuted church around the world. They are reporting that Communist party officials in China have rewritten the account in John’s Gospel of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Each of the men drops his stone on the ground and departs. And Jesus, who has been stooping down write on the ground, looks up and asks the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The rewrite has Jesus saying, ‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.’ Hearing this, they slipped away one by one. When the crowd disappeared, Jesus stoned the sinner to death saying, ‘I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.’”
The rewritten account not just distorts the gospel but seeks to convey the message that the CCP and its laws are “good and pure” and transcend the “impure” human beings who happen to enforce them. So however corrupt the CCP officers are, the law of the Party should “never be questioned.”)
‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
God made the world, God loves the world and God entered his world in order to transform it. Some voices say that Christians must not get involved in politics, yet we must cooperate with God and work in the world. It is no good praying for peace if we do not help to bring it about.
If Christianity is just about saving souls for heaven then we are missing the point.
Jesus calls Christians to be the yeast in the dough of society, to mix with it and to take responsibility for it. Everyone expresses this calling in their own way – a way that it right for them. One prays for her neighbours and gives practical assistance as it is needed, others get involved with social enterprises such as a food bank, night shelter, school or charity.
Some Christians get involved in political life. Political parties on the right tend to magnify the benefits of a free market and criticise dependencies created by state provision – parties on the left tend to value care for everyone at the point of need and criticize the poverty and strife created by greedy unregulated capitalism. Neither possesses the whole answer. Society, like a living body, needs every organ to play its part.
Regulation and market forces have their part to pay, but no government can solve every problem, no government can make citizens more generous or responsive to need. Jesus calls Christians to be the yeast in the dough of society. The yeast is the love of God and of neighbour that motivates people to offer time, energy and wealth.
Politics is not an easy profession and it’s a pity that it is so lowly regarded. Politics plays a vital role in creating the kind of society we live in.
A Christian is one who is both a good citizen of his or her country but also a good citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
It is easy to focus on the first part of Jesus’ response, and neglect the second, give back to God what belongs to God. The coins bear the image of the emperor and belong to him. And we are made in the image of God and belong to God. We resemble God in our ability to choose and to love. Just as the coin belongs to the state which issues it, We belong to God who made us and whose image we bear.
Whose image are we showing?
Sermon preached on Sunday 11th October 2020 ( Safeguarding Sunday)
The gospel set was (Matthew 22: 1-14) the wedding feast
We are all familiar with spam email: offers of millions of dollars from a dying faithful Christian in Africa, requests to confirm your: bank details or email account, offers of a tax refund if we give our details…..it goes on…I had a new one this week, the heading said: Abused By A Boy Scout Leader? – You May Have a Claim
Oh dear! However, this leads me into what I wish to speak about – today is Safeguarding Sunday – It’s also Homelessness Sunday – I don’t know if that is a coincidence or by design – but there is a strong link – I understand that a high proportion of people who find themselves homeless have experienced a form of abuse – domestic abuse, physical abuse, about half of those sleeping rough have experienced physical and/ or sexual abuse, a third have been bullied or suspended or expelled from school – these figures are from Housing Justice.
We seek to take safeguarding seriously in this church, in the diocese and in the C of E as a whole. This has not always been the case in the past. The church has got a great deal wrong. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its full report on the Church of England last week. The Archbishops and national safeguarding leads have said these things:
For survivors, this will remind them of the abuse they suffered and of our failure to respond well; it will be a very harrowing time for them. For others this report will be a reminder of the abuse they have never talked openly about.We are truly sorry for the shameful way the Church has acted and we state our commitment to listen, to learn and to act in response to the report’s findings. We cannot and will not make excuses and can again offer our sincere and heartfelt apologies to those who have been abused, and to their families, friends and colleagues.
We, as the Church of England, are ready to support anyone who comes forward. We must honour our commitment to change. Please pray for all those who will be affected by the publication of the report and that as a Church we are able to respond with humility and a shared determination to change.
The report will identify failings that we are already working to change, and failings that we will need to work harder to change. There will no doubt be strong recommendations and we welcome that. We make an absolute commitment to taking action to make the Church a safe place for everyone, as well as to respond to the needs of survivors for support and redress.
Safeguarding is valuing every person as one who is made in God’s image. It is the prevention of harm, and the promotion of well-being. Safeguarding is fundamental to our faith. [It] is the responsibility of each one of us, guided and advised by our safeguarding professionals.
What do we as a parish church do to play our part? Safeguarding is an item on each PCC agenda: every year we review and approve the Safeguarding Policy – its displayed, it’s on notice boards, it covers how we: engender a Safe environment and culture; Safely recruit and support all those with any responsibility related to children, young people and vulnerable adults within the Church; Respond promptly to every safeguarding concern or allegation; Care pastorally for victims/survivors of abuse and other affected people; Care pastorally for those who are the subject of concerns or allegations of abuse and other affected persons; Respond to those that may pose a risk to others.
We have a Parish Safeguarding Officer (PSO) and a deputy PSO, they oversee the operation of the policy and operate the DBS checks. When I started ministry in this diocese 10 years ago we had a p/t Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA) now we have two f/t professionals who lead training and act as a source of advice to all. They provide parishes with advice, knowledge and backup. There are times when the DSA may contact a vicar and say – we have someone …….like to worship…..Worship Agreement – signed by Incumbent, PSO, DSA and the individual – it covers which services, who is in the support group, seating, what to, but also the consequences of not following the agreement.
The purpose of this agreement is to: Protect children/ Vulnerable Adults, to help to protect the individual from false allegations and to ensure that the Peterborough Diocese is complying with the House of Bishops’ guidelines which are set out in ‘Protecting all God’s Children’.
The diocese provides a huge range of electronic resources: example policies, guidance on how to respond, safe working and personal safety, guidance for PCCs and the responsibilities of Church Wardens, responding to domestic abuse, social media, recruiting volunteers….
There were two brothers – they started their own religious order and became bishops in the Church of England. Over my life I have come across both; Michael preached in my college chapel regularly, he acted as DDO for the diocese that sponsored me for ordination. Both brothers were considered holy men – very holy men – saintly. The other brother was Peter, he because Bishop of Gloucester, but resigned when he received a caution from the police for sexual abuse. I came across him after that when he preached in the school chapel where I taught. The perceived wisdom was that he had been the victim of malicious complaints. It felt inconceivable that such a person could be an abuser. He was supported by the highest levels of society.
You will know the story. Eventually his victims were heard, they had experienced significant and lasting harm, and Peter Ball was sentenced to a custodial sentence. He died last year.
As part of God’s church we have our part to play in working for a safe environment – where care is offered – and concerns are addressed. We preach and follow the Gospel – being faithful to our call to share the gospel compels us to take with the utmost seriousness the challenge of: preventing abuse from happening and responding well where it has.
The diocese provides training. The initial units are online. For me – if I don’t undertake training regularly then my licence could be removed. So what? It would mean – loss of vocation, loss of income, loss of home and without a licence or PTO, even the ability to dress as a priest is taken away. That is how seriously it is taken.
Those who have work in any way with young people or vulnerable adults are asked to take some training courses. Why would one not? Given how badly things have gone wrong – why would one not avail oneself of the training. I am shocked at each PCC when I’m provided with the list of people whose training is still outstanding.
In today’s Gospel we have two parables from Matthew: the parable of the wedding feast and the parable of the wedding garment. Both appear quite hard to accept. There is violence.
Both are symbolic stories – allegories – that only make sense when we see what they stand for. Jesus describes our invitation to God’s kingdom. We are not compelled by God. He invites us. A command is difficult to ignore but an invitation can be. God has respect for yes. He invites. Do we accept? Not just coming to church. Not just attending church. Do we accept God invite to be his church? Do we accept God’s invite to respond and work to bring in God’s kingdom – where hurts find healing.
Maybe we don’t know what we really want. We know we like to keep control.
What is God calling us to? He calls us to relationship with Him – to a deeper and more authentic life here on earth – he calls to community with others. We can ignore that. We can refuse. In the gospel those who didn’t attend the feast had excuses – they were quite good excuses – one man wanted to attend to his land, another to his business – its’ what makes them so dangerous – we don’t see them as posing a threat.
Part of our call to community life is the call to care for young people – the call to keep people safe. Why do we find it so hard to complete our safeguarding training? I know it already? I don’t need to – others do safeguarding – I’m too busy with my business – not my responsibility. We can all make excuses. Yet we know in our hearts what we should do – what which invites we should accept.
Part of our calling – part of the gospel – is to not be a stumbling block to children – to let the children come to Jesus – to prevent abuse and to respond well.
Finally – the man not wearing a wedding garment- he is thrown out into the dark where there is weeping and the grinding of teeth – what is the message ? that in accepting our invite we should be changed and should be prepared. The man thrown out represents the person who has undergone no change in life, who has produced no fruit of repentance – it is a warning!
Almighty God, we thank you for your call and your invitation to fullness of life. Help us to accept eagerly, prepare and enjoy the feast. Amen.
Reflections on the call of the disciples ( Luke 6:12-19) and conflict in churches ( 1 Cor 6:1-11) for Tuesday Zoom Eucharist on Tuesday 8th September 2020:
The first thing that strikes me in this gospel is that before making a major decision, the choosing of his disciples, Jesus spends a significant period in prayer. To ask God to be with us and guide our decision making is really important. God’s way might not be the way we would come up with ourselves. On our own we can easily be swayed by the voices of self-interest in our head. So if we were choosing colleagues we might to choose those who, for instance, agree with us , or won’t be a threat, or won’t rock the boat. A bit like choosing a cabinet!
I was reading the online sermon of Richard Coles, from last Sunday, he commented that Jesus’ choice of disciples was like having Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage in the same cabinet – so one can predict conflict will arise quickly and often.
Two words are used for the 12 who are called together. Disciples and Apostles.
Disciples are students, or ‘learners’. Whatever our age we all have plenty that we can learn. One of my hopes for a church community is that members will continue learning about the faith. Apostles are those who are sent to be messengers to deliver what has been learnt to others.
Today we are both – disciples and apostles. We learn and we go out to reveal news of God’s love to others in word and in action.
As with the disciples, church communities are composed of a range of personalities. It is so easy to fall out over what one or another feels is so important. What do we then do? Complain to others whether in the church or outside it, or try to reach a common understanding within the church.
The first reading, from Paul, is very similar to the gospel we heard from Matthew on Sunday. One thing Paul is saying is for them to consider what conflicts and tensions will look like to those observing the church and perhaps wondering whether it is a good thing to be part of. Faith should be transforming us and our relationships be ones that possess grace.
Secondly Paul says, ‘Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another’. In other words, look, there are many capable people in your number, you have the resources and skills to deal with this. The same is true of All Saints, many capable people who can help build our life together.
And the Good News? ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ Whatever has happened God offers forgiveness and the possibility of a new start – a turning around and a new life in Christ.
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (6th September 2020)
Address, based on the week’s readings, reflecting on conflict in churches and what scripture says about seeking to resolve it:
The Gospel reading addresses ways to settle disagreements and conflicts. How do you feel about disagreements and conflict? Do you avoid them? Do you hate them? Do you enjoy them? Fear getting into one? People can have the impression that Christians shouldn’t experience conflict; that Christians will live in peace and harmony all the time. People can have the impression that any form of conflict is a falling short, a failure. Of course we prefer agreement, yet we know that in the reality of life we will have disagreements with others.
Matthew gives a process for addressing issues and problems which arise in the life of the local church. He is writing a generation after Jesus so Jesus is present in the spirit, wherever two or three are gathered in his name.
One thing that strikes me is that it all revolves around direct communication. Too often in churches we avoid the direct face to face communication; so when an issue arises we can pretend it didn’t happen, or cold shoulder the person, not speak, or take revenge on them, which could be by gossiping about the other person. It all creates a distance between the people and not just that, it creates a distance between them and truth and with God.
The advice in the gospel is straightforward: “If your brother or sister does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves.”
The Gospel says that the offended party, not the offending one, should first seek reconciliation. It counsels personal intervention and honest confrontation. It encourages members of the Christian community to straighten things out with each other privately, if that is at all possible. Christians are to deal with each other candidly and personally – no anonymous complaints to the authorities, no whispering campaigns. The purpose of confronting a brother or sister who has done wrong is not to humiliate them, but to be reconciled with them. It is an honest attempt to avoid a breakdown developing and a poisonous relationship.
If private reconciliation fails, another attempt must be made by invoking the help of one or two others, who are to try to settle the matter before it goes public. Only when this fails is the offended party to bring the matter to the attention of the whole community. If the wayward brother or sister is still impenitent, he must be excluded from the life of the community. The decision of the local community will be the decision of God: as God inspires them in making the decision, so God will also honour their judgement.
The gospel gives a way of handling wrongdoing and hurt. Just as conflict is bound to happen in a community of imperfect people, so confrontation can sometimes be the only language of love.
In the second reading Paul says: “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.” If love faces the real, it cannot avoid facing conflict. The danger is that silence could permit greater division in a community, so love must do something. As Edmund Burke noted: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And doing nothing is the thing that the Gospel opposes.
Today’s Gospel is not easy to follow. Yet direct communication can clear the air and be a great relief to all concerned. We haven’t spoken about forgiveness – that is the topic for next week. Love one another as I have loved you. It can sound so easy, so gentle. It’s relatively easy if that love leads us to be caring, generous or compassionate. But far more difficult if in loving one another one needs to confront, challenge, or even, oppose.
Such love requires real courage, because it can be misunderstood and can easily lead to hostility and rejection. If we confront another person in the right spirit, and the person is genuine, then they will very likely want to put things right. If not, then they won’t be able to say, ‘ Why didn’t you tell me.’ The object is not to score a victory but to win the person over, to become reconciled.
As a church we are called to bind and to loose; to bind the forces of evil that enslave people, to loosen the bonds of oppression that prevent people from living the fullness of life of God’s kingdom. Whether that means opposing individuals or governments, a society’s values or corrupt economic practices, the challenge of the Gospel means Christians need to love enough to speak uncomfortable truths – in humility, but with courage. And when we do that, we know that Christ promises to be there with us.
Confirm, O God, in unity and truth the Church you gather together in Christ. Encourage the fervent, enlighten the doubtful, and bring back the wayward. Bind us together in mutual love, that our prayer in Christ’s name may be pleasing to you. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Address: The parable of the Sower.
I’m not an enthusiastic gardener! I do enjoy well-kept and beautiful gardens. I find grass doesn’t want to grow on the lawn, but loves to in the borders. I have a crop of potatoes, I didn’t plant them but must have left some in the ground last year and they have grown and produced a good crop. I find the results of gardening are rather like life – we can’t force what we want to happen and sometimes good results spring from unlikely beginnings.
Seeds are marvellous. They appear small, vulnerable and weak, yet can may barren ground fruitful and can grow in unlikely places. It all depends on the soil. If the soil is lacking, the seed will come to nothing; if the soil is good, it will produce a great harvest.
The same is true for words. ( I sat through 7 years’ worth of assemblies at grammar school. The head was a classicist and chose to read from the classics – I can safely say that not a lot took root in my head)
Words can be powerful. They can comfort, inspire, teach, correct, challenge, change lives ….. or they can come to nothing. It all depends on the attitude of those who hear them. In Jesus’ parable, some seed fell on a hard path where it could not put down roots. Being exposed it was eaten up by the birds. So it is for people whose minds are closed. Maybe it’s prejudice, maybe it’s pride, someone who thinks they know it all or all they need to know. Fear can stop us hearing as well, fear of new truth, or fear of hearing a truth that is disturbing or requires action. Others just won’t hear ( like in my school assembles)
Some fell on stony ground. It took root quickly, but soon withered away because of lack of soil and moisture.
Some people hear God’s words and receive it with enthusiasm, but when acting on it becomes difficult, their enthusiasm wanes and they soon abandon it. I imagine we all have things we started but never finished.
Some seed fell into ground where weeds and thorns lay. It got off to a good start. But then the weeds appeared, and the seed got smothered.
Some people hear God’s word, but then there are so many others things that get in the way that the important thing gets crowded out. Some people find they have this commitment and that commitment and this club and that task that they don’t have time to pray – so busy in the career that there is no time or energy left for the things of the spirit.
Finally some seed fell on good soil, where it put down deep roots, found nourishment and produced a harvest. So there are people who hear God’s word, understand it, and then act on it. Their lives become enriched by it.
This parable was remembered by the early church. For them life in the everyday world was hard. The secular state was turning against them. They were being made to suffer simply because they were Christians. Why, they wondered, is life still a struggle ? They remembered Jesus teaching and applied it to this situation.
God’s word comforts, guides, inspires and challenges us. It is like a precious seed.
The sower scatters the seed abundantly – some may think wastefully – it is scattered on the rocks, among the thorns, and on good ground. The sower wanted to give every place in the field a chance to produce something. God keeps sowing his word in our hearts. He knows that much of what is sown will come to little – eaten by birds, fall on the rocks, or among thorns. Yet God’s word can spring to life at any stage in our lives.
We can ask ourselves – what sort of soil are we – do we enable the message to take root and grow. We can also ask, what sort of sower are we? Do we nurture our knowledge of the Bible so we can grow in confidence in speaking to others? Or do we leave it to the ‘professionals’? Let’s not keep the seeds for ourselves but spread them and plant them – there are people who are good soil and ready to receive it.
God’s word does not die. God’s kingdom will grow – goodness and healing will prevail.
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (30th August 2020)
Talk given on Sunday 30th:
In life, sooner or later, all of us have to bear something that is, to all intents and purposes, unbearable. The death or terminal illness of a partner. A baby dies at birth. A sister dies in a car crash involving a drunk driver. All we have to do is turn on the television news to see immediate images of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Sooner or later, bearing the unbearable, we discover how little control we really have and how much there is that that damages our society and ourselves. Grief, rage, anger, and fear can be the emotions felt. But what do we include in our prayers? What do we say to God when we feel this?
The Bible has a tradition of ‘Lament’. It’s a form of literature that expresses to God rage, grief, feeling are vented, complaints are made….we find laments in the book of Job, on the lips of Jeremiah, and especially in the psalms. On the cross, Jesus quotes from psalm 22, a psalm of lament, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’. Jeremiah is bearing something unbearable, and all he wants is for the misery to stop. God assures Jeremiah of his presence, and strengthen to withstand more misery.
The gospel follows on from last week – Peter has recognised Jesus as the Christ but is shocked to discover what being the Christ is going to entail. ‘Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.’‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.’
Jesus’ hearers would have known very clearly what sort of death awaited those condemned to crucifixion. The Roman’s used this punishment for rebels and many thousands died in this way. So the disciples who heard Jesus say ‘take up your cross’ would most likely have reacted in horror. There are times when we think ‘taking up your cross’ means coping with a painful illness, or a coping with a difficult relationship, putting up with those things in life that cannot be changed. But when Matthew wrote his gospel he meant the suffering which comes into our lives because of the choices we have made for God’s kingdom. In that sense it is always something that we choose.
The life of Nelson Mandela is an example; In prison for 27 years, and before that on the run for a couple of years. Of the time he was on the run he wrote: ‘It wasn’t easy for me to separate myself from my wife and children, to say goodbye to the good old days when, at the end of a strenuous day at the office, I could look forward to joining my family at the dinner table, instead to take up the life of a man hunted continuously by the police, living separated from those who are closest to me, facing continually the hazards of detection and of arrest. This was a life infinitely more difficult than serving a prison sentence.’
What drove Mandela to make such great sacrifices was his love for his country. This was the ‘cross’ he carried because of his love for his people. Our faith is a very good support in times of weakness. It offers comfort and consolation. The danger is that religion becomes a crutch, when in fact it should challenge us. It should be a positive force in our lives. It should raise us up – allow us to be fully alive and know times of joy and strength… allowing us to go beyond what we though was our limit.
‘Take up your cross and follow me’. What does sacrificial living actually looks like… what is the real cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Well… the letter to the Christians in Rome gives us plenty to think about. ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you…rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…live in harmony with one another.’ I would like to make a suggestion, as always we can take the service sheet home and meditate on the readings. Applying what it says literally to ourselves.
I have been doing this and found it challenging and thought provoking. Just part of the reading… but I wonder which parts speak most to you. The words are challenging, and they are an invitation. But we do not have to do it all on our own.
O God, whose word burns like a fire within us, grant us a bold and faithful spirit, that in your strength we may be unafraid to speak your word and to follow where your lead. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen
Many people now find themselves part of a whole variety online gatherings using Zoom or MS teams; work meetings, governors, family, school lessons, quiz nights, singing and our own pop-in, cuppa and company….We are learning to live apart but find ways of being united. COVID-19 has forced us all to maintain physical distance, cancel our services, keep apart, not enter our churches and fast from the Eucharist.
So what does Jesus’ prayer that we ‘remain one’ mean at this time? How can we “be one” when we have to communicate online, by phone or mail? No longer can we share the peace, the sacraments, or gather for our events such as the May Fayre.
Throughout history the church has had to live through times of being separate yet united. The 1918 flu pandemic, and plagues over the centuries would periodically pass through the population, forcing separations and leaving sickness and death in their wake. it is helpful to remember that we are not the first to experience the terror of pandemic.
In this Gospel passage we heard Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper. It follows the foot washing and his preparation of the disciples for life without him, so now he prays, for his current and future disciples who are to carry on his work.
Jesus prayed that they would remain faithful; he prayed for unity and that they would be preserved in the truth. It is at times when death is near that truths can be spoken.
One thing this pandemic has done is to highlight our need to be separate yet still united. And as we read this gospel passage, after the Ascension of Jesus, we realize that that is exactly what Jesus was preparing them for — to remain united with him, and with each other, even when he is not physically present.
A crisis can open us up to truth. This was the case for the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death, and it is true for us now. We heard in an earlier readings from John, I am the way, the truth and the life. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the disciples learn that the worst thing is not the last thing. That life follows death. All things are made new.
We are in the process of realising the same thing. When Christ ascended, the disciples were left looking up at the sky, and the angels asked, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It is okay not to know what to do next. It is okay to be just doing the next thing. And it is okay to feel uncertain about physical separation from those who are usually close and whose presence comforts us and lifts us up.
Churches are learning, to be with one another, united in prayer and worship, even when we are not physically present in the building. We find ourselves united, with people in different countries and from different times of our lives, in our common faith and love for one another. We have done nothing perfectly, but we are finding our way.
We find how we are united in Christ with people we have never met: Christians around the world continue to gather, and Christ’s prayer is that we be one with them. Christ is holding us together with people all around the world. Even though we cannot be physically present with Christians in other nations, we can be united with them in Christ, just as we have been united even in our own separations within our congregation.
We are also united with those who have gone before – with the saints both those named and those unknown.
Perhaps this pandemic can teach us to be one in Christ with people with whom we may never be physically present in this life. Perhaps it can serve as a reminder that nonetheless, we are all united in Christ, and Christ is with us, now and always. In Christ, neither death, nor life, nor pandemics, nor wars can ever separate us.
Tuesday Eucharist with readings from Acts 14: 19-end and John 14:27-end and a short reflection on the theme of encouragement:
We have a new ritual since the lock down began. Whether in royal residences, local streets and outside humble homes people go outside on a Thursday evening to clap. We clap to thank NHS works, to recognize their work and to give encouragement.
Encouragement. We all need it and in all sorts of ways we give it, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Friendliness, concern, a phone call, an offer to pray, a willingness to help people with their burdens- are all ways that people can encourage each other.
Our ability to keep going depends on encouragement. It lets us know that what we are doing is worthwhile, helpful, and good.
In the first reading; despite oppositions and beatings, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps to where they had been received in young Christian communities and we hear, 22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”
They tell their story and encourage the community in he face of all the hardships they had been through.
Both readings have a sense of passing through difficult times to a much better world. At the last supper Jesus knew what lay ahead; the journey to the cross, and how the disciples will be left terrified and bereaved. Yet Jesus says,27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Whatever the world throws at us, our faith can help us through, not taking away the pain or difficulty, but leading to a place where we have grown, where there is a new life.
So today; we thank God for the world’s encouragers.
Pentecost Reading Acts 2:1-11
It feels that we are on a threshold. This week we will move from one stage of lock down to the next with some young people returning to schools and more places opening for business. There is uncertainty, and some fear. Some consider it a dangerous moment. There are different views about how quickly the lock down should be changed. In one article one can read the virus may just die out 1 and in another, one can read that a second wave is coming that may be worse than the first 2. It feels like a watershed moment.
It was a watershed moment for the disciples as well. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit the disciples were closed off and living in the upper room. A great task had been given to them but they didn’t have the energy or will to begin it. But after the coming of the Holy Spirit they were changed people. They left their hiding place and set out to preach the Gospel.
The disciples had known Jesus; they had seen the risen Lord, eaten with him and witnessed his return to God. Jesus had asked them to wait, ’stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. The Spirit came with the sound of wind and tongues of fire. Wind and fire are symbols of great power – they are associated with the presence of God.
What had the Spirit done to them? It had empowered them. They were given the power that would transform the world.
When people are empowered they become able to and willing to take charge of their situation. They don’t wait for someone else to do it for them. They accept that they have to do something about it. The Holy Spirit empowered the disciples. Wind and fire symbolise the presence and action of God. The coming of the Spirit gave the disciples energy, enthusiasm, courage, love and passion to take the gospel to all people. The Holy Spirit would help them but not do it for them.
Christians pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit into their lives. We sing hymns inviting the Holy Spirit to come:
Come Down Oh Love Divine. Breathe on me breathe of God. Oh thou who camest from above
Come Holy Ghost (the choir will sing after this service)
But do we really want the Holy Spirit to come into our lives?
Do we really want the empowering and the change that would involve?
The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism like a dove. It immediately drove him into the wilderness and he was tested. In a wilderness things happen, we have to face ourselves, see ourselves laid bare. Do we really want to be filled with that Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes things happen, compels us to engage with the world, to find Jesus in our sisters and brothers. Our eyes become opened to situations that we’d rather be kept out of sight and mind. Do we really want to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Some times in church life people can prefer the safety of the locked doors, locked minds and hearts. Behind the closed doors we can find comfort in the familiar; conversations with our friends and the comfort of our private relationship with God. But if we seek to be followers of Jesus we know that no locked doors can keep him from appearing in our midst and compelling us out into the world.
To pray, Come Holy Spirit, is a dangerous prayer because it means that we must be open and vulnerable, willing to be challenged and changed, so that we find Jesus in others.
In praying ‘Come Holy Spirit’ we will find ourselves standing with those on the margins of society, with the vulnerable , the homeless, the overlooked, the parents fleeing to give a better future for their children . Praying ‘Come Holy Spirit’, will mean we find ourselves in conflict with those wielding power and influence in the world – with those who wish to maintain the status quo.
This is when Christians will be told things such as ‘don’t mix religion and politics’. A number of bishops have expressed views on the visit to the NE made by the Prime Minister’s chief adviser. They came in for significant criticism and even deaths threats. This is not the time or place to discuss who is right or wrong.
My reflection and view is that we need the voice of faith within our communal life. The Christian voice is not just for Sundays. When we are sent into the world we are sent to be like Christ in our family and our working lives. The Christian tradition has a great background of thought and wisdom, and in this situation, ethics, to bring to bear on how we make moral judgements.
My hope is the Christians will have a greater voice as we reflect on the form of society and church that we need for our future after the pandemic. As at Pentecost, I believe we need different voices, different gifts and insights, as we evolve. A recent study published by the Harvard School of Public Health 3 has indicated the potentially lifesaving effect of church attendance – it says there are multiple mental and health benefits correlated with attending church once a week or more, including reduced mortality, lower levels of depression, higher levels of giving and greater optimism.
This is true for religious observance across the faiths.
So do we risk that dangerous prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to come?
We have access to the Spirit- that empowerment – that leads to life and helps us grow.
May we pray – Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.
All Saints Day sermon (2017):
A man went to see his parish priest after the death of his brother. ‘I’d like you to conduct the funeral service for my brother’, he said. ‘And in the eulogy I would like you to say to everyone that he was a saint’. ‘I can’t do that’, the priest replied. ‘I knew your brother. He was a cheat, a liar and a thief’. Nonplussed the man replied, ‘If you announce publicly that he was a saint then I will give you a cheque for £10,000 for your church roof appeal.’ The day of the funeral came. In the eulogy the priest said, ‘Everybody knows Jim had a colourful life and that he was renowned for his cheating, lying and stealing, but, evil and sinful though Jim was, compared with his brother he was a saint.’
‘Saint’ is a term we regularly misunderstand and misuse. Sometimes we use it to describe someone who is just a little bit too good to be true. Sometimes we use it to describe someone who has a difficult life with a great deal to put up with but who seems to get on with things quietly and without complaining. Sometimes we use it to refer to those who lived long ago and whose faces we see in stained glass windows. Sometimes we think it has something to do with ‘being good’.
And we will all have heard of those who say, ‘I don’t go to church, but I’m a good person, not as bad as those hypocrites and judgemental people who do. That is to miss the point. Any diligent and conscientious person can be ‘good’. Xtns don’t have a monopoly over goodness.
‘Saintliness’ describes something else. In the NT the word ‘saint’ is never used by Jesus and it only occurs once in the Gospels. That is right at the end of Matthew’s gospel – and was probably added later. Saint is used by Luke in Acts and it is used most often by Paul in his letters to the first churches. So the word, Saint, belongs to the time after the Resurrection when the church was beginning to get established. And it is always used in the plural (except on one occasion in the letter to the Xtns in Philippi and even there is it is in the context of the group) We don’t hear of individuals referred to as saints. There is no reference to St Peter or St Paul or to saint anyone else. It is a group word like the word ‘church’. The words ‘Church’ has been borrowed from the army and is about belonging. It refers to those who have been called out from everyday society to be gathered together in battle formation ready for action. You can’t be ‘church’ on your own. Church describes the group continuing to live the life of Jesus and ready to confront the forces of darkness in our world. The group was called ‘the saints’. The people who had responded to God’s call and who see themselves as called to be holy. The letter Paul wrote to the Xtns in Rome is addressed to ‘all God’s beloved in Rome, called to be holy’. And the word ‘holy’ we translate as ‘saints’. It is the same word. ‘Saints’ describes ‘us’;
We are a work in progress – people who are on the way; Oscar Wilde penned many good lines and he put it quite truthfully and profoundly like this: ‘The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’ We have a tendency to label people and write them off for what they have been or done. God, on the other hand, cares more about what people are becoming. And he cares deeply that we keep on trying to become more Xst-like and more the people whose lives show kingdom values. ‘I will be with you’, Jesus said, ‘to the end of the age’. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and began his remarkable work of forgiveness and refusing to demand revenge, frequently he had to deflect people’s words of astonishment by saying, ‘I’m no saint – that is unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying’.
There is a TV series on at the moment which make you weep and laugh at the same time. ‘Bad habits, Holy Orders’. Some very modern 20-something young women had reached the point where they had become dissatisfied with their lives. They had realised that something was missing. Their life of indulgence, excess and self-centred pleasure-seeking was just not making them happy. So they agreed to spend a month in a convent living by the rules and sharing the disciplined life of the nuns in worship, work, meditation and concern for the world outside. They have entered an environment that is totally unfamiliar to them. It will be interesting to see what happens week by week. One of their first lessons was to learn that a broken finger nail is of minimal importance when compared with the number of people in our world who are starving. We could say that they have accepted the invitation to live among those called to be saints. The nuns are not stained-glass-window saints but real people whose lives will be less than perfect, but they have committed themselves to God and each other and their prayer is that through that togetherness the goodness of God will be revealed and the spreading of the Kingdom advanced. They know they need each others’ support, understanding, and good-humoured forbearance if they are to grow in holiness. They, like every congregation, are the people who in Paul Tillich’s words are saints not because they are good but because their lives are transparent and reveal something that is more than themselves. They and we are the people through whom the light of Xst shines to inspire those around us and lift them up to become better people.
‘Saints’ are those who belong to the group, who are ‘on the way’ and are very conscious of how far they fall short. But that does not put them off. The most important thing is that they know God loves them and cares more about what they are becoming than about who and what they once were. We live by God’s grace. ‘Grace’ describes the guiding presence of God with us, sustaining us, as we make our way through the changes and chances of this messy and crisis-ridden world.
In conclusion: ‘Saint’ is not a word we can use to describe ourselves. In the NT it is used not of individuals but of the group. Being a Xtn is to be a member of the group called out from the society in which we live; and called to work together to fulfil God’s will for his world. As for ourselves, we are a work in progress; sinners who keep on trying. And we are here, supporting each other, to enable that transformation to happen. As Xtns we do have our feet are on the ground and are therefore well aware of the pain and sorrow in the world around us. But our heads are in heaven and therefore we have hope. During Communion we shall sing some of Charles Wesley’s wonderful words, and I’d like to conclude with just the first verse,
‘Let saints on earth in concert sing with those whose work is done, for all the servants of our king, in heaven and earth are one’.
5th March 2017 Lent 1 and Stewardship Sunday
A teacher asked her class of young children to make a drawing of the Old Testament story they liked best. One boy depicted a man in a top hat driving an old car. In the back seat were two passengers, both scantily dressed. ‘It’s nice picture’, said the teacher, ‘but what does the story tell?’ The young artist seemed surprised at the question. ‘Well’, he exclaimed, ‘doesn’t it say in the Bible that God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?’
The story of Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation and the story of the tempting of Jesus, are two very sophisticated stories. They are essentially about making choices.
Adam and Eve were tempted to eat the fruit of the one forbidden tree. Naturally, like all children, that was the tree they wanted to sample. They knew it would give them the knowledge of good and evil. What they didn’t know was that that knowledge would mean that from then on they would have to accept being responsible. They would have to accept the need to make hard choices. Being responsible is hard.
What the story is saying is that right from the beginning of human history we have been tempted to make wrong choices. Irresponsible, selfish ones. Ones that cause pain to other people and also to ourselves.
It is only a story but behind it is a fact of human experience. We find it easier to take a short cut and also to do things that we know are bad for us and harmful. We think that, just this once, we can get away with it.
There are all sorts of things that can tempt us.
Being Jealous tempts us not to give others the praise and credit they deserve. Fear tempts us never to take even the smallest risk that could enlarge our horizon.
Pride tempts us to think too highly of ourselves. To think that the world revolves round us.
As we reflect on our Planned Giving we face temptations; we may be tempted to think our contribution won’t really make a difference; that, I give my time and talents instead; that the church has plenty of money, or that church isn’t the place to talk about money.
Temptation is a fact of life and so it was natural for Jesus to be tempted. Tempted right at the beginning of his ministry. He had, after all, given up the glory of being divine and emptied himself to become like us, human.
Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. To take a short cut to solve the world’s food problems at a stroke. But he knew he had rather to change human nature. Jesus was very hungry but was not tempted to satisfy his desire, but for what reason? Jesus does this to strengthen his focus on God. ‘Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
While giving up chocolate or alcohol might be good for physical health it is not the main focus. Lent invites us to make space in our lives, and provides an opportunity, to focus more on God. Lent can be a time to read the Bible regularly, to make time to prayer whether privately or through one of our services during the week.
In the third temptation the devil suggests what we would call today an alternative fact – Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world, which are offered to him in exchange for worship. Jesus, as he prepared to embark on his public ministry could have much more easily taught and influenced the world from this place but instead again said no, confirming the need to worship God and only God.
Unlike Adam, Jesus resists temptation, and goes onto live a ministry that helped people, changed people, brought them life and changed the world. All through history people have been changed by Jesus.
Following his temptations Jesus set about choosing and training a group of followers. The twelve followed and learnt from him;
They helped people. They brought the sick to Jesus. They helped 5000 people to have enough food for the day. They saw the madman among the tombs cured. They saw Zacchaeus the dishonest tax-collector reformed.
Two remarkable things happen to Zacchaeus in response to Jesus’ presence. He pledges to give half his wealth to the poor. Such generosity comes from a sense of being accepted, forgiven, welcomed. It far exceeds the requirement of the tithe which was 10% and it helps Zacchaeus rebuild his relationship with God’s people. Secondly, he promises to repay those he has defrauded far in excess of what the law required. The extravagant grace of Jesus invites an extravagant response.
A story is told that, while walking at Balmoral, Queen Victoria got caught in the rain. Calling at a cottage, she was grudgingly offered a tatty umbrella. She went on her way and the next day a courtier in a splendid coach returned the umbrella. As the courtier left, he heard the owner say, ‘If I had known who she was, she could have had my best umbrella’.
There is a story of Jesus sat in the Temple and observing the giving of the rich and poor. Some things never change. Just as today, those who have money give more in cash terms than those on lower incomes. And when they give, those on lower incomes give more in proportion to their income than those with more money. The story is called the widow’s mite. The gifts of the wealthy that Jesus observed were big gifts, but his attention was drawn to the giving of a poor widow who in percentage terms gave far more.
It is easy to miss the point of this story. The heart matters to God, but there is more. It is not that she gave the last that she had to give but that she gave the best she had to give.
Last week Jun asked us in his sermon to reflect on what we really think of as our priorities, what really matters. He spoke about the significance of our relationship with God, creation and each other. And that just like other relationships, the relationship we have with money affects greatly who we are and what our values are.
At this time as each of us considers our giving – the issue is not actually how much we give – yes of course, we as an organization have bills to pay and hope that we can fulfil our vision.
The far deeper question is: how much of me and the life God has given to me, is truly reflected in the gift I give?
If we can see the difference that our ministry as God’s people in this place can make in people’s lives, rather than bills, then whether we have much or little, we should give ‘our first fruits’, our first and best not what is left over.
Today, our call is to live a Holy Lent, beyond fasting and abstinence, to embracing the truths that will set us and our churches free to live out the fullness of God’s mission. May we all seek to find the self-denials that will strengthen our focus on God.
And today, everyone who is here – together – are invited to review the level of our giving to All Saints to help us to continue to grow and make a difference in peoples’ lives. May we continue discerning God’s will together and walking together along the road to growth and to effective service of our Lord.
Last Sunday was the third anniversary of my licensing as your parish priest. I have commented before how struck I have been by the Spirit of welcome here. I have also been particularly struck by all the selfless generosity and I see in all that is done to support our common life; I see it in so many different ways. I do say Thank You to all of you for that.
Today, Please take your envelope home – pray about it – think about it – reflect carefully , then see whether how you can rise to the challenge of playing your part in building our future so that we can more and more be a parish church which thrives, and can reach out to accomplish the Vision that we have been discerning and building together.
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
26th Feb 2017 Sunday Sermon
Stewardship Sunday, Year A
“You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” Jesus tells us. I don’t think though Jesus didn’t know the struggle and hardships of our lives. He himself was born in one of the poorest place in Israel. Before he started his ministry, he was a labourer and carpenter. It would be probably safe to say that Jesus very much understood about the needs of our life, that we cannot just live with nothing to wear and nothing to eat. We need those things. I think Jesus very much understood why we sometimes worry about those things. We pray for the provision of those things. We pray to the Lord to give us this day our daily bread just as he taught us. Jesus knew what it is like to make a living. What is it then Jesus is trying to teach us today by mentioning money and our worries?
Here Jesus is asking us to reflect on what we really think as our priorities. What is it that really matters to you and your life? I am no expert of business in anyway but in business, you are always required to distinguish those things that are urgent and that are important. The urgent things are the things that have to be done to keep turning the wheels. If your work is just occupied in doing the urgent things, things that have to be done then it would be difficult for the business to grow. Good managers are those who keep remembering the important things and gradually moving towards it while dealing with the urgent things.
In the same way, there are urgent things and important things in our lives, in our faith. Christian faith starts from seeing ourselves in relationship with God and with his creation. Some people think as though their relationships can be separated from themselves. But the relationships we have with other people and a wider world do tell us about who we are. The relationships we have with our friends for example reflects at least some truth of what kind of person we are. The way I make relationship with my parishioners and the community tells what kind of priest I am. It is the relationships that define who we are and where our values are. The fact that we all experience broken and difficult relationships in our lives reflect our vulnerabilities, our own weaknesses as human beings.
Relationships do not just reflect us but form us. In faith, the way we have our relationships with God decides our identity. The Old Testament Reading today tells us the kind of relationship God wants to make with his people.
“Zion was saying, the Lord has abandoned me. The Lord has forgotten me. Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.”
Through entering a deeper relationship with God we become more and more one with God. This doesn’t mean that we can become the same as God but that we can be more fully with God. In the relationship with God, we can find our true selves as his children, his own image, that we cannot be separated from him. The Bible tells us, the closer we get to God in our relationships with him, the fuller we become as ourselves.
Just like other relationships, the relationship we have with money affects greatly who we are and what our values are. Just as we can be lifted to be more one with God in a deeper relationship with him, we can be lowered to be more one with money and our material possessions in our relationships with them. The way we make our relationships with money and wealth decides whether we are letting ourselves to be slaves of our own money and possession however much we have them.
St. Paul tell us today that God calls us to be his stewards entrusted with his grace and mysteries. The greek word he uses here for Steward is Oikonomos whose original form is Oikonomia. The English word economy derived from Oikonomia. The meaning of oikonomia is household or someone who is entrusted with its affairs. All of us are called to manage the household of God, the entire creation represented in the life of the Church. Therefore a good economical way of life is not only to pursue one’s own profits and wealth but also to take part in looking after the common life of God’s family. It is to acknowledge that all I have is not just mine but that have been entrusted to me by God, that my life is more deeply related to others than it seems.
Faith teaches us that God’s grace and blessing are given to everyone free of charge. Christian teachings on tithings and offerings are not about paying the bills for his blessing or paying for assurances for the future. It’s rather a reminder of that we belong to each other in the world God has created and that God has given us a variety of gifts and blessings to support each other and to nourish each other through our common life. To take part in stewardship is to remind ourselves who we are and what we truly value, that we are created as his children, as a member of God’s family in which we rejoice together and share together his blessings. This is why offering is in the context of worship. It isn’t just about the collection and contribution to the work of the church but the offering of something that represents us, our values and our priorities.
There is a lovely prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Korea. It’s a prayer for compline. This is the prayer Koreans say before they go to sleep. I think it shows what lies at the heart of Christian Stewardship. So let us end with this prayer.
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live. : Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others rest, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr Jun 26/2/17
Mothering Sunday Sermon (6th March 2016)
Readings : Exodus 2.1-10, Psalm 34.11-20, 2 Corinthians 1.3-7, Luke 2.33-35
Church, a new family embodies God’s grace and love
Make us to know your ways, O Lord; Teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth. For you are the God of our salvation; For you we wait all day long. Amen.
How lovely it is to gather all together in this church especially with our junior church staying with us. It certainly reminds us that we are the one family, young and old, rich and poor, English and non-English, in the Church of God. Mothering Sunday is of course the day to give thanks to our lovely mothers, grand mothers, god mothers, step-mothers but also I think this is a good day to remember and give thanks to those who took care of us, who took responsibilities for us, who has shown us the love of family regardless of gender or biological relation. Whether it is mother or father they wouldn’t exist without a family. So today I would like to think about family in Christian faith with you.
One of my friends once told me a story about how naughty he was in his childhood. He used to steal money from his father’s wallet while his father was asleep. He always saved the stolen money under his bed. One day his mother found the money under his bed and told his father. His father looked straight into his eyes but instead of scolding him or punishing him, his father said just one sentence. ‘We have no thief in this family.’ My friend told me that it was one of the most powerful words that he has ever heard and that he has never felt more embarrassed than that.
His story made me wonder what family really means. What is family? The form of family could vary for each of us. When I was serving in the army as a sergeant, I met people from all walks of life and from all different kinds of family. People who didn’t have parents, who had foster parent, who didn’t have children, who had foster children, who were cut off from their biological relatives but had a partner or a friend who is like family. Family was wider and stronger than blood. Family was the reason that kept the young boys in the uniform going in the harsh army life. And at the end of the day what they all wanted was the same : to get their jobs done and to go back to their family.
Family is where we find trusts to the end; where members are always together in ups and downs even though they may not be in the same space and time. Family is where we give each other strength just by being there. We find the same sense in the Bible. The love of Mary for her son Jesus, the love of Moses’s mother and sister and his foster mother. But the Bible leads us into the wider horizons in terms of family. In today’s Gospel Mary is told by Simeon about the pain that she will have to go through as her dear son will suffer and be killed on the cross. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must have been for Mary or for any other mother to bury her own child. How could she even accept her little leaving his family home and fulfilling his calling to be with complete strangers and facing danger. I imagine it must have been not easy for our Lord as well for he was a full human being just like all of us. He had home, had mother and father. But he knew that God was calling him to a wider, bigger, deeper family, the family of God. He answered to the call to build God’s family by sharing his life with others, the pain, the comfort and the joy of life with others. In the midst of the suffering of the cross Jesus opens the way to a new family. John chapter 19 verses 15,
‘Jesus on the cross saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Here is your son.’ Then he said the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
In today’s Readings, we see other examples how God calls his chosen people into the wider family of God. Moses was born in one small tribe of Hebrews. But he didn’t stay in the boundaries of his original family nor in his foster family yet he embraced and gathered the whole people who were suffering in slavery into one family and led them out of Egypt. St. Paul makes very clear what it is like to be God’s family in his letters to the early churches.
“We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives. We suffer in the hope that you will be comforted and saved. And because we are comforted, you will also be comforted, as you patiently endure suffering like ours. You never disappoint us.”
St. Paul believed that the Church is where Christians share the sufferings, the comforts and the joys of life together in Jesus Christ. The Church is the new family in which the love and the compassion of God are embodied. Christians are those who are called to form this family and to invite people into this family. The Church is the place where strangers become one family through God’s grace and love. This family is not a family built by our own blood but by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, who died for our sins. The Church, the family of God is built by the blood of Christ and by the blood of martyrs and saints who willingly sacrificed themselves for others as they believed in this greater family.
No human family is perfect. In the same way, no church is perfect. According to studies there is one relatively common characteristic of families in crisis. The members tend to idealise other families while condemning and blaming their own. The truth is every family has its own challenges and shadows. How they handle those times of trial together as a family decides what kind of family they become. In the same way, no church is free from its own conflicts and challenges. Actually we may often see even more disagreements and challenges in the Church than in other communities. But we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by it.
Dietrich Bon Hoeffer, one of the greatest theologians and a martyr of 20th century who was killed by the Nazis wrote about the life of the Church.
““It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”
“The Church of the gospel is not the community of saints but the fellowship of sinners. The church is the community that believes in grace despite the realities. The Church lives only by grace. ‘Those who expect to be a saint won’t find their place in the Church’ said Martin Luther. The Church is of sinners, of grace and of faith.”
““In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)
We are all called into this Church, the family of God where the sinners, the undevout, the strangers embrace one another, embrace one another’s brokenness, weaknesses and failings as God embraces us just as who we are despite the horrible mistakes, pains and shadows of our lives. God embraces us all, he embraces everything of what we are and he tells us ‘You never disappoint me. You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter’ just as St. Paul told to his brothers and sisters in his letter. The Church is the family in which we affirm this amazing grace, in which we live together and train together to live by this grace as we share our wounds, our pains together as one family in God.
Last Sunday, I was very impressed and encouraged by that how many of us remained after the service to share and discuss the future of our choir. As a new curate of this parish with a great tradition, I have always been humbled by all the support, commitment and generosity of the congregation. I valued all the precious opinions and priceless memories of our choir. As I listened one question came across my mind. Why are we here? What is the reason we exist here as church? Why has God called us to be here? To recruit more people, young people? To keep our precious traditional choir? To allow girls to use their musical talents? Let’s say we managed to recruit more people in the choir and more people in the congregation. What is it that we want to give to them and share with them? Yes, we want our choir to thrive, we want pass a thriving church to the next generation, yes we would like to see more people in the Church. But what is it that we are really meant to fulfill; that God is asking us to our hearts. Perhaps what God is asking us in this time of challenge is not about boys or girls in the choir; but about : Can we become God’s family, sharing pains, comforts and hopes with the strangers, with those who we don’t agree with, despite the differences and disruptions?
God forbid, but If we don’t become one family of God in this church, if we miss out our vocation, our reason to exist, to be the family of God, to embrace each other’s pains, to heal the wounds of each other’s lives, to bring God’s comfort and hope, what else can we pass on to our next generations? The faith we have inherited was started amongst the lowly people in the desert. They didn’t have a great choir, they had no brilliant recruitment strategy, they had no beautiful church building. They had nothing but the gospel, nothing but the faith that they were called to reach out to their neighbors to share God’s love and compassion with all their heart. They journeyed together to build God’s family as they loved each other, looked after each other, embraced each other despite the conflicts and challenges. The Church is the family of God where God’s love dwells and spreads. This is the greatest legacy of our faith. This is the gospel that the missionaries from England brought to the strange soil of Korea. And this is the only gospel that we have to pass on to the children sitting at the front and at the back today in this church. This is the gospel that we are called to share, that into which we are called to invite the people out there.
The Rev’d Jun Kim 6/3/2016
Sunday 8th November
Remembrance Sunday sermon:
May the Word of God be spoken….
It is a year of anniversaries. We have remembered the relief of 1945 but it seems that most of our memories are of tragedies with untold suffering and loss of life. There has been Edith Cavell who claimed resolutely that she was only doing her duty. And this year we have had the centenary of Gallipoli. That ill-fated expedition landed at the base of cliffs and stood very little chance.
In a cemetery on the hillside where the fallen are buried there is an inscription with some words of Ataturk, ‘Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. You, the mothers who sent your sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.’There is also a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. How common that attitude was we don’t know but it and the example of Edith Cavell make important statements about being human.
Today we gather to remember all those who have given their lives in the service of their country and those whose lives have been changed by the injuries they have received. We remember too all the families who have lost loved ones and the pain they must bear for the rest of their lives. The money raised from the sale of poppies is so necessary for the ongoing care that needs to be given.
The Great War of 1914 – 18 was called the war to end all wars. How hollow that now sounds. So many wars and conflicts since. So many lives lost. So many peoples lost. They are all part of our remembering. What was it, we ask, that led sophisticated and developed nations on a sequence of events that became unstoppable ? What pride froze out rational thought and prevented anyone from calling, ‘Enough’. What arrogance could think that the genie of destruction once let out of the bottle could be put back inside ?
It is said that you fight the next war with the technology of the previous one. It is also true that you move towards the next war with the mid-set of the previous one. So, in addition to looking back today at the past and remembering those who gave their all, we need to think of the world of the present and the likely shape of the future.
It is still a world of conflict. But the participants are changing. New and powerful nations are emerging as contenders for world recognition. Communication now is instant and world-wide. Through social media words and pictures go around the world in minutes and create an instantaneous reaction. The small boy fleeing Syria whose body was washed up on the island of Lesbos. Today nothing is secret and yet at the same time much is hidden.
Today complex and conflicting loyalties make it difficult to predict whether nations traditionally on the same side will support each other or not. China was upset that the UK hosted the Dalai Lama. As a result British jobs were at stake. Saudi Arabia feels affronted at the UK decision to cancel a commitment to build a prison. How does that affect the web of conflicting relationships in the Middle East. Israel is quite happy to sell arms to nations in Africa where Al Qaeda and Hezbollah – their deadly enemies – are involved. Why ? ‘It’s business’, they say, and, ‘It’s over there.’
Nothing today is simple or straight forward. Who is trustworthy is very difficult to answer. The scale may be different but the pattern is as it was in the time of Jesus. Palestine had four Roman legions, more than anywhere else except Britain. Two of them were stationed at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. It was a hotbed of revolt. No one was safe.
Yet Jesus steered a careful course through all the intrigue and double-dealing. The Romans found no fault in him.But from those who said they wanted to be his followers he asked for an approach to life that was totally different from all that was considered normal.
He recalled the vision of Isaiah – ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb,’ and, ‘swords shall be beaten into ploughshares.’ It was a dream in Isaiah’s time and also for Jesus. It must be our dream too however unlikely it may seem that such a radical change can happen. Jesus called on people ‘to love one another as I have loved you’. He expanded that to, ‘Love your enemies’. And yet, all too often we don’t love our neighbours, or even know their names. But Jesus is calling for a new way of thinking. Go out of your way to help your neighbour in his need. Think of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbour may despise you if you reach out to help him but he may also come to see you in a new way.
After the murder of Lee Rigby a mosque in Luton, that had nothing to do with it, was burnt down. It was Ramadan and the Muslims needed their mosque. A church and two synagogues decided to open their premises to the Muslims. That one act broke down fear and suspicion between the faiths and led to a new relationship of trust. Strangers became friends.
The days when wars were fought between fixed armies drawn up opposite each other may well be over. Wars in the future will involve people pressing buttons from thousands of miles away. With satellites, missiles, drones, cyber attacks, and with advanced espionage and surveillance systems and much more, boots on the ground may be towards the end of the conflict. More dangerous will be the enemy within; the person who in any society gives the appearance of being a friend but is really a deadly foe.
Loving your enemies in that situation may demand a great deal of judgement and, in the end, a willingness to take a risk. We may not be able to change the world but we can begin by changing ourselves and becoming daily more Christ-like. We can also help the Christian community of which we are a part to grow daily more Christ-like as it faces conflict situations. We can support and encourage each other so that in our togetherness, communal life, discipleship and mission shows the resurrection life of Jesus. People then will come to see and value the quality of life and the vision that inspires us; where justice, compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings become part of daily life;
That process will be taking place not just here but all over the world. Swords beaten into ploughshares. A vision for the future which we can begin to make a reality in the church, in our community and in the wider world. We pray that we may hold that vision despite the appalling destruction, wanton slaughter and acts of barbarism that we see on our TV’s perpetrated by groups such as ISIS.
As we remember today all those who have died for their country we pray that in the hope of a better tomorrow we may ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be human ?’ The soldier at Gallipoli carrying a wounded man to safety; Edith Cavell doing her duty; The Church and synagogues of Luton opening up to strangers. Such things point to an answer.
And we pray that the ways of bitterness and division, aggression and brutality may be replaced in our hearts and minds by a vision of swords beaten into ploughshares. May that resonate in our togetherness and inspire us to persevere in courage, and with love.
Sunday 23rd August 2015
‘choose today whom you will serve’
May the word of God be spoken, may the Word of God be heard and may the Word of God by each of us be obeyed.
There are in life decisive moments when one has to take a stand, declare where one’s loyalties lie, or make a definite commitment one way or another. Last Friday on a train in France three Americans took a stand and chose to overpower a heavily armed gun man.
We have freedom to choose in our life of faith. God does not force himself upon us. He has given us the freedom to choose whether we serve him or not. Freedom to choose how we allocate our time, talents and cash. He gives himself to us in love and we can choose whether to return that love. Some choose to ignore or go against god; others ignore him, letting more immediate things squeeze God out. If we are to love and serve God, we have to be sure we have made this a definite choice – to be an active disciple – to be a member of the Body of Christ.
In the first reading we heard that Joshua called the tribes of Israel together and asked them to dedicate their lives in the service of the true God. If they were unwilling, they should at least choose whom they were going to serve, the gods of Egypt or the gods of the Amorites. Joshua gave the lead by saying, ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
In today’s Gospel we find two definite groups of people. Those who find Jesus’ teaching too hard, who take offence and turn away and no longer go with Jesus. The second group are those who seek to stay with Jesus and be loyal to him. The group includes the disciples. They are not forced to stay: if they want, they can leave as Judas later did. Peter replied for the disciples, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
We too are given the opportunity of turning away or committing ourselves to follow him. It’s not just a one-off choice; we have to make it every day, sometimes many times a day.
Western society has been making choices, particularly over the last 400 years. First developments in science and philosophy secularised knowledge. Then the rise of the nation states saw power being wrested from the church. The secularisation of culture with art galleries and museums to some extent replacing churches. And finally, in the 1960s the secularisation of morality and the blossoming of individual choice. Knowledge, power, culture and morality no longer anything to do with the church. ‘God is dead’, they said, ‘There probably isn’t a God, so stop worrying and enjoy life,’ was the not exactly profound statement plastered over the sides of London buses a few years ago.
The unexpected result is that after four centuries of God being steadily demoted we emerge into the twenty first century with maximum choice and minimum meaning. Who am I ? Why am I here ? How shall I live ? These questions have become increasingly difficult to answer for many people. Yet they will not go away. And it is impossible to live without meaning; knowing who I am and why I am here.
But today, with the explosion in the use of the internet, history is going back on itself. There is a new empowerment and again it is based on religion. This time the radical, politicised religion coming from the Middle East. Knowledge, Power, Culture and Morality are all being reclaimed by those who have very determined ideas promoted by their faith. The result is that today the West feels powerless against the religious extremists and fanatics who spread their ideas ever wider.
The four centuries of development in the West have taken place based on the principles of the social contract, that there are limits on the power of the state. There has been an attitude of tolerance, freedom of conscience, and the concept of human rights. But during those four centuries religion has been slowly downgraded and the result has been decadence, materialism, and the loss of identity. No wonder then that such bodies as Islamic State have found ready support among disaffected mainly young people. It offers, meaning, identity, a code of conduct with regard to Knowledge, Power, Culture and Morals in a way that the free-market, liberal democratic West does not.
The seventeenth century saw the start of a process of secularisation. The twenty first century is seeing that being reversed. The world is becoming more religious. 84% of the population of the world claim to have a religious affiliation. Religion has not gone away. It is growing in numbers and in significance. The religious voice that is being heard may be one that we do not like, but that is the way things are.
So the question that matters is still the one posed by Joshua, ‘What sort of religion should we go for ?’ ‘whom will you serve?’
Throughout history there has been a recurrent answer. Aristotle in the 4th C BC said, ‘What is the essence of life ? To serve others and to do good.’ ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can,’ was John Wesley’s take on this.
Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi in the UK, has written a book urging Jews, Christians and Muslims to remember our common ancestry; that we are all children of Abraham. All three faiths do have much in common. He urges all three to forget their sibling rivalry. We need to work together, he says, to stress our common agenda for peace and to counteract the malign influence of those distorting our scriptures for their own purposes. The three faiths all stress the importance of justice, peace and hospitality for the stranger.
Religion is being used by the extremists to give a particular identity to those seeking meaning and purpose in life. They may be using the internet and may be doing it very successfully but they do not have a monopoly over its use. It is there for us too. All three faiths have important news to share. We are all responsible for each other. At the world level that means working for social conditions which ensure that every group in society takes into account the rights and aspirations of every other group, and the well-being of the whole human family. If we are to survive as a species we must build cultures of peace and justice, kindness and trust with sympathy and understanding of each other’s’ needs. The world faiths have much to contribute to that and Christians especially.
Adam Smith, the economist, whose teachings we follow in a capitalist market economy also wrote an earlier work stating that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations. Lasting happiness is found, he said, not in consuming ever more and more but when there is an overall sense of social well-being with justice, active goodness and the careful management of resources – with frugality. Some economists may well shudder. It is the very opposite of thinking that profit is the only goal and anything goes if you can get away with it.
We can see that Adam Smith was saying, as Christians down the ages have said, You need to encourage people to be ‘givers’ rather than ‘takers’. It is so easy to make bad choices; not to do the good that we want to do and to find ourselves doing the bad that we don’t want to do. That is all part of the human condition. When Paul wrote to the Christian community in Ephesus to make a distinction between themselves and those living around them who were not Christians he urged them to be discriminating because the times they were living in were not easy. It is the same today. He encouraged them to Use all the resources that God gives. Be truthful; upright, fair-minded; walk the path of peace; judge everything by whether it measures up to the life of Jesus; and remember that by your Baptism you are marked out as belonging to God.
Let us finish in prayer:
In every age, O God, you give your people freedom to walk in faith or to turn away. Grant us grace to remain faithful to your Holy One, whose words are spirit and life. We thank you that you have not left us to ourselves, help us to be faithful disciples of your Son. Amen
The Parish Priest
Sunday 19th July 2015
Make us to know your ways, O Lord;
Teach us your paths
Lead us in your truth,
For you are the God of our salvation;
For you we wait all day long. Amen.
I stand here today, humbled by the generosity of All Saints’, aware that the love of my family and friends whom I met in Peterborough has sustained me. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger story of the missionaries who came to Korea 125 years ago from England. In 1890 Bishop Charles John Corfe who was a naval chaplain said ‘yes’ to the calling sending him to Korea as a missionary. A friend of his who was a naval officer advised him that he was following a reckless hope; that it is like attacking a battleship in a boat. Bishop Charles answered his friend “but if you had an order to attack a battleship in a boat you would obey.” Bishop Charles John Corfe and his team left England, leaving their families and friends behind. They arrived in Korea in November 1890. They planted the seed of the Gospel in the soil of the strange land. They themselves were buried in the soil of the strange land as the seeds of the Gospel. So my presence here is a fruit of what they have planted. In fact, our lives are not what we have achieved by ourselves. We are here because there was someone who has sustained us by their love, kindness and sacrifice whether we remember them or not. We often realise this as we look back.
However, the world does not only consist of the people who support us. Basically this world is a strange place which is full of strangers to all of us. And it seems getting more and more heartless and lost. But none of us can be sure which one is the right way although we hear all the time the shouts that claim that they know the right way. It is difficult to discern whom we should follow, whom we should trust. Today The Old Testament reading describes the world in which we live, divided and broken by the image of the flock “scattered and wandering.”
However God proclaims the message of hope to the people who are getting further and further away from him; that he raises up shepherds to look after his people. Where can we find our true shepherd then? Who is the one that we can trust? St Paul answers to this question in his letter. In today’s second reading he speaks to the Gentiles. “In Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart, have been brought very close by the blood of Christ.” Gentiles were considered being apart from God in the ancient world of Israel. But God’s love and grace is given to those who seem to be so far from him. Jesus has shown that God’s activity of love and grace to save his people is not confined by anything.
Jesus who was born in a dirty manger has shown us that even the ugliest place of the world can be the holy place in which the divine dwells. Through the tragic death at the cross and resurrection, Jesus has shown us that even the worst human act of rebellion and hostility against God cannot deter his love towards us. God’s love and grace is inexhaustible and indestructible. Almighty God can always let new things emerge no matter what the circumstances are. So when we say we believe in God Almighty, perhaps it means trusting that there is always a way of change, a way of restoration, a way of reconciliation even when things seem deeply damaged and wrong. When we trust this, we open ourselves to the act of God who keeps the doors open to bring something new out of a situation. Christians are those who are called to live this faith in each of our lives.
However the world is not so easy place to live our faith. I am sure we all have had experiences in which we felt our lack of strength against the reality. Today the gospel tells us that Jesus and his disciples have faced with a similar situation. “The apostles have rejoined Jesus” after accomplishing their mission. They have dedicated themselves to casting out devils and proclaiming the good news along with Jesus. But it seems like there is no end. “There are so many coming and going”, asking for help and healing “that they have no time even to eat”. In this passage we can see how deeply the world has been wounded. Jesus and the apostles seem to meet their limit as they face with the depth of wounds of the world.
Even Jesus says that “they must go away and rest for a while.” But the world does not allow them to have a short rest. The crowd from every town is already there before Jesus and apostles reach the shore. I imagine Jesus could have said “You can go back home and come back tomorrow as it is enough for today!” However, the gospel tells us what happened in Jesus’s heart. “As he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The expression translated ‘taking pity or having compassion’ means in Greek ‘σπλαγχνίζομαι’ (from splanxna) ‘from the inward’. Jesus moved deeply from his inward parts as he sees his people.
Jesus could feel deeply the sufferings of those who are wounded. He always could respond to them despite his body and mind were weary. In the same way, God is there at the heart of our sufferings, feeling our pain, trying to get us through at all cost. If we fall into deep darkness that we feel completely lost apart from God’s presence, he is still there. Even if we are in the middle of the fire of hell, he is still there. Because there is nowhere God is absent. There is nowhere he cannot reach because he is the maker of heaven and earth.
Nihil longe est deo. Nothing is far from God. Bishop Charles chose this as the motto of his arms as he prepared the journey to Korea. Nothing is far from God. There are many barriers and walls which we have built to keep us separate from others to protect ourselves in this divided, broken world. The barrier between classes, races, regions, political parties. But none of the barriers can stop the steady swell of God’s loving presence, pouring upon us. This love is utterly unconditional, unrestricted, perfectly given for all.
Perhaps we may say that becoming a Christian is to open ourselves to make room for this unlimited love which is being given to us. In doing so, we become the channel, the door through which his love flows into the world. Now, those barriers of the world can no more imprison us as we live within God’s loving presence. As St. Paul said he “breaks down the barrier which used to keep us apart. And he creates one single New Man in himself.” We who once used to be scattered and broken apart are transformed into a new human species who shares one bread and one cup at the Lord’s table together.
Now we consent that the Lord is our true shepherd. We still live in the same everyday world but the world no longer rules us. We are ruled by God as citizens of God’s kingdom where there is no barrier no border. English, Irish, Korean, Lithuanian, conservatives, liberals, young and old, rich and poor, saints and sinners we are one in God’s kingdom. There is one Lord and one people of God. Though we are many we are one because the Lord is our shepherd and he brings us home where we all belong.
The missionaries who came to Korea 125 years ago knew this deeply in their heart. They witnessed this through their lives as they trusted in God. I stand here as they planted the seed. It was them who planted but it was you who watered it. If it wasn’t for you the seed would not have grown. If your love, your prayer haven’t sustained me I could not come this far on this journey. So thank you.
We are here because there has been someone who has sustained us by their prayer and love. We are deeply connected to each other more than we can see just as Bishop Charles, all the missionaries who came to Korea, me, you, all of us meet together today across time and space. We are all related to each other as we are already in a relationship with God. This is what the scriptures and the history of faith witness. We are to continue this grand chain of love and faith as we love our family and friends, as we invite strangers to be our family and friends. Perhaps that is why the Lord said that he doesn’t raise up just one shepherd but shepherds in the reading today. God has sent Jesus and Jesus has sent us to carry on his mission.
This is a long narrow pathway. We might not see the end of it. However, we will keep going just like those who were before us did. Because God accompanies us and his love sustains us on this journey. So let Psalm 23 be our conclusion today.
The Lord is my shepherd
There is nothing I shall want
He guides me along the right path
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
No evil would I fear
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. Amen
The Rev’d Jun Kim 19/7/2015
Sunday 1st March 2015
LISTEN to HIM! – Mark 9.2-10
‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Life-Giver. Amen
Throughout the Bible we see that things happen on mountains. Special things. Life-giving and encouraging things. Things we must listen to and take account of. Things that show us that God is present and seeks to draw us into his big, expansive vision for the world.
As we have heard in our first reading this morning, Abraham listened to God and obeyed his command to go to the top of a mountain and be ready to sacrifice to God his most precious thing, his son, and there he learned that because of his absolute trust in the Lord he will be blessed; on Mount Sinai, God made his covenant and his commandments known to Moses in a cloud and when Moses came down his face shone brightly with the glory of the Lord; and on Mount Horeb, Elijah encountered God, not in the earthquake, wind or fire but in the sweet sound of silence. These three themes of sacrifice, covenant and silence are to be found in today’s Gospel – the story of the Transfiguration in which, once again, the top of a mountain is portrayed as a “thin place” – a holy place where heaven and earth meet. A place where invisible things are made visible.
Now this is all very well but we are people who live at sea level on the edge of the Fens. For us, there is no handy mountain to climb for us to get closer to God. So, what are we supposed to do? Well, I guess it is no accident that this reading is given to us in Lent. This is the time set aside for us to dedicate ourselves to listening more closely to God, to giving up more of our time for prayer, to studying of the scriptures. It is a time when we sacrifice more of our money for the flourishing of the church and for charitable causes. It is a time when we seek to silence the voices of greed, competition and selfishness within us and seek to offer our gifts in service of the needs of others. Lent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for another mountain top experience. The one when God’s covenant of love with us was made visible in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. It is a time when we make ourselves ready to hear again the silence of the Resurrection and to listen to the response God wants us to make to that glorious triumph of light over darkness.
Jesus took his friends, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to prepare them for these events too. He wanted them to be strengthened in faith and hope by witnessing the glory of God in him. Despite their amazement and terror, what they experienced there enabled them to stay close to Jesus through the rest of his earthly life and to share in his risen life.
In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ divinity was made known to his friends. His body was transformed so that his true nature was clearly revealed to them but it was their hearts that were transfigured. And although they seemed quite bemused at the time and Peter blundered around rather comically wondering what kind of response to make, the three men were strengthened by that experience and it prepared them for what was to come.
These were the ones who Jesus would later take up another mountain, the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane to wait with him before his arrest. And really they didn’t quite get what was going on there either. They fell asleep and Peter denied Jesus three times.
I wonder if this resonates with our experience of Lent. We tend to start off with all sorts of good intentions on Ash Wednesday but 40 days starts to seem like a long time when you are denying yourself. Selfish desire tugs us one way and God’s invitation of love and flourishing pulls us another. It all starts to feel a bit messy and we can end up sleepwalking through Lent because it all feels so difficult and perhaps even a little terrifying.
So, let this story of the Transfiguration cheer you up. Jesus didn’t give up on his friends in their weakness and fear then and God doesn’t give up on the weak and fearful now. He doesn’t give up on those who like Peter can’t immediately make sense of things or those who say one thing and do another. God doesn’t give up on anyone but there is a special blessing of closeness and affirmation for those who love him and want to serve him, however inadequate we are and however much we get it wrong. He knows the potential each one of us has to follow a path of holiness and it doesn’t depend on our education, wealth, age, health or status. It simply depends on our willingness to be humble, to serve, to keep trying and to listen to him.
The true character of these three men – Peter, James and John – emerged after the resurrection when it was clear that they had heard God speak at the Transfiguration. God had commanded them to listen to Jesus and listening to him means emptying out our own agenda and looking at the world through his eyes. Their deep listening to Jesus ensured that their hearts remained transfigured, that the mountain top experience wasn’t a one-off peak experience but a way of life. Their total dedication to the service of God in Christ was revealed in their continuing of God’s mission of love to the world to the very end. Each one suffered in the name of Christ and so shared in his glory.
In Lent, we are given a precious gift: the opportunity to have our hearts transfigured and to be strengthened for Christian service in the world. Through our baptism we have the privilege and responsibility to spread the good news of Christ in a world longing for justice and peace to prevail. If we find Lent a bit difficult then perhaps we need to remember those Christians in the Middle East, Nigeria or North Korea who face not just the loss of personal pleasure this Lent but the very real threat of persecution, imprisonment and even death for following Christ.
Lent offers us an opportunity not just to re-order our personal priorities but also to think about what it means to be Church. What does God require of us, of this particular church community in this particular place? Listening to Jesus means that we go with him to the mountain top but also back down again into the ordinary and every-day.
God’s kingdom will come on earth when all things are transfigured, all eyes set on the glory of God, all ears listening to his son, all hands willing to serve and all hearts ready to love. As Christian people, we are charged to work together, to tend the sick, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to forgive the wayward, to protect the vulnerable, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the God of grace who gives us life, loves us to the end of time and desires the flourishing of all people.
God says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
Our parish is named “All Saints”. The invitation this Lent is to catch God’s vision, to listen to Jesus and to see how we can be saints to the community around us. Jesus is praying for our whole-hearted response. So, this morning, as we receive in Holy Communion his broken body and the blood he shed for us may our hearts become courageous and our lives be transfigured so that his glory is revealed to the world through our generous service.
Helena del Pino (1/3/15)
Sermon 5th Sunday 2015 suffering, healing, stewardship
“The whole town came crowding round the door, he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another”
May the Word of God be spoken, may the word of God be heard may the word of God by each of us obeyed.
God has been described recently, by Stephen Fry, as “utterly evil, capricious, mean-minded, stupid and monstrous”. Stephen Fry’s says this because of the suffering seen in the world. He wants to ask God, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is so much misery that’s not our fault?’
This is not a new problem. Humankind has wrestled with the problem of suffering for a very long time. In the first reading Job was rather depressed! He speaks of ‘nights of grief’, and that his ‘eyes will never again see joy’. He suffered, yet Job was an upright and blameless man, he had a loving wife, seven sons and three daughters and the largest estate in the kingdom. He didn’t abuse his power, he used his wealth for hospitality and his influence to help the needy. Yet he experienced a series of disasters; he loses his family, his friends, his fortune, his possessions. The only thing that Job does not lose is his faith in God.
He is afflicted with sores, from the soles of his feet to his head. His wife tells him to curse God but Job keeps his faith. Once described as the greatest figure in all the east, he is now afflicted with disaster and sickness. What had he done to deserve such a terrible fate? Why does Job have to suffer? Why should an innocent person face such a fate?
Job’s friends expressed the common view at the time. Suffering was connected to conduct. So someone who suffered must have sinned.Job protests that he had not sinned; he had loved God and his neighbour. He refuses to believe that his suffering is a consequence of sin, but, he has no answer to satisfy himself. He asks the question we can all ask, ‘why me?’, and he settles for despair, ‘nothing for my own but nights of grief’.
Job does not get an answer to his suffering, although his fortunes do improve. He represents all the innocents throughout history who wonder at their pain. We all have experienced hurt and anguish and bewilderment and we can all wonder, why is there such suffering.
In today’s gospel we heard that ‘after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another.’ When Jesus is confronted with human suffering, he does not stay with the question, ‘why suffering?’ but moves to heal the afflicted. No doubt all those who crowded around the door had questions about the why of their suffering, but they all shared the hope that Jesus would care for them. Their hope is not misplaced and Jesus does attend to their needs and heals them.
It’s not all about healing, Jesus needs to pray and early the next morning finds a lonely place. He is not left in peace, a search party finds him and tells him that ‘everybody is looking for him’. Jesus knows that it will be the same in the next town.
The questions of the suffering Job are not answered in the gospel. Jesus may have his own questions about the endless suffering that surrounds him, but he stays committed to caring for the sick.
That is his witness. And that must be the enduring witness of his followers. Through the witness of Jesus we hold fast to the truth that God loves us in our weakness and fragility, in our sickness and suffering. Many people feel called to do jobs that show a reflection of God’s care. We see it in the commitment of nurses, doctors, carers and all, whether paid of not, who tend to the suffering of others.
One of the things that the PCC has started doing is to wrestle with the question, ‘Why are we here?’ Why do we bother we having All Saints Church in this part of Peterborough? What is our vision? Our mission? Can it be expressed concisely in a mission statement from which a plan for the future can be agreed?
I think that today’s reading can give good pointers that help us answer the question about why we are here. Today’s readings can help us think about our mission. They help us think about different areas of church life.
We live in a world with a great deal of suffering. As followers of Jesus we called to become like him. So I wonder? Can this church be a place of healing in the community within which we are set? Can we be a people who show God’s compassion in the flesh? Can we be God’s care in action?
There are many ways we can do this. Our hall is used by community groups, we support the Food bank, we support charities such as CMS. I wonder? What is God’s vision for our church? What would we like to be the same in 5 years? What would we like to be different?
I recently completed a questionnaire for Peterborough City Council. They are asking all church leaders about their community involvement as the council realises that churches make a big contribution in their communities. The questionnaire listed 30 forms of community project: Lunch clubs, fairtrade initiatives, out of school classes for children, IT training, counselling, advocacy, food distribution, services for the homeless, hospital visiting – to name 10.
No church can do all of these. We read in the gospel that Jesus healed many, but not all.
I hope that, starting with the PCC, we will seek God’s guidance so that we discover His hopes for our church. Only part of a churches life is about projects. Jesus’ ministry was based on His relationship with his Heavenly Father. In the gospel we often hear of Jesus getting up early to pray, of him withdrawing to a lonely place. The future of our church must be rooted in prayer; in services, in prayer groups, maybe prayers of healing after a service, a prayer life that is nourished through quiet days and pilgrimages.
We gather here to worship God. We heard in the psalm, ‘Sing praise to the Lord who is good, sing to our God who is loving. I hope that the future of our church will involve supporting the musical tradition and working so that our worship is the best that we can offer. In the New Testament reading Paul speaks of preaching, of being able to offer the good news.
As we think about the future of our church and its mission, I hope that there will be quietness for prayer, worship that uplifts and nourishes in word and sacrament, community that welcomes, befriends, sustains and heals the wounds. I wonder can we be a community that shows God’s care in action?
Today we are keeping this Sunday as Stewardship Sunday – the day in the year when we encouraging people to think prayerfully about their giving; of time, talents and cash. We have bills to pay like everyone else and what is being asked of us is going up.
I know that a lot of people do give in many ways to the ministry and mission of the church. But they need the support of everyone – they can’t do it without you. Something that may well be hard to hear is that someone who worships here regularly and is not in the planned giving scheme is costing everyone who is, about £600 per year.
The Church of England has taught tithing for many years now. The Biblical standard is that God was to get a minimum of the top 10% of everyone’s time, energy, property and cash. That idea runs so firmly through the Bible it is impossible to ignore. The Church of England has interpreted this ancient idea to say that half your tithe ( 5%) should go to your church, and the other half to other wonderful charities which build up the kingdom of God.
Our church life would be transformed if we did this. No one is too poor to come to church; 5% of no income is zero. If income goes down then the 5% goes down as well. I tithe, it seems the minimum I can do, so 5% of the £24 000 I receive. I say that, not to brag, but to show that this is not something impossible for a Christian in the modern day.
We all have different incomes, so what we can tithe will all be different. On this Stewardship Sunday, may I ask you to spend some time praying about the future of our church. Pray that God will guide us and show us the church He would like in this place. May I ask you too, to consider prayerfully your giving and your response to the letters that John as chairman of the Stewardship Committee has prepared.
Please do feel free to share your thoughts with me and with members of the PCC. But for now, let me finish in prayer,
‘Heavenly Father, give grace to us, the living stones who form your Church, to reflect prayerfully at this time on out love for you and our neighbour. Make us mindful of the many gifts you bestow upon us and we ask that your HS will inspire us and direct us in our choice of giving, remembering that we are only giving back that which is truly yours. Stengthen us, Lord, to meet this challenge according to your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amenn;
The Parish Priest 8th Feb 2015