Sermons

29 posts

Homily for Patronal Festival

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on the evening of 26 July 2020: St James West End Patronal Festival

May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to follow him, Amen

Six short verses from Mark’s gospel provide word-pictures of Jesus that have echoed down the years: The Sea of Galilee, working fishermen – boats and nets. Jesus calling people to follow and proclaiming the kingdom is near!

Images portraying Jesus calling the fishermen to a new direction in life; and their reactions in immediately leaving nets and following.

Calling and following – two essential factors of discipleship.

Hearing Jesus’ call, and choosing to follow, changed James’ and the other disciples’ lives. How do we hear the call, follow and serve Jesus today? Nowadays the tendency is not merely to follow directions and commands – but to chase alternatives. By applying freedom of choice, we follow orders and advice, but often only on our own terms.

Sadly, some Christians even apply personal boundaries in deciding who is good enough to help build God’s kingdom by choosing to invite those of physical or financial use, or who share the same mind-set as themselves. Not so with Jesus’ inclusive invitation – the call to ‘repent and believe in the good news’ was the message to any and all who came out to hear Jesus preach.

James’ faith was sufficient to leave his father’s business and follow with no clear vision of where it would all lead. For us too it answering the call to follow is a leap of faith. Jesus’ invitation will mean leaving behind familiar aspects of our lives with an unknown path ahead, one thing we do know is that as for James, life will never be the same again.

Invitations to ‘follow’ are central to this era of social media and decisions often speedy. The ‘follow’, ‘like’ or ‘share’ options are chosen as instant emotional reactions to a headline or an image, often because friends, people we know, have already responded.

James and John would have known Simon and Andrew, maybe seeing their friends already following gave them the impetus to follow too. Yet Jesus did not just call them to follow he also provided a purpose: they were specifically chosen to be ‘fishers of people’ – to share the gospel message. Even today Jesus calls everyone for a purpose and each of us will have a role to play in bringing others to faith – Jesus needs ‘fishers of people’ as much today as when he called the fishermen of Galilee.

So, how do we follow the call to share the good news in the circumstances where we find ourselves?

During lockdown sharing the gospel message and worship moved to the internet: to Face Book, YouTube, Zoom and other resources. Face Book informs each account holder how many ‘followers’ they have and suggests names of people to invite to ‘like’ their page…. Yet this does not tell the whole story.

Jesus’ call to ‘follow’ expects readiness and willingness to engage – to actively share with others his good news – not just to click and send a quick emoji response – for surely being a Christian is not just about ‘liking’ and ‘following’ from our computers – as in a hobby or brief interest – but calls for commitment, prayer, perseverance, repentance, letting go and stepping out on a new path.

It is imperative to remember that many do not have the technology or skills to engage with online resources so to encounter those from our congregation, our community and new seekers, we cannot simply send a ‘link’. Jesus ‘went out’ – we need to determine to serve him not only via computer screens but in finding new safe ways to go out into this world of social distancing in the power of the Spirit, and in his name, to meet and share with those who have not yet heard the good news.

James left overhauling and mending his nets. Given a new sense of reason and purpose his life was renewed but not without challenges to be faced. Are we prepared for the challenges that Jesus’ invitation brings, as well as the joys that it offers? Are we ready to embrace Jesus’ call to follow him, to repent of our failings and, like James, be strong in discipleship through good and difficult times?

Every day Jesus calls us, as individuals and as a church, to seek ways to renew our faith – to react to Jesus’ calling – to be prepared for the consequences of following. We need to work together to find new ways to follow Jesus’ call to share the gospel message.

So, are we ready to leave our safety nets, put old ways behind and take fresh steps forward filled with faith and purpose? Let us consider, pray and discern what it is that Jesus is calling us to do at this particular time and then work together for the good of God’s kingdom as we journey on with Jesus as our guide. For, what better purpose is there for our lives than serving Jesus who calls us to follow?

A few thoughts for our Patronal Festival.

Amen.

On the 72nd Anniversary of the NHS

Preached by Carol Kidd on 5 July 2020: Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Psalm 145:8-15 / Matthew 11:16-19;25-end

 May I speak in the name of God, whose kingdom is everlasting: Amen

Today’s psalm reminds us that the kingdom of God endures throughout all ages – a fact truly worthy of praise – and in our intercessions we will be giving thanks for the NHS which has endured and has proved invaluable in this generation especially during this current crisis. For this week it is the 72nd birthday of the National Health Service: the institution that has served every single one of us and for many, myself included, has provided a journey of vocation and service.

Now, when the demand on the NHS is high, is surely the right time to celebrate the diversity of its inclusive teams, the amazing spectrum of expertise, and the deep desire to provide holistic care that matches the founding principles to:

  • meet the needs of everyone
  • be free at the point of delivery
  • and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay

Thursday evenings are no longer marked by applause and praise yet everywhere you go rainbows remain visible – the banner in the churchyard continues to express love for the NHS.

As lockdown is eased it is even more important than ever that we pray for the staff who, day by day, night shift by night shift, enclosed in claustrophobic PPE, continue to be active in serving, compassionate in caring and dedicated in distributing a sense of hope in the midst of the ongoing pandemic for which, as yet, there is no vaccine, no definitive end.

The ability to communicate a sense of hope, to be alongside sharing and supporting in situations of joy and thanksgiving, as well in times of despair and conflict, take its toll. Yet staff, weary from carrying the heavy burdens of life and death situations and decisions, are often seen paying respect, offering encouragement, lovingly applauding, as a survivor of Covid leaves the hospital where, for many weeks, the nurses and doctors have been their closest comfort in times of real fear and danger. Importantly, within the inclusive team, hospital chaplains provide a source of hope and solace, supporting staff as much as they are alongside patients and families, following Jesus’ example, they are there for people of all faiths and none.

Surely, they mirror God’s characteristics by being ever available, non-judgmental, and gracious in their generosity of spiritual care and prayer.

For we know that: ‘The Lord is gracious and merciful – the Lord is loving to everyone.’

Even more amazingly: ‘the Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all those who are bowed down.’

In the New International Version of the Bible the word ‘merciful’ is translated as ‘compassionate’: ‘the Lord is gracious and compassionate – he has compassion for all he has made.’

Having worked for the National Health Service for 40yrs [from 1976-2016], firstly as a Registered Nurse and then for 35 years as a midwife, I particularly remember the ‘6 C’s – the benchmarks of excellence: ‘competence, care, compassion, communication, courage & commitment.’ As a Christian, these attributes play an essential part of growing in faith and recognizing Kingdom values – they are a part of my past and are woven into my present as I strive to take them forward in my Lay Ministry.

I would like to suggest that – even if you have never worked in the NHS – the 6 C’s can provide expressions of wholeness that enrich the relationship Jesus invites us to share – for if anyone is competent in judgement and leadership it is Jesus who is full of care and compassion, communicates with us in a myriad of ways and we know from the gospels how his commitment and love for us led him even to the Cross where his courage knew no bounds.

Our past is part of our present and we bring with us attributes learned through our life experiences – during lock-down the experiences people have faced – even that of their own mortality – have in many cases resulted in increased care and compassion for others; has brought the discovery of new and better ways to communicate and it has taken courage to cope with days fraught with anxiety and loss.

Yet sadly while a commitment to care for others has been a priority for many, the competence of some decisions has been questioned.

Now restrictions are being eased what will our response be? Will the goodwill and thankyous continue? Will we speak out for the vulnerable when we see flaunting of guidelines and question inappropriate decisions? Or will we prefer to spend time joining in the grumbling we hear around us without attempting to make a difference?

Jesus warned against being churlish and childish like those in the market square – instead we need to be open to new understandings – as children are when they are loved and encouraged to learn by discovering new wonders that are all around. It is in being open to the wondrous signs of God’s Kingdom [that was and is and is to come] and how we respond to Jesus’ call, that we will come to know more truly God’s will for our lives and be encouraged to follow where he leads for: ‘the Lord is sure in all his ways, and faithful in all his deeds.’

Jesus promises that when we take up the yoke of discipleship he will share the load during the difficult times – so let us echo his care and compassion – let us communicate his love to others by sharing the wonderful promise he gives to all of us to strengthen our resolve even when our courage falters and trust him to remain faithful when our commitment is wavering: Jesus says: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’

May that precious rest be with all NHS workers as they continue to serve the sick and suffering – and when we are brought low with the tiredness of trying to find a way out of this confusion and crisis let us always remember that it is in resting in Christ and sharing our burdens with him that strength can found – then restored and renewed let us dedicate ourselves to his service, following his example of serving others, and like the psalmist tell of the glory of his enduring kingdom never forgetting to make known to the next generation the wonders of his mighty acts.

Amen

Oh do come in for a cup of tea

Preached by Alan Jenkins on 28 June 2020: Third Sunday after Trinity

Oh do come in for a cup of tea……………

It sounds such a natural way to offer hospitality, but over the last few months how long has it been since we could say that without breaking the government rules or guidelines? OK, there’s been some easing now, but one of the real down-sides to the lockdown is that we haven’t been able to welcome people into our homes, or to into our church, to the hospitality we would like to offer, to be immediately sociable with others. Yet hospitality is an important part of our Christian lives, and Jesus was referring to it as an integral element of mission, of creating disciples, the ‘little ones’ that he talks about in this morning’s reading.

The Gospel readings from Matthew at the moment are recording the ways in which the first disciples were being prepared to go on a mission, to share the gospel message, just as Jesus had been doing, and they would have expected to have been stocking up on provisions and equipment for the journey,- hopefully without panic-buying! But Jesus reined them back, telling them only to take the clothes on their backs, no extra clothes, no money, no food. Their only provision was to be hospitality, and a trust in the kindness of strangers.

Jesus’s instructions to his disciples contained a deeper message, which is equally addressed to us all. Hospitality and welcome are hopefully natural instincts that underpin an appreciation of forgiveness and healing, justice and mercy, righteousness and hope. In last week’s Church Times the leader expanded this, by saying that we need courage to welcome the stranger, humanity to have compassion, bravery to fight injustice. Not options, but commands from an incarnate God born into a refugee family.

And those commands were being given to the disciples by the one who was of that family, but Christ’s immediate message to them was a bit curt at first hearing: – no hospitality = no gospel. The good news will not flourish unless it is welcomed, nurtured, and fed.

If we look through our Bibles, and not just the New Testament, we will find innumerable references to eating together, for this whole idea of hospitality is a constant throughout the history that the Bible records. If you heard or read our Thought for the Week ten days or so ago you may remember that I mentioned a series called Holy Habits, when we thought about generosity. And Eating Together is another of those Holy Habits, so if you ever worry about whether you are ‘holy enough’, take some comfort from the fact that just by eating together, with friends, family, strangers or fellow worshippers, you are adopting a holy habit – and feel good about it!

But what about that remark by Jesus about a cup of water. What did he say? If anyone gives even a cup of cold water, they would receive a righteous man’s reward. More importantly, Jesus was saying that those who speak and work in his name represent him, and their deeds would be his deeds. In this one statement he gives his newly- appointed disciples authority, but also duty and responsibility. They were being sent out to carry on the work that Jesus had started, work that he knew he couldn’t continue for ever, and so these ambassadors for Christ were being commissioned, in his name.

The cup of cold water, itself a minute gesture, is a symbol of Christ’s welcome to all; a minor act of kindness that can mean so much. And we have been seeing many acts of kindness during the last few months, neighbours helping neighbours, sharing of food through food banks, seamstresses making scrubs and masks for carers to use; generous acts, which might be small in themselves, but which have made such a difference to other people’s lives.

But, if hospitality, eating together, welcoming others, is such an important part of our witness, can something as apparently insignificant as a cup of water do the trick? Jesus is telling us, today’s disciples, that this small gesture takes on board the concept that what is given to one of his people (the little ones), is given to him. To welcome someone with even a cup of cold water is also to receive Christ, and to receive Christ is to receive God.

If we only read this morning’s passage from Matthew in isolation, there’s a danger that we might get the idea that Jesus is saying that the disciples should only share hospitality with other Christians, somehow fuelling the idea that the church is only a cosy club for the committed. Nothing can be further from the truth, and in much of Matthew’s Gospel we learn that Jesus talks about the duty to help everyone. In Chapter 25, for example, he explains that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome him; when we give food to the hungry, we are feeding him; when we give clothing, companionship, concern to the needy, whoever they may be, we are helping Christ himself. We need to take on board that sharing kindness with anyone, especially those who are among our society’s most vulnerable outcasts, is to welcome Jesus and thereby to welcome the Divine.

So, back to the Holy Habit: hospitality is an opportunity through which we can offer food or drink to anyone, to someone who might be in a situation completely remote from our experience; not just those we know and are comfortable with, but someone in a world that is beyond our limited understanding. That’s where the courage that the Church Times headlined comes in, the boldness to obey Christ’s commands to welcome strangers. Whenever hospitality reaches across into that unique relationship there is no more host and guest, them and us, insider or outsider; there is just this unique place where we listen to, and learn from, one another, valuing and honouring one another on the equal terms that Jesus offer each of us.

Now, as we try to get back to some sort of normality, even this so-called ‘new normal’, one of the things we must be looking forward to again is meeting up with others, – and meeting over a meal, or a drink, or just a sandwich is an easy way of getting to know each other better. Being able to offer hospitality again, even if it does mean that guests may have to bring their own cutlery(!), is just one way that we can share good news about being Christians in community, about following Jesus together, about being and growing disciples in obedience to him, through our Holy Habits.

Eat, drink, welcome, – and be holy!! Amen

Whom shall I fear

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 21 June 2020: Second Sunday after Trinity

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I wonder, what are the things that frighten you? Some people are afraid of the dark, others of creepy, crawly things, others of seemingly illogical inanimate objects, such as buttons or patterned carpets. Most of the time we can live with these fleeting moments of panic when we encounter these things, because our challenge is to put these ‘fears’ into perspective.

A few years ago, when I was sat 15,000 feet up in the air, with my legs dangling out of the door of a light aircraft, strapped to another human being whom I had only met about half an hour ago, relying on strips of canvas and silk panels to prevent me from plummeting to earth at speeds of up to 300 miles an hour, I was filled with a sense of fear for a brief moment, but logic told me I was in safe hands – this wasn’t my tandem partner’s first jump, everything had been checked and they knew what they were doing. Also, God knew what I was doing.

There is a great difference between being afraid of something and fearing something. The former keeps us alert and aware of actual or perceived dangers, the latter works on our mind and conscience to allow us to make choices to mitigate what we might be fearful of. This morning’s gospel therefore, continues Jesus’ message to his disciples of the challenges they will face in the coming days, weeks and years and reminds us of those same challenges that we face as disciples of Christ.

It starts though with a reminder that we don’t always have all the answers out of our own intelligence but need to emulate those considered to have a greater knowledge and understanding. I’m guessing though that the word that hits slap bang into our consciousness when we read the first verse is the word ‘slave’. We need to appreciate why Jesus should be so casual using this as an example. Here we have Jesus talking about slavery, which in this current time can be a divisive point of contention, and whilst not dismissing or condoning the abhorrent practice, we have to accept that slavery was just one circumstance of everyday life in Jesus’ time. Historically we have to acknowledge that this did happen and at the time was conventional, which is why Jesus is using it to highlight a disparity of power.

What Jesus appears to be saying is that until we gain knowledge there will always be those who have a position of power over us, but the good teacher passes on their learning in a way that empowers the student, the good employer seeks to build up their staff do the work to the best of their ability and both will inspire others to grow and even overtake them in knowledge and understanding.

However, the ‘head’ of a household in which there is abuse, deceit and sometimes evil will simply wish to subjugate those under their control and deny them a chance to find freedom from fear which stifles their growth. If they choose to condone and uphold this way of thinking that is their choice; and shamefully, we have to acknowledge that it is very difficult for those who do break out of these situations without becoming unjustly tainted with the broad brush of prejudice. Fear is often the thing that holds them in thrall.

‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. 

To understand who ‘them’ refers to, we have to go back to last week’s gospel, when Jesus was warning his disciples about the coming persecutions they were to face, when they would handed over to the authorities, flogged and denigrated, betrayed by those they loved, brother betraying brother. They were to endure all of these things in order to achieve salvation, but it would be a fearful, uncompromising, itinerant life, but one which would eventually reveal the truth.

Nearly all of the original disciples would pay the ultimate price of having their lives cut short as they died at the hands of those who misunderstood the message they shared, who felt their authority was being threatened, who did not have respect for the value of a human life.

However, it was their faith and their fear not of humans, but of God that enabled them to bear this. That leads us though to question why we should ‘fear’ God, who after all is the essence of love.

The Jews, were certainly aware of this need to fear God, but knowing this did not mean that they forgot about love or that it was the greatest thing, but that they were sure that in relation to God there was both fear and love. Listen to what the psalmist says,

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him’. Psalm 103:11-13

But we do not have to fear God in the way that we fear a tyrant or dictator, but it is a fear of awe and reverence and therefore provides us with the security that our souls and bodies will not be destroyed.

Neither the Jews nor Jesus ever attempted to sentimentalise the love of God; God is love, but God is also holiness. This reverent fear also brings reassurance for those who are willing to be disciples. From Proverbs (14:26-27), ‘Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death’. God’s omnipotent power over life and death is tempered with the amazing revelation of our worth to him. The knowledge that God doesn’t let a sparrow fall without his knowing, who knows every hair on our head and counts us as of more value than some birds that are sold in the marketplace two a penny, reassures us that God knows the temptations and dangers that we face in our life when we choose to acknowledge and follow God’s call to take his message into the world.

Just like Jesus was warning his disciples that they faced opposition and persecution, when we ‘preach’ the gospel either in our words or lives, we shouldn’t be surprised that our reception is not always met with enthusiasm. After all why should we expect a better reception than Jesus himself received? But fear of opposition should not be a reason to give up. We can feel afraid when we hear of fellow Christians suffering in many parts of the world, who are being persecuted for sharing their faith, but we can also uphold them in prayer. We can feel tension when we hear of divisions in families caused by firm stands on religious principles, but we can also pray for better understanding and a respectful peace.

Our fear of God should actually be an encouragement; to those that are faithful there is the ultimate divine reality of life, to those that deny it, there will be retribution. The fact is that our relationship and duty to Christ has to have priority over every other relationship, which sometimes means having to embrace a way of hardship, even of death.

As we proclaim in the words from Deuteronomy (10:12) ‘What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a challenge, but the weight of your personal cross will never be too heavy for you to bear, even if sometimes it can seem so. With God, our fear is based on the consequences should we fail to follow the teaching and guidance that he has given us through Jesus, and fail to trust that he has our back when we faced with dilemmas and situations that sometimes seem beyond our control.

For what are we to be afraid of? The darkness; when we can’t see a way forward? The unknown, when we don’t understand what’s happening? The loss of love, when we feel rejected? Within our darkness there is light, within our confusion, there is clarity, within our desolation there is comfort. Yet in all of these things we have one thing that we can hold onto with certainty, the love of God.

God is the ultimate person to be revered, God is the ultimate person to hold in awe, God is the ultimate person to trust with our lives. All others will fall short. When we choose to pick up the cross of Jesus, yes, we will be afraid from time to time, but ultimately it will be our fear of God that will secure the final victory over everything else.

Amen

Generous Giving

Preached by Revd Vicky Maunder on 14 June 2020: First Sunday after Trinity

Today is the Sunday we are focusing on the ‘Generous June’ initiative so I’m speaking about giving.

I’ve chosen to stand here by the Mother’s Union banner in church which shows Mary holding the baby Jesus. And I’ve put the crucifix from the lady chapel here too for you to see.

When we think about giving, we start with God. God’s nature is to give, generously, extravagantly, and persistently. Last week we celebrated the Trinity, that God is one God, three persons, a communion of love. And that shared love is self-giving, and it flows out from God to create the world and to bless it.

This banner reminds me of God’s generous giving. God gives the gift of life, that we are all blessed with. Here is the mother tenderly cradling her new child. God gives the gift of the beautiful world for us to enjoy. And God gives us the gift of Jesus, who comes to save us. Here we see the extent of God’s self-giving love, emptying himself of his divinity to be born as a helpless baby and dying on the cross to redeem us (Philippians 2:7-8). Such sacrificial giving for us. Paul in our Romans reading today reminds us that we don’t deserve such love, that we are sinners, yet God’s love and generosity are so great.

I was struck in these two images by how vulnerable Jesus is. Generous giving makes us vulnerable. We are offering ourselves to others and we are exposed. We are giving something of ourselves, our time, our talents and we might be rejected. And sometimes that might happen but more likely our generosity will make a difference to others and be life-giving.

In our gospel reading today Jesus sees how in need people are. They are harassed and helpless, like so many of us today, stressed and unsure how to respond to the tough challenges of life. He sees their need for God, their need for the comfort and hope that only God can offer. And he has compassion for them but there is so much need. So Jesus calls his disciples and he gives them authority and sends them out as partners in his work. They are to cure the sick and to proclaim the good news.

I wonder how the disciples felt? It’s quite early on in Jesus’ ministry and they have so much to learn and many needs themselves. I wonder if they feel anxious, unsure and vulnerable about being sent out. But Jesus believes in them.

‘You received without payment; give without payment’ he tells them, reminding them they have received so much from God; forgiveness, love, life and Jesus himself, all freely given to them in love and in response they are to give sacrificially to others.

God also calls us to this work. Like the disciples, we are forgiven, loved, blessed. And there is so much need. Perhaps we feel ill equipped and anxious. But we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and help us, as we respond to God’s generosity by trying to be people who give, generously and sacrificially of our money, our time and our talent to share some of that abundant love that God lavishes on us. And this is a journey. It takes practise. We don’t change our habits overnight. We take small steps at a time. But there is always more we can give as we journey deeper into faith and follow Jesus.

Every day we make lots of decision about how we are going to live. This week I encourage you to take some time to review and think about how you spend your money, your time and your gifts. Yes, it’s a strange time and we are not in the normal pattern of living we are used to but is there ever a good time? Faith asks us to take each day as sacred and to use it wisely as a gift from God.

So think about how you spend your money. What does it say about your priorities? You don’t need to be wealthy to be generous with money. Look at the story of the widow’s mite – she had very little, but she gave generously out of what she had. Could you give a proportion of your income to the church and to charities to enable the vital work that’s done, if you don’t already? Is there an element of sacrifice in that giving? Sacrificial giving has an impact on your lifestyle. Could you give more?

Think about how you spend your time and your talents. Could you do more to reach out to those who might be struggling? Are there members of the congregation you haven’t seen for ages who might be lonely? Could you give them a ring or send an e-mail or card to lift their spirits? Even if you don’t know them that well? When you reply to an e-mail could you spend a little longer writing it and add in an appreciative comment to show you value the other person? How could you share some of God’s generous love today and every day through the resources you have been given?

Amen.

Trinity Sunday 2020

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 7 June 2020: Trinity Sunday
2 Corinthians 13: 11-end / Matthew 28:16-20

May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Amen

Today marks the ‘Feast of the Holy Trinity’ when we celebrate the three in one relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus sent the disciples out to minister and evangelize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As brothers and sisters in Christ, charged with continuing the mission of Jesus – albeit in new ways due to current restrictions – St Paul’s farewell words to the people of Corinth should guide our lives. When we share the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit we follow in the footsteps of the early Christians and Jesus’ great commission.

God the Father, not only dwells with us through the gifting power of the Holy Spirit [celebrated last week at Pentecost] but extends an inclusive welcome through the love of Christ His Son. All are invited into the relationship of grace, mercy and love that has existed since Jesus and the Spirit were with God when the world was created. The co-equal relationship of the Trinity is not exclusive and inward-looking but inclusive and outward-looking, gathering in believers, seeking the lost and inviting everyone into a loving community of faith. We are welcomed at our Christian baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and at Christian funerals the departed are entrusted into the care of the Holy Trinity.

In our worship, forgiveness is granted and blessing made in the name of the Trinity. And in our worship, we praise the united Divinity through the ‘Glory be’ at the end of Psalms and the Gloria, as well as within the Creed and the Eucharistic Prayer. Today Vicky will introduce the Peace with a three-fold greeting that we will be invited to share.

Martyn Percy recently stated that: ‘Social distance between God and humanity is abolished in the Incarnation.’ [1] In this strange time of social-distancing personal relationships are struggling due to separation and we are physically isolated from community activities that nourish and enhance our lives. Many are lonely and especially miss gathering together to worship, pray and receive the Eucharist. How reassuring then that God is not just watching from a distance rather He desires to be with every single person.

It is through the unity of the Trinity, [revealed at the Annunciation, in the Incarnation and at Jesus’ baptism] that Christ desires to gather and support, to come near to and to be at one with us.

There is the well-known saying, “two’s company, three’s a crowd”. That may be so in a close one to one relationship where a third person is seeking inclusion and feeling excluded – but that is not so in the Trinity. Rather than being in a competitive relationship Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up a perfect united community and all God’s people are invited to know the freely given hope, joy and love of Christ and the strength and peace of His Spirit.

As Christians we are tasked with helping others become adopted children of the Heavenly Father. That will only happen when, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we display the inclusive love of the Trinity in our own actions. It is not in turning away from those we do not understand, or blaming God for tragedies, that will help usher in God’s Kingdom but by offering the welcome Jesus exampled and sent His disciples out to proclaim.

In the book: ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’[2] William Vanstone equated the Trinity to a family who allows each member to flourish – he described the Trinity as a community, seeking to extend their generous, never-failing, circle of love to those who are lost and unloved, including the rejected and the suffering.

Christian discipleship, how we relate to God, is defined by the Trinity. Christian life must be loving and inclusive because God in Trinity is loving and invites all; Christian life should be communal, transparent, humble and joyful, because God in Trinity is communal, transparent, humble and joyful. Within the community of the Trinity there’s no jealousy, no conflict, no disrespect. There’s no lying or hiding, and no blaming. Within the community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there’s just love: perfect love, perfect unity and open communication. The Holy Trinity reaches out to humankind with a peace beyond understanding. It is not for us to strive to make sense of the mystery of the threefold Godhead but rather we are called to enter into and accept the love that is offered.

Working in perfect unity God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not only looks outward to the world but engages and abides with us, and especially cares for those who so dearly need the courage, strength, care and compassion that ALL are invited to discover for themselves.

Jesus commissioned and sent out the disciples to share His message of good news in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let us follow that command knowing that He is with us ‘always to the very end of the age!’

Paul, in his farewell to the people of Corinth, gifted a ‘Three in One’ blessing of unending love and fellowship that sustained the early Christians. Today it can be for us a prayer of strength, comfort and affirmation:

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’

Amen


[1] https://modernchurch.org.uk/martyn-percy-a-plague-of-numbers

[2] Vanstone WH {1977} ‘’Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense” Darton, Longman and Todd

Pentecost 2020

Preached by Revd Vicky Maunder on 31 May 2020: Pentecost
Acts 2:1-13 / John 20:19-23

Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God at work in the world; God’s way of being with us and how we experience the presence of Christ.

As I reflect on the last couple of months the Holy Spirit has been at work in so many ways. Through the NHS staff and keyworkers who have selflessly put the needs of others above their own. They have gone to work and nursed the sick, stocked supermarket shelves, collected bins, taught children and buried loved ones. We see the Spirit at work in their selfless actions.

Through the Thursday evening NHS claps, where so many people across the country have shared in a spirit of love and thankfulness and appreciation. Through the local Coronavirus Support groups, where people in the local community have worked together to support those in need and to care for others.

Through the Food Bank box in my porch filling up with donations each week. Through the caring phone calls of the buddy system. Through the card pushed through my door this week that lifted my spirits.

God is at work in all these things through the Holy Spirit, speaking to us of his love, his goodness, his hope.

The Spirit is at work in me when I come to prayer full of anxiety and I’m given the gift of peace, when I read the Bible and I’m given a new understanding into my situation and my faith.

The Spirit was at work when a parishioner told me that the last days she spent with her father before he died recently were so precious and positive and she found she was given an inner strength to get through and to cope.

In all these ways the Holy Spirit is at work, making Christ present to us; through others, through scripture and the sacraments, through the created world and through our own lives, often in surprising ways and surprising places, bringing hope out of despair.

This continues to be such a difficult time, but God is at work all around us through the Spirit if we have eyes to see.

In our readings today we see how the Spirit empowers and transforms the disciples to do God’s work. In both readings they are dispirited, frightened, gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem looking back to when Jesus was with them. Then the spirit comes. In the Acts reading we are told the Spirit comes like the rush of a violent wind and in tongues of fire. In the Old Testament both wind and fire are associated with the presence of God so the writer is telling us this was an overwhelming experience of God’s presence for the disciples. And they are empowered; galvanized and equipped to continue Jesus’ work. The Spirit brings out gifts in them and enables them to do more than they could ever have believed. Peter is a fisherman; he is not educated but he stands up and preaches to the crowds. All the disciples are enabled to communicate with the diverse people around, and they tell of all God has done.

In the gospel reading Jesus breathes the Spirit on the disciples, a much more intimate experience, as he offers them peace and sends them out to do his work.

The Spirit is both immense and powerful but also intimate and peaceful. And the Spirit is given for a reason, to equip and empower God’s people to share the good news of God’s love in word and action.

Today our service ends a little differently. We will commit ourselves afresh to this calling in the power of the Spirit. The Easter Candle which was lit at Easter to celebrate Christ’s resurrection will be extinguished. We have celebrated Ascension Day. Jesus has returned to God the Father and now at Pentecost, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we carry on his work. Before we extinguish the Easter candle, we will light candles from it to symbolise how we now carry Christ’s light and take it to our needy world, empowered, equipped and sent by the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Limbo Sunday

Preached by Revd Peter Haughton on 24 May 2020: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Hello – and welcome to the sermon slot, though in this format perhaps it is more helpful to think of what I shall be sharing with you as ‘reflections’ or ‘musings’ or a sort of podcast rather than a sermon or homily.

This Sunday, the last of the Easter season, is, for me, a sort of “Limbo Sunday”, placed between the Feast of the Ascension that we had on Thursday and the Celebration of Pentecost next Sunday – it is a sort of nothing Sunday, a hanging around Sunday – but in spite of me seemingly devaluing it, maybe there are some things, some insights, that we might find helpful.  I call it a “limbo Sunday”; those of you with a more nautical turn of phrase might call it a “doldrums’” Sunday – from mariners, we have the phrase, and perhaps, their dread of, being stuck in the doldrums, that belt of ocean around the equator where it is often windless and, when wind was your sole means of propulsion, when you needed wind in your sails to get going, then being stuck in the doldrums might indeed be something you do dread and fear.

And so too with our current situation; we may well be coming out of lock-down; we may be able soon to meet once again face to face, to have that more intimate and personal  fellowship one with another, but for the moment we are still in limbo; we are still in the doldrums.

But perhaps this is to see it all from a rather negative perspective.  Sometimes waiting can be a helpful thing, a gift in itself.  In the scriptures, and elsewhere, we find a human longing arising in the waiting.   Might we find that in our current situation, our waiting may be productive?  What might God be saying to me in all of this? Or, if you don’t find that a helpful question, maybe you might wish to ask yourself, “How might I flourish, be more of myself through the gift of waiting”.   For our senior generation the notion of waiting with expectancy is familiar, whereas in the recent past our society has played down waiting in favour of instant gratification, of having everything now.  With this forced period of waiting, through lock-down, we can either feel trapped, stuck, in the doldrums or see it positively as a gift, a time for reflection, meditation, a time of preparation for what is to come. 

In a way, this Easter period in the Church’s year, these past 7 weeks, has encouraged us to explore what it might be like to be a Resurrection People, or if you prefer a Post-Resurrection People.  Now, we figuratively join those first twelve disciples in their 10 day wait for a further development, a further transformation of what it might be to be people who are empowered by God through the gift of the Holy Spirit, that the Church shall be celebrating next Sunday – that brought about a transformation in those first disciples from being disciples of Jesus to becoming apostles of the gospel – sent out to proclaim the Good News.

There has been much talk about what might be the “New normal” – how our society may be markedly different post-Covid-19.  And not only our secular society but also how we as a church might flourish and operate.  This period of enforced waiting may just be what is needed for us, as a church, to reflect, to pray, to plan for how we shall live out our faith, just as those first disciples did, waiting on God in an upper room, waiting to be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit; what it might be to have the wind put back into our sails so that we can venture out and set sail once more with a fresh purpose.

As our Collect today requests, “We beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where Christ has gone before”. Amen

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 17 May 2020: Sixth Sunday of Easter

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

I suspect all of us have at one point or another walked past a sign on a building or an object that said ‘Wet Paint. Do not touch’? I wonder, were you able to walk straight past it, or were you tempted to touch it a little bit – just to see if…? ‘No harm to try’, we might think, but if your fingertips or your hands came away covered in sticky paint, you would have to live with the consequences for some time and possibly be embarrassed and annoyed with yourself.

For logical reasons, most of us are happy to follow the instruction. We know that paint is a liquid that takes varying degrees of time to dry, we know that paint is very viscous and sticks to anything it comes into contact with, we know how hard it is to remove paint from our hands, our hair, our clothes, so we weigh up the risks and decide it’s better to obey the rules.

So what’s the difference between a rule and a commandment? Everyday life is filled with rules and commandments, none more so than at the moment as we look to find ways to control and eradicate the Coronavirus. The phrase, ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ sounded very much like a commandment (only couched in ‘government guidance only’ speak) and it was fairly easy to understand and obey, with the majority of people complying with the request). Now, as we attempt to restart our economy and everyday lives, we are given a different kind of edict. ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’.

Yes, there are still rules, but how those rules are applied it very much up to our own interpretation and common sense. Now that this is no longer sounding like a commandment, we are given the choice as to how we obey, and some people are finding this hard. Ways are being sought to ‘bend’ or interpret the rules in a way that gives personal advantage. People are asking, ‘Why can’t we just go back to doing exactly what we want to do’? ‘Why are other countries allowed to do certain things that we can’t’? Starting a shift away from the ‘we’ to the ‘me’.

Of course, not all rules make logical sense.  We’re still not allowed to meet up with our families from other households, yet we could now be employed by them as cleaners – as long as the vacuum is switched on at all times and the tins of Pledge are weighed before and after visits to check sufficient sprayage has been achieved!

But all of this misses the point. If we are to continue to love and care for our families and friends, for the vulnerable and disadvantaged within the wider community then we need to follow the rules, to obey the commandments.

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

There are 281 instances of the word ‘commandment’ in the bible. From the blessing of Abraham in Genesis, ‘Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’ through the ‘big ten’ commandments given to Moses (twice) in Exodus, the many commandments of what was required of the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness to the promised land given in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, to the rebellious disregard of God’s commandments in Chronicles and Kings.

Finally to Jesus’ reiteration of the value of God’s commandments, before his declaration that there were really just two commandments that mattered and which encompassed all of the others, ‘Love God with everything you’ve got and likewise, love your neighbour as yourself.’ In doing just this we shouldn’t find it that hard to follow the ‘rules’. If Jesus did it, then we should do it; if Jesus said it, then we should say it; if Jesus showed love, then we should show it.

Yet Jesus knew that following these commandments and the rules of everyday living was not going to be easy; but if the disciples and in turn, ourselves were prepared to show that our love for him meant that we were willing to do so, then we would not have to face the inevitable struggles alone. As he prepared to return to be with his Father in heaven, he would send someone in his place. Someone who would be a helper, a comforter, an advocate.  This person would be with them forever after and he would reveal the truth about Jesus, and about God to everyone who loves them and wants to know them.

The Spirit of truth, a sounding board when we are trying to work out what we should do or say, a conscience tester when we are indecisive about what the right thing to do is and who acts as a mediator when we find that we have made the wrong decisions and want to ask for forgiveness.; and a confidante when we were are struggling with our faith.

God know what each of us is dealing with in our lives. Whenever we feel confused or alone, we simply have to remember that we have been left the wise and comforting Holy Spirit, the third person of the indivisible Trinity… so clearly illustrated by this passage when Jesus declares, ‘I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you’.

The Spirit that abides with us and in us just as the Father and the Son do, ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. The Spirit that empowers us to respond rightly. As Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Holocaust survivor puts it, ‘Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

Whether they are rules or commandments, I believe that those rules are there to help us to be the best people we can be and that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom so that we can stay on the path that God has for us. Maybe by following those rules we will find peace and contentment. But even greater than this, it will be love that will bring us closer to God. It should be our love for him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that reveals to both us and the world around us the love that he has for all people who are willing to see him and know him. So, let’s all be patient for a little while longer.

Stay true
Reveal God’s Love
Save Lives

Amen

Good Shepherd

Sermon preached on 3 May 2020: Fourth Sunday of Easter by Carol Kidd
Psalm 23 / John 10:1-10

May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ our shepherd and our redeemer. Amen

Today is often known as Good Shepherd Sunday: as God’s word is opened and explored through the familiar words of Psalm 23, and the story Jesus told of the shepherd guarding his flock. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who calls us to listen to his voice. It is Jesus who says to all who are ready to hear and draw near: ‘I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness’ [John 10:10 GNT]. A promise of fullness of life – a message you and I, and the whole world need to hear at this time as our lives are affected in so many ways by restriction and isolation, anxiety and danger – but we jump ahead.

In the parable there are many images – for now let us stay with Jesus the shepherd and listening to his voice: The shepherd calls his sheep by name, goes ahead and the sheep follow because they know his voice. [10:3/4]. Sheep in the fields know their shepherd. In the bible the sheep run from a stranger’s voice, if your ever watch sheep in a field they scatter when chattering ramblers pass by, yet as the shepherd arrives there are many welcoming bleats of joy!

The mark of today’s shepherd is not a tea-towel style headdress and a crook but more likely to be the roar of a four-wheeled motorized off-road buggy ridden by a young person in jacket and jeans with their dog enjoying the ride, ready and eager to be at work. The sheep, young and old, run and follow anticipating feeding time for they know the ‘voice’ of the shepherd’s vehicle, the ‘voice’ of the whistle that calls to the dog, the ‘voice’ that is the bark of the sheep dog ready to gather them to be fed. They know the voice that will feed and care for them and when necessary lead them to safety.

Sheep follow the voice of their shepherd who is at the centre of their lives. At this time of pandemic, we need more than ever to keep Jesus, our Good Shepherd, central to all that we say and do and take time to listen to his voice and hear his good news for the world. As we struggle with being isolated from family and friends – from the flock with whom we share so much – statistics and desperately sad news fill our TV and computer screens and are fixed in our minds – and yet – if we take time to listen and hear the truth of Jesus’ good news we can find comfort.

Fear and anxiety are natural reactions when we are concerned for the well-being of those we love and for our own health. Psalm 23 reminds that the Lord is our shepherd who provides for our needs and gives us strength. Anxious and afraid of the Corona Virus – often referred to as an invisible evil – the psalmist’s prayer can be ours:

“even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me”

Ps 23:4 GNT

Jesus our redeemer will lead and shepherd us through the difficult times.

This life of ‘lock-down’ will not last for ever – a new ‘normality’ will evolve. It is through hearing and recognizing Jesus’ voice – by listening to him and hearing his call – that his gifts of goodness, blessing and unfailing love will be received and our fears and anxieties for the future be allayed.

It is a fact that many are experiencing loneliness of isolation and hunger and thirst for spiritual refreshment. For the psalmist it is God’s voice that leads him to rest in green pastures and leads him beside the quiet waters – on our daily exercise walks we can find our Lord calling to us through sounds of nature, in the beauty of springtime and in the hello’s of those who we pass by – observing social distancing does not mean we are to ignore and disregard others.

Jesus our Shepherd understands our fear of danger, of the virus robbing us of our freedom, stealing away our opportunities for contact with others and threatening our lives and the lives of those we love. We heard in the gospel story that when the sheep were threatened by thieves and robbers they were led to safety. As the sheep trusted the shepherd for protection so, in faith, we can put our trust in Jesus to be with us in times of danger and uncertainty. The current uncertain situation has robbed us of many things that we have taken for granted and we are having to find alternatives.

Through the challenge of closed churches different styles and forms of worship are evolving, Christians are exploring new ways of being together. Following the theme of the parable: Jesus our Shepherd encourages us to find new pasture. Going on ahead he calls us to follow, to share his message so others will hear and know in their own hearts his voice. As we face challenge and change it is by encircling all that we do and say in prayer, by making all our actions in Jesus’ name and for his sake, that others will want to be a part of his flock and know for themselves the joy of being blessed and held freely in his love.

We are Christ’s sheep. Even when like lost sheep we become doubtful, anxious and afraid the wonderful truth is that, if we will only listen to his voice, our Good Shepherd will always be our guide, guardian and rescuer everyday of our lives even to eternity! Jesus says: “I tell you the truth” [v1] “I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved” [v9]. To all who hear his voice, listen and follow in his way Jesus declares: “I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness” [John 10:10 GNT]

Let us pray:

May the truth of Jesus’ word dwell richly in our hearts that we may not only be comforted when we hear his voice but fully listen to his call, be ready to bring others to hear his message of salvation and follow as he leads all believers to a full life in this world and the next, Amen

Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

Sermon preached on 5 April 2020: Palm Sunday by Carol Kidd
Psalm 118 / Liturgy of the Palms Matthew 21:1-11

When we began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday little did we imagine that congregations would
be locked out of church buildings on Palm Sunday. As we remembered that we are but dust and to dust we shall return, we never expected to hear night after night news reports of the latest number of recorded deaths for each 24 hours. Lent study groups halted – truly our Lenten journey became far more of a time of wilderness than we ever imagined – of social distancing and self-isolation, of fear and anxiety as implications of Covid-19 moved from threat to reality.

Of course, there is great sadness that in 2020 we are unable to stand together in the churchyard raising high Palm Crosses to be blessed before hearing the Passion Gospel. Yet we must not forget that Holy Week is before us. We will not walk into church, following the choir, led by the processional cross singing the well-known chorus ‘All glory laud and honour to thee Redeemer King’. Importantly that does not mean that Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday have been cancelled. Through written liturgy, via social media, internet or phone – alone or in company with those with whom
we share our homes – it is essential that we strive to stay strong in faith ever walking with Jesus on his
journey to the Cross.

Singing, saying or even shouting ‘Hosanna’ is needed today, even more than ever, because the message of Easter – that Jesus truly is our Lord and Saviour – is God’s reply to the Palm Sunday cry that has echoed down the centuries: ‘Hosanna’: ‘Lord save us.’

All four gospels retell eye witness accounts of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the day a large crowd gathered to spread cloaks and branches on the road to welcome the man they had heard so much about: Jesus, the friend of fishermen, women and outcasts, the parable preacher, the miracle worker who not only healed but had just raised his friend Lazarus from death.

In Jerusalem each year at Passover, ‘Hosannas’ rang out in remembrance of freedom – freedom from oppression and slavery – as a call for God’s promised Messiah to come to redeem his people. In anticipation that the long-awaited Messiah had indeed come in the person of Jesus, the cry Hosanna became not only the hope of a saviour but a shout of triumph!

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

The same words from psalm 118, meaning ‘O Lord save us!’ that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, are used at every Eucharist in remembrance of his passion and resurrection. As we follow this service of Spiritual Communion how relevant then, that we share the psalmist’s cry of ‘Hosanna’: for Hosanna means ‘save now’: Save us now O God, save us from enemies, from suffering, from all that threatens even from death.

Today we are the people who cry to Jesus as our freedom is curtailed, human contact restricted, simple things we have taken for granted not available. Lord, save us and all your world from the pandemic and its consequences.

The crowds pinned their hopes on Jesus as the one who came to save, yet, we must never forget they soon turned against him and cried ‘Crucify!’ When Jesus did not act according to their desires, they chose Barabbas. We too are given a choice. To accept God’s invitation, or to decline because we are afraid of the trials and difficulties of discipleship. Jesus said following him would not be easy.

Circumstances threatening our lives, and of those we love, do challenge our faith. Cause us to cry out: ‘Lord save us!’ As in the words of the beautiful hymn ‘Lord Jesus, think on me’ we can ask for support when we are in pain and misery, for direction through darkness and perplexity.

The good news is we can be assured that he will hear us. Jesus is holding fast our past, present and future. He is the one who saves. There is no short cut to Easter from Palm Sunday – to walk with Christ means to follow his call, accept his gift of forgiveness – to hear his words of love as he washes the disciples’ feet – to watch and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane – and to wait at the foot of the Cross.

Today and throughout Holy Week let us pray for grace, guidance and strength for all God’s people throughout the world.
As we cry out ‘Jesus, save us!’ courage and hope will be ours. Good news can be seen in those who are working together in new ways to help society and individuals to cope as the pandemic continues. Although temporarily separated from worshipping together in person, we can communicate and share Jesus’ love through our actions, care and prayer. ‘For the foreseeable future’ has become a tag-line for the current crisis. As Christians let us keep our eyes fixed on being held in Jesus’ love – not just for the future we might think we are able to see or think we can predict – but even to eternity!

Though Palm Crosses have not been blessed and distributed, recalling the crowds greeting Jesus as the ‘Son of David’, their prophesied messiah – we too can welcome him again into our hearts and into our lives and gain strength for whatever path lies ahead.

The journey of Lent ends – a new journey begins.

In faith we can confidently declare ‘Hosanna’: ‘Jesus, save us.’

As the Easter story unfolds anew, we have the promise that his mercy endures for ever!

Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Amen.

Label Jars Not People

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 23 June 2019: First Sunday after Trinity
Luke 8:26-39 and Galatians 3:23-29

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Designer labels, fashion labels, medical labels, religious labels, personality labels – labels we give ourselves and labels that are given to us. The government asks me to label myself every time I fill in an official form – am I male or female, am I white or black or of a different hue, do I smoke, do I drink, or would I prefer not to answer.

Then there are the socially constructed labels, of rich, poor, educated, uneducated, gay, straight, old, fit, fat, attractive, funny, boring, vegetarian or vegan.

However, each answer that I give creates algorithms that are designed to place me in various boxes in order to qualify me, tax me or sell me something – and you wonder why you get those adverts pop up for Slimming World or Saga holidays, or have you sorted a funeral plan out yet… that was only after I had my ‘big’ birthday the other day!

But what it all boils down to defining who we really are the only label that should be relevant is that we are children of God, and every person on earth carries that label.

As we heard in Paul’s message to the Galatians: In God, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one. In baptism, we are all clothed in Christ. Only a couple of weeks ago, a member of our congregation, Sophie, was baptised, clothed in Christ and welcomed into the family of God and she may carry many labels throughout her life: student, dancer, musician, graduate, scientist, fashion model, firefighter… the possibilities are endless. But the most important label she will have is child of God. And I pray that every person who looks upon her will see that above all else.

The trouble is, and I don’t just mean for Sophie, but for all of us, people rarely see just that. Take for example the sight that greeted Jesus and his disciples as they stepped off of the boat in the country of the Gerasenes. No official welcome, but a dishevelled, vocal creature who is obviously mad… rubber stamp, mental health issues.

On the one level, yes he is naked, screaming and obviously suffering from a disturbance of the mind, but had he chosen to live among the ‘unclean dead’ as the fundamentalists would have seen it or was he driven away from society to take refuge in a place whose claim to humanity was a tenuous as his own? Either way, his life is lonely and pitiful.

But, unlike those who have labelled themselves as righteous, keepers of the law and created a world of rules and laws and labels, into which only certain people can fit in, the demoniac is under no illusion and the irony is that only the ‘mad’ man recognises who Jesus is.

Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’

Luke 8:30

When Jesus asks him, what is your name, there is a sense of calm and relief amongst the noisy shouting and dreadful back story as narrated. The question treats the man like a human being for the first time in goodness knows how long. and although he can’t remember what those who once loved him used to call him, Jesus’ question marks a turning point in the story and the man’s life, as he restores the human image to the man, as he is to restore it to the whole of humankind.

No wonder the law keepers were fearful and trembling. The ‘mad’ man was desperate enough to welcome change, however drastic, but these ‘sane’ people are comfortable with their illusion of life and did not want it challenged.

In the Galatians passage, Paul tells us without Christ, we are all in the condition that the demon-possessed man was. We were chained up, naked, living in a world of illusion and artifice, but now we can be ‘clothed’ with Christ, at peace and made whole again.

Why though were the people of Galatia writing to Paul, what labels were they still wearing, which ones did they need to cut off and discard? Apparently, another branch of Jesus followers had come to town with a different message than Paul. The Galatia church was primarily Gentiles, non-Jews. Paul believed that all people were to be welcomed without conditions. Welcome Jesus into your heart and off you go. However, these new preachers believed that the only path to Jesus was through Judaism, which required circumcision and adherence to Jewish laws. Two very different messages. What were the people of Galatia to think?

Paul replied that the law was a prison, and Jesus was the key that set humanity free. The law was in place to keep people in line until they could experience that faith that sets us free, the law that is written on our hearts to tell us right from wrong. And if anyone knew about the law being a prison, it’s Paul. In the name of the law, he had led stonings; murdered the followers of Jesus, instilled fear and drove people underground. He hunted and killed the followers of Jesus for living out their lives as God had called them to do, to live authentically in their identity as children of God.

In his prior life as a Pharisee, Paul saw people simply by their legal status: legal or illegal. If you were illegal, you were put in prison, banished, killed. They did not have humanity or identity. There was no grey area, no grace, no compassion. Just judgement and conviction.

After his conversion, Paul understood the damage being done by this way of thinking. He understood the importance of baptism, that the label of child of God is the most important label and the only one that mattered.

Following the Jewish laws was not necessary, following Jesus was. But it is much more difficult. The appealing aspect of the Jewish faith for so many was that it provided clear ethical directives. Follow the 613 rules about everything. From worship to clothing, to what to do if your neighbour’s ox falls into a ditch on a Tuesday or someone wearing a polyester blouse, then it was off with her head! Check things off the list and see that you are living properly.

Paul uses the word paidagogos, translated as ‘disciplinarian’. A paidagogos was the household slave charged with keeping the children under control. He was to a certain extent an educator – we get our word pedagogy from it. But he was mainly a custodian – a jailer, if you like – who ensured the children behaved properly wherever they were. The law was therefore like a babysitter, a guardian designed to keep people in line under the threat of God, but also under the threat of the death squads like Paul had ran.

Living in Christ was different though. Jesus was by all accounts a good and faithful Jew, but he began questioning these laws that didn’t match what his heart was telling him. The law said no healing on the sabbath. So, he was supposed to let someone suffer until the law said he could end that suffering?

Jesus saw what was underneath the outward appearance and behaviour of the man living in the tombs because love sees people differently. How then do we see people? When we label someone as homeless, that may well be an accurate description of their state of residency, but the label of homelessness reduces the entirety of someone’s being to one adjective that seems to overrule all others. A homeless person could be an artist, a cancer survivor, compassionate, or a comedian, but the label of homeless is all that they are seen as. Most certainly they are no longer seen as a child of God.

The person serving in a restaurant or shop, who can’t get our order right might be labelled stupid or lazy, but what if they are tired from having been up all night studying, grieving a death or breakdown in a relationship, or struggling with their finances and having to do multiple jobs. Most certainly they are not a child of God, if we give them an angry, exasperated glare.

To so many, we add our own preconceptions and judgments when we apply a label to them. As Muhammad Ali, the boxer, once said. ‘There is only one true religion, and that is the religion of the heart. God never named it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. Man gave the titles, and that’s what separates and divides us. My dream is to one day see a world that comes together to fight for one cause — the human cause…’

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, 
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

The human cause then is surely what the message of Jesus is all about? The human cause; ensuring that the hungry are fed and the lonely are visited and all people are able to live in peace and justice and love. Because the labels that we put on one another mean nothing compared to the label of child of God that surpasses all else. Love one another, do not pass judgement. Look at every person you meet first as a child of God, and then wonder if all those other labels really matter.

Amen