Sermons

38 posts

You are witnesses of these things

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 18 April 2021: Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19 / Luke 24:36b-48

Luke’s record in the final words of our Gospel this morning, as he describes Christ’s last appearance to his disciples before his Ascension.  This was no casual invitation for the disciples to take a passing interest in the fulfilment of the scriptures, the confirmation of ancient prophesies; no, this was an imperative – ‘you ARE witnesses of these things’.

And Luke repeats a reference to being witnesses in his account of the Acts of the Apostles, as we heard earlier. In that context, when Peter was speaking, it was an accusation rather than a simple fact or statement, for Peter was reminding his listeners that they had been witnesses to the crucifixion of the Author of Life, that they had all betrayed Jesus in effect by vicariously handing him over to Pilate, that they had been complicit, as witnesses, to choosing Christ’s life or death over that of a murderer.

But notice the change of pronoun – not you are witnesses, but we are witnesses – for Peter’s words were not just for those standing around the colonnade of the Temple’s outer wall, but for all believers who would be Christ’s disciples thereafter.  So, we are ‘cut in’ to Peter’s indictment, and also to the appeal to repent and turn to God.

Being a witness involves more than just hearing or seeing things; we need to be able to share our experiences, maybe under oath if in a court of law, but in any case, with confidence and an understanding of our responsibilities.   Yet, how often have we witnessed some event and declined to get involved.  We might  think ‘My testimony won’t make any difference anyway – other people were there and saw it – I don’t have time to fill in all the paperwork and, anyway, it doesn’t affect me’  But if we take that approach to our understanding of God and what Christ has done for us, then our silence will speak volumes about our faith – and our commitment to discipleship.

For we are those disciples who have come after Peter and the original group of Christ’s followers. We are the ones who have been charged by Jesus to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’, his Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. And that is the theme of the final Holy Habit that we will be exploring towards the end of this month.  The Holy Habits series is sub-titled ‘Missional Discipleship Resources for Churches’, and whereas we have been looking at the various Habits largely from a personal standpoint, the word ‘Missional’ tells us that as a church we have much to do if we are to honour Christ’s charge to us.

For, conversely, declining to give evidence, dodging opportunities to be recognised as a witness to Christ’s sacrifice for us, are sure-fire ways to put ourselves in the same position as Peter when he denied Christ in the temple courtyard.  If we are to ‘make disciples of all…’ then we have to be committed disciples ourselves, by trying to be like Jesus, and by living and breathing our faith.

Because witnessing is not optional: it’s not an intermittent activity of faith; it’s not something we can decide to do one day and then resolve to take the next day off; it’s constant. It’s a way of life; it’s who we are; and importantly it’s who other people expect us, as Christians, to be.

Being witnesses is one thing, because, in a way, all we have to do is to watch and hear; being a disciple needs more energy, more commitment, more activity, more guidance.  So where do we get the ‘tools’ for his particular calling?  Equally, how do we make resources available to others who we could help to become disciples?

Well, tune in to our final Holy Habit to find out more (that’s the trailer over!), but even now, we can look back to the establishment of the early church and think about the experiences that those first founding members witnessed.  In particular, and most dramatically, there were two significant events for them that we will be remembering over the next month: the Ascension, followed by Pentecost.,

Ascension reminds us that Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, news that they had personally witnessed.  Pentecost followed, when gifts from the Holy Spirit were offered, literally in languages that many could understand, which in reality meant in practical ways that many could understand.

We, who follow, have witnessed much in our spiritual and material lives and, as we continue to learn from the witness of those early Christians, we should be prepared to declare ourselves as today’s witnesses and disciples, and discharge Christ’s Great Commission. Amen

Faith and sacrifice

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 28 February 2021: Second Sunday of Lent

Romans 4:13-end/Mark 8:31-end

Lent is a time when we can reflect on our faith, and consider the obligation of sacrifice. And these are both key messages from this morning’s readings that sit together for they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, as we will explore, the one may depend upon the other. So, let’s look at faith, from as far back as Abraham, and sacrifice from Jesus’s teaching to his disciples.

Lent is an especially relevant time to consider these words, as we traditionally look on this period as a time of self-sacrifice for ourselves. But Jesus isn’t talking about giving up chocolate for Lent, rather he is starting to school the disciples into a much more fundamental and sharp-edged understanding of sacrifice – nothing less than life itself. Just hear again Christ’s words: “For those who want save their life will lose it, and those who want to lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

These words were spoken just after Jesus had forewarned his disciples about the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter to come, when he would be making the ultimate self-sacrifice, only to rise again for our salvation. Peter, typically Peter, immediately wanted to deny what Jesus was saying, he did not want to hear the plain truth that his teacher, his leader, his mentor, could come to face death, and Jesus had to turn on him, sharply, to get the record straight.

But let’s go back a few thousand years to the time of Abraham, when he, too, couldn’t really believe at first hearing what he was being told. If we had used the Old Testament reading set for this morning we should have heard how God wanted to make a covenant with Abraham; Paul, conveniently for us, raises this episode in his letter to the Romans which we did hear just now, as he illustrates that Abraham, like Peter, could not really understand what he was being told.

In particular Abraham had to swallow the idea that he, a broken old man of many, many years, and his barren wife of similar age, were to have a son who would be the forerunner of a royal family, the grandfather to the twelve tribes of Israel. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and both Paul and we know that God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled, but Abraham had no benefit of such hindsight, and had to accept or reject God’s plan on the basis of what he believed.

He had already made life-changing sacrifices in obedience to God, having left his own country, family and kinsmen, travelling thousands of miles into Egypt, and experiencing many examples of God’s generosity and salvation. So his decision to believe God was not a once for all, ‘flash in the pan’ affair but, on the basis of his journey both spiritual and material so far, he was able to establish and develop his undying faith in God.

The stories of Abraham, and the spiritual growth of Peter, serve to remind us that our faith is rooted in initiatives which God takes first to establish a relationship with humanity. The next actions are always up to us.

So – Peter. He was ‘Action Man’ amongst the twelve, but was also quite sensitive, so that if heard news that he didn’t understand, or didn’t agree with, he would often seem to open his mouth before engaging his brain. This could be frustrating for Jesus, as we heard this morning; it could also illustrate Peter’s vulnerability, as at the time of Transfiguration when he didn’t really know what to do or say. But behind Peter’s impetuosity was a search for the truth, laying bare the reality of what Jesus was saying or doing. So we, who come much later, should be grateful to Peter for clearing the air, as it were, maybe asking the questions that we would like to ask.

Peter’s outburst enabled Jesus to categorically underline what his own sacrifice would be for. Peter was guided to think of the divine rather than human purpose of our lives, and we should do the same, to understand the spiritual rather than the material meaning of our existence. Jesus’s message about sacrifice is simply written, – lose the earthly life you might try to save, gain the eternal life you would give to God.

Simply written, certainly, but that message can only truly be understood through faith, and so these two themes go hand in hand for us, as we journey through Lent. Our Holy Habits reflections during Lent and Easter will include aspects of sacrifice through giving, serving, and sharing, and we will be encouraged to be glad that we are given opportunities to live out our faith in that sacrificial way.

For beyond Holy Week lies the joy of Easter Day, the true outcome of Christ’s message to his disciples, then and now. Amen

The Wedding at Cana

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 24 January 2021: Third Sunday of Epiphany
John 2: vv.1-11

So: turning water into wine – magic or miracle?? Paul Daniels or David Blaine would have loved to know how to do that, to entertain their audience, and to enhance their skills as magicians. For magic tricks are, at root, some sleight of hand, illusion or other deception offered to dare anyone to see how they are done.

But Jesus was no magician, and deception was never part of his discipleship tool box. The miracles that he performed were not the result of some chicanery, or an attempt to entertain. Rather they were all designed to demonstrate the glory of God, so that those who were exploring and developing their relationship with him could begin understanding and building their faith.

This event at the wedding at Cana was said to be the first of these opportunities, and really kicked off the start of Jesus’s ministry. He had just been recruiting disciples – Andrew, Simon Peter, then Philip and Nathaniel, the first of the band of twelve that would loyally follow him for the next three years or so. The inference is that they may have been with him and his mother at the wedding feast, which would have included all the traditional and expected elements of a celebration – and outwith a lockdown I’m sure there were more than 30 of them there, which is why they ran out of wine so soon!

But Jesus did not see this as merely a gathering to celebrate a wedding, but more of a messianic banquet, providing him with opportunities for introducing the changes that his ministry would usher in. The coming of the Messiah, in the extant traditions of Judaism was expectant, looking forward to change, but – a new covenant with God, a new source of spiritual nourishment, a new vision of a liberated life in Christ? These were not the expectations of those who had waited so patiently (or not) for the arrival of a new ruler.

So, to the surprise of all who were at the wedding feast, this new wine was a sign of renewal; instead of the water for ablutions, representing the hollow rituals of Judaism, Jesus produced something quite different that was the sign of the new rich Gospel that he was about to share though his ministry.

This was Christ’s wake-up call to those who would pay attention. This was Jesus foretelling what only he knew at that time, that ‘when his hour was come’, to take the reference in verse 4, when his mission would be fulfilled, then he would provide the Wine and Bread of life, symbolised ever since in the Eucharist as we meet round his table each week.

So, far from being some magic sleight of hand, some weird provision of gallons and gallons of good wine for those who were already drunk, this was a clear promise that the New Covenant would be freely available for all who would believe, – with some to spare as well.

That Jesus chose a wedding feast for this first miracle is no random coincidence, for the intimate relationship with God that he offers to us can be likened to marriage vows, and the Gospels record many occasions when Jesus uses banquets as a way of demonstrating human and spiritual interactions. And the vision we heard from today’s reading of John’s Revelation further underpins this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ he writes, and goes on to uphold the worship of God, whose Son’s testimony will be the fulfilment of prophesy.

So, where does this leave us?? His new disciples, in witnessing the signs at the Cana wedding-feast, believed in Jesus in otherwise unlikely and inexplicable circumstances. Any particular life event can affect people in different ways; both suffering and prosperity can sap their faith if they turn inward on themselves and lose their vision of Christ. Yet the same experience, circumstance or event may prompt others to grow their faith, their relationship with Christ, ever deeper, and look for ways to uphold their worship with practical examples of Christian outreach and evangelism.

Holding to our faith, in the Christ who does provide for all who believe – and more, – should give us strength to face the unprecedented events of the Covid pandemic. Rather than become introverts, we should look out, and use Christ’s example to help others, not only for immediate results, but so that they may see the ongoing glory of God, and his gifts for us all. That is our challenge, to honour Christ’s command and share his Gospel by the way we overcome today’s undeniably alarming threats to humanity, globally as well as locally and nationally.    Amen

Past, present and future……?

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on the evening of 15 November 2020: Second Sunday before Advent
1 Kings 1:15-40 / Revelation 1:14-18

Evensong scripture readings for this Sunday all resonate with our current global situation, and so, together, highlights some parallels with the particular times we are in just now. 

Our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 1:15-40) is set around the struggle for the succession to King David, with rival camps for Adonijah and Solomon making a play for the throne.  The matter was settled by the word of the old King David, and so Solomon reigned.  In the USA at the moment confrontations for presidential power have been raging, and the future may well be a revelation yet to be seen.

Our New Testament extract (Revelation 1:14-18) is very much concerned with a future, too, as John tries to describe a world beyond the present, in the context of the Jewish understanding that time was divided into two ages – the present which was beyond redemption, and the future, the age to come, God’s golden age of peace, prosperity and righteousness that would vindicate the people’s right to be known as the people of God. Our present times, if not beyond redemption, are certainly experiences that we want to displace by a better age, and we must hope that all that is going on at present to overcome the Covid virus will prevail, so that a vision of a new age can be seen and realised.

And then we have Psalm 98:19-29, which focuses on the past, on God’s covenant with David, a scene-setter as it were for unhappy present times, and an entreaty for better times to come.

So, taking tonight’s scripture as a whole we are compelled to consider time, ages, eras, in terms of past, present and future.  At this time of the year we pause to look back, with All Souls, All Saints, and Remembrance etc.  Important as it is to remember with thanks and gratitude the saints, redeemers and guardians who have gone before, it is also vital that we can have visions of a future that is worth striving for.

Tom Wright, theologian, professor and a former Bishop of Durham, has written a book entitled ‘God and the Pandemic’, and earlier Brenda Holden had kindly offered to lead a reading and discussion group which would have effectively looked at the obvious question ‘Why does God let things like this happen?’  Sadly, the Covid restrictions themselves have prevented the group from forming, but that should not detract any of us from reading the book.

Early on, Wright takes us back to the pagan world of Greece and Rome, when thinkers and observers basically came from one of three categories: Stoics, who believed that everything was pre-destined, and couldn’t be changed; the Epicureans who believed that everything is random, so you couldn’t do anything more than put up with it; and the Platonists, who looked on present life as a shadow of reality, to be replaced by the destiny of a different world.

Any of these classical approaches may produce excuses for doing nothing, an inertia that, however, may be awoken to feed an increasingly common reaction today to find someone to blame.  The consequences of the pandemic produce any number of issues that could potentially be laid at someone’s door, but merely to find a scapegoat now for something that had happened in the past, cannot usefully contribute to providing solutions for the future.

Historians record the past, prophets look at the present, and visionaries see the future, and so, in the context of the pandemic, Tom Wright examines where we go from here.  He acknowledges that there is a place for lament, not just feeling sorry for ourselves, but understanding the nature of grief for what has happened, as part of love.  This is part of living through the present, which as Christians we should do in the context of talking about God in an increasingly secular society, trying to understand how Jesus acknowledges opposing views and attitudes.

And the crunch question for Tom Wright, and all of us, is ‘How do we recover?’  He looks at different imperatives, and considers possible initiatives and outcomes. Some are ‘no-brainers’ some are inevitable, and some will only succeed if everyone has a common sense of determination to make them work. 

We could sum up our response to that question in one word – ‘faith’ or perhaps ‘hope’, but either way faith anchors hope for us in the context of Christian teaching.  So, all that we learn, all that we believe, all that we can share with each other, should be used to uphold the fundamental desire to prevail as equal citizens of this world and God’s Kingdom, in homage to him, and with integrity as stewards of his gifts of creation to us.

A duty, a responsibility, of course, but understand that it is essential that we all make a positive response, however we can, to declare that God is with us, and has faith in us. So he is asking us, as Christ’s disciples, to respond faithfully, hopefully, confident in the future that John’s Revelation puts before us.

The Parable of the Talents

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 15 November 2020:  Second Sunday before Advent
Matthew 25:14-30 / 1Thessalonians 5;1-11

May I speak in the name of God, who by the power of the Holy Spirit calls us to build up and encourage each other, for Jesus sake: Amen

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour and the majesty; everything in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.

What beautiful words – praise to God – a doxology of wonder, worship and thanksgiving – a promise to give in return for what we have received and in gratitude for blessings yet to come:

All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you.

Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. We are responsible for using the resources and talents He so generously gives – never for personal power or our own acclaim but to give Him glory – and always following His command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Accountable for our actions, with free will to activate or leave dormant our individual gifts and talents, we are called to invest [to the best of our ability] our God given time and energy, talents, skills, finances and resources in ways that will further His kingdom until He returns.

Of equal worth in God’s sight, it is essential to respect that He endows us with different gifts so that together we might form the whole body of Christ. Accountability, equal worth, respect, endowment: are all necessary for trust and love to grow and to be fulfilled within any meaningful relationship. Couples in love desire to commit to each other and make life-long vows – All that I have I give to you, and all that I have I share with you. How true this is for all who seek a true relationship with Jesus.

So, what has all this to do with the Parable of Talents?

It is about our relationship with Jesus – the expectations that arise from His love for us – and how in love and respect for Him we must always be ready to account for the way we use the gifts He provides.

Both of today’s readings can help us to be diligent in the way we invest our God given talents as we prepare for Jesus’ promised return: Paul calls us to stay awake and encourage each other to keep the faith – and in so doing help to build God’s kingdom until He comes. The master expected his deposit to generate interest – we can increase the investment God has made in us by sharing the gospel message and by the way we live our lives.

Today’s parable is not about earning salvation – rather it is about judgement. The unfaithful servant buried his talent in a way that prevented himself [or anyone else] experiencing its value. He was judged lazy and worthless because he had wasted the opportunity to use his gift to profit God’s work and mission

Called to be faithful in waiting – and in that waiting to be active for Jesus’ sake – are we prepared for God’s question: What did you do with the talent, the gift, I gave to you?

Let us pray, by the grace of the Holy Spirit we might each be able to reply: Lord, I did not bury Your gift – to the best of my ability I have, through faith, strived to use all You have provided to follow Your call to live my life in service to others: encouraging them to be strong in hope and love, that Your kingdom may come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

For yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you, and of your own do we give you. Amen.

The Lord stood by me and gave me strength

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 18 October 2020: Feast Day of St Luke
2 Timothy 4:5-17/Luke 10:1-9

 May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ, our strength and our redeemer: Amen

Like St Paul, many find comfort through their Christian faith when circumstances or illness bring physical or spiritual darkness and pain. Certainly, that was true for me several years ago when in the midst of a critical illness, in the middle of a bad night, I recalled how as a child I used to listened out for the bidding in the Communion service: “Hear the words of comfort our Saviour Christ says to all who truly turn to him”

Paul repeatedly turned to Christ for comfort and strength – through illness, persecution and imprisonment. Paul’s second letter to Timothy expounds the importance of trust and companionship. Trusting in God, who is ever faithful, Paul shows how we can draw strength from each other, and find the boldness to proclaim the message of the Cross, always being ready to share the good news of the kingdom that all may come to believe. Through faith, we meet Jesus in those who accompany us through difficulties and dangers, and we are called to be that presence for others.

In prison, with Luke as his sole companion, Paul provides a true example of trusting in Jesus’ constant saving love, even when others fail and fall away. Today we give thanks for St Luke, who Paul called: the beloved physician. Legend says that Luke knew Mary, Jesus’ mother, and was one of the 70 sent out by Jesus – the 70 were instructed not to be distracted or delayed in their mission but to always ready with words of peace, commissioned to pray, ‘to heal the sick’ and proclaim ‘the kingdom of God is near’.

In Luke’s gospel signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom are discovered through the story of the Annunciation and Mary’s song of joy. Only Luke brings us shepherds hurrying to welcome the newborn king. Only Luke tells how Simeon recognised the long-awaited Messiah as he took 8day old Jesus in his arms. And Luke reveals the importance of accompanying, and being accompanied, through illness and danger as he provides the story of the paralysed man lowered through the roof by his friends and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As Christians, we too are called to share Christ’s peace in the way we act towards others, to offer prayers for healing, to share the kingdom message. In this time of unresolved tensions between nations, ongoing acts of unimaginable terrorism, many situations of discrimination, abuse, modern-day slavery, poverty and homelessness – as we encounter the consequences of a pandemic, for which there is still no cure – prayers for healing and wholeness are essential. Trusting Jesus as our compassionate companion, who is with us even in the midst of the anguish of illness and conflict, we can in confidence pray that we, and all who suffer, may know his healing love, comfort and peace – that can come through those who walk, sit and wait alongside in times of adversity and sickness.

Yes, prayers for healing can bring amazing, miraculous recoveries, but we must always remember that prayers are not magic formulas, and must always be offered in Jesus’ name.

We know that prayer does not always instantly overturn the nature of disease, illness or incapacity. Yet healing ministry can bring a sense of peace in the midst of anxiety, the confidence of knowing Jesus stands alongside and sends his Holy Spirit to bring comfort, hope and strength of body and mind.

Today’s Collect speaks of the ‘wholesome medicine of the gospel’. Luke’s gospel reveals Jesus’ promise that he will remember us as he comes into his kingdom, be with us in trouble and keep us in safety. Like Paul, we can pray for strength to cope with adversity, and the confidence to hand those struggles over to God. Healing and renewal may come in the here and now, or in the future that is known only by God. It is through our Christian faith that we can trust that, should suffering and illness lead to death – even so in death our prayers will be answered – for the healing peace of God is ever-present in His eternal kingdom and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

May we all know the comfort, and yes the joy of Jesus as our trusted companion, our beloved Saviour, that like Paul we can declare:

“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength”

Amen.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 13 September 2020:  Trinity 14
Matthew 18:21-35

“May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven” Amen

Peter asked: ‘Lord, how often should I forgive?

Jesus reminds that forgiveness is not a simple matter of calculation. Peter’s question, of how many times forgiveness should be offered before giving up, brings to mind today’s many victims of abuse and the relatives mourning loved ones murdered in the Manchester Arena bomb attack, not forgetting all affected by the atrocities that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement …. And – and – and…. for there are many examples of damaged lives, people who have been sinned against who cry to God [now in 2020] that very same question: ‘Lord, how often should I forgive?

The parable reminds us not to act like the unforgiving servant who failed to reciprocate the mercy he received from the king. As anger and impatience, bitterness and hatred, consumed him the penalty he had to bear was imprisonment, separation from family and friends, disgrace within the community.

Sometimes, before being able to forgive, there is a desire to know how compensation will come – a sense of forgiveness in return for meting out punishment. As Christians we are called to offer forgiveness in confidence that the final judgement lies with God.

Rather than hungering for revenge, the act of forgiving can begin to release the victim from the power of evil. Yet when forgiveness is offered the significance of sin and suffering is not lessened, and the need for evil doers to be called to account still remains.

Forgiving does NOT mean the perpetrator will escape punishment. Forgiveness does NOT deny that the wrongdoing ever happened, does not make cruelty and harm acceptable. In forgiving those who sin against us we are not condoning their actions, nor giving permission for their behaviour to continue.

The Bible repeatedly condemns the actions of sinners, we can read how perpetrators of evil, judged by God, are called to bear the consequences of their sins. Distressed by the servant’s behaviour the community in the parable reported all that had taken place. Forgiveness and justice should always go hand in hand. Reporting sinful action is essential in protecting against others becoming victims and to stop the cycle of sin.

It is hard, and courageous to forgive, prayer is essential especially if it is not safe to forgive face-to-face. Calling on God’s mercy and grace will provide strength for the task ahead. Heartfelt prayer that the perpetrator might come to realise the damage done – the hurt they have caused – repent of their wrongdoing and turn to Christ’s saving love [so that never again will anyone else experience suffering at their hands], is the very prayer that starts to set the victim free.                                                                

Forgiving brings release from being consumed by bitterness, resentment and anger – yet it is not easy and may take a long time and unlimited patience, even years, to reach the place of meaningful forgiveness. The unforgiving servant was punished: no repentance = no forgiveness. In comparison a victim who forgives from the depths of their heart can find freedom to begin to move on and face the future.

For Peter and the others, the road to Calvary stretched out ahead – for us the Cross is the reason we can be assured that our sins have been forgiven. In relationship with Christ victims can find release and yes, the truly repentant who open themselves to judgement by confessing their sins can find redemption.

Through accepting Jesus’ freely given gifts of forgiveness, mercy and love the forgiving are forgiven and the depravity of sin begins to be healed. Forgiveness is both costly and free. Through death on the Cross our heavenly King paid the highest possible price. To those who truly believe in His saving love the gift of forgiveness is freely given.

Christ calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven, in return let us offer our lives in His service that others may know that they too can find freedom in Him. Amen.

‘Who do you say that I am?’

Preached by Carol Kidd LLM on 23 August 2020:  Trinity 11
Matthew 16:13-20

May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; Amen

‘Who do you say that I am?’

This question marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. A pivotal opportunity for the disciples to show their allegiance. Reaching the brink of His final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus asked: ‘Who do you say that I am?’

In an answer revealed by God, Simon responds to the challenge; earns the name Peter and the keys of the kingdom. Jesus’ question is the same for each one of us today. So, how will we answer? Who do we say Jesus is, and will we let God’s Spirit speak through us and find a new purpose to our lives?

Jesus held no I.D, no Birth or Baptism Certificate, yet we can fathom His identity through the disciples’ experiences of hearing Him preach and the recollections of those who witnessed His healing miracles; some from whom he cast out demons even declared His name, and the few who were in the boat when He calmed the storm, and the thousands whose minds were fed through parables and beatitudes and whose bellies were filled with fish and loaves, showed signs of recognition.

Having heard Him speak of kingdom values, the disciples sense increasing opposition by the authorities, as Jesus’ popularity increased. In the hostile territory of Caesarea Philippi Jesus responds to being wrongly identified [as a prophet returned from the dead] with the direct question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon identifies and names Him as the long-awaited Messiah.

Shortly we will identify and name Jesus as our Lord in making the declaration: ‘The Lord is here – His Spirit is with us!’ And yet – and yet – who is the Lord who we proclaim? Are we ready to personally reply to Jesus’ question that is as much for us today as for the disciples over 2000 years ago?

Jesus asks us ‘Who do you say that I am?’

When we sense that God is calling us by name, it is the Holy Spirit that shapes our identity of who we are in Christ, the same Spirit as enabled Simon Peter to express the truth of Jesus’ identity, will fit us for discipleship in Jesus’ name and will help when we struggle to find answers on the journey of faith.

Jesus asks us to examine our own lives and answer His question.

It is one thing to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ when our lives are good, yet who do we say Jesus is at times of personal or national tragedy? As Covid rates and the number of desperate people crossing the Channel increase?

Who do we say Jesus is when we, or a loved one, receive a devastating diagnosis or when personal circumstances, even the darkness of mental ill health drags us down? When we are unable to attend church; or worship and prayer fail to provide the spiritual nourishment we seek?

When we invite Jesus into our lives, God’s Spirit will reveal the love, strength and hope that spring from a true relationship with Him, not just on Sundays or in the company of other Christians, but every day and even in the dark stretches of life’s journey.

Jesus knew Simon, as Peter, would face difficulties, fail Him by falling asleep at Gethsemane, even deny knowing Him – yet, trusted and blessed, Peter is given the keys to establish kingdom values, with the express message that, for the disciples, the time was not yet right to tell others the truth of Jesus’ identity.

Jesus asks: ‘Who do you say that I am?’

As Easter people, inspired by the Holy Spirit, now is the right time to tell the truth of Jesus’ identity and share, by example, the keys that help build His church and His kingdom: faith, love, obedience, prayer and witness! Jesus’ question marked a turning point in His ministry, provided a pivotal opportunity for the disciples to show their allegiance – so, in this strange time when worship is restricted and many churches remain closed, will we grasp the opportunity to seek ways and times to be outspoken like Peter in declaring Jesus is the Messiah, Lord and Saviour of the world?

When we take time to consider Jesus’ question and pray for God’s Spirit to speak through us, we can find a fresh purpose for our lives and discern new ways to share the gospel now and always. Amen.

Approach

Preached by Alan Jenkins on Sunday 16 August 2020: Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand a short stand-alone scripture reading without getting some idea of the background, the context, and we could do with a bit of help to ‘get it’ and appreciate the message.  So, in this morning’s Gospel, for instance, what was Jesus on about when he spoke about the dogs?  In the context of the woman’s request for help for her sick daughter it seems insulting, especially when we realise that ‘dog’ could mean a shameless and audacious woman, or a Jewish term of contempt to describe Gentiles, and in nearly every example of the use of the word it would come across as an insult.

But Greek scholars will tell us tell us that the word that Jesus originally used for dog was the diminutive that really described a lap-dog or pet, rather than some wild street dog, and so the way in which Jesus spoke takes the sting out of a narrative that might be otherwise difficult to comprehend.  Jesus’s use of everyday expressions with colloquial meanings or definitions, acknowledged the language of the time, by comparing ‘children’ as the Jews, with ‘dogs’ as Gentiles, and this of course in a Gentile territory.

The whole conversation between Jesus and the woman raises a number of implications, with the woman actually daring to stand her ground, an action which earned her the mantle of faith so that her daughter could be healed.  And Jesus acknowledged that the children must be fed first, but conceded that there would be food for the pets, for others still to come.

And so it is with the Gospel:  Israel, or God’s chosen ones, might have had the first offer of its good news and teaching but Jesus always acknowledged the needs of others.  He went out of his way to deal with minorities, to meet with others who did not have acceptance within the contemporary society, he ate with sinners, he touched the unclean, both ritually and medically.  In all his ministry, teaching and healing, Jesus made himself available to all, encouraging debate and argument from different traditions and viewpoints.

So this encounter, with its face-value repartee and unexpected language, upholds emotions of gratitude, equality, inclusiveness and opportunism, and teaches us that all can approach Jesus.

That is the underlying theme we can take from this account, – being able to approach Jesus, and the woman in the Gospel story was certainly able to do that, and ready to stand her ground in her conversation with Jesus.  Today, approaching Jesus, having a dialogue or conversation with him, is always available through prayer, and this week’s Collect encourages us to have confidence that our prayers will be heard.  One version of the Collect reminds us that Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, and that is a lesson that we, too, should learn, as we turn to him amid the troubles of our present times.

So the Gospels tell us that prayer provides us with foundation for our ministry of outreach today, – to share that Gospel message with all who would ask for it, all who would even ask for the crumbs.

We have this as our duty as a witnessing community of faith in our neighbourhood, and in the world. We are members of the body of Christ, who are welcoming to others and prepared to share what we have.  And our prayer life, our ability to speak to Jesus, is an important preparation for our ongoing mission as heralds for Christ.  Amen

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

“Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father!”

Preached by Carol Kidd on 16 June 2019: Trinity Sunday
Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

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

Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father!

A thanksgiving to God for forgiving and freeing us from our sins. Words that in our liturgy follow prayer to the God of love and power to heal and strengthen us by his Spirit, and raise us to new life in Christ.

Trinity Sunday is set aside in the church calendar as a time to celebrate and give praise and glory to God: Father, Son and Spirit each unique yet equal, working in unity.

We have been greeted in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, soon we will be invited to declare our faith in the triune God in the words of the Creed, and at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer the Trinity will be praised for:

“Through Christ, and with Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory are yours, O loving Father, for ever and ever, Amen”

As Christians we will encounter, question and wonder about various Holy Mysteries as we deepen our understanding of God. It is not necessary to be experts in theology and doctrine or to know for certain everything about God, for having hope in what we do not yet fully understand is part of the journey of faith.

Jesus, as his trial and crucifixion drew near, understood it was all too much for the disciples to understand, the time would come when it would make sense and they would form new communities in his name.

As Easter people we are part of the world-wide Christian community who hold fast in faith to the everlasting hope that God has given because, as Paul explained, the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts which will surely help us to bear all things.

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 the structure of the Trinity. Rather than being in a competitive relationship Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up a perfect united, inclusive community.

I wonder how many communities are represented here? Many of us belong to several communities. Here we are part of the church community. We also belong to communities where we live or work and various groups or clubs where we claim membership.

Relational communities exist through unity in diversity where all who wish to be a part can find a sense of belonging despite differences. An important part of the Collation Service on 25 June will be the opportunity for representatives from different community groups to introduce themselves to Rev’d Vicky. Some will be people who we will recognise, others may never have been in St James’ Church before. What is important is the invitation and the response, a time for relation building as here in West End we welcome our new Vicar whose responsibility is relational to all who live in this parish not just those of us who attend services.

The whole of Christian life, how we relate to God, is defined by the Trinity and determined by God’s invitation through his Son and by his Spirit and how we respond to his call.

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 communication.

As a church we need to ask how we can move towards a greater expression and experience of community following the example of the Trinity. To do so we need to consider how we think of the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity: God the Father is the creator and sustainer of all things, God the Son redeems, restores and reconciles all that is broken, the Holy Spirit empowers, comforts, guides and inspires revealing the Father and the Son’s quest for loving renewal.

It would be wrong to dismember the Trinity. If we only speak of God’s concern for creation, it can leave God powerful but remote. If we focus only on God as Christ the Redeemer we rightly speak of his salvation, healing and forgiveness; but the danger is that we lose sight of the larger picture that God blesses not only individuals or groups who praise his name, but also that God wishes to bless and draw to himself all communities and indeed the whole world. And if we focus solely on the effects of the Holy Spirit by which God’s grace is shared and our lives are filled with inspiration as God’s love is revealed, then we risk forgetting that God as Trinity reminds us that creation, redemption and renewal belong together!

God as Trinity demonstrates and teaches us that in order to build bridges between the wider community and the community of faith evangelism, prayer and contemplation belong together. The very nature of our Triune God calls us to live lives of mutual care, giving and receiving.

If God is a community of ‘persons’, then we too are called to the community-building task – and the nurture of family, friendships, communities of faith, partnerships in the workplace and hospitality in our neighbourhoods is the creative and demanding task to which all are invited.

Charles Ringma (contemplative and spiritual writer)

The Trinity can be understood as an Icon of what it means to be community. God invites us to be community-builders. God the Father desires that we offer a loving, diverse, fully inclusive welcome in his name in this place and beyond. God the Son desires that all are invited to share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist or a blessing and to enter into relationship with him. God the Spirit desires that by his strength the love of the Father and the Son will be known throughout the world.

This Sunday and every Sunday, today and every day, may we boldly seek to reflect the wonder of the Trinity, to strive to be the community we are called to emulate and give praise and thanks to God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father! Amen

Dorcas and the gift of resurrection

Preached by Brenda Holden on 12 May 2019: 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-end, John 10:22-30

Getting to know people is one of the delights of being human. People’s lives are never ordinary – everyone has a unique contribution to make in the great scheme of the God’s Kingdom.

What we heard this morning was the story of Tabitha, whose name in Greek was Dorcas. Dorcas had died and the mystery is why this miraculous healing was recorded by Luke in such detail.

Dorcas, when she was alive, had been a special disciple in the church in Joppa. She had developed a charitable ministry among women of the town especially widows. In those days widows were prey to severe financial problems with no social security benefits being available. There was the suggestion by one writer that she organised the prototype of a clothing club that was later found in other early churches. There appears to be no doubt that she was well thought of by the women who had gathered as mourners around her death bed.

It was known that Peter was in Lydda, not far from Joppa and he was sent for in the hope that he could do something as he was a well-known leader of the Early Church. Peter appears to have dropped everything and returned with Dorcas’ friends. Part of the mystery for us is that Dorcas wasn’t the only member of the early church to die, so why did Peter respond immediately?

The account of what happened when Peter arrived at Dorcas’ home has an uncanny resemblance to Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter. Dorcas’ body was in an upper room of the house and Peter excluded the mourners from the scene. He then knelt and prayed before taking her hand and telling her to get up once she had opened her eyes. What we hear is a story of a resurrection as Dorcas is brought back to life.

This miracle is a demonstration of the power of God working through Peter. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had empowered him and the other disciples. This is possibly the resolution to the mystery of why this story is included in the Acts of the Apostles. If you remember, last week in our Gospel reading we heard the risen Jesus conferring this authority on Peter following the breakfast on the beach. After three times when Peter said that he loved Jesus, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, in other words, to care for his flock and this is what Peter was doing in the story this morning.

Dorcas was an unsung heroine in her community. She could be described as the beating heart of God’s Kingdom. We can imagine that her risen self just got on with God’s work to the glory of God.

Today is the start of Christian Aid Week 2019 and this year they are focussing on the work in Sierra Leone in Africa. Christian Aid is well known for its support when disasters happen. What is less well known is the work they do with long term community development programmes in many of the poorer regions of the world. For decades Christian Aid has been on the ground developing sustainable income-generating projects and health education programmes with many of those being led by women- women like Dorcas working within their own communities. Christian Aid have released a video about a lady in Sierra Leone called Tenneh who uses her midwifery skills to encourage health education and support for pregnant women to increase the safety of both mothers and their babies at the time of childbirth. The work of Christian Aid can bring resurrection to parts of the world where there is little hope.

Dorcas in many shapes and forms abound within church families around the world – their ministry attracts us to the small-scale deeds at the heart of the Kingdom. God pays attention to and values ministry in all its forms – apparently ordinary people are not ordinary to God!

It is fitting that the lectionary gave me the resurrection of Dorcas for my final sermon. I had expected to finish my 20 years of preaching with my homily at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. God, working through Linda, however, had other ideas. He didn’t want to leave me there, just as he didn’t want to leave his first disciples in a dark place. God wants us all to experience resurrection – the hope and love that it brings into our lives. My resurrection will be similar to Dorcas’ as she returned to her prayerful worship, her creativity and her friendships – that is very similar to the journey I hope to take in the coming years.

We none of us know what the future holds as we listen to the call of the Risen Lord. However, we can be sure that Resurrection will happen – it is a wonderful and mysterious gift for all of us who profess and live our Christian faith.

The light of Christ is strong, life-giving, healing, leading and redeeming

Preached by Carol Kidd on 20 April 2019: Easter Vigil

We began this evening in darkness before gathering around an ordinary fire which through blessing became sacred and provided the momentum for our return into the church building. Fire plays such an important part in the history of humankind. For wandering tribes, hot ashes were carried as smouldering fire; when they stopped they kindled it, and afterwards they shared a meal; they warmed themselves and around the fire made their home.

As humankind evolved, primitive round huts had a central space for the fire used for cooking, heating and for providing light. In the wilderness desert Moses was drawn to speak with Yahweh by the amazing spectacle of the burning bush. His Lord heard his people’s cry for food, provided manna and sent a pillar of fire to guide them by day and protect them by night. Jesus lit a fire on the shore at daybreak to guide his disciples that they might return to him and be nourished, fed and prepared for the task ahead.

Fire to attract attention, fire associated with gathering people together in unity. Fire is a great provider: it is necessary for preparing food to satisfy our physical hunger, flames are associated with candles used in our spiritual lives, and of course tongues of flames appeared at the coming of the Holy Spirit.

This Holy Saturday we have gathered around while the fire was blessed, and followed the light taken from the blaze as we walked behind the sacred flame which lit the way as our steps trod in the light of the new Paschal Candle from which our individual candles sprang to life. Soon we will come to the Eucharistic banquet at the centre of our worship – the sacred meal that is for all who wish to come, taste and see.

We are invited to receive the elements of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacraments of bread and wine that are to us Jesus’ body and blood, prepared as he instructed in remembrance that he lived and died and rose again, to take away not just our sin but the sins of all the world.

Jesus came to be an eternal flame always in our midst, a fire at the centre of our lives, bringing light for dark times, filling us with the warmth of his Holy Spirit dwelling within. Out of darkness he came with his most marvelous light. From the darkness of death itself he came, and he is life itself to us. To those of us who have often found ourselves bruised and weary from day to day living, he brings light and new life. He came of his infinite love to gather our complicated lives for himself, and to give them back to us newly refreshed and restored. In his light all human life and love become immortal, undying and enduring, because Jesus Christ our Lord has vanquished death – and death being vanquished, what other evil can we ever really fear?

The feast of Easter is above all things a feast of hope and of courage. Christ the victor, risen from the dead, is a conqueror of death. The journey ends not in death, but life. Indeed our Christian journey has no ending if we think of death as the door to new life – with the light of Christ close at hand, we find he has taken the horror out of death, and if we invite him in we must be prepared to carry his light, not just into the midst of the people but also out into the world.

Are we ready to share Christ’s resurrection light? His message of good news?

Maybe we still – quite naturally for we are only human – have times when we are not quite sure what it all means and, like the women and Peter that very first Easter morning and Thomas at his first encounter with his risen Lord, we can find ourselves wondering about what really happened, trying to piece together the mystery of the resurrection.

Luke’s version of the story places Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna as the bearers of the light of God as they tell others the great news. Interestingly they do not appear frightened at the beginning of the story. They saw the stone rolled away and went in. When they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus yet they did not hesitate; they only expressed fear at the dazzling appearance of the two messengers. Frightened by the presence of the two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening, the women heard the resurrection message: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here he has risen!’

It is in the light of the knowledge of the resurrection that we come to understand that God has promised that he will grant us the greatness to start again if at first we fail. Out of darkness to us who so often live in darkness, he still comes with his marvelous light. He desires for us to do as the women did and tell others, even if at first we find that those we speak to about our faith seem to treat our testimony as nonsense. We are called to share the wonderful Easter message so others will wonder what truly happened, seek answers and come to know Jesus for themselves.

Life is triumphant. Life is eternal. The light Jesus brings will never from this time be extinguished and the life he brings us shall never die. The old are new, the new are old on Easter Day. In declaring Christ is risen indeed we preach the resurrection and join with Christians world-wide in celebrating not a dead hero but a living Saviour!

Alleluia  Amen

At the foot of the Cross

Preached by Brenda Holden on 19 April 2019: Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13 – 53: end;  Passion reading from John

Today, Good Friday, we have reached the climax of the Passion narrative. We have arrived at Golgotha and we stand once again with those gathered at the foot of the cross bearing Jesus. We stand in the crowd alongside the Roman soldiers, representatives of the Jewish religious leaders and a selection of Jesus’ followers and family.

Jesus has been lifted up. Isaiah’s prophecy saw this as Jesus being exalted. This is the enthronement of the King of the Jews which was acknowledged by the inscription above Jesus’ head. Pilate had insisted that the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek for all to see and understand. Pilate may have been coerced by the mob against his better judgement into allowing a sentence of crucifixion to be passed, but Pilate had the last word. He wanted all the nations represented at the crucifixion to understand that what was happening was a sacrificial death of their King. Pilate felt that this death was an injustice – Jesus was stricken down for the transgressions of his people.

At the foot of the cross we see the soldiers having done what they were trained to do. For them it was just one more crucifixion of a criminal according to Roman law. They had done their dreadful deed and they were having to stay around on duty until they received their next command. In order to pass the time they sorted through the clothes to share them out, but the seamless tunic was too good to tear up for cloth so they cast lots for the garment. They had several hours of potential boredom ahead of them waiting for the criminals to die – their job was to prevent friends coming and taking the person down in order to save their life before it was too late.

The following day was a special day of Preparation for the Jews and being sensitive to the wishes of the Jews and to prevent any unrest they were given instructions from Pilate to hasten the death of the criminals by breaking their legs so that the bodies could be removed before the solemn sabbath. When the soldiers came to Jesus they discovered that Jesus was already dead – when they pierced his side with a spear blood and water emerged.

We are not told that representatives of the Jewish religious authorities were present. However, in the circumstances, with such a high profile crucifixion that had been orchestrated by themselves when they forced the hand of Pilate,  it would have been surprising if they were not there to check that their demands had been fully carried out.

Of Jesus’ disciples only one was present at the foot of the cross, the ‘beloved disciple’, who was thought to be John. We are not told where the rest of Jesus’ close male friends were – we can imagine that they were overcome with fear and were hiding away out of sight of the authorities to avoid arrest. Alongside John were Jesus’ mother and several women followers including Mary Magdalene, the forgiven sinner. They were probably as fearful as the other disciples, but they wanted to be there to support Jesus through his ordeal – perhaps they also didn’t want the authorities taking charge of Jesus’ dead body.

John’s Gospel deliberately mentions episodes not found in the other gospels. One of these is Jesus’ words to his mother and the beloved disciple – words that would bring comfort and support to both of them in the future. To his mother, Jesus said. ‘Woman, here is your son’ and to John he said, ‘Here is your mother’. 

The arrangement between John and Mary would not be legally binding but they could be united in their deep love of Jesus and in their shock and grief. The significance of this event was that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we who believe are bound together as one new family united by the cross.

Those present at the foot of the cross were witnesses to Jesus’ final words after having moistened his dry mouth with the soured wine delivered to him on a sponge attached to a twig of hyssop.

Jesus’ triumphal words ‘It is finished’ were not to be whispered. Jesus wanted all those present to hear clearly that the job that His Father had given him had been completed. It was not a cry of defeat or despair. Jesus’ sacrifice – his vocation was completed – he had offered to His Father on behalf of the world a life of perfect love and obedience. 

As we stand at the foot of the cross we may wonder why the day that Christ died is called Good Friday. John’s Gospel shows us that Christ’s death is a victory and the seeds of new life would come from the cross. We need to be still in the presence of the cross today to appreciate the true significance of Good Friday.

Under Pressure

Preached by Brenda Holden on 17 March 2019: Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13 31-end

Time was running out for both Abram and Jesus in our two Bible readings this morning. The clock was ticking as they were both aware of the end of their journey of life. They both felt under pressure from their commitments with God. The covenant relationships that they had both entered into with God at the start of their journeys had reached a critical phase.

Abram, yet to be re-named Abraham, had felt compelled under pressure to take matters into his own hands to produce an heir in order to fulfil God’s promise that he would be the father of the nation. Unfortunately, his fathering of a son with Hagar, a slave in his household, caused tremendous hurt within his home for his wife, who was at that time child-less, and all those involved. As observers we could have told Abram that things would go pear-shaped if he took matters into his own hands.

Under pressure Abram had not trusted enough in the covenant relationship he had with God. Abram was getting old, he felt that God was being too laid back. God was leaving things too long for Abram’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars in the sky!

Up until this point in the story Abram had listened when God spoke. It had been very much a one-sided conversation. Perhaps Abram felt over-awed by the fact that he had been chosen by God. Under pressure Abram broke his silence and an outburst of frustration exploded from him.

Abram pointed out that he had done everything that God had asked of him. He had kept his side of the covenant. He and Sarah had left their home in Ur and started on the journey that God told them to take. God was yet to fulfil his promise and this made Abram angry and disappointed. God was made fully aware of his feelings!

God accepted Abrams bold outburst – this showed God that Abram was worthy of the role that he had been given. The time had come for the covenant to be re-enforced by a ritual. To us the ritual seems a bit horrific.

Imagine for a moment the scene – Abram brings a 3 year old heifer, a 3 year old female goat, a ram of 3 years old plus a turtle dove and a young pigeon. He then proceeds under instruction to cut the heifer, the goat and the ram in half – a bloody scene reminiscent of a slaughter house – not a place for the squeamish! He didn’t bother cutting the birds in half.
Splitting the animals in two in that way suggested that Abram and God were equal members taking part in the covenant. An exhausted Abram must have had a full-time job keeping the birds of prey away from the carcasses until God arrived when it was dark with the smoking pot and flaming torch which were passed between each of the bodies to seal the covenantal relationship.  

Abram was left in no doubt that God was fully committed to their covenantal relationship.

God’s commitment extended from that time onwards. The relationship with the nation from Abram’s offspring was still in existence through the test of time until it was necessary for God to send His Son to once again display His commitment to His people.

In our Gospel reading Jesus was seriously under pressure. We are surprised to hear that some friendly Pharisees came to warn him that Herod was out to get him.  It makes us realise that not all the Pharisees were the bad guys that they have been painted with the pens of the gospel writers.

Jesus knew exactly what the situation was – his reference to Herod as a fox speaks volumes. Under pressure Jesus reflects on the innocent blood that has been shed within Jerusalem’s city walls. He laments for the city of Jerusalem in the knowledge that it will be the place of his own sacrificial death in the not too distant future. However, Jesus keeps calm under pressure and continues calmly along his journey until the time is right for the showdown in Jerusalem in Holy Week.

He gives us the memorable image of himself as the mother hen protecting his followers, the chicks under his wings. Hens will endure all manner of hurt in order to protect their chicks. This image encourages us to place our trust and hope in him in the same way that Abram under pressure would put his trust in God the Father.

What we have seen in our readings today is the importance of our relationship with God in giving us a firm foundation and protection in our lives when we pass through periods of difficulties, doubt and pressure.  

We have to remember that God is always there for us!  Amen

Annual Servicing

Preached by Brenda Holden on 6 March 2019: Ash Wednesday  
Isaiah 58:1-12,  Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

We are all familiar with the need for an annual service for our cars and our central heating boilers if we have them. The annual service ensures that these items run smoothly, efficiently and safely. Lent is an opportunity for us to perform and annual service on our bodies and spirits and today, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent it can be the start of our programme to get our lives back into a good running order.

The word Lent is from an Old English word for spring and this year with Easter on 21 April we are already in springtime. The next 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, not including the Sundays, we remember the time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and how he learnt to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

In former times, before the industrial revolution, spring was a time when fresh food was in short supply. The cupboards that had been stocked by the previous year’s harvest were becoming bare. It made sense for the Church to use these weeks to encourage fasting and to link the bodily fast with a time of spiritual self-discipline in preparation for the celebrations of Easter. In those days the annual servicing of the members of the congregations through fasting and prayer fitted very neatly with the availability of resources.

Fasting and spiritual self-discipline do not  fit as neatly into our present situation.  Some people choose to abstain from luxuries like chocolate for Lent. My father’s mother had a good take on that one. She indulged herself with chocolate on Sunday afternoons having been to church in the morning because, as she said, Sundays are not part of Lent. She probably ate more chocolate on that one afternoon than she would normally have had in a whole week!

We now live in a part of the world where we have food in abundance. We are overwhelmed with choice and we expect all varieties of foods to be available matter what the season. What we have enjoyed may change if there are problems in trading with foreign countries and hold-ups at ports in the future.

The over-abundance of food has seriously impacted on the health and well-being of our population and those in other prosperous countries of the world. Our nation was probably its fittest in a bodily sense when there was rationing during and after the last war. When we observe the weekly rations allowed to families it was a form of fasting for every week of the year.

Today, we need more than ever an ‘annual service’ of our bodies and our spirits. In many ways it is less about restraining from luxurious indulgences and more about looking for ways to re-kindle our relationship with God and developing good habits over the coming weeks of Lent that can be sustained throughout the rest of the year.

During Lent we will see the ‘penitential purple’ displayed on the altar frontals and in the vestments worn by the priests. Additional penitence in our Eucharistic worship is acknowledged by omitting the Gloria and Alleluias. Also our hymns and psalms during Lent lean towards the more solemn.

This evening at the start of Lent we are invited to receive the mark of a cross on our foreheads. The ash having been made by Doug from last year’s Palm Crosses that have been burned and mixed with a little olive oil.

These outward symbols and actions are part of the annual service for our church community, but we also need to make a personal commitment through prayer and study in order to be reminded that true happiness comes from knowing that God loves us. Our true vocation as practising Christians is to love God and our neighbour.

We heard in our Gospel reading that Jesus condemned those who forced their penitential humility down the throats of others by being boastful. He told his disciples to continue to go about their daily lives ‘so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’.

As part of our annual servicing it may be that we prayerfully reflect on what is ‘treasure’ to us -what do we value most in our lives?  Hopefully our annual servicing will result in our bodies, minds and spirits working smoothly, efficiently and safely! Amen

God’s Eden Project

Preached by Brenda Holden on 24 February 2019: Second Sunday before Lent
Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15- end; Luke 8: 22-25

The Eden Project in Cornwall was opened in the year 2000 after taking 5 years in its construction from an abandoned clay quarry. The project consists of domes containing the range of biomes found on the earth’s surface. It is an incredible experience to walk through the different ecosystems – a blessing as an educational tool!

In our Old Testament reading from Genesis we heard about God’s Eden Project. It was the second version of the creation narrative. The first Creation story in Genesis Chapter 1 described humanity as the culmination of God’s labours with man appearing on the 6th day before God rested on the 7th day. Man’s appearance was closely followed by that of woman and they were given the privileged role of being stewards over all the earth, that is, the plants and animals that had already been created.

In the Creation story we have just heard man was created first from the dust of the ground and then the Garden of Eden with all the other living things are created to keep him company including  a woman to be a partner for the man.
Having these two different versions of Creation in Genesis makes a problem for Creationists who take the Genesis stories as factual accounts of what happened.  

The date that Genesis is thought to have been written was about 6th century BC probably following the period of exile of the Jewish nation in Babylon. While in Babylon they would have heard the colourful and dramatic stories of the Babylonian gods creating the world. Many of the early civilisations have their own creation narratives – a fund of stories about the origin of the world and the earliest ‘history’ of the human race.

On returning from exile the Jews wanted their own unique version. They wanted a record of how the God worshipped by the Jewish nation the one, true, powerful but loving God wanted a living and breathing relationship with humanity and brought the world into existence. The word Eden means delight –  the relationship between Man and God was to be delightful! That was not the picture of the relationships between humanity and the gods of other ancient civilisations.

The act of God putting humans in a Garden of Eden to be good stewards has been a significant aspect in the relationship between God and mankind. God is in control, but humanity has a vital and responsible part to play – divine love and human love working together to bring about heaven on earth! Love is the important ingredient in God’s Eden Project!
It was interesting to see in the Guardian newspaper on 21 January 2019 that research carried out in 2015 found that physical work in a garden or allotment yielded significant improvements in mood and self-esteem – God knew what he /she was doing when humanity was put in a garden!

The story in our Gospel reading is referred to as a one of the ‘nature miracles’. It demonstrates the biblical view of creation as not just something that happened in the past, but a continuing involvement of God in his world.

Jesus, as Lord of the Universe, shows his calm authority as he sleeps peacefully in sharp contrast to the fearful panic of the disciples when they are caught in a boat in a storm and they feel that they are in danger of sinking. We are surprised that the disciples as fishermen are afraid for their lives in this situation.

Jesus is showing them and us by calming the storm that he is the Son of the Creator. He has inherited the power as well as the love of His Father. Perhaps this incident will come into Peter’s thoughts when soon after this episode on the road to Caesarea Philippi Jesus will ask his disciples ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter will be able to say with confidence that Jesus is the Messiah.

God took a risk when humanity was created…

We daily hear about chaos in news reports from around the world from man-made situations. We see many examples of power without love exerted by those in positions of authority which leads to corruption and betrayal of man’s relationship with God. God’s Eden Project is going through difficult and challenging times. Our blue planet is at risk. The Church itself has often been described as a boat tossed about by turbulent and dangerous waters.

However, God does not want our boat to sink. Our panic in our present chaos increases the awareness of our limitations and makes us open our eyes and our hearts to turn once again to the Creator who is still present in his Creation! God wants us to continue to share in his Eden Project.

Drawn From The Deep

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 10 February 2019: Fourth Sunday before Lent
Luke 5:1-11

When I was little I would occasionally be allowed to go fishing with my dad. I say allowed, because it was actually for my father a time when he could escape the busyness of his work life and just simply sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river bank, certainly not to have to entertain a young child; but eventually I too learnt to appreciate this time of quiet companionship.

Of course, there was also the benefit of catching a few fish, that would be placed to wriggle around in the keep net until it was time to pack up and go home, and they would then be returned to the freedom of the water, presumably to swim free until the next time that they took the bait of the fly hook of another fisherman.

But there were also the days when we would sit there in virtual silence and the keep net would remain obstinately empty. For Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, it must have been one of those days when much effort had brought little reward. Yet, suddenly here was this man inviting them to try one more time.

No doubt they were tired and weary, and also slightly sceptical, but something about him gave them a sense that they should do as he asked and trusting his confidence they cast their nets once more into the water and were suddenly faced with a catch that was almost overwhelming in its abundance.

It was miraculous, but what was even more surprising was their response, that they would immediately leave all that they knew and depended on to become followers and fellow missionaries with this young man. I guess it is this last outcome that most of us find difficult to understand and imagine ourselves duplicating but it is the whole story that leads us to see why this might be so and what it says to us about discipleship.

We know that Jesus will often use the situation he finds himself in to help people understand more clearly the point he is trying to make, so a miraculous catch of fish to a group of fishermen would certainly bring home the point very effectively. However, we can see that this was already being mirrored in his interaction with the crowd. Here was a sea of people, like a lot of people nowadays, who were beginning to realise that they were in deep water, all around them the water was foaming in turmoil and although they had the freedom to go anywhere, it was usually only in the direction that the tide took them.

Jesus, through his teaching was casting the net as the Word. This was not a net that was set as an entrapment, but a means by which God could rescue his people. As it says in Psalm 18, ‘He reached down from on high and took hold of me, he drew me out of deep water’.

There was a growing realisation that without God they were lost, and Jesus was there to remind them of this. Simon Peter’s obedience and trust that what he was being told was a good thing, put him on his first step to acknowledging who Jesus really was. But this realisation also made him fearful; since the prodigious haul of fish only proved the awesomeness of God’s power and made his or anyone else’s effort pale into insignificance. ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’.

Yet, Jesus’ response was that they should not be afraid. The fact is that when they and we are drawn into God’s presence he asks us to part of his mission, to be his ears and eyes, his hands and feet, to work together as the body of Christ. And just as Simon Peter called for his partners to help with the extraordinary catch of fish, we never do it on our own, whether as individuals, or one church, but as the whole Church.

So the disciples were to be sent out to catch people. To use the Word to act as the net to draw them closer to God, and that net was to be cast far and wide. Just as each net of fish brings up not just one type of fish, but gathers many, so that diversity is reflected in the many different types of people who are called and seek to be in his presence. God is not looking for any particular type of person, just those who are willing to be transformed.

Of course there are always going to be as few who for some reason want to wriggle out of and escape the net, but for those who choose to believe and to take up the challenge there is no reason to hesitate, real freedom has been gained, grace offered and accepted and the task of catching people for God begun.

Amen

Chance Encounter

Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ  
Luke 2:22-40  

Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ  Luke 2:22-40  

Chance encounters have the potential to alter lives. As we look back on our personal life experiences we have all had nudges to be in a particular place at a particular time and that has resulted in a significant change in the direction of our lives. At the time we might not have been aware of God’s hand at work, but later reflection removes the ‘chance’ element in the encounter and we are thankful!

Our Gospel reading this morning related a chance encounter like that. It was a chance encounter of three different generations of God-fearing folk in the Temple. There is no doubt that God put them there!

Simeon and Anna were representatives of the oldest generation in the encounter. They were part of the faithful remnant who, all through the long centuries, had kept faith and hope alive; Mary and Joseph as the parents were the middle generation and the infant Jesus, God’s Son, was the youngest.

Simeon and Anna were regularly seen around the Temple in Jerusalem. From Luke’s description it was obvious that Simeon fulfilled the vocation of a prophet although according to the Jewish teachers of that time, the spirit of prophecy had departed from Israel after the prophet Malachi and its return would be a sign that the longed-for Messiah was on the way.

Simeon clearly illustrated three aspects of the Spirit of prophecy- firstly, we read that he receives divine revelation that he shall see the Lord’s Messiah before his death. Secondly, he is led by the Spirit to the Temple that day to be in the right place at the right moment and thirdly, he utters a prayer, the Nunc Dimittis, which is regarded as a prophecy.

Anna, was described as a prophet by Luke – our hearts go out to Anna – she was 84 and had lived a prayerful life within the Temple since she was widowed after 7 years of marriage. She is the sort of person who had become part of the the Temple environment going about her day to day prayerful life. She was there for strangers. A friendly, wise and approachable old lady. The significance of her part in the encounter that day earned her being named and as a woman in the Gospel stories that is quite unusual.

Mary and Joseph’s presence in the Temple that day with their baby must have been planned in advance. They could have performed the rites of obligation after the birth at their local synagogue, but they chose to travel to Jerusalem as they were aware of the responsibilities they had as the earthly parents of God’s Son. Perhaps their concerns that day showed through their body language and attracted the attention of Simeon. They were poor country folk who had come to do the right thing according to Jewish traditions, but they could only afford the poorest offering for sacrifice for the birth of their first-born son.

There were three parts to the obligation laid down to be completed and Simeon could help them through the procedures that were new to them. The first part involved the purification of the mother so that she could return to the worshipping community after childbirth. The second part was a redemption of the first born male through a gift to the priest, and the third part was to dedicate the child to the service of God.

It was when Simeon took the baby in his arms that he must have felt overwhelmed by the presence of God. The light of God’s love shone out of this baby. The words of the Nunc Dimittis immediately overflowed from his lips – this song which is now included in Evensong and the late night service of Compline.

The song is a prayer to God. It is joyful, it is hopeful, it declares the Messianic role of Jesus to  be a light to all nations. Israel’s glory is to be shown as a revelation and redemption to the whole world. Simeon had fulfilled his role and he was now free to die in peace.

The second part of what Simeon said was a prophecy to Mary. The joy and praise turns to a warning that the Messiah will cause division and He will be rejected by many. The idea of a Suffering Messiah is introduced. Jesus will transform ideas and will challenge existing religious authorities. Mary is warned that there is anguish and suffering ahead for her, but Jesus will be good for all people.

The message of Simeon was reinforced through the words of Anna who was so overcome with this encounter that she became the first evangelist. We can imagine her spreading the good news of the arrival of the Messiah to everyone she encountered from that day onwards.

Mary and Joseph left this chance encounter with much to think and pray about – they were being prepared for the unexpected way that God’s Son would fulfil His mission.