Monthly Archives: November 2014

Questions of Kingship

This sermon was preached on the Feast of Christ The King (23rd November)  at St. Andrew’s 9:30am service. The readings were Ezekiel 34, 11-16,20-24, Ephesians 1, 1-15 and Matthew 25, 31-end.

I wonder if you have ever thought what it would have been like if you had been born into royalty. Thoughts of what a vastly different way of life you would have had compared to that which we have experienced over the years. Somehow the thought of being a King with everybody running around after me, doing whatever I commanded has a certain ring to it. No money worries, the ability to jet off to sunnier climes, servants to do the menial tasks and grand palaces to live in. It does sound rather idyllic, doesn’t it.

In today’s society the monarchy do not rule the country but the queen reigns as a figure of national unity, an ambassador, a focus figure for all the values of commonwealth and nation that have evolved over the decades. O! to be King of Roker I hear myself saying. It would be nice to walk around with a crown upon my head, that feeling of self importance, telling people what to do, and even my own pew when I choose to attend church or the royal box if I go to the theatre.

So how do we think of kingship? Do we see a king as an all powerful, all conquering autocratic ruler whose word is law, or is our model more attuned to the present day monarchy, to a life of service for the nation that began for the present queen with the anointing oil of service at Westminster Abbey over 60 years ago?

Jesus came to proclaim God’s Kingdom here on earth. No royal beginnings, just a humble birth in a stable in Bethlehem, born to ordinary folk in a remote village in Judea. An event that would have passed the world by if it had not been the birth of a king. Yet God’s kingdom was to be radically different to the all powerful roman authorities who ruled Israel at that time. Look at the tapestry, for example and see how small and vulnerable the Christ child is compared to the size of the others in that scene. Could one so small ultimately be a King, one asks oneself.

 

Jesus did not proclaim himself as king but proclaimed the kingdom of God. He taught about the kingdom. He spoke about entering the kingdom. He urged his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom, he told them to preach the kingdom, he demonstrated the kingdom in power, he illustrated the kingdom in parables and he promised the future blessings of the kingdom. The kingdom was and is Jesus.

So perhaps our two models of kingship are both true, the image of the might, majesty, glory and power of the one who calls us to worship him and the lowly, humble servant whose kingdom of care and compassion led to the cross to be crowned with a crown of thorns.

At the end of the church’s year and our readings from Matthew’s gospel we are given further insights into the nature of God’s kingdom and his kingship.

1) First of all, all power and authority in being disciples of Christ depends solely on him. As a church and as individuals we depend completely on his guidance and direction. God’s kingdom is not brought about by the efforts of man or the church. It is God who gives the invitation to “come,” to come and follow him. His command to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is humble acceptance like a child that we receive and belong to his kingdom. For in him we live and breathe and have our being. In him we live and move in complete dependence and in faithful obedience to his word.

Israel had looked for an all conquering, all powerful Messiah. Past history had pointed to the endless battles for its own preservation. So its expectation would be one in the mould of King David. Yet Davidic kingship relied totally on God. He in effect was a servant, the spokesperson for God to his people, Israel. The one whom God had exalted and anointed to the office of a worldly king. A person blessed with the Spirit of the Lord commissioned to rule over his people with justice in the fear of God. The Davidic line through which Jesus himself was born.

2) Secondly: The disciples were commissioned to spread the good news of God’s kingdom, the good news of salvation for sinful man. The acceptance of that offer of forgiveness and the release of peace and joy in the hearts of the believer. Those who follow the Good Shepherd and respond to his call with food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, with clothes for the naked and compassion for the sick and the dying. The heart of hospitality, the tears of compassion for a world of inequality and injustice that surrounds us all.

As we approach Advent, the season of watching, waiting and preparing for the coming of a king, so our minds look back to the time of the coming Messiah as well as look forward to the future hope of the king’s return. Looking back we see the excitement , of John the Baptism proclaiming a baptism of repentance and the crowds flocking to him. Baptism that marks our entry into God’s kingdom. And then when Jesus brought to people the reign of God, breaking Satan’s power over sin there was a release of joy, freedom and celebration. The messianic prophecies had been fulfilled.

As a church we have the reality of eternity to be excited about. Christians are heirs of God, they have the unsearchable riches of Christ, they experience the love of God which surpasses knowledge and the peace of God which passes all understanding. So we can rejoice in the steadfast love and mercy of God which never ends. As the dark nights draw in so we are called to shine as beacons of light in a dark world. “shine as lights in the world, to the glory of God the Father,” words reiterated from our baptism.

3) The third point is that God’s kingdom is revealed supremely through the cross.

Yet to see the picture of the cross before us is to see Jesus “reigning upon a tree” To see Jesus reigning with the outstretched arms of love, the face of care and compassion, of self emptying and self giving in the pouring out of his life blood for the sake of others, that is you and me. Upon the wood of earthly shame hung the king of gentleness and justice, a king who offers freedom from sin and a certain hope beyond our wildest dreams. Heaven and earth united as one reflects upon that last gasp of breath in the jaws of death upon a cross, but its truth has set us free.

A kingdom that breathes new life into tired and weary humanity. Joy in the midst of pain, peace in the midst of worldly disharmony, love in the purest form of self giving expression. For this is the true nature of God’s kingdom and worshipping within that kingdom is our longing and yearning, the source of our future happiness. The only place we would want to be. That is the gift of truth that our King has laid upon our hearts.

Look at the figure of Christ in the Lady Chapel stained glass, his head bedecked with a crown of thorns, his face expressing his care and compassion.( I put two photos at the back of church).

 

The cross was the means to an end, not an end in itself in proclaiming Christ as king. The full power and glory of god’s kingdom are yet to come. Until then the church, that is the representatives of God’s kingdom here on earth today, you and I, exist solely to proclaim in worship and praise in prayer and practical action, Christ as king and his kingly reign to a disbelieving world. A new society that repents and believes in the gospel.

 

I mentioned that today’s readings are about the nature of Jesus as king and his kingdom that is firmly rooted in the cross. Yes he demonstrated the power within God’s kingdom through Jesus raised from the dead. The triumph and victory of Easter day. The proclamation of Jesus as Lord of Lord’s and king of kings.

Yet the cross demonstrates the time of his own helplessness even unto death. The kingdom that reaches out to suffering humanity, to the hopeless and the helpless of this world. That which demands a response in us both through prayer and activity. The heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer of God’s faithful people seeking and struggling to bring God’s kingdom a step closer to the lives of the poor and needy. The prayer of boldness to speak out and the prayer to stretch out a hand and heal the sick. For this is the good news we joyfully proclaim that requires us to give of self, to suffer with the suffering and not to count the cost except that in the power and glory of our king reigning from the tree of suffering.

 

For there is no reason to be anxious or depressed, no need for gloom and doom as members of God’s kingdom. For day by day God opens the eyes of our hearts through prayer and in serving our King and Master. It may be a life of constant struggle and weariness but the riches of God’s love and heavenly grace will sustain us through all adversity.

For it is in the vision of his glory that the eyes of our hearts will well up with everlasting joy and hope, as all that is within us praises and worships his holy name. And then when our earthly work is done he will welcome us into the riches of his glorious inheritance, the kingdom of heaven. So let us continue to strive and struggle in our work of proclaiming the kingship of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour as we journey to reign with him in everlasting glory.

As one child wrote in prayer. “Dear God, Heaven must be a happy place. We know this because no one has ever come down to say that they didn’t like it.”   Amen

Relight My Fire

This sermon was preached on 16th November at St. Andrew’s 9:30am (in a slightly edited form) and St. Peter’s 11am services. The readings were Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30.

When I worked in the bank I knew of a customer who insisted his money was safer at home than with us. He maintained an account solely to receive his pension electronically, then would withdraw the lot and, after paying his bills, hide it around the house. Eventually he died, rather unexpectedly, and his adult children cleared out his house. They brought in over £11,000 in cash that they had discovered in various places around his home. Some was out of date, where the notes had been re-issued. Some was dirty & smelly. Some was badly scorched – it had been hidden in a light fitting which had set fire to the cash when it was switched on by the unsuspecting heirs. The children, though surprised at what they’d found, were also a little miffed. “He could have done so much for himself & others with this,” they said. “Why did he just hide it away?”

The section of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we just heard picks up on last weeks’ readings theme of being ready for the Lord’s coming – of not knowing when we will see the Lord face to face, be it in this life or the next.

But he takes it a step further. When we casually read this passage the phrase “like a thief in the night” has a tendency, I think, to kind of wash over us. It’s become a common expression, possibly conjuring up Take That’s “Relight My Fire” (But like a thief in the night, you took away the love that I knew…)

But, when you think about it, the thought is actually almost as scary as my singing.

“When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them.”

It’s the middle off the night, the very point we think we at our most secure, locked tightly in the house & snugly settled in our beds. Suddenly, the peace is shattered by a window breaking, a door being kicked down, and somebody has broken in, taking what we thought was ours, leaving us scared, vulnerable, violated. Think how much the customer we just spoke of must have feared such an event. It is that kind of image Paul wants to bring to mind – that sudden lurch from the normal banality of the everyday to the sudden crescendo of THE day of the Lord.

And here at St. Peter’s many of us know that feeling, as we’re going through it right now. We are facing a time of great change already. Around us great material works are happening. But perhaps the biggest change is the loss of our dear brother Ian. He is irreplaceable, in many, many ways, and things will never be the same without him. His passing into glory leaves a big hole in all our lives and, for some of us, not just the upset of losing a loved one but the fear that this place, this church, will not be able to cope without him.

And it’s ok to feel like that. The fear we have lost a big part of our identity as a church – not just Ian’s work and faith but his distinctive music as well – makes us feel suddenly less secure in the church we belong to. And ultimately the church should be a place where we are safe and secure, where we trust the people around us will love and care for us as we love and care for them, where we can speak freely, confident that what we say will not become gossip-fuel or used as a rod to beat us with, where we will be forgiven mistakes and be prepared to apologise ourselves when we mess up.

And Paul alludes to that as the letter continues – he wants the people of Thessalonica to have confidence in their identity as believers in a time when the outside world seems to at best see them as deluded and at worst see them as a threat or troublemakers – as I’ve said before, his was not an easy time to be a Christian. To stand apart from the cultic norms of society could lead to at best social separation, but also the possibility of stoning as an atheist.

So Paul wants them, wants us, to realise the full scale of what is to come, and the urgency with which we should treat the Lord’s coming – but also to offer reassurance that the dramatic events of the day of the Lord shouldn’t worry believers, as we are children of the day – not we will become, or hope to be, but are children of the day. We are not stuck in darkness like those who do not know the Lord, but are fully awake, alert to the imminent coming of Jesus and living out our lives accordingly. At least, we should be. Because God has given us the tools to be prepared.

This translation doesn’t quite make Paul’s point in the way it was intended. “Let us be sober, and put on…” sounds like we are being told off for not wearing them, like mornings in my house as I try to get the kids into their school uniforms.

The original Greek is more like we are actually already clothed in the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. These three are granted to us as gifts from God – faith in the promises of the Good News of Jesus, confidence that leads us to turn to follow Christ, and love that embodies that faith in concrete actions both in and out of our Christian community. And, as Paul wrote elsewhere, “the greatest of these is love.”

But read alongside our passage from Matthew’s Gospel, we suddenly realise the challenge in Paul’s words. The parable of the talents is often used to remind us to use the gifts & skills God has blessed us with in His service. And that’s not a bad reading of it. Each one of us here has amazing, God given gifts. When we use them, we glorify Him and are never more ourselves, more the person we were created to be, than when we use our talents in His service. And as we’ve just heard, even if we feel at times we have no gifts, that we are not in any way, shape or form able to measure up to the Saints and superheroes we think we see around us,

Paul tells us God has granted us three amazing gifts as believers – and that’s just for starters! But that’s not the whole story here.

With great power comes great responsibility, as Voltaire (or possibly Spiderman’s Uncle Ben), once said. We are called to further the kingdom of God, to let people know the greatest story ever told, to “make disciples of all nations” as we are commissioned to do at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. This parable speaks to us of the gift of the Holy Spirit, God Himself with us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our call to share that presence, that hope, with all we meet. We are challenged to not just take our knowledge of the Good News and keep it to ourselves. To create our own “personal Jesus,” if you like.

God cares deeply for, died horrifically for, each of us in this church today. But also for each and every person out there today – those still in bed, those at work, those playing or watching football. But the problem is, a lot of them don’t know that. A lot of people think they know about Christianity, or church.

A lot of people are stuck with the view that Christianity is, to quote the Alpha course, boring irrelevant and untrue. We have the means to change that perception. Are we willing to take up the challenge?

If I asked for a show of hands as to who would like to see this church grow, to see more people here in this service every week, to see more money in the collection plate, I’m sure I’d see a positive response from everybody. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, the reality of proper church growth is a scary thing. Because unless we mean we want more people who are just like us, growth inevitably leads to change. Every addition to the body of Christ in this place means one more living, breathing, thinking person, with their own ideas and preferences and the possibility that the Holy Spirit may work through them, as he can through us. So, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves caught in the paradoxical whirlpool of hoping the church grows around us while staying exactly the same as it always has.

Now this isn’t the curate trying to set up a raft of new things for next year, or to scare off any of you amazing, faithful people who contribute so much to the life of this church. It’s certainly not the curate trying to make us move on from Ian’s passing too quickly. It’s just a little question to ponder as we struggle to cope with the changes we face. Do we really want to be a church that grows, that truly is welcoming to all who God calls to walk with us? Because I know, just as the church in Thessalonica new, the outside world can be a scary place. But, as those who have taken up my “read the Gospel of John” challenge know, Jesus said “But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

As I mentioned last week I gave a copy of John’s Gospel to each pupil of Seaburn Dene Primary school last week for Armistice Day, and asked them to read it. At break time afterwards, a girl from year 4 ran up and said “Reverend Child, I’m up to chapter 4 already.” All the teachers, and the other staff, also wanted one. Somebody asked if they could have more than one for a friend. I was asked in the playground by some adults if they could have their own copy.

People have been telling me all week they have been looking at it, reading it. Does this mean they will all come flooding through the doors of this church? No, probably not – though we will have their school choir here for the Christmas Presence service on the 7th December, and Years 6 and 3 will both be paying visits here before the end of the year. So it does show that all around us, in this community, in this Parish, people are willing to engage with the church, and more importantly with Jesus, if we give them the chance. Are we willing to give them the chance? What if they did suddenly come flooding in?

The Church is not a rest home for Saints, but a lifeboat for sinners. Are we prepared to look honestly at the way we do church and ask if it is welcoming to the stranger, relevant to the society around us, and then do something about what we find? Or are we happy to bury the treasure God has given us deep down, and on the last day give it back to Him and hope that was all He wanted.

The nights are drawing in. Will we choose to leave our community to face the darkness, the darkness we ourselves may fear we’re facing at this time, or are we willing to ask the Lord to relight our fire, to allow Him to fill us with His Spirit, to make us beacons of hope in our communities that guide His people back to Him, then trust He will guide us safely through the change to come?

Amen

“It’s Only Me!”

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Evening Prayer Service on Remembrance Sunday. The readings were Job 19. 23 -29 and Luke 20. 27-38.

On this Remembrance Sunday, as we look back to past conflicts and the sacrifices made by so many, we look to the sorrow and grieving of individuals and nations. The pain and loss in its raw intensity continuing to the present day, from Iraq in the more recent past to the distant battlefields of Afghanistan in this present day.

It is right and proper for us to look back with gratitude, with thankfulness for those who bear our sorrow. Yet in looking back we never do so in isolation. We look at the present but more importantly to a future hope. A time when conflicts cease, where peace breaks out among the nations, our hopes for a better world. That which marks the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds, against the worst depravities that man can inflict upon his fellow man. Man’s longing and yearning for peace both between nations and peace within his or her self.

To take in the true horrors of conflicts, the statistics of 18million killed during the first world war for example is beyond our personal experience, yet for many the grief, sorrow and heartache continues to this present time. A hoped for century of peace shattered by the bullets of ongoing conflicts so much in the news day by day.

For the likes of myself and I believe for many, wars and conflicts have not touched us personally though parents and grandparents were much involved. Yet it is only when we look at a more personal level do we get an inkling of understanding , the one in the midst of millions whose story brings home to us a taste of human endeavour in the midst of the most appalling human experience.

Two books I have read recently tell two stories of clergy caught up in war, one of which Tom Gibbons drew my attention to. One during the first and the other in the 2nd world war.

If you visit Carlisle Cathedral there on the wall is a plaque to Theodore Bayley Hardy. A humble schoolmaster, then a country vicar who volunteered to be an army chaplain and became the most decorated army chaplain of the 1st world war. V.C., D.S.O., C.F., and Chaplain to the King. A man whose faith in Christ took him to the Calvary of human dereliction, yet whose endeavours transcended conflict and suffering to the heroism of resurrection.

Wherever he went, from Arras, the mud of Passchendale, Rossignol wood, Briastre or Rouen a battered little red book went with him; his pocket New Testament. Passages were marked which he would read to confirmation candidates in shell holes and outposts. The poor soul drowning in a mud hole or to the wounded and dying at a dressing station. The bereaved soldier grieving for a lost comrade, all would hear words of comfort from this book.

His call sign, “It’s only me,” as that familiar voice became known to his comrades in arms. And a man who sadly died but days before the end of the war from injuries received on the front line.

To read his story is to be taken on a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage of faith in the footsteps of his Master. “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” being one underlined passage. A “steadfast” theme constantly recurs. “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus’ words as he looked towards Jerusalem and his death upon a cross. No question of flinching or turning back. Even his refusal to the King who wished for him to be back in England. No, his duty was for God beyond anything else on the front line.

Even closer to home is the story of Leonard Wilson, vicar of St. Andrew’s 1935 – 38, whose pilgrimage with Christ took him to Singapore as Bishop when the Japanese invaded . Imprisoned in Changi jail his faith was tested in the extreme. A time when his faith in God sustained him through “the long hours of ignoble pain.” When tortured his captors tormented him. “Do you believe in God?” “I do” came his reply. “Why does God not save you?” his puzzled captors asked. “God does save me, not freeing me from pain but by giving me a spirit to bear it.”

By the grace of God he forgave even those with cruelty on their faces by seeing them as they once had been: children playing and happy in their parents love. He wrote, “I saw them not as they were, not only as they had been but as they are capable of becoming, redeemed by the power of Christ.” He recalls how he had never known such joy – a foretaste of the Resurrection. He had known God in a deeper way than he could ever have imagined. God who is found in the Resurrection as well as the Cross, but the Resurrection has the final word. As a bishop, a man who became a familiar figure leading the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall for many years.

Just two amongst so many. Just two of many who shared that common bond in Christ Jesus who rose beyond appalling suffering to experience a foretaste of Resurrection through heroism and brave endurance and steadfastness that we can but marvel at, as well as reflect upon. Strength of character bound up in the strength of their faith which when tried and tested rose out of the mire of human frailty to reach the heights and the depths, the breadth and the width of God’s love for them.

To make sense of today’s gospel story is to rejoice in the resurrection and newness of life that came in and through Christ Jesus himself. To make sense of such a story is to see through the nonsensical question that the Sadducees confronted Jesus with, and the Son of God who pointed towards an understanding of his own death and resurrection. A pointer to a future hope over and above man’s futility and human degradation of the worst kind.

You see the Sadducees were the rich, the ruling classes, the wealthy Jews who collaborated with the Roman occupying forces. The Chief Priest and the High Priest were all Sadducees. And because there is no mention of resurrection in the early scriptures, they did not believe in it.

According to their law if a man’s married brother dies childless, then he must marry the widow and so provide children for his brother. In many ways this was to protect women from poverty and loneliness. The Sadducees took this to ridiculous lengths by suggesting that seven brothers married this woman and then died in turn and asked whose wife she would be in the resurrection.

Jesus saw the question for what it was ; a trap that came out of minds that were not willing to accept change and newness. They weren’t poor , they did not have to worry about justice and fairness, they did not worry about the future, they did not care about stories of resurrection. They were immersed in their own little world and a God confined and contained within a few lines of scripture. A God conformed and contained within their own image, their own thinking and limited human ideas.

There is a world beyond us, beyond our own limited minds and experience that does exist, though we can only speak of our own life journey. Yet today God calls us to look beyond, to see especially today, as we remember the past and how that has shaped and transformed us to be the people of Christ today.

As part of the post war “baby boomers” my life has never personally been touched by war. My nearest experience of war would be of a daughter serving in Afghanistan. Yet one has witnessed a lifetime of peace through the sacrifice of so many. It is that which we honour before the face of Almighty God today.

And through that experience of Remembrance our hopes are for a better future, a peaceful future, and a world transformed in and through the resurrection power of Christ. A call to see beyond our own limitations, but as children of the resurrection to see the life giving, life changing power of Christ’s resurrection love at work both through past events, and the future hope which gives our lives its meaning and purpose.

You may have witnessed, high up on the moors the burning of heather. The heather, gnarled and twisted with age that had come to the end of its usefulness, neither food for the sheep or a habitat for the wildlife. After the burning would be a lifeless charred ground, lifeless and blackened. An area waiting from that which is hidden from view, namely the hidden roots of new growth, that which would be fresh and nourishing for the future.

For death is not the end, Jesus promised new life beyond the grave. New life beyond the sorrow and the sadness of sacrifice, its legacy still present in the grief of those whose lives have been affected by present day conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan in particular. A shared sorrow for those who died and suffered that I might live. A shared sorrow for human frailty and weakness that sent Jesus to the cross of our shame, that through his death, there is hope, in life there is newness and hope each morning and a promised future resurrection. A promised future where there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes, mourning and crying and pain will be gone and death will be no more.

So it is to that future hope , the living and breathing God who through men of faithfulness in him have in the past changed the world for the better and will continue to change the world through prayer and action, striving for peace in the midst of adversity, toiling and not counting the cost.

Today as we look back we treasure those who have lived and died in the service of humankind. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. Amen.

“To Be Read Daily”

This sermon for Remembrance Sunday was preached at St. Peter’s 11am service. The readings were Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-251 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13.

This Tuesday I’ll be going into Seaburn Dene Primary School to conduct their Remembrance Day assembly. This is a great privilege for me – to stand in front of the rows of waiting, expectant faces and lead them in a time of silence, reflection and, dare I say it, prayer, as we join with the rest of the country in silence. And this year, in memory of the start of the First World War, I have the extra special honour of giving each child a copy of St. John’s Gospel, designed to look like the copies that were handed out to each serviceman as they were sent to war 100 years ago. The front cover commands the Gospel is “to be read daily,” and I will encourage those in front of me to do just that.

It’s a wonderful image, isn’t it? All the Tommy’s packing up their Old Kit Bags and, because they were all good Church-attending young men, sitting down daily to absorb the wonderfully written Fourth Gospel, steeling themselves to battle the evil sent to destroy them and all that was decent by the Kaiser.

 

But, truth be told, although many more people probably did attend church on a Sunday in pre-war 1914, reading the Bible away from this social & habitual act may not have been very high up the list of many of the population, especially those on the front line. Many of those given out to service personnel were kept as talismans – a common remark being, “Yes, I’ll ‘ave one, sir; you never know your luck, it might stop a bullet!”

According to the Anglican chaplain GA Studdert Kennedy, affectionately known as “Woodbine Willie,” the attitude of most soldiers to the Bible was akin to the way “a decent man thinks about his Grandmother. It’s ancient, and therefore demands respect; but it is utterly out of date and cannot be taken seriously, except by parsons.”

But, as with the congregations of the past – as with the congregations of today – some took the whole thing a lot more seriously than that. For some the church wasn’t just where they went because it was what was expected, or what you do on a Sunday, or even their primary social occasion.

For some, even while ensconced in the trenches, their faith was as alive as Jesus Himself, and the Bible their inspiration, their comfort and their joy. For others, being suddenly walking a much thinner line between life and death, the things they had heard Sunday after Sunday began to resonate, and they explored the Scriptures properly for the first time, thanks in part to those who had the foresight to provide them with the Gospels in the first place. Cyril Falls of the 36th (Ulster) Division remembered “It was not uncommon to find a man sitting on the fire-step of a front-line trench, reading one of the small copies of the New Testament which were issued to the troops by the people at home. The explanation was that, on one hand, religion was near and real to them; on the other, that they were simple men. They saw no reason to hide or disguise that which was part of their daily lives.”

So it is men and boys like these we remember today, and will stand and remember on Tuesday, alongside the many brave men and women whose lives have been lost in conflicts since “The War To End All Wars.”

But as the years go by the majority of those who actually remember World War 1, who lived through it, have passed away. Our memories come from the stories they told, mainly recorded in books. And this is a timely reminder that our Christian history is recorded for us in the very Bibles we have just been talking about. In it we find a collection of works, each written by at least one person, thousands of years ago. Each of the 66 books is a snapshot into the lives of our ancestors and the development of our understanding of God – what the people believed was important to record about Him, what He inspired them to do and write and remember. But unlike the history books recording the war, the Bible has something more. We can learn from the mistakes and successes of the past, but the Bible gives us a means of listening to God’s will for our lives today, a way He can guide us to fulfilling our full potential and prepare us for His coming in glory or the time we go home to be with Him for eternity.

That’s pretty mind blowing stuff, when you think about it. God speaks to us through the Bible.

Stop a moment and let the thought marinade for a bit.

It’s one of those things that those of us who have a Christian faith probably already know, but the magnitude of this statement is lost in its familiarity.

As we just heard, Paul wrote “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We have been given access to a huge amount of God-inspired writing which touches every part of the human condition – birth, death, love, hate, times when God seems distant or even against us, times when God is so real it’s too much to take. And on a day like today, one so loaded with emotion now amplified as we come to terms with the news of Ian’s death, that’s important. Jesus knew the pain of losing somebody close to Him, and wept despite knowing full well He was able to do something about it. It is with this knowledge that He walks alongside us today.

Paul, in his masterful way of writing the truth, brings us comfort at this time of remembrance in this letter –

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have died.” We know, as believers in the risen Lord, that death is not the end.

We have the sure and certain hope of being reunited with those who we love but see no more, something that must provide great comfort to those living through dark and terrifying times of war, and hopefully does for us today as we remember the loss of our dear brother Ian.

But there is also the reminder, in both this letter and the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, that we may not have to wait until our own physical death to be with Jesus. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.” As the foolish bridesmaids discovered to their cost, we do not know the hour the Lord will choose to return.

The Bible is big on remembrance. In a few moment we will break bread and pour wine in remembrance of the greatest sacrifice of all time – while the war to end all wars failed to live up to its billing, Jesus death to end all death was, and still is, a complete triumph, a resounding victory, whose effects are still felt two thousand years later.

Our act of remembrance does not point backwards to the past but points us to the future – our future, and the future of our family, our friends, our community, ultimately our world.

So keeping your Bible safely on the shelf, or tucked in your pocket like a talisman is all well and good – who knows, it might help stop one of life’s bullets – but to reach our full potential, to experience life in all its fullness means spending time actually reading, studying, even questioning the Bible.

So can I suggest – actually, can I urge each of us, myself included, to take up the challenge I’m setting the pupils of Seaburn Dene and read John’s Gospel over the next few weeks, albeit for the 1st time or the 51st time! Let’s allow ourselves to spend time with Jesus, the living Word, and learn from Him, listen to Him, work, rest and play with Him.

That way, as we ready ourselves for His coming, as we keep the lamps of our lives well-tended and burning brightly, we’ll suddenly discover we illuminate the lives of others, leading them with us to the ultimate feast.

Both today and Tuesday we remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The whole purpose of our lives is to use that freedom to be in a relationship with our creator, and to further His kingdom on earth.

So as we hold before the Lord those who have gone before us, those who we love but see no more, let us commit them and ourselves into his strong, love-scarred hands. Let us strive to know Him more intimately, to love Him more deeply, so when the day comes that we ourselves are stood before Him, whenever that may be, He holds open the door and welcomes us home.

Amen