Tag Archives: Evensong

Amazing Grace

This sermon was preached at All Saints midweek Eucharist & St. Andrew’s Evensong on Wednesday 1st July & Sunday 5th July 2015  respectively. The readings were 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 and Mark 6:1-13.

This week I heard two renditions of Amazing Grace within 12 hours of each other. Not a very dramatic opening, I know, being a vicar & all. The first was the amazing clip of Barak Obama, arguably the most powerful leader in the western world, breaking into a rendition of the hymn as he delivered the eulogy of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston who was among the 9 Christians murdered there recently. The second was the choir of St. Anthony’s school at the official opening of the groundworks at St. Peter’s on Monday.

The two renditions were very different. To say the President’s singing wasn’t in the same league is to underplay how good the young ladies of St. Anthony’s were – it’s more accurate to say they weren’t even playing the same sport. But what Mr Obama lacked in tuning he made up for in passion, using the hymn as a rallying point to call out the names of the others killed in the attack & speak of their faith & the Grace they had received from their heavenly father.

It was interesting to have these two experiences of the same piece of music – the President’s at the end of a period of great sadness and tragedy for a community, the students at the beginning of a new phase at St. Peter’s, hopefully bringing new life to our community.

And I guess hearing them so close to each other got me thinking – it’s inclusion in both these events reminds us of the amazing gift of grace we have available to us through a relationship with Jesus Christ. You see, however clichéd it sounds, we all know full well that throughout our lives we have highs and lows, times of great joy and greater sorrow.

We missed St. Paul out last Sunday, as he shares St. Peter’s feast day, but it is his words we just heard, written originally for the people of Corinth but echoing through the ages to ring true for us today, that remind us of the power of God’s grace in our lives. Whoever we are, however weak we feel, however battered we have been by life’s storms, however distant we may feel from God at times, He is right here with us.

That’s part of the story of the incarnation – God rolling up His sleeves and getting in amongst our pain, our struggles and sticking by us throughout, enfolding us in His undying love; God rejoicing with us in the good times & giving us the strength to find out and actively seek to be the people He has called us to be, and help others do the same.

We may not feel worthy of this grace. It’s OK, we’re not. If we were – if we could earn our salvation solely by ourselves, we would not have needed Jesus sacrifice made once for all upon the cross. You see, President Obama’s singing was beautiful and inspiring not because of his voice but because of the heart and message he was conveying. Our lives are blessed by God, not because we are perfect but because we are the crown of His creation and as long as we seek to live in Him He lives in us; as we look to forgive we ourselves are forgiven; as we seek to bring people to know and love Christ our knowledge and love of Him deepens.

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”

Amen.

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More Questions than Answers?

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s 6pm Evensong service on 17th May 2015, the Sunday after the Ascension. The readings were Acts 1.1-11, Ephesians 1.15-23 & Luke 24.44-53.

I was once told there is no such thing as a stupid question – only a stupid person. I don’t subscribe to the latter part, but I think one of the great things about our Christian faith is we have the ability to – are hopefully encouraged to – ask questions about it.

You may not be surprised to hear I often end up chatting to people – in the street or at the school gates or wherever, and something that has been asked a couple of times is how I as a Christian avoid doubt, or can have “blind faith.” But I don’t think doubt is the opposite of faith – fear is the opposite of faith, just as it is the opposite of love. And as we explored a few weeks ago, perfect love – agape, God’s divine, self-giving love – casts out fear. But questions are healthy, as they hold us to account and stop us getting too blasé about our faith, too comfortable in our small Christian bubble, and encourage us to explore God’s understanding and perspective of things instead of just ours and our friends.

So there’s a part of me that loves the confusion in the ascension story. The disciples, the people who have been closest to Jesus throughout his ministry, the guys who have listened to all he’s had to say, seen the miracles he has performed, grieved for his death and celebrated his resurrection and have now been taught by Him for an extra forty days still have questions – still don’t seem to really understand. After all He’s said and done, they can’t quite believe He’s leaving without doing the big Messiah thing they had expected right from the start.

“Lord,” they say, “all the other stuff sounds brilliant, but is this the part where we start the revolution & overthrow the Romans? After all, what have the Romans ever done for us?!”

It’s quite comforting really – to think that 2000 years ago those who were the first to hang around with Jesus were still left scratching their heads in a similar way to us as he rose into the clouds, dust trickling from his feet and his final instructions ringing in their ears.

And there a chance that, in our enlightened times and with the benefit of hindsight, we could think it was a bit of an odd, even a daft question. But I’m wondering – if it would have been us standing there, listening to Jesus and contemplating His impending departure, what would we have asked Him? I’m not going to put anybody on the spot, but what springs to mind?

“Lord, how do we respond to so much need in this world?”

“Lord, did you really mean that love your enemy thing?”

“Lord, are Sunderland going to stay up?!?”

Because, if we’re honest, there is a fair chance we would find ourselves asking about things that are more specific to our lives, our immediate concerns.

“What is the future for our church?”

“Why didn’t you heal my friend, loved one…”

“If this Church grows again will it change – will I feel a stranger in my own pew?”

These are all perfectly good questions – I’m sure that the many, many more flitting around your heads like butterflies right now are equally as good. And the example of the disciples shows we are justified in asking them. The amazing thing about our relationship with God our Father through Jesus His son in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us is we are allowed to come to Him with whatever is on our hearts – whatever troubles us, excites us, builds us up or destroys us and lay it at the foot of His cross in prayer.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.

The trick, as they say, is then to stay around and listen for the answer. Because one thing I think many of us have experienced is that prayer is not always answered in the way we expect, or the way we would have planned or chosen. In this instance, Jesus answers the disciples question with what appears to be a frustrating vagueness – but notice He does not deny that the kingdom will be restored, and backs up His earlier promise of help. What He does ask them to do is wait…

Luke uses two languages in Acts to describe what has happened to the world in and through the incarnation, God becoming man, word becoming flesh. One is the language of resurrection, of victory over death; the other is ascension, of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. Next week, when we celebrate Pentecost, we see these two motifs meet in the life and power given to the disciples in the Holy Spirit. But for now, the disciples had to be patient – and as we wait with them to mark the outpouring of the Spirit, let us give thanks that we have a God so mind-blowingly awesome that He can transcend life & death, time and space, yet merciful and gracious enough to listen to us, to walk amongst us, die a cruel, torturous death for us, and reside with us in our hearts this day and always.

Amen.

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0 Shades of Grey

This sermon was preached at All Saints 10:30am Eucharist and St. Andrew’s 6pm Evensong on 15th February 2015. The readings were 2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9.

Over the past couple of weeks a certain book, which has also been made into a movie, has made headlines across the country. This has been great for me, as the book in question is one of my all-time favourites, and the media talk has put me in mind of some of my favourite moments, inspiring me to watch the movie last night.

I am of course talking about “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and the shock announcement that the ‘lost’ manuscript for the sequel has been found and will be published in July.

I’m sure many of you here are familiar with the tale, if only from the film version starring the amazing Gregory Peck, but in case you are not it’s the story of a small town lawyer called Atticus Finch, his young son Jem and daughter Scout. Set in the rural south of the USA during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Atticus is raising his children aided only by his black housekeeper. To begin with, the children just see Atticus as a normal father, enjoying a close relationship despite referring to him by his first name, and vaguely aware of how some of his eccentricities affect their lives (not playing in the local Methodist baseball team and his respect for the black community, for example). But one day, their understanding of Atticus is changed, altered, by the arrival of a mad dog, which is spotted foaming at the mouth in the street near the Finch home. Sheriff Tate arrives with his rifle, but when he sees Atticus, he gives the weapon to him and asks him to shoot. The children are very surprised at this. Atticus calmly takes aim and fires. The dog falls in its tracks. The children are amazed, especially when the sheriff tells him that their father is regarded as the best shot in the county.

Atticus is so quiet and unassuming that his children are not aware of what a special man their father is. Only after dispatching the dog, and later through the main crux of the book which deals with deeply-ingrained Southern state racism, do Scout and Jem come to see him for who he really is. He is, in effect, transfigured in their eyes, no longer just their old dad.

Mark’s version of the transfiguration of Jesus is the hinge point of the Gospel, marking the transition from Jesus life & ministry to His death and resurrection. Just after Peter has hit the nail on the head by declaring Jesus to be the Christ, then been hugely chastised for suggesting the passion could be avoided, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, away from the others.

We as readers know a key incident is about to take place – the “high mountain” is the place nearest to heaven, and throughout scripture Godly incidents happen on mountains. So it is here when, suddenly, Jesus is transfigured and his clothes shine so bright, become so dazzling, that it can only be the glory of God shining out from Him – there’s no shades of grey here! Think of the light that blinded Paul on the Damascus Road, or of Moses receiving the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved, also on a mountain, & the way his face shone with the reflected glory of God when he descended. And speaking of Moses, there he is with Elijah chatting to Jesus.

Of course, Elijah himself as no stranger to meeting with God on a mountain – his experience of the “still small voice” on Mount Sinai was arguably less dramatic, but no less profound.

So with all this going on is it any wonder the three disciples don’t know what to do! Then Peter, dear Peter, tries his best to grasp the situation & offers to make shelters for the three Holy men – maybe to keep their glory safely in one place, maybe because the only way he could deal with such an amazing, intense experience of God was to safely box it up separately from the rest of his life, to try to do something practical with it.

Then the voice from the cloud – the revelation to those there of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah who has come in Glory and Power; not in battle dress to crush the Romans but, as Jesus will allude to shortly after they come down from the mountain, as the suffering servant who will give His life as a ransom for many.

This is what I mean by the hinge – this is the second of three instances where Jesus is declared “Son of God” in Mark.

The first is by the Father to Jesus Himself when He is baptized, as He begins His earthly ministry and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. The third is at His crucifixion – itself almost a reverse transfiguration as Jesus hangs abandoned, beaten, bloodied and dying right at the end of the Gospel, leading a Roman soldier to cry out “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

So here God almost parallels and affirms Peter’s confession from the previous chapter, while also showing the reality of that which Peter tried to deny – Jesus upcoming passion. When read as a whole with verses 9-13, this middle section of Mark shows glory and suffering, lowliness and majesty.

Obviously things can never be the same again for these three disciples. They have witnessed something that will only make true sense after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but even before that such an encounter changes a person – just like our encounters with God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit should change, have changed, us.

Some of us will be able to put our fingers on moments when we have had such encounters with God – some of us may find that more difficult.

So I guess the question is… where on the mountain do you feel you are today? It’s possible some of us are still summoning up the courage to take a few steps higher, knowing that folk say there are great things to be seen and experienced but hesitant of what it might mean, how it might change things. Some of us carry the experience of seeing the blinding light of the transfigured Lord at some point, or at least have the conviction to keep seeking it. It’s possible though, that this in itself complicates things – because like Peter we’re not sure what to do with what we’ve found, and are not convinced anyone would even believe us if we told them! So in our confusion we find ourselves looking to build shelters, trying to find a way to package up, to keep inside this revelation as our special thing, in our special place.

Because it can be a difficult thing, sustaining the reality of God’s love for us in our lives.

Despite all we’ve seen over the years, all we have experienced, we still forget, or lose focus, especially in a world so damaged by fear, greed and oppression. But take heart. As I said earlier, just before the transfiguration Peter had made his profession of Jesus as Christ – rapidly followed by the “get behind me Satan” incident. Not long after today’s Gospel passage the disciples, including James and John, argue over who the greatest. Mark is not afraid to show those closest to Jesus were constantly messing up – yet He corrects them, helps them move on – and moves on with them. As he does with us. We can’t earn our salvation any more than we can put Jesus in a booth, shelter or box, however church-shaped and beautiful it may be.

So I hope I can encourage all of us here to make the full journey up the mountain with me this morning. Let us step out truly believing that, as we celebrate the Eucharist in a few minutes time Christ will come and meet with us again.

That we can glimpse the light of His glory if only fleetingly, then go out into the world with our faces shining as a light to all we meet. That the experience we have this Sunday, and every day we take the time to consciously come into God’s presence, will reawaken our knowledge of who Jesus is and the amazing gift He has given us – the gift of eternal life, of forgiveness from sins and a relationship with He who created us. That through the gift of His Spirit we are renewed and refreshed to further His kingdom on earth, made fully alive by His presence with us.

This all sounds very grand – well, the view from the top of a mountain usually is. But just as Scout & Jem could never look at Atticus the same way again, once we allow Jesus to reveal Himself to us our lives take on a new meaning. So today I want to encourage all of us to keep climbing up the mountain, keep coming close to Jesus & marvelling at his glory, looking for transformation, healing, refreshment & renewal – but then to remember the world around us is crying out for the same light. Let’s have the courage to take all we’ve found out with us, because as Paul so excellently put it,

“the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Amen

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Black (and Blue) Friday

This sermon was preached at St. Peter’s 11am and St. Andrew’s 6pm services on 30th November, the First Sunday of Advent. The readings were Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37.

It amazes me that, amongst all the pre-Christmas hype that starts from back around mid-August, as shops push harder & harder to remind us of the true meaning of the season –

spending shed loads of money on stuff we don’t really need, eating & drinking enough to sustain us through the first few days of the New Year’s resolution diet, maybe something about penguins?

– that the advent calendar remains popular to this day. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that the majority of them aren’t purchased to countdown to presents & Santy, or to provide the excuse for that early morning chocolate fix we miss through the other 11 months of the year.

In fact, this year the “Ship of Fools” website asked readers to vote for the best/worst (depending on the way you see it) Badvent calendar – the calendar that was furthest from the true meaning of Christmas as could be. Nominations included a Barbie calendar with accessories for everybody’s favourite disproportionate doll behind each door; a heavy metal calendar with a hard-rocking Santa sitting on a spiky seat, foot resting on a reindeer skull – well maybe after all the glasses of sherry he’d fancied a “Donner” kebab…; or maybe he’d been working through the whisky advent calendar, yours for just £149.99 with a different dram behind each door – maybe perfect for St. Andrew’s day, if we want to use racial stereotypes? And then there’s the palatial mini-manor fold out calendar with 24 different nail polishes, probably for when Mary had her feet up on the back of the donkey & blinging up to meet the kings.

The eventual winner was by our friends at Ann Summers, featuring a naked man reclining by a Christmas tree, eyes smouldering into the camera just inviting you to remove the strategically placed present. Behind each door resides chocolate recreations of various bodily parts – and no, not hands, ears, or spleens. I was going to say use your imaginations, but actually don’t!

So all across the land, a huge number of people are, for fair means or foul, counting down to, waiting for, Christmas.

And despite our national obsession with queuing, we as a nation aren’t very good at waiting anymore.

We’ve moved from the satisfying crackle & hiss of a proper record starting up, (that’s vinyl for the young hipsters amongst us), the sound of anticipation filling our ears as we gently placed the needle into the groove, to the CD with its crystal clarity and ability to skip to wherever we wanted to be, to the digital download where we get the music instantly available without even leaving the house or waiting for the postman. We can get strawberries in December and Easter eggs in January. Instant credit, payday loans and BrightHouse finance deals mean we can get the goods we want without the hassle of saving up so we can afford them.

But these things all come at a cost. Digital music means more illegal downloads to the point where it’s reckoned that 42 per cent of people surveyed believe its ok to illegally download music and films for personal use. This rises to 57 per cent among those aged between 15 and 24-years-old.

It’s estimated one site, set up by a lad from North Shields, cost the music industry £240 million. Growing strawberries all year round, or shipping them across from overseas, has financial and environmental implications. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury is keen to highlight, the credit industry boom is costing people more than just the thousands of percent interest they are charged.

And then we get on to Black Friday. Anyone who saw the news on Friday & Saturday of shoppers’ queuing for hours to get into stores at a minute past midnight to fight over tellys with £50 off must think the world had gone mad.

“Darling, Happy Christmas. You wouldn’t believe how many people I had to punch to get you that…”

But it’s a sign of how our perspective can be so easily shifted by the society around us – things are a bit more subtle than the “don’t forget the Fruit Gums, mum” slogans of old, but shops have been winding up the populous over the last few weeks for these “once in a lifetime” deals, then herding them around like cattle (in some places) before producing a small pallet of limited stock. Somebody I know put a picture on Facebook – the top half was people clamoring for some electrical goods on sale in Manchester, the bottom people in a third world country reaching out for food.

And do you know what. Some people will have bagged a bargain. And I’m happy for them. Some will have to look at themselves in the mirror the next day & contemplate their behavior. I pray for them. But there’s a very good chance that an awful lot of people will find that deal they fought so hard for, in some cases literally, will be repeated later in December, or in the Boxing day sales, or the thing was cheaper online or in a different store, and they’ll feel cheated – if only I’d checked, taken my time, waited…

So waiting is sometimes a good thing, and Advent is the season where we wait, we anticipate the arrival of the Son of God. And we watch. Advent is a time to make ourselves ready for the coming king, to prepare ourselves. We’ve spoken a few times over the last few weeks about anticipating the return of Jesus, and how believers in Christ, those already walking with Him and in relationship should not fear the Day of the Lord as we are already children of the light, and have been given gifts befitting of this status – but also the great responsibility for the building of His kingdom this brings with it.

Advent affords us the opportunity to really focus this waiting, to consciously set time to prepare ourselves.

There is so much darkness around in our world at the moment, and I don’t know about you but sometimes I think we all must feel just like Isaiah at the start of our Old Testament reading today:

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

If only God would come down, break into the here & now & solve the problems, stop the wars, heal the sick, make everyone kneel before him. But then, as we look at our own lives, our fears, those little dark corners where the things we’re not proud of or unsure of lurk and hide – so maybe we don’t want that just now; maybe it’s easy to see where Isaiah was coming from when he continues,

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.”

This is all quite scary stuff. If only I had some time to prepare. I don’t know the day or the hour, but if only there was a way of making a difference in my own life, someone who could help me make the changes that would put those wrong things right, that would help me to make a positive difference on those around me, to help them to find the way, the truth, the light in these dark times:

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

He is with us, he can help us to be the people he has called us to be, to be the change we want to see. “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind… so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s words give us hope that we are equipped for the task. Yes, it can be painful – facing the truth can be like turning on a lamp first thing in the morning, when the light burns your eyes and leaves you blinking. But then, as our vision clears, we see things as they really are. And that’s important – we need to be prepared, which is why “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So my request this advent is we all try to commit to one thing that will help us prepare for Christmas – really prepare for Christmas. I’m going to read “Walking Backwards To Christmas” by Stephen Cottrell, which tells the Christmas story in reverse-chronological order, helping to get to grips with the darkness in the narrative as a counterbalance to the way we usually approach the nativity. But find something that works for you – Bible readings, a devotional book, music, art – just approach it sincerely, prayerfully and dare to allow the Spirit to move within you as you do it.

Mark’s Gospel reminds us

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

We see the darkness around us. The whole of creation is straining to see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Let us prepare ourselves, as his elect whom the angels will be sent to gather, for His coming. For God is faithful; by him each one of us has been called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

He will find us ready because, if we let Him, he will help to make us ready. 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.

Busting A Myth

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Evensong on 31st August. The readings were 2  Kings 6.24-25; 7.3-20 & Acts 18:1-16.

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The story is told of a farmer in Michigan, USA. While tilling the land he looks up at the sky, and sees the letters “PC” formed by clouds. Taking this as a message from the Almighty, he runs back to the homestead and tells his wife “I am to Preach Christ.” Saddling his trusty horse, he rides from town to town intent on declaring the word of the Lord. However, at each stop he finds a problem – they’re the wrong kind of people, he’s tired from the journey, that kind of thing. He returns home, slowly wanders across to his wife and says, “I think He just wants me to Plant Corn.”

Now, our poor farmer may or may not have been wrong in his first interpretation of the message in the sky. In many ways he had the right idea – he maybe just fell for a lie that has been doing the rounds since year dot. I guess many of us have heard it – maybe some of us even believe it. It goes like this – you have to be special to speak with authority about Jesus. It’s a full time job, a hard task only for those set apart and, as this is the Church of England, with all the right courses and bits of paper under their belt before it can even be thought of. Our readings, however, show this is not the case.

In our Old Testament tale it is four outcasts, suffering from some kind of infectious skin disease, who are tasked indirectly with doing God’s work. Before the section we read, Elisha looks out at the Aramean army camped around the city and sees they themselves are surrounded by the Lord’s own army – horses and chariots of fire. It is with this knowledge he knows he can reassure the king all will be well, and it is this army that prompts the desertion of the attacking force. Of course, the king needs to find out for himself if what he has heard is true, asking trusted people about the rumour, but is soon rejoicing in the great gift he and his people have been given.

Interestingly, at first these four men keep the good news to themselves. They can’t believe their luck to have discovered something so life changing, so rewarding, but they soon realise it must be shared with others – friends, family, strangers…even with those who have mistreated and abused them in the past. The lowest of people, used to deliver a great message from God.

In our second reading we have one of the Christian superheroes – Paul. It’s no surprise to find him mixing it with those who don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, explaining scripture, arguing why he is right, confidently standing up for his Lord and King. Yet this isn’t his actual job. He works six days a week with Aquilla as a tent maker – P & A Tents, maybe, or if it was a modern shop maybe some dodgy pun like Intents Experiences. While he mainly focuses on the synagogues on the Sabbath, Paul saw his “proper” job as vitally important – not just because it meant he was not a financial burden on those who he stayed with, but also as it afforded him opportunities to evangelise to those who he met in everyday life (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9.) And although he seems to be having some success with bringing people to faith in Christ, he still needs reassuring himself in the face of opposition to his message. The Lord comes to him at night and says “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you.” The ultimate evangelist, comforted in prayer as even he finds the going gets tough.

I think these two passages help us to see through the myth that we need to be something special to talk to people about Jesus. All we really need to be is ourselves. If we faithfully listen to God, through reading the Bible, prayer and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit we find that whatever our “real” job is – and by “job” I don’t necessarily mean paid employment but whatever tasks we face on a given day – we will be presented with opportunities to talk about Jesus and share the good news of how He has impacted on our lives.

Now you may be thinking – that’s easy to say, but in this day and age with rampant atheism or, worse, apathy to all things Christian, we haven’t got a chance. We all know the Church is in decline so what hope is there for normal people like us, however faithful?

Well, today we remember Aidan of Lindisfarne, who died on this day in the year 651. Historians note that in the years prior to Aidan’s mission, Christianity was being largely replaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Britain was returning to it’s pagan ways, but King Oswald of Northumbria was determined to bring Christianity back to the people, and asked for missionaries to be sent to him. Aidan arrived from Iona to replace a chap called Cormán, who reported that the Northumbrians were “too stubborn” to be converted, and set about his task in an inspired fashion that may strike a chord with us today. He would simply walk from one village to another, politely chatting with the people he saw and slowly interesting them in Christianity. By patiently talking to the people on their own level (and by taking an active interest in their lives and communities), Aidan and his monks slowly restored Christianity to the Northumbrian countryside, and went on to build churches, monasteries and schools as well as gaining a reputation for being charitable to those less fortunate, especially orphans and slaves.

His example, alongside our readings, gives me great hope for our Parish, our region, our country. It’s not rocket science. People are happier to meet the friend of a friend than a complete stranger, as they trust their friend’s judgement & know they have common ground. We are not talking to people about a club or social gathering, or some vauge historical figure to look up to – we are introducing them to a living person, who wants to know them, help them, even love them – just as He loves us.

For extra encouragement, why not come along to the Alpha course starting soon – maybe even bring a friend? We are all perfectly equipped to follow Jesus great commission found in Matthew 28:19. We may not all have the same gifts as a Paul or an Aidan, but we have the exact right gifts for the task God has given each and every one of us. We just have to have the courage to use them.

“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you.”

Amen

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

This is the sermon from St. Andrew’s evening service on 24th August, celebrating the Feast of Bartholomew. The readings were Isaiah 43: 8-13, Acts 5: 12-16 and Luke 22: 24-30.

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Micronesia is a romantic’s dream. A 2000 mile wide turquoise bedspread speckled with coconuts and shimmering with the promise of undiscovered treasure”. Not my words, actually, (nor a desperate day-dream in the middle of yet more appalling weather) but the description in the Radio Times of a documentary a couple of years ago called “Pacific Abyss”. Some of you may have seen it.

In it, a team of scientists and diving experts journey to one of the remotest stretches of water in the world – the deeps of the great Pacific to see – basically – what they could find. Amongst other things were dozens of seabed wrecks of WW2 Japanese warships each of which was teeming with amazing sea-life – crustaceans, which of every dazzling colour.

There was also an occasion when a diving foray was made down into an extinct, underwater volcano and an exploration into a cave 100 metres down – with radio contact with the surface lost and nothing to be done if anything went wrong. In addition resurfacing from these sort of depths takes an age if the diver is to avoid suffering from the potentially fatal “bends”. So, potentially, it was pretty hazardous.

But none of this was of any consequence to the diver scientists – who included some of the leading marine-life experts in the world. When a remotely controlled unmanned mini-submarine did some exploratory diving vanishing down into the blackness of an underwater abyss several miles deep the divers were itching to be getting into their wetsuits and going into the murky depths themselves!

And when they came back, a couple of hours later they excitedly put in front of the camera their “catch”: an assortment of tropical fish – a couple of which had never, ever been seen before. One of them was actually quite dull-looking, I thought, but the scientists’ excitement was overwhelming: they had discovered something completely new to human eyes!

So what has all this got to do with St Bartholomew? Who was St Bartholomew, anyway? To be honest not a lot is known about him but today, 24th August is the day that we give especial thanks to God for his life and witness. What we do know about Bartholomew is that he was one of Jesus’ Twelve disciples. He is mentioned in all four Gospels although, in John’s Gospel, it is likely the man named “Nathaniel” is, in fact, Bartholomew.

The little that we know of his personality suggests that he is honest and straightforward. He can’t, at first believe that Jesus can be the Messiah because he comes from Nazareth! But then, when he meets Jesus in person Bartholomew calls him “Son of God” and “King of Israel” – recognising and trusting that Jesus truly is the Lord!

There is a tradition that he went, like St Thomas, to India, was martyred. A bit of his arm, apparently, is said to rest in Canterbury Cathedral. Allegedly, some of his skull is in Frankfurt and part of his skin is in Sicily. They get about, these saints, don’t they!?

But the truth is, no-one really knows for sure what happened to Bartholomew after his three years or so with Jesus. But maybe, you know, that is just the point! God, probably for good reason has given us lots of details of the “famous” disciples – the “superstars”, if you like, of the early Church. We know so much about the lives of Peter and Paul, for example. What they got up to after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (we heard about just one incident in Peter’s ministry in our reading from Acts this morning), exactly where they travelled to, what they did to support themselves financially (fishing and making tents) and their personalities. We even have something of an idea of what Paul may have looked like: “small of stature with a hooked nose, beetle-brows and a bald head”, said one early historian!

And it’s good that we do know lots of the details of some of the saints. We can see their strengths and real, human weaknesses and, I believe, this can give us real encouragement when we realise that God’s grace is able to work so well through ordinary, real, human beings just like us with all our faults and foibles.

But about Bartholomew we are almost completely ignorant. And I think that is good too! And I think we’ve got a clue about this in our Gospel reading for this morning. Here we are, almost at the end of Luke’s Gospel, not long before Jesus dies on the cross – and he knows what he must face by now – and the disciples have begun bickering about who is the most important! Jesus might have been tempted to give them a good kick in the pants and told them in no uncertain terms to grow up! But, instead, he teaches them something about what really matters to God; about what really matters in God’s Kingdom and how what you really need to do if you want to achieve greatness in God’s eyes. As usual, Jesus turns everything onto its head.

Okay”, says Jesus. “I you really want to impress God, if you want to make him smile, if you really want to be high up there with the best of them, you are going to have to give up any ambition to be great or powerful or important in the way that the world thinks of it. Fame and money and power simply doesn’t cut any ice with God. Hanging around with the important crowd is a complete waste of time in God’s book. He is not impressed by it.

What you are going to have to do is be content to disappear into the background, if necessary; the background of quiet service which can’t necessarily be seen by anyone (although is seen by God). To be quite happy that no-one is going to think what a wonderful person you are because no-one is necessarily going to see you getting on with good, kind and loving things. Except God.

This service can take all sorts of forms, of course. Practical acts of kindness. Anonymous donations and so on. One of the greatest forms of service – and certainly the most invisible, for which you will not necessarily get any thanks is prayer. And perhaps especially prayer for that really difficult person; the person we find it really hard to like or who has even hurt us in the past.

But prayer for all people – committed, daily prayer for those who are sick or troubled; for those in different parts of the world whom we will never know in this life but who live in difficult or dangerous circumstances. One of the greatest gifts we Christians can give to the world isn’t one for which we will get medals or recognition or pats on the back (not in this life anyway) but one that offers the greatest gift ever to the lives of human beings – the presence, grace and strength of Jesus Christ.

Which is why it doesn’t really matter that we don’t know very much about Bartholomew – or Nathaniel, or whatever his name was.

Just as those wonderful fish deep in the middle of the Pacific were invisible, unknown – until the delighted diving scientists gently scooped them into their nets – to any but God so God always sees and delights in us and perhaps most especially when, in humility and faithfulness, and completely unobserved by anyone else – we get on with quiet service to a needy world.

And as we heard God say to Isaiah in our Old Testament reading a few moments ago, so he says to us – “You are my witnesses…..and my servants whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he”. Bartholomew heard that, believed and obeyed. So, too, in God’s grace may we.

Amen.