Tag Archives: Midweek Eucharist

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.

God looks at your…

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s 8am Eucharist on 14th June 2015a and All Saints 10:00am Eucharist on 17th June 2015. The readings were 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 11-13, 14-17, Mark 4:26-34.

Many of you will know that, not long after I came to faith I travelled to the North East of Brazil to work as a volunteer with the Baptist Missionary Society. Part of the role was, on our return from 6 months overseas, to tour the UK for 3 months speaking in churches, schools, youth clubs – anywhere that would have us really – encouraging people to support prayerfully and financially the work of the organisation, and to look at the mission possibilities in their lives, both overseas and on their doorstep.

In one school we took a lesson with a group of primary age children, and decided to write out some of the words, albeit in a different translation, that we heard in our Old Testament reading this morning. 1 Samuel 16:7b:

“man looks at your outward appearance, but God looks at your heart.”

A group of children each had a board with one of the words written on it, and the remaining bairns had to arrange them, one move at a time, to form the complete passage. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Each move I read out the resulting sentence with great gusto – which was fine until, too late, I realised they had arranged it so it read

“man looks at your outward appearance, God looks at your but(t)”

– howls of laughter followed.

So that verse has stuck with me ever since. But that’s quite a fitting way to remember it, I think. It seems to me that now more than ever before the world wants to judge people, especially women, by their outside appearance. The advent of social media and the internet as a whole has fuelled this, but advertising, TV, films, newspapers, gossip magazines all seem obsessed with “the body beautiful,” dismissing personality, intellect or emotional skills to focus on mammary glands and posterior parts, hair, teeth and eyebrows of any female who puts her head above the parapet and dares voice an opinion. As a father to three daughters this worries me, as I don’t want them to see how you look or dress as they key to happiness. As a father to a son it worries me, as I don’t want him to fall into the trap of looking at women that way & missing out on the depth of relationship both they and he deserves.

As Christians we can sometimes outwardly judged ourselves. We are stereotyped as boring, irrelevant, mad even, for declaring a faith in God, or coming to church. Some of us may even feel tempted to keep our heads down and avoid the gaze of others, lest we stand out & are ridiculed.

But as a church, we too need to be wary of how we look at those we meet. It’s easy to raise an eyebrow at the hair and hemlines of those who come to us for wedding and baptism services, to be put off or even scared of people who dress differently, behave differently, who are just….different. How can we communicate the Gospel to them – they won’t be interested, they won’t understand…

God looks at your heart. God looks at their heart too. As God’s children we are blessed by the Holy Spirit, empowered to share the good news to whoever we meet, however young or old, however different they seem.

By showing love not fear, warmth not distance, care not judgement, we can be the first step on somebody’s journey to faith – or even the last step on their making a commitment to Christ. After all, although I’m everyone in this room dressed sensibly, never listened to loud ‘unsuitable’ music, behaved impeccably and understood all there was to know about Christianity and Jesus love for the world just like that (finger snap) from day one… I didn’t – and if it wasn’t for the love and acceptance of Christian folk who were different to me, I never would have.

David was written off because he didn’t look the part – too young, too small. Look where he ended up. As the current Bishop of Durham says, “Never underestimate the small.” Our small actions, our small prayers, our small acts of love, driven by what we may even see as the smallest amount of faith can and will be the big difference in somebody’s life, the tiny mustard seed which grows into the massive tree of life, spilling out from us to our neighbours to their neighbours to our world.

Paul urged the Corinthians – urges us – to “walk by faith not sight.” Because, he says, “from now on…we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Let us always strive to show all our neighbours, those we welcome into our church and those we go out to meet, the chance to find that fresh start, that healing touch, that amazing love made available to us by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

God looks at the heart

#WeAreN

This radio interview was used during the sermon slot at the St. Andrew’s  midweek Eucharist, 10am on 30th July. It features Canon Andrew White, vicar of Bagdad, reflecting on the situation in Iraq. The webpage also includes information about, and prayers for, our brothers and sisters suffering in Mosul.

http://www.monkwearmouthcofe.com/-wearen.html

Nazarene3

♪♫Listen… do you want to know a secret? ♪ ♫

This sermon was preached at the 10am midweek Eucharist on 16th July at St. Andrew’s. The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:25-27.

, ♫Listen… do you want to know a secret?

Do you promise not to tell?

Woah wo wo,

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

Say the words you long to he-e-ear,

I’m in love with you.

Woo oo oo oo oo…♪, ♫

 

Who can name the song?

 

That’s right, “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by The Beatles. It’s a simple little song, lasts less than 2 minutes, and was a track on their first album. A Lennon & McCartney original, it was written for George Harrison to sing, crafted to be deliberately undemanding as he had a limited vocal range.

 

But like many things in life there is a beauty in it’s almost naïve outlook on life – reading between the lines I see the shyness of the approach to the girl, the fear of others finding out the depth of his feelings lest they see him as soppy or uncool, yet the need to tell her as it just is too big a thing to keep inside.

 

Jesus, in his prayer recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, also has a secret. He knows the Father. He really knows the Father. And nobody can know the Father unless they know Him, because only He can reveal the Father. The people who think they know it all, those who think they are wise, learned, who think they know God through their rules and traditions are missing the point. It is through the childlike naïvety of love that the Father is truly known.

 

The Beatles nearly didn’t make it – on New Years Day 1962 they had an audition with DECCA, at the time one of the biggest record labels, who rejected them declaring “guitar bands are on the way out!” The want on to sign for EMI & be hailed as the greatest & most influential band of all time. Rumour has it that the DECCA executives used to get the tapes of the audition out every year & torture themselves, trying to work out how they let them get away.

 

You see, these self-styled wise and intelligent men were so certain they knew everything they missed what was right in front of them. They had spent so long giving instruction, claiming to know best that when something truly unique and world-changing appeared, they wrote it off & missed the boat.

 

How often do we miss the simple things? How often do we get so caught up in our knowledge, our understanding, our tradition, that we fail to see the person standing in front of us. Jesus, through prayer & through the scriptures, is constantly seeking to whisper in our ears “I’m in love with you.”

 

Let those words sit with you for a moment.

 

I deliberately didn’t say “Jesus loves you,” because that almost doesn’t do the depth of his feelings for each one of us justice. He is in love with us. With me. With you. Being in love alludes to the exciting, scary, fireworks and passion part of a relationship – and that is what a relationship with Jesus can be like, if we let it. Because if we allow ourselves to be a bit naïve, a bit childlike in our approach – if we allow Him to whisper in our ear – we find His Spirit can fire us in incredible ways. And like the song we may want to nervously whisper about this relationship as it’s scary and precious and almost a bit silly but, if we let that love, His incredible, sacrificial love, grow inside us, suddenly it’s hard to keep inside. It spills out into our relationships, our actions, the way we live. And we find ourselves introducing people to Jesus – not big black Bible on the street corner evangelism, but in the way you introduce a friend or loved one to people. And because they know you & trust your judgement their more likely to give somebody you know a chance, and before you know it this love for each one of us becomes the worst kept secret in the world.

Maybe that sounds all too simple. Naïve. Not the kind of thing for us rational grown-ups, more what you may say to an infant…

 

Oh….

 

Listen. Do you want to know a secret…?

 

Amen.