Tag Archives: Saviour

Seeing Past The Pigs

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s 8am & All Saints 10:30am Eucharist on 1st March 2015. It was part of our series working, as a parish, through Tom Wright’s “Lent for Everyone – Mark (Year B)” book.  With this in mind, the readings were Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Romans 4:13-25 & Mark 5:1-20.

I’ve mentioned to some of you before that I see it as a one of the highlights of my role to be involved with one of our best local primary schools, Seaburn Dene. It’s a great privilege to be able to work alongside the dedicated staff & hard working students, and to chat to parents, grandparents and carers at the school gates. But something I find interesting is how people view me and my role there.

To some I’m sure I’m still just ‘some vicar’ who they see wandering in and out, turning up at the odd event & maybe shuffling kids around, not really paying me much attention. To some I’m Reverend Child, as that’s what the head calls me – or Mr Reverend Child, as a delightful lass called Amy called me when she wanted to get my attention – who they know is there & may be on nodding or smiling terms, but not much more. And to some I’m just the dad of my children – or Paul – as we’ve talked, built a relationship, broken down some barriers. Three different ideas about me, all accurate parts of who I am, each of which I’m sure affects how those who hold the view relate to me.

As we explore this part of Mark’s Gospel we find Mark, in a short space, manages to paint three pictures of Jesus – show three impressions people held of him, as he turns up & performs an exorcism on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.

The first reaction is that of the man with the unclean spirit, who describes Jesus as a tormentor – Tom Wright even translates this as “torturer.”

Shocking words, and probably for us here something we can’t relate to, but bear with me.

I don’t know about you, but I find the treatment of this poor man to be a sad, scandalous tale. He lives in the graveyard, shunned by a society who don’t know what to do with him so try to restrain, to hide, to trap him and keep him well away. No wonder he is so distrustful of strangers, as he shows when Jesus arrives. When you read through Tom Wright’s observations tomorrow you’ll find out some of his interpretation of how the man came to be in such a state. But however he has come to this point, when He first encounters Jesus the possessed man is frightened. The voices in His head recognise Jesus as a game changer, and play on their hosts’ natural wariness of other people, born out of long experience of mistreatment and abuse of him as people struggle to cope with his ‘condition.’ Hence why he accuses Jesus in such strong terms.

But maybe this view isn’t overly different to that some still hold in society today. How many times do we hear people say they can’t go to church because they’re “not good enough?” At various events, baptisms, weddings, even funerals, you may overhear people joking about watching out for lightning bolts as they cross the threshold.

Many a true word is spoken in jest, and what we see is people who fear judgement, who fear not just that those in church will be holier than thou or too nice, but that their lives will not be as ‘good’ as they hope them to be & they will be cast out, or punished, for their wrongs, the things they hear the church call ‘sins.’

Maybe some of us here can relate to that feeling. It’s not an unnatural reaction, given how some portray Christianity as a list of things you can’t do, or as they look in the press at the latest division in the church over women or homosexuality. Some have even experienced that sense of judgement from other churchgoers, or even clergy. But look at how Jesus reacts. Instead of attacking the man, or trying to defend himself, put the shutters up & cast him aside, Jesus listens, Jesus asks questions, and Jesus seeks to help.

He doesn’t point out how the man has got himself into this situation, or lecture him on the dangers of consorting with demons or his lifestyle before they met. He just seeks to make his life better, to help him to be restored to the man God created him to be.

And that leads us on to Mark’s next image – Jesus as liberator. We know Jesus lived and died and rose again to free us from the sin that stopped us being in a relationship with God – at least we talk about it and acknowledge it.

Do we really know it – do we really believe that we, I, am saved from death and granted eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ. That I can rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me in my walk with the Father?

This man’s life was completely transformed by his encounter with Jesus – who then commissioned him to tell ‘his people’ what the Lord had done for him. When we allow Jesus into our lives, when we accept Him as saviour it really is a game changer – and part of that change is to share the miracle of our rebirth with those around us, and help them to discover this amazing, loving Lord for themselves.

For this to happen we need to maintain our relationship with God, to rely on His love for us & daily be renewed by Him, by spending time with Him in prayer & the scriptures, and allowing Him to work in our lives.

But this is challenging, as we see in Mark’s final image – Jesus as disruptor, as a disturber, as somebody who rocks the boat. The Gerasenes would probably not have been so keen for Jesus to leave if He had just come in and metaphorically patted them on the head and affirmed everything they were doing. Instead he challenged them by performing the exorcism, and by allowing the Legion to destroy the heard of pigs.

Tom Wright picks up on this, and it’s a good point to raise – why would a Jewish community have a heard of pigs? What other use would they have other than for food – something that any good, law-abiding Jewish person wouldn’t eat. So maybe the removal of the pigs reminded them that actually some of the things that they had convinced themselves were ok were really not. Maybe they simply looked past the healed man and saw the dead pigs – after all, it seems a peculiar quirk of human nature that we can value things over our brothers and sisters, profit over people, status and power over justice and mercy. Just look at the reaction in some quarters over the House of Bishops letter that dared to suggest politicians may want to seek “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be,” ranging from telling them to keep their noses out to accusations of them taking political sides, instead of pausing an thinking they may have a point – surely 913,138 people receiving 3 days emergency food and support from foodbanks in between April 2013- March 2014 was 913,138 people too many.

We know only too well that a relationship with Jesus changes us. As we allow His Spirit to move in us it changes the way we see things, the way we see people, helps us to love more and judge less – or at least, it should. Maybe we need to let Jesus disrupt as afresh once in a while, let Him illuminate the things we hide in the dark bits of ourselves and look to readjust our thinking a bit – after all, that’s what we do in lent, isn’t it?

So just as I am seen in different ways when I’m at the school, Jesus means different things to different people.

And we, as His disciples, face the challenge of showing who he really is to those we know and meet. We can reassure through our words and actions those who fear Him – not in the healthy, respectful way those who believe in Him are called to “Fear the Lord” but in a misunderstanding, judgemental way – that Jesus comes to bring healing, mercy and love, to help us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. We can show the great liberation a relationship with Christ brings – freedom from fear, freedom from death, freedom from that which stops us being fully alive. And we can show that although change does come, it is change for the better, change that comes from a loving relationship and a desire to heal us and make us whole.

As we continue our journey together through Lent, towards the pain and darkness of Good Friday and the glorious healing and light of Easter Day, maybe we should ask our loving Lord and Saviour to renew and refresh us again today – that as we remember His sacrifice made once upon the cross for each one of us, we find the strength and courage to see each other, and ourselves, through His eyes, to see who He calls us to be and allow Him to help us be it. To allow Him to free us, to heal us and to love us.

Amen.

Gerasene demoniac saved

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So, This Is Christmas…

This sermon was preached at St. Peter’s Midnight Eucharist on 24th-25th December 2014 – Christmas Day. The readings were Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4,5-12 and  John 1:1-14

So, this is Christmas. And what have you done?

Are you hanging up your stockings on your wall? It’s the time when every Santa has a ball.

For every mother’s child, is gonna spy, to see if reindeer, really know how to fly.

Are you waiting for the family to arrive? Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside?

With logs on the fire & gifts on the tree, a time to rejoice in the good that we see.

Music, for good and for bad, surrounds us at this time of year, and it’s amazing how these songs have become part of the fabric of Christmas for so many of us, for society in general. But there’s one song we hear a lot, in many different versions – in fact that I heard being sung on this very spot at the Dame Dorothy Christingle last week – that I believe to be one of the scariest songs ever written.

I think you’ll all know it – a little ditty called “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” It’s a great Christmas song, especially the way Bruce Springsteen does it, but have you ever stopped to think about the lyrics.

“You’d better watch out. You’d better not cry. You’d better not pout, I’m telling you why.

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice.

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

I mean, that’s positively terrifying. Who is this fat bearded man & what is he going to do to me & my kids?!?! I really don’t think it does Santy justice to be fair. But however you look at it, the message is clear – he’s coming.

Now, this isn’t the only song with this problem – and it’s not just with pop music where we get caught up with the tune and the feeling we get from the music without taking stock, thinking about, the words we’re singing along to. Jerusalem, anyone?

John, in our reading tonight, is reminding us that there is power in words. But, more than that, there is great power in The Word. As you read through John’s gospel, there are occasions where Jesus spells out who he is to those around Him – particularly in the I Am sayings, also in other things He says & does – but still they didn’t get it.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

The religious people, even His own disciples, missed things that, to us, in hindsight, seem obvious. Or do they? We talk about a lot of Jesus life in church, we sing about it, read it in the liturgy printed in our service sheets, live in a society whose laws and customs and public holidays are primarily built around the teachings and life of Jesus – but do we actually get it. Do we want to get it?

Some carols suffer from the theological equivalent of the Santa Claus is coming problem – to be fair, some are not the most accurate description of the nativity accounts, of the coming of the Christ-child. But as we sing along, the message is clear – He’s coming. He came.

God became man; the Word, present at the beginning of the world, who set all things into being at the dawn of time, became flesh, walked among us and remains with us today through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Are we willing to take these words, this Word, on board? Because Jesus is not just for Christmas. As we follow His growth from baby in a manger to crucified man to resurrected saviour through the Church year, do we have the courage to follow Him in our daily lives, to make room for in our hearts & not try and keep him parked in the stable round the back, to be visited at Christmas and on our terms, but not allowed to make a huge impact on our lives, like an awkward relative.

As He said himself, Jesus is the light of the world. Dare we allow that light to brighten our lives, to brighten the lives of others, this Christmas?

Dare we give the gift of Christ to our friends, families, communities this Christmas, this coming year, this lifetime? As Isaiah says,

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation”

Do we dare to be that messenger?

So sing along loudly to your favourite tunes this Christmas, but as you belt out the words, take a moment to consider the Word who became flesh; a helpless, vulnerable bairn in a barn, for you – because he loves you.

Who lived and died and rose again for you – because He loves you. Because He loves us, loves me, loves you.

So hark now hear the angels sing, a king was born today. And man will live forever more because of Christmas Day.

Amen.

nativity-w-blue-background

Advent 4.0: A Good Sermon To Die Hard

This sermon was preached at St. Peter’s 11am Eucharist on 21st December 2014 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The readings were 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27 and Luke 1:26-38.

Your starter for ten – what’s my favourite Christmas movie…

Die Hard. Yep. That’s right. Die Hard. It’s tricky to do the film justice in a paragraph, but it’s widely recognised as one of the greatest action films of all times, turned Bruce Willis from a comic actor into a Hollywood tough guy & is referenced to this day in movies, comedies & cinematic in-jokes.

For those who’ve never seen it, or haven’t for a while, Bruce Willis is Detective Lieutenant John McClane, a New York City police officer who has travelled to Los Angeles in the hope of reconciling with his estranged wife Holly at her office Christmas party. While he is changing his clothes the building is taken over by terrorists, led by the excellent Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who are looking to steal the $640 million in bonds in the company vault. They hold the employees hostage, execute the boss & set about their elaborate plan, not reckoning on the tough cop lurking unseen in the building. McClane sets about taking out the terrorists & trying to rescue the captives while the LAPD & FBI try unsuccessfully to sort out the situation their way.

Some of you may think this is a strange choice, especially for a man of the cloth. But, as we see in our Gospel passage today, the old “God moves in mysterious ways” cliché really holds water.

To many of us the annunciation in Luke is a familiar story. But, like so many of our readings at this time of year, their familiarity can lead us to miss their significance as we rush headlong to the manger and the birth of Christ. In it we see a really human reaction to an extraordinary spiritual event. Luke emphasises Mary’s response to the angel – the response of a young woman, promised in marriage & old enough to know where babies come from, who knows what is expected of her when she is wed… and the consequences of what happens to girls who are seen to have done such things before they are married. Yet she is somebody who is innocent enough, possibly naïve enough, to trust the angel’s words, to accept them wholeheartedly, and to allow God’s will to be done through her. But just stop a moment and consider Mary. She isn’t at all an obvious choice for this job. While it’s true for Christ to be both fully human & fully divine he has to be born of a woman, why one unmarried? Why one so young? Why create such scandal?!

At this point she doesn’t know how Joseph will react – we know the punishment for a woman caught in adultery, spelled out very clearly in Leviticus 20:10 and John 8. There was a strong possibility Joseph could just get the stones out – she can only trust he’ll do the right thing. And although society has moved on from that point of view, at least in the west, we shouldn’t forget how some girls and women who fell pregnant outside of wedlock were treated by those claiming to represent God even within some of our lifetimes. You only need to read or watch ‘Philomena’ to get an idea.

So Mary only has her faith in God, her trust in the angelic messenger, to carry her forward.

Surely her cousin Elizabeth would be the far better choice – respectably married to a priest in the line of Aaron, barren and “in her old age” so able to provide the ‘miraculous’ element of the birth – maybe calling to mind Sarah and Abraham, to give the establishment something to hang the story on to? A far more sensible, “White Christmas,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” kind of choice.

But God needs to create the scandal – He needs there to be no doubt in Mary’s mind the Christ-child has been conceived of the Holy Spirit & not of man. So Mary through her willingness ends up carrying the weight and expectation of the whole of Israel and, ultimately, the whole of humanity. She accepts what is said as true and allows Jesus to make His home inside her, with the full knowledge that one act will change not just her life forever, but also the lives of those around her too. And when we read this passage alongside the section of 2 Samuel we just heard, it strikes me that since the beginnings of the people of Israel, since the Exodus where they became God’s chosen, He sought to be amongst His people in amazing, new and unexpected ways – appearing in the burning bush, leading and guiding them in pillars of cloud and flame, giving assurances of his presence in the Ark of the covenant. But as time went on, the people sought ways, for good or ill, to contain God and keep Him set apart in a special place where they could go and worship, but at an appropriate distance.

David has the bright idea of settling God in a house – after all, God has blessed him with a safe & settled place, so why should he not repay the favour. But God turns this around –

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house… Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”

This as a king is a great thing to hear for David – ideas of a long lineage & settled kingdom for the people of Israel may have filled His head. But God is getting at something even more amazing. Think of the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, tracing “the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Eventually Solomon does build a temple, the Hebrew people come & go across the centuries, the temple is rebuilt after destruction, and God does live with them, remains with them, through their trials, troubles & triumphs – but through the incarnation, the word made flesh through Mary’s willingness to accept the task given to her, God finds a new way to dwell with his people – by dwelling in His people.

But I can’t help thinking we, all these centuries later, have begun to make the same mistakes as our spiritual ancestors. Standing here, opposite that amazing wall, you can almost feel the centuries of prayer, blessing and worship surrounding us – the great cloud of witnesses joining with us this day and every time we meet here to glorify the risen Lord. But if the Christmas story, if Mary’s story, teaches us anything, it’s that God’s plan for His creation is to live in us, work through us, thanks to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and His gift of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Mary chose to let the Christ come to birth in her & through her, we are challenged to avoid leaving God in church as we walk out on a Sunday, avoid leaving Jesus in the manger as we pack away the Christmas decorations, and let Him be born in us today and every day.

Think back to where we started. The whole plot of Die Hard revolves around John McClane being the only one who can save those who are held captives – as he is on the inside. We all face varying degrees of darkness inside ourselves. Some things, some people on the outside help, and some hinder. But without the presence of the saviour within, the darkness has more opportunity to overrun, to seek to hold captive or even to destroy the good. Part of the climax of the film – so close your ears if you don’t want to spoil it – is the terrorists take all the hostages up to the roof in an apparent concession to the authorities. In fact, they plan to blow up the roof, killing the hostages & faking their own deaths so they can escape. What looks like a path to freedom, created by the goodness in society, is actually the path to destruction.

Only the saviour on the inside can rescue them from this and lead them to freedom. Only the true saviour, Jesus Christ, can lead us to real freedom by His Holy Spirit living in us. To accept this can seem a big ask. It has scary consequences – the metaphorical sticks and stones may be thrown in our direction, the terrorists and elements of darkness won’t like the light emanating from us and will seek to extinguish it. But as we just heard from the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans,

“God is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

As advent draws to a close, as we prepare to celebrate the light of the world breaking through the darkness, dare we follow Mary’s example & accept God’s will, allow the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon us and let Jesus Christ, the son of God, make His home in us, make us His holy temple, and build His kingdom in and around us?

So don’t pray for the courage of a vest-wearing New York cop – pray for the courage of a young Middle Eastern virgin. Don’t look for help from a tough guy with guns and explosives, but from a defenceless baby in a manger. We don’t need an action hero, but we do need a saviour.

Amen.