Some sermon notes since August 2018
THE PERFECT SACRIFICE (Read 1 Cor.11 v. 23-39 and John 6 v. 51-58)
Jesus’ disciples were steeped in the Old Testament tradition of offering animal sacrifices in order to put themselves right with God, despite the prophets’ continual reminders that he wants our love, not our sacrifices. Canon Rodney Matthews took us through the rapidly moving events described in chapter 6 of John’s gospel (the longest chapter in the Bible) which begins with Jesus meeting the physical needs of the 5,000 with loaves and fishes, and ends with his controversial claim that he is the living bread and that whoever feeds on him will never go hungry again.
It probably wasn’t until after the resurrection, possibly first on the walk to Emmaus, that the disciples began to realise that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for all mankind – the one perfect sacrifice. His statement at the last supper that in eating the bread and drinking the wine the disciples were taking his flesh and blood was in keeping with the tradition that the priests and the people ate some of the animal sacrificed. Since then Christians worldwide recognise that at the communion table they are taking part in our Lord’s sacrifice, despite their divisions about its meaning and method. For Rodney Archbishop Cranmer summed up the Church of England’s views: “The body of our Lord Jesus which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life” though in 1552 this was modified to read also “take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you”. Whatever we as individuals make of the mystery of the sacrament, perhaps the words of the poem possibly attributed to Queen Elizabeth I encourage us to receive Christ’s blessing whatever we make of it.
Christ was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread, and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe, and take it.
CREATOR GOD (Read Job 39: vv. 9 – 40: v.4 and Hebrews 12: 1-13)
At first sight Sally Barton could see little connection between the two Church of England lectionary readings for the day – the first celebrating God’s creation of the animal kingdom and the second addressing the way in which he disciplines us, his human creatures. However she realised that there was a connection in that God is not only the creator of the animal kingdom but also of each one of us as individuals. Just as only trained and disciplined horses can help to bring in the harvest, not wild ones, so we can only help bring in the spiritual harvest as his adopted children if we accept his parent-like discipline. The passage in Job is God’s response to Job’s questioning of his divine nature, and in the letter to the Hebrews God is addressing those who like Job challenge his treatment of them. Just as Job’s reaction to God’s amazing reply was ‘I lay my hand on my mouth’ let ours be to let God ‘strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees’ as we stand in awe of the way he sustains and nurtures all of his glorious creation.
Read Ezekiel v 4 – 12 (an odd passage but some insights follow) and Luke 1 v 1 – 4
Rowena Rudkin made an intriguing start by asking which of us had seen the film “Made in Dagenham”. The gap in time between the film and the events it covered, about 42 years, was about the same as the gap between the death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels. Why didn’t they get writing sooner? Rowen suggested it was because they fully expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. But it didn’t happen and making a record became vital. The gospels were written in what was then the pattern for biography with little interest in the childhood unless some special event or important star signs occurred. There was an unusual conjunction of the stars at the time of Jesus’ birth. Luke gives the birth stories very much from Mary’s point of view and records the impression Jesus made in the Temple as a 12 year old but then a blank till he began his ministry. Mark spent a long time on the account of his death. Matthew saw his ancestry as crucial. All three probably drew on a “source”, perhaps just a collection of Jesus’ sayings, known as “Q”, since they share so much in common. But John was different; he went back to the very beginning of Creation. Jesus was there. His baptism, transfiguration, and resurrection were all of massive significance to him. Now Rowena turned to Ezekiel, see verses 10 and 11: some scholars have liked to suggest that the human face was Matthew, the lion was Mark, for royalty, the ox was Luke with power of a different kind, work and sacrifice, and the eagle was John, soaring above and taking the grand view. Rowena told us that polls asking Christians how they see Jesus most frequently spoke of his gentleness and comfort and support. Is our vision of Jesus too narrow? Are we open to many different aspects of our Messiah? The lion and the eagle are not easily tamed! They are creatures of challenge.
WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
Read Mark 16 v 13 – 28 and Romans 13 v8 – 14
Revd John Edwards saw it as significant that Jesus chose to ask his disciples what people thought about him when they were within a stone’s throw of the great temple at Caesarea Philippi symbolising the might of Rome and devoted to Caesar as a god. Now, here was a working-class chap from Nazareth, spurned by the orthodox religious leaders. Various possibilities had been suggested. But Peter didn’t hesitate when Jesus put the question to him: he hailed him as Messiah, Lord. (The same question arose during the storm on the lake: Who is this walking on the water, calming the wind and waves?) God with us. Immanuel. What if Jesus is with us here in the chapel. In our lives? An intimidating thought? Or recognition of him as friend, guide, companion? Do we sufficiently celebrate the difference that Jesus makes in our lives? Think of the difference in the disciples! Peter cowering, denying knowledge of Jesus. But after the resurrection bursting with the good news, fearless. The disciples were recognised as companions of Jesus. Is that true of us? Worship, prayer, fellowship, all vital ( our vertical role) but being a serving and loving community for others, that is our vocation ( our horizontal role?) We are to follow in his steps. He is ahead of us inspiring us to love and to serve. For Jesus, it was this commitment that led to torture and death, but in his sorrow was our joy. Our faithful companion through this life and beyond. So with St Paul “In everything give thanks.” For Jesus is with us.
Read Mark 7 v 1 – 23 and James 1 17 – end
Intriguing in his approach as ever, Revd Martin Wheadon came with a small mirror and two plastic bananas to add colour to his study of these passages. The world has always tried to corrupt; it’s very hard to be pure. Here was Jesus, a nobody in the eyes of the curious authorities coming to investigate this upstart. Jesus, with his entourage of women and grubby workmen and fishermen, eating “with unclean hands.” The scribes and Pharisees took their religion very seriously (unlike us?) Over the years they had added more and more laws to a total of 613 extra commandments in the first book of the Torah. The tradition of the elders, add-ons. In keeping doggedly to these traditions they had forgotten what religion is all about. It was well known that they were not above various tax evasions and ways of diverting their money and, in effect, cheating their parents, whom they should “honour and obey”. What traditions, what bad habits have we picked up? What are our “traditions” that take us away from knowing God. Do we look in the mirror and see ourselves as God sees us? As his children. His profoundly loved people? We need to test and revise our priorities. Get rid of any “fake” elements in our lives. Before we speak: T H I N K. Is it True. Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If it passes the tests, chat away!!
Read Matthew 6 from verse 25
Ruth Montacute spoke about the rather strange commandment Jesus gave about “not worrying”. It is certainly something we are all prone to at times. And how often, (Ruth asked us to think back) how often does the thing we worry about not ever happen? She suggested that not worrying means stepping back to think quietly and get things in perspective, to appreciate the world around us and to ask ourselves what really matters. We need to “wake up and smell the roses”. (There is evidence to show that speeding motorists will slow down when flowers are planted along the road). Our bodies are designed to take regular rests. Waiting is healthy. Waiting on the Lord even better. A pause, to talk to God. To count our blessings, to appreciate what we already have. Jesus warned us that being a Christian was not going to be easy, but one thing we are asked to tackle is the tendency to worry. Troubles won’t disappear but paying attention to God, receiving his promise of companionship can ease our anxiety till the problem is solved. We are to think about things that are true, good, lovely, pure. Remember: God sometimes whispers. So move a little closer; then you will better hear.
Read Ephesians 4 v 25 to 5 v 2 and Matthew 5 v 43 -48
We can wonder what the background was to this Ephesians letter. Were people not being truthful? Not getting on well with each other? Then and now it is not unknown for church members to fall out with one another. Usually not about theology. More often about the flower rota. The writer has two priorities; the importance of honesty and the importance of kindness and gentleness. Difficult sometimes to combine these two essentials! But the solution? We must choose our words carefully, without demolishing the other person. Common sense really, a social skill. It’s not just about “being nice”. (One Sainsbury’s branch Claire had encountered put posters at the perimeters of their car park, saying “Thank you so much for not taking your trolleys past this point.” It’s more: it’s an ongoing commitment to encouraging one another. As members of the one body. How realistic is this? (After all, the command from Jesus is to love even our enemies.) Claire had attended a meeting when all were urged to speak truthfully and openly and gently about their views on single-sex relationships. A minefield. And to listen sensitively to the feelings and concerns of each other. It was unexpectedly a really good experience. We are to be aware of fragility in others. The future of today’s church, like the one in Ephesus, is uncertain. We can’t predict the future But in whatever direction we move, we are called to care for each other, to sustain and nourish one another. To pray for the grace and courage and energy to live and work and grow alongside one another in every branch of the Church.