Some sermon notes since June 2018
Revd Ola Franklin gave an example of the Pharisaic approach to working on the Sabbath when elders from the Dutch reformed church refused to work even to prevent the inevitable flooding if the Polders were not reinforced after a storm. The fourth commandment is simple – work on six days and rest on the seventh. However, by Jesus time the Jewish authorities had added so many restrictions to work on the Sabbath that it had become unbearable. When the Pharisees criticised the disciples for picking a few ears of grain because they were hungry Jesus reminded them that in an emergency King David and his men had eaten bread that was reserved for the priests. Jesus accused the Pharisees of ruining God’s original intention for the Sabbath by sticking by the word of the law and not the spirit of it. He went on to perform many miracles of healing on the Sabbath, emphasising the point that human rules should not trump acts of love. Jesus came to earth to show the father’s love and pity to a sick human race. He wasn’t going to operate in the same way as the religious leaders of the day. His way is the way of the Messiah as a servant, and Matthew ends the story by quoting the characteristics of God’s suffering servant as described by Isaiah. First, God’s servant lives in a living relationship with God – ‘this is my son in whom I am well pleased’. Secondly he needs God’s resources – ‘God’s spirit in on him’. Finally he walks with humility –‘he will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets’. Jesus always points people to God, not to himself. If we try to follow Christ in these three ways and look to him we will find he is always faithful and will never net us down. Read: Matthew 12: 1-14 and Isaiah 42: 1-4
(The first few sentences are missing – Ola is talking about Elders of the Dutch Reformed Church refusing to work on a Sunday to prevent floods in Holland)
GENESIS ; OVERTURE TO THE BIBLE
Read Genesis 3 v 8 – 15 and Mark 3 v 20 – end
Fr Christopher Owens compared the first eleven chapters of Genesis to an overture touching on all the themes of the opera to follow. Here are Man’s relationships with God, with his partner, with his work, with his natural world. It’s all there in Genesis. It’s not an ancient myth or even a very modern one; it is timeless. Man and Woman on the edge of perfection. But do we ever get things completely right? Things get spoilt. God does still ask questions: Where is your brother? But he also asks, Where are you? He obviously knew where Adam and Eve were hiding, so does “Where are you?” really ask “How are you? Where is your heart? How’s it going?” Like a counsellor. Until the serpent slithers on to the scene, they are innocent in the positive pleasure of their skin. Looking at the Mark reading, we see that the widespread family of Jesus is still a sign of the Kingdom. This can never be extinguished. The “unforgiveable” sin is to believe that you cannot be forgiven. All that business with Adam and Eve, all Jesus’ blood family’s insistence thet “he was out of his mind”. All that is forgiven. God has ultimately destroyed Evil. And we are the apple of his eye.
THE MUSTARD SEED
Revd Martin Wheadon took as his theme “The Kingdom of God” : a concept that gets more and more confusing the more you read about it. Everyone has different ideas. (Read 2 Corinthians 5 v 6 – 17 and Mark 4 v 26 -34) .Martin’s main focus was on the parable of the mustard seed. He even supplied us each with one or two. We held the seed in our hands exactly as, Martin said, we hold the Kingdom of God in our hands. But the mustard seed is essentially a weed, a plant in the “wrong place”. A nuisance even. The Kingdom of God is described as being “within us” (Luke 17), though a footnote suggests an alternative meaning, “among us”. Very different Something shared. Jesus came “among us”. The man sowing the seed just leaves it to sprout by itself. It is resilient. Does that we mean we just have to sow and leave the rest to God? The mustard “weed” will grow to be colossal, so that “the birds of the air” can readily nest in it. Martin explained that this image would have been understood to refer to the Gentiles, underlining the inclusivity of the Kingdom. There is room and rest for all. So we are simply to sow the Gospel: “ Love your enemies. Go the second mile. Sow love. Don’t worry about the outcome. Just sow. “In a small seed of faith resides the power of God.”
HIS NAME IS JOHN
(Read Acts 13 v 14 – 26 and Luke 1 v 57 – 66, 80)
Revd Stephen Heap explored imaginatively the prevailing mood of Israel under the Roman occupation at the time of John the Baptist’s emergence as a public figure. An Israel “not at peace with itself”. Over centuries God had delivered the Jews in spectacular ways from great trials, led them into their “land of milk and honey”. But now this land was under foreign domination. Were they not now blessed and chosen? Where was God in all this? Were they being punished for their sins? The God so close, so intimate was now distant. Even worse, was he present, but in anger? Lots of questions. And many were seeking for their identity and direction and for a renewal of the God-relationship. Now Stephen switched to the moderately perfunctory record of the Baptist’s birth. Luke concentrates markedly more on the matter of his naming and the drama of the family disagreements and his father’s temporary speech loss. But his tongue was suddenly freed when (like his wife) he insisted in writing that “His name is John!” Back now to the adult John, responding to the national mood, as some groups did, by withdrawing from the corruption of the city into the wilderness. Possibly in John’s case, to the Essenes who practised baptism for repentance. Even for the Jews; a radical move since previously it was reserved for Gentiles. But now, John was giving a lead while others questioned. And now Stephen came back to the matter of his name. What did it mean? It meant “God is gracious” A sign that in days of tumult (not unlike our own today?) God had not abandoned them. Here was John with his theology of grace, which embraces mercy, compassion, forgiveness. An attitude of giving freely even when undeserved. Not a god pouring out the embers of his wrath, but, as Jesus following John’s preparation, underlined gloriously in his gracious suffering for all, even for those who tortured and rejected him He opened the doors of the Kingdom to the undeserving. What of us today? There is division and uncertainty. Our imperative as Christians, when tempted to ask “Where is God in this?” is to persist in offering that gracious compassionate inclusive and welcoming love to which John’s name calls us. We are required to learn Godly grace: in it there is something of salvation. May we be rooted in God, guided and shaped by him. Continually made new.
(Read Mark 5 v 21 – 43) Revd John Edwards took us through this beautiful sequence of events in the progress of Jesus’ hectic schedule; by now he commands celebrity status, drawing huge crowds around him. But despised by the religious leaders for mixing with outcasts, end even healing on the Sabbath. So it is extraordinary that the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, approaches him, begging him to heal his dying daughter. Desperate situations demanding desperate measures. He expects to be turned down. But “Jesus went with him”. As simple as that! Grace poured out on one who felt he didn’t deserve it. But then a second incident. A woman, bleeding internally for 12 years, ritually unclean. Just a touch of his cloak, then she slips away. Job done! “Who touched me?” asks Jesus “Has he lost the plot?” think the disciples, given the thronging crowds. And what terror for the retreating woman, healed, but fearful now. Consider Jesus’ multiple blessing: “My daughter,” he says, affirming her status. “Your faith has made you whole,” affirming her own inner strength. “Go in peace,” affirming her restored place in society. (So similar to the outcomes of the Mercy Ships surgeries). Now we imagine Jairus, desperate over the delay. Even more desperate when his relations report on his daughter’s death and urge him to abandon his embarrassing approach to this non PC healer. But Jesus again takes authority. “Keep on believing. She is simply asleep.” And what a ring of truth as the girl indeed “wakes up”. Practical, loving instruction from the Master: “Give her something to eat”. Both Jairus and the woman were afraid as we sometimes are. But we have Jesus’ “Fear not”. That is how Jesus connects with us in person. Our dearest friend, who draws us close to each other and sends us out to strengthen others in need. ( Read also 2 Cor 8 v 7 – 15)
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is much more about the Father, said Major Peter Smith. Giving his son freedom to make mistakes, but not withdrawing his love and concern. When the boy had wasted his inheritance, he had to live with the consequences. All of us can do whatever we want but there are consequences. Peter went on to give us deeply moving examples of people he and his colleagues had ministered to recently. “You can be in a far country without leaving home”, he said. The key word with the prodigal is, “He came to his senses”. You’ve got to want to change. We’re human , we make mistakes. God loves us and takes us back. We are God’s family. Fabulous!
THE SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE
Read 2 Samuel 12 v 1 – 7 and Mark 12 v 1 – 12
Revd Alwyn Knight said that prophets were not so much fore-tellers as forth-tellers: telling it like it is. In this case, “speaking truth to power”. We picture Nathan facing the all-powerful King David with deeply unwelcome truth. But probably saving his own skin by adopting a roundabout approach. Alwyn quoted from a poem by Emily Dickinson: Tell all the truth, but tell it slant, Success in Circuit lies……..The Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind. Also from T.S.Eliot: Humankind cannot bear too much reality. Turning to Mark’s Gospel, we have another parable. Many parables, like Nathan’s, were directed into particular situations. In fact a parable means, literally, “thrown alongside”. Alwyn saw the Parable of the Vineyard as related to the ongoing struggle in the Israeli / Palestinian saga. We see it as a picture of the tenants being the Israelite nation, and the messengers as the prophets and the son as Jesus. Which is all present of course, but Alwyn filled out the background. Jesus was speaking in a time and place where 90% of the population in this agrarian society were scraping an income from subsistence farming, taxed heavily both by the religious leaders and the elite landowners. A vineyard was a luxury crop, taking wide swathes of land needed for subsistence farming. And even hedged off. So the violence in the story was like the spiral of violence in Gaza today. Absentee landlords cultivating large estates. Oppression of the poor with taxes and land grabs. What are the weapons of the weak? To be tiresome, then to resist as best they can. But then the anger and frustration leads to revolt. Alwyn closed by reporting on a number of groups working to try to end the spiral of violence, including (lifted from the web) The Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF) , a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members due to the conflict. The PCFF operates under the principle that a process of reconciliation is a prerequisite for achieving a sustained peace. The PCFF is also known as Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Reconciliation and Peace and as Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation, and Tolerance. Alwyn ended with what amounted to a cry of anguish almost, given recent ongoing violence: “There MUST be a better way.”