Some sermon notes since February 2019
Read Acts 11 v 1 – 18 John 4 v 27 – 42
The disciples “were astonished” on finding Jesus in conversation with a Samaritan woman by a well. A Samaritan ! And even worse, a woman! This was the trigger for Revd Simon Marshall’s sermon. Jesus was compelled to share the good news of the Gospel with all. We still create “no-go areas” for the gospel. “We might get contaminated if we go there”. The gospel involves “scandalous love”, a desire to bring the news of God’s love and grace to people whom others avoided, condemned. Jesus gave women respect. ( Think of his understanding of the woman who anointed his feet while others turned away in disgust). Will we be willing to put our reputation on the line? Will we be compelled to share our faith with others? We care too much about what people think of us. Jesus never let man-made rules get in the way of sharing, helping, healing. What appointment with someone has God got in mind for us? Perhaps across difficult boundaries. Scandalous love does not fear contamination. We must be people of hope, grace and love.
CURIOSITY, WONDER AND AWE
David Hatch had been reading an article by a fellow magician about people’s various reactions to magic under the headings of curiosity, wonder and awe. It had occurred to him that the same words could be used to analyse people’s reactions to the Gospel. Not everyone is a fan either of magic or of Christianity. Very few are openly hostile, though in other countries persecution of Christians is a reality. Here it is more likely to be apathy. Although media coverage of magic shows has increased, it has probably always been a minority interest. Yet some are fascinated by it. As with our Faith in this secular society of ours. Some branches of the church are growing but for some people the church seems irrelevant, unimportant, out of date, though they often turn to it in times of crisis. Why do people go to church? Consider our three words : Curiosity. For some the need to know how a magic trick is done is uppermost. Religion,too, attracts curiosity. Some feel that the meaning of life is found in the “how” of Creation; they learn about black holes and big bangs. They turn to history and archeology. There is nothing wrong with academic quest for knowledge. But the answers rarely satisfy when you search only with the head alone and not the heart. Just as the knowledge of how a trick is done destroys the magic, so knowledge of the “how” of Creation can destroy its mystery. Magicians hope that curiosity will move on to wonder. Does the Gospel still fill us with a sense of wonder or has it become familiar, stale? Do we sense the wonder of God’s presence in music, in nature , in the love of another human being, in the depth of our fellowship here? Only very few magicians filled David with awe. (There were some.) But it is a sheer joy to see the wonder and awe in the face of a child at a magic show. Perhaps one of the child-like qualities we have to discover is our sense of awe. As a doctor David considered the human body awesome. Also the recent privilege of interviewing the Australian anaesthetist who masterminded the rescue of the boys’ football team from the flooded cave in in Thailand. But all these experiences pale into insignificance compared with the awesome nature of our God. As the writer to the Hebrews put it: “Let us be thankful and worship our God acceptably with reverence and awe.”
Read Roman s 7 v 14 – 25 John 15 v 11 – 17
Rev Claire Wilson reminded us of the tradition followed by Mary and Joseph in presenting their child at the Temple. Asking , so to speak, that he be accepted, acceptable to God. Is that in a way what we do Sunday by Sunday in this holy place, this chapel? Quite early on in the service, every week, we ponder over and confess our failures and receive the assurance of forgiveness. Claire had never really questioned this practice but recently an article in the Church Times had set her thinking how soon and how easily we slip back from aspiring to “ a godly, righteous and sober life” as the Prayer Book has it in the General Confession. Might there be an alternative approach, something different from confession and absolution? Would it be better to stop worrying so much about our failure to measure up? As Paul so vividly describes it in his letter to the Romans. Paul wasn’t beating himself up but seeing his failures as a spur to his recognition of the mercy and love of God. Paradoxically it may be that letting go of our obsession with our sinful nature and simply living with our humanity may be where things can start to change and be transformed. Having great compassion for one another and for ourselves. It’s not the same as throwing moral codes out of the window. It could make a big difference. Sometimes a change of approach should be welcomed. Is this a much more liberating way to live as Christians?
24th February 24
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
Resd Genesis 43 and Luke 6.
Revd Olufemi Cole-Njie advises anyone looking for a comfortable, easy faith not to try to follow Jesus. He is too demanding. The Beatitudes are radical, but Jesus goes further. He commands us to love others, not just our friends, but even those who hate us. To love the unlovable. It sounds impossible. But God is not a hard taskmaster – he is with us to support us and make the impossible possible by his love for us. Life without love is meaningless. God’s love – agape – is selfless, uncritical, forgiving, like that of Joseph towards his brothers who had tried to murder him. We should not treat people as they deserve, but leave that to God. Jesus calls us to love with the same love that led him to die for us, whatever the cost. Thar is the essence of the Gospel. He offers that unconditional love to us. May we learn to live and grow in it.
Read Luke 9 v 28 – 36 and Ephesians 1 v 3 – 10
Eternal life: a subject we don’t often talk about. “Why?” asked Revd John Edwards. If we haven’t discovered the madness of the Gospel, how can we discuss it? But our existence here is already part of Heaven. Heaven encompasses Earth. Where we are is where God is; so Heaven is here and now. We only have five senses so we cannot see it. Only faith can apprehend this truth. Jesus said we could not follow him (meaning to the cross). But he also said he would come and take us to where he is. Life with Christ is a present possession. Death is merely a boundary between here and there. And it is, John emphasised, a very thin boundary. This is exciting and lovely. Life is a continuum. All is well. If we are truly penitent our sins are forgiven. And what of unbelievers? Jesus says, Leave that to him. God is more loving and kind than we can ever comprehend. Cultivate a mind that is positive and loving and kind. On this our church birthday we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Bound together as the people of God. And nothing can separate us from his love.
Read Deut 26 v 1 – 11 and Luke 4 v 1 – 13
Now that the boundaries between right and wrong are very blurred, it’s so simple “to not do wrong”. The word “temptation” is still in our vocabulary but is no longer a serious part of any man or woman’s life. The Christian Life is no longer referred to as “a struggle against temptation”. Revd Kevin Swain was introducing his exposition of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness. How relevant are they to us? Can they be a mirror in which to see and assess ourselves at the beginning of Lent? By his own choice, Jesus was desperately hungry and tempted to use his creative power to end his cravings. But he was bound to live a fully human life. The urge to immediate satisfaction is streamed at us all the time. Does duty or desire come first? The second temptation concerns expediency. His work is to save the world. Lots of leaders have set out to do this. Ruthlessness surfaces; “the end justifies the means”. Idealism becomes ideology on the way to idolatry. (And being willing to die for an idea does not make it a good one). Jesus saw that the only way was God’s way. We all have our theories and prejudices. It’s easy to apply them with too little care. The third temptation moves to spiritual things. Fasting can lead to enlightenment, but also to delusions. Jesus was being urged to doubt his father, his calling, the way he must take. We have to wrestle with doubts and vanquish them. We’d love proofs! But like Jesus, we must trust and take God at his word. We have much to learn from Jesus, and particularly the fact that we need his help.
OUR ATTITUDE TO SIN
Read Micah 7 v 18 – 20 and James 5 v 13 – 20
Dr Sally Barton reminded us that the forgiveness of God was recognised long before Jesus’ time. Micah speaks of sin washed away in the depths of the sea. The Israelite way was to offer sacrifices to signal repentance, but for Christians the one perfect and final sacrifice was in Jesus’ death on the cross. Lent is a good time to review our attitude to sin. A subject we tend to avoid. We struggle with the idea of being sinless. We continue to fall short . Sally suggested two approaches to consider: we should be “confidently contrite”; confident because we know that God has promised forgiveness and accepts us as we are. But in joyfully accepting this we should naturally feel contrition, regret, and resolve to do better. “God delights in showing clemency” (Micah 7 v 18). But Micah combines this clemency with divine anger which we tend to pass over: can our loving God truly be angry? Bonhoeffer referred to this as “cheap grace”. Grace without the cross, grace without discipleship. Sally gave us another phrase to consider; “bold brokenness”. Bold because God is our constant hope of restoration. Our constant battle with sin does not prevent us from calling on his mercy. He does not wish us to be hurt but to be washed clean and taken to live with him in glory.