Some sermon notes since September 2018
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.
(Read Exodus 23 v 10 – 19 and Luke 12 22 – 31)
Revd Peter Wortley spoke of churches who had, quite reasonably, wanted to “urbanise” the Harvest celebrations (bearing in mind how few fields most of us plough and how few seeds we personally scatter.) But of course, it is basically about food and drink. Provision for our bodily needs. The vicar who initiated the tradition of a Christian Harvest Festival gave us a nice extra celebration for the Autumn months. But what can one say about it other than THANK YOU? A time to be deeply grateful. There must be more than just thank you. Our social outreach is a part of the kingdom. So it’s an interesting fact that with the letters in HARVEST we can find three other words: HAVE, STARVE and SHARE. We are the haves. For us, pleasantly situated in a leafy London suburb, the world is our larder. But meanwhile people starve. It shames the world of the Haves. People with no food. No clean water. People in desperate need, unable to make ends meet even quite near to us. The Bible spells out in various places the vital charge on the haves to share with those who have not. (Remember in the book of Ruth the command to leave the edges of harvested fields untouched so that needy folk could glean. It’s a law of God. We are celebrating the generosity of God. We have to be like him. In Leviticus, in Deuteronomy, Amos, Jeremiah. And right into the New Testament, Harvest comes to have spiritual application too. The joyful harvesting of the fruits of the Spirit.
Read: Genesis 1: 26-30 Matthew 19: 1-12
Revd John Edwards chose to explore the lectionary passage for the day, in which the Pharisees, seeking to trap Jesus, asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, as allowed by Moses. John reminded us of the context in which the question was asked – a time when John the Baptist had been killed for criticizing Herod Antipas who had divorced his first wife in favour of Herodias. A dangerous question indeed. We also need to remember that liberal Rabbis supported the law allowing a man to divorce his wife ‘at a whim’. Jesus’ reply reminded the people that from the beginning of creation it was God’s plan that the union between a man and a woman should make them as one flesh, inseparable. Moses was realistic in recognising that human frailty sometimes leads to marriages breaking down, but this was never God’s wish. Today the definition of marriage has broadened to include same sex relationships, causing much controversy within and outside the church. However, whatever view we take on this, the overwhelming concept is all about love, and is summed up in 1 John 4: verse 7 – “Let us love one another for love is of God and they who love one another are born of God and know God, for God is love. Our love is meant to mirror that in Jesus Christ, the love that will never die.
Read: Luke 15: 11-31
Mr Mark Lewis, who led our worship celebrating the Woodford Festival, pointed out that although we can’t predict the future we can certainly influence it. But just what is influence? The dictionary defines it as the act of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of authority. We can all think of people who have influenced us throughout our lives, from parents, relations and teachers to present day friends. We can also be influenced by great works of art or music, such as have been demonstrated during the week of the Woodford Festival. The late Revd Bob Birchnall, former rector of St. Mary’s Woodford, had a great influence on Mark fifteen years ago by his liberal understanding of the Christian faith, which eventually led Mark to his present position as part of the leadership team at that church. We have also all experienced bad influences from which, like Nicotine patches, we can if not on our guard absorb what sticks to us. We should never underestimate the influence we have on others, even without knowing it – our influence just seeps into the world. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son reveals the influence the deep love the father had on his son, despite his rebellion from it (good influences don’t always lead to wise decisions!) Love, which trumps any authority, is the greatest and most fertile influence of all in a world which is after all still God’s ‘work in progress’ and to which people of all faiths or none can all contribute.
SIMON AND JUDE
Readings : the Epistle of Jude and Matthew 9 v 35 – 10 v4
Look, you really need to listen (www,wwec.co.uk / sermon notes) to this fascinating sermon from Fr John Thackray about Saints Simon and Jude, the patron saints of desperate cases and lost causes (patron saints of John’s own theological training collage, as it happens”). I cannot do justice to all the intriguing details. Father John Thackray delved into the identities of these men: Simon the Zealot? Simon the Canaanite? Jude; the “other Judas” not Iscariot, and known as Jude. The Book of Jude is generally thought to have been written at the beginning of the doomed uprising of the Jews against the Romans, and was trying to make sense of the apocalyptic events leading up to the destruction of the Temple. It sounds very alien to many today. Simon, John feels, is the saint for “ordinary Christians”, who are called by name but not necessarily to martyrdom: God does call “ordinary Christians” as well as Archbishop Romeros. Romero focussed his ministry on the poor and marginalised. John referred to the American politician, William Jennings Bryan. who questioned Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, on the grounds that this inevitably means that the poor and weak must “be chucked out and go to the wall”, when the Gospel makes it clear that these are exactly the members of society we are to serve and love. Today Mammon is the ultimate God. Speed and change rule: Camera angles in your average TV play change every 3 seconds. “We wither and perish, but naught changeth thee”: so the hymn goes, but where is the place today for the unchanging God? Has “the Second Reformation” begun? The current Pope has declared ( in the wake of the recent abuse scandals) “There must be an end to clericalism”. In this turbulent time, we are called to be “ordinary Christians”. Engaged in that harvest where “ the workers are few”. We are to be “patrons of lost causes”. Joyfully committed. Building each other up. Merciful to those who doubt. More fully the selves that we are meant to be, “made in God’s image”.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Read Solomon 3 v 1 – 9 Hebrews 12 1-2 1 Cor 15 v 12 – 28
Revd John Edwards explored the very wide and all-embracing meaning of this concept. The great cloud of witnesses referred to in the letter to the Hebrews encompasses those around us on earth but also those now in heaven, “out there”. They are close to God and as God is close to us in Communion, so are all those known and loved in the past. There can be no them and us at the Communion table. None are excluded. Jesus offered bread to all around him. Communion, in its broadest sense, is not something we strive for; it’s a gift. Communion with all his people if we are in touch with the spirit of Jesus. He binds us together with cords that cannot be broken. To strengthen our faith. To keep faith alive we need to be with the people of God. So that we can run with perseverance; the baton passed on to us. A team effort. Those who have gone before cheering us on from the sidelines. Our life is based on Jesus’ death and resurrection and the Communion of Saints is central to our faith.
Read Colossians 3 v 12 – 15a and Luke 4 v 16 -30
Revd Francis Ackroyd introduced us to a quotation from John Ortberg: “The true intercessors are those who pray a future of hope into being.” On this most significant of Remembrance Sundays marking the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War, Francis set out to emphasise not just what we remember but why. The Old Testament is full of urgent commands to the people of Israel to remember God’s past blessings and help ( eg Deuteronomy 24 v18) . For Christians, the height of this is in the Communion service, when God longs to fill us with grace and hope and love as we remember him. We remember for a purpose. We don’t seem to be able to learn from History. Can we still have dreams and visions? Will they make any difference? Francis turned to another quotation, from the Good News translation of Colossians 3: “The peace of Christ will help us in the decisions we make”. Francis reminded us of how easy it is to ask God to bless our plans when first we should have checked out that our plans were in line with his. The Luke passage tells of Jesus setting out his manifesto in a stunningly clear and inclusive way, of very special relevance to our war-torn world today: his detailed comments about the widow of Zarepeth and Naaman the Syrian contrast starkly with what his neighbours wanted to hear, emphasising that the good news was for the whole world, not just the “chosen people”. Their narrow nationalism drove them to fury. They wanted to kill him. Jesus didn’t promise that the way to peace would be easy; it would involve sacrifice and boldness. It would involve action, not just noble sentiments. If we want to make a difference we should stop asking God to do things but embark on doing things ourselves. Speak out when we see racial hate. Unkindness. Prejudice…. True intercession must involve us. It’s got to be : “Here am I, send me”.