Some sermon notes since November 2018
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”.
Jenny Dorman began with the story of Noah from the first obedient, and widely mocked, building of the ark to the twiglet of hope brought by the dove, signifying the long-awaited abatement of the floods. It had been a long wait. Today we expect quick responses. Rescue teams in helicopters. But all too often we must accept that we need to wait for an answer. The context of the Noah story? Following the story of Adam and Eve first crossing the boundaries between the Creator and his Creation, the world was in a mess: Genesis 6 v 5 Wickedness and evil deeds prevailed everywhere. And the flood was a drastic intervention. An opportunity to make a completely fresh start. (Gardeners know about rooting out plants that want to “take over”. )But Noah and his crowd of creatures survived and his relationship with God renewed. A rainbow signified God’s renewed covenant with his people. Paul, writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5) was dealing with another situation where reconciliation was of paramount importance. They were a mixture of people but with one thing in common, a new Faith in someone more powerful than Caesar. But there were interest groups, factions. The Corinthian Christians were having difficulties accepting that Jesus had died for all people, not just the “chosen people” of the Scriptures. They had to be at one with each other, and that included outcasts. There must be respect. Loving means listening. Contemporary society puts Me first. There must be no dent in our self-esteem. In Gethsemane Jesus prayed that all, repeat all, believers must be one. Jenny concluded by thinking about Christians today being persecuted for their faith and citing the wonderful generosity and welcome given by Lebanese Christians to hundreds of fleeing Moslem Syrian refugees. All old attitudes and grievances banished and reconciliation in its place. In the recent week of Remembrance it had been a source of hope seeing leaders of previously warring countries standing together and praying for peace.
PRAYER: WHY, WHERE, HOW and WHEN?
Read James 5 v 13 – 16 and Matthew 6 v 5 – 16
Revd Elizabeth Price spoke about prayer: a conversation with God. A pipeline of communication with God. It can be short, long, joyful, tearful, humble, angry. No set shape is needed, no definite format or ritual, though all these may be ways of approaching prayer. Sometimes just being quiet and in listening mode. Prayer works. We want to be close to God, as in any relationship. There are three kinds of answer to our prayers. Yes, No and Wait. Wait is he tough one: it forces us to submit to God’s timetable. The saddest thing is an unoffered prayer. Prayer should be automatic, as natural as breathing. It’s probably true that amongst Christians “prayer is talked about more than anything else, but practised less than anything else.” You cannot be a good Christian if you don’t pray; there will be a hole in your heart. How and when? Wherever, whenever. Walking, driving on the bus. Nobody knows that’s what you are doing. We are to be persistent, passionate about prayer. The Evil One wants to make us give up. Don’t let him win! Prayer to the Father is a powerful thing. It needs to be heartfelt. But you won’t hear the answer if you don’t listen. And very likely wait. When we intercede for others, God helps us to be part of fulfilling our prayer. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing”. With him we can do anything. Give thanks with a grateful heart and with humility. BE a prayer, and watch how it changes your life.
SPOTLIGHT ON ZECHARIAH
Read Micah 7 v 18 – 20 and Luke 1 v 67 – 79
If we think of Luke’s gospel as a drama, the first person “to appear on the stage” is Zechariah, being visited by no less a figure than the Archangel Gabriel. Revd Richard Wyber added a very human touch, expressing sympathy for the harsh treatment he received; he was struck dumb for doubting the possibility of a son. (Mary, later on, in the same position, was given gentle encouragement!) The drama leaps ahead to the circumcision of the baby John, and to Zechariah’s prophecy as his speech is restored. Clearly Luke gave his words – known for centuries as the Benedictus – great significance, placing them in the opening chapter of his story. “A passage of enormous reach”, is how Richard described it. Going back to the Covenant with Abraham and on to the birth of Jesus. Micah had already dispelled the familiar Old Testament portrait of God as an angry old man : “You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” ( ch 7 v 19) Now Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, utters his famous prophecy. With echoes of the opening lines of John’s Gospel, he speaks of a light coming into the world, “a soft and gentle light”, in Richard’s reading of it. Richard pointed to the different tenses in the prophecy: present tense at the beginning: God has raised up a deliverer, his promises are even now being fulfilled. Earlier he had used the past tense in describing the old covenant with Abraham. And this “light from above” was a blessing but also for a purpose: to show us the way of peace, to lead us into lives of holiness and righteousness. As ever, Richard mentioned his love of the rhythms and repetitions of the Anglican calendar. The Benedictus was part of almost every day for him.
HE WILL COME AGAIN
Read Matthew 25 v 31 – 46
Advent is not just about the Incarnation, the “first coming”. It is also very much about “The Second Coming”. Revd Dr Alan Beavis went on to develop this opening statement. The underlying message of the Bible is that God is in ultimate control. He will accomplish the plans he had from the beginning, leading to the climax of History. Alan saw Biblical history, God’s Story, in five phases: the Creation, the first Covenant, the birth and life and death of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, the Church and the final Consummation. We are placed in the fourth phase. Christ came to inaugurate the Kingdom. It is both now and also not yet. So we are citizens in this world but not of this world. We are not “where we were” nor are we where we should be. Trying to work out the date is almost blasphemous; even Jesus claimed not to know it. It’s all about preparation. And when he comes again it will be cataclysmic. Something the world will notice. And meanwhile we are to live each day as if it were our last. He came in a physical body but he will return in his resurrection body. It will be the most public event in all history. Sudden and unexpected. Paul said “like a thief in the night”. And it will be decisive. A time of restoration. Good triumphing over Evil. The passage in Matthew’s Gospel makes very clear what our priorities should be during this interim period, when we should be filled with self-forgetfulness and self-sacrificial love. Are we awake, on the alert? Are we ready?
ANGELS (No apologies for a lengthy precis of this intriguing sermon)
Read Matthew 1 v 18 – 25 and Luke 1 v 8 – 14 and Hebrews 13 v 1-2
The narrative of Jesus’ birth is infused with the glorious presence of angels. At the time of his wilderness temptation, “angels attended him”.(Matt 4 v 11)Dr Keith White confirmed that in similarly key situations in his own life he had felt a strong supporting presence. He asked the question: “Are angels on hand all the time, only we don’t notice them?” Keith’s answer was an emphatic “Yes”. We see only “through a glass darkly” as Paul put it. (I Cor 13 v 12). But occasionally we sense them. They come in various guises, bringing messages, realisations. Keith had been looking closely at their appearances in the life of Jesus. His wilderness experience had been a pivotal time. Without the protection of angels he could have died amongst the wild beasts . “Heavenly angels” as Keith put it; they returned to Heaven when their role was fulfilled. In the garden of Gethsemane an angel “strengthened him”. Could he go through with it? Could he bear the loneliness ,and agony of fear while his still-uncomprehending disciples enjoyed their peaceful sleep? Our Christmas carols are full of angels. Are they sentimental nonsense? No. They tell it how it was. A second group of angels could be best described as “angels unawares”. The author of Hebrews says “Remember to show hospitality. There are some who by so doing have entertained angels unawares” (AV)In this group there is “a teeming cast of characters. Take the centurion in Capernaum (read Matthew 8 v 5 – 13) “You have only to say the word and the boy will be cured”. And what about the woman with the alabaster jar pouring the perfume over his feet. Was that wasteful, distasteful even? Jesus knew that what she had done would be remembered and celebrated long after his death. Was she aware that she was comforting him? While others closer to him were vying for the best seats in Heaven. What about the Gentile woman ( Matthew 15 v 21 – 28) ready to accept “the scraps from under the table” left by “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Jesus was drinking deeply from these unlikely messengers. Strangers were taking the place of the inheritors. A third group: you might even call them enemies of Jesus. At any rate certainly not friends. They inadvertently reveal the truth. Take the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4) : “God will put his angels in charge of you; they will support you in their arms”. A demon-possessed man had grasped the truth: “You are the Son of the Most High”. What about the mockers round the Cross, unknowingly blurting out the whole essence of the Gospel: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” The criminal dying beside him: Lord, remember me in your Kingdom. Jesus was in fact surrounded at every step of the way by angels like these, some more unlikely than others, said Keith. Could that apply to us? Keith believed that it does indeed. “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all; with this gift how can he fail to lavish upon us all he has to give?” (Romans 8 v32)
HE CAME DOWN
Read Micah 5 v 2 – 5 and Luke 1 v 39 – 55
Revd John Edwards contemplated the miracle of the incarnation: The dimensions of the universe are unimaginable, incredible, yet that babe of Bethlehem was effectively responsible for all that space and everything in it. God is with us, immanent and everywhere, not limited by space or time. It is humanly incomprehensible but his coming gives us the clue to the mystery: That God is our loving father. The sphinx has been depicted as asking that huge question: Is the God who made the universe benign? Jesus said, emphatically YES. God is love. Jesus was born to a temporarily homeless woman; he survived political turmoil and atrocity as a refugee. When he returned to Nazareth he was well received at first but not when he insisted that all, Gentiles and Jews, were included in his saving love. All his ministry was with outsiders and it maddened the Pharisees and the religious authorities. But it was precisely why he had come into the world – not to bless the smug but to bring good news to the poor. No human being is outside the categories Jesus named. His love attracted vast crowds. How far are we also biased towards the poor? Are we giving support to the needy, the marginalised? Do we ask ourselves what Jesus would do in any given challenging situation? Age is not a barrier to service. Even if “our outer nature is fading we can be inwardly renewed every day”. He inspires and we must act on his behalf. It’s Christmas, the time to look beyond ourselves and to rededicate ourselves to Him.
PEACE IN OUR TIME
Matthew 5: 1-9
Diana Newlands confessed that she was puzzled over why the knocking down of the building in George Lane that had housed the Red Mantra restaurant had disturbed her so much. Perhaps it was the loss of the link with the past when it was the site of Hedges haberdashery store. Perhaps this centenary year after the end of the first world war has stirred up memories of the many similar gaps in London’s streets as a result of ‘bomb damage’ in the second one. Not just structural gaps between buildings but breaches rent forever in the families that lived there. ‘Lest we forget’. It is all too easy to say that peace is not just the absence of war, but something that has to be actively worked for. If only as a nation we could put the same energy into making peace that we put into the war effort seventy years ago. If only we could take to heart the construction company’s slogan “if you can dream it, we can build it”.