Some sermon notes since November 2019
OUR COMFORT ZONE
Read Isaiah 40 v 9 – 11 and 28 – 31 Luke 8 v 26 – 39
Rev Claire Wilson began with a characteristically modest account of her embarrassment when attending a “posh do” in London where everyone else was dressed in evening black. Claire was wearing bright pink. She was out of her comfort zone. Jesus, she said, didn’t have any problems with comfort zones. No boundaries for him. No places that “self-respecting people” would avoid. He seems to have been alone when meeting Legion. ( Luke reading) Jesus’ focus is not on himself, or on his reputation. He engages with this troubled mind, knows his need and what needs to be done. We are called to be out of our comfort zone if we aspire to be in the Kingdom. Ready to engage with and care for people even in what may seem unpleasant or risky situations. Legion has all his resources restored. He wants to go with Jesus, but is sent back to tell his family. In itself quite a scary prospect? What does this incident underline for us in our own encounters with others?
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN
Read Psalm 46 John 15 v 9 – 15
On Remembrance Sunday Rev Dr Alan Beavis looked at what he felt are the key aspects of this day: sacrifice and humanity. Given the colossal sacrifice, our humanity requires us to remember, to work for peace. Thousands displayed that “greater love” Jesus speaks about here. Dying not just for friends but for countless unknown people who would reap the rewards of what they had achieved. But of course, Jesus is speaking here about his own coming sacrifice. We are in huge debt to so many, servicemen, police, coastguards, nurses. Not necessarily dying for others but living for others. So much to be thankful for. As Christians we follow someone who made the ultimate sacrifice. “Even when we were sinners, he died for us”. He didn’t have to do it! It was to reconcile us to God but also as Man to Man and he calls us to follow, to shoulder our burden, to strive to see truth and justice and peace prevail. “If a man discovers something worth dying for, then he is fit to live”. We aren’t to keep our lives for ourselves. We are to give time to one another. This is commitment. This is humanity. The call of God is a call to die to oneself. To invest our lives in service to others. (Romans 12 v 1)
OUR SOVEREIGN GOD
Read 1 Samuel 15 v 1 – 29 and Ephesian 1 v 3 – 10
Jennifer Dorman was speaking about the Old Testament God, demanding wholesale slaughter in strong contrast to the New Testament God “lavishing his glorious grace on us”. But in both passages our understanding of God’s holiness is key. Justice had to be done. Saul’s failure to carry out to the letter the instructions given to him meant that he was untrustworthy and so rejected as the Israelite leader. Hi son would never be king. In their different contexts, both passages illustrate the fact that God’s plan was not, and cannot be, derailed by sin. Paul’s letter speaks of God as a generous father. Mankind was special: Jews, Gentiles, all are offered adoption into God’s family. The cost, the terrible voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, was the necessary redemption. What needed to be done was done. The plan was fulfilled. Sin ( like the ivy in Jenny’s new garden) can take control, especially perhaps in this time of so much uncertainty, propaganda, fake news etc. We have such a plethora of choices and the next generation will inherit an even more complex world. But our God is sovereign
Luke 23 v 33-43
Mr. Leo Cheng is a maxillo-facial and plastic surgeon who spends most of his annual leave working for Mercy Ships UK , a faith-based international development organisation that deploys hospital ships to some of the poorest countries in the world, delivering vital, free healthcare to people in desperate need. Recently moored in Dakar, Senegal, over 7,000 people sought medical help from the ship in the first week. Leo feels that if heaven ran a hospital ship it would be like Mercy Ships; a thin place where heaven and earth are close, surrounded by prayer, and where all the staff on board are unpaid volunteers.
In the passage from Luke everyone thinks they know what it means to be a king, as we do. Pomp and circumstance. But these images distort the impact of Jesus’ kingship, a king mocked by all around him as he died on the cross. We glimpse his upside down kingdom in his conversation with the robber crucified with him. A king who saves others, not himself. This kingdom is visible today wherever God’s purpose is being carried out, as it is on the Mercy Ships, visiting countries where two thirds of the population have no access to medical care and where deformity often leads to social exclusion. God gives hope, hope for the future which needs to be felt in the present. Our task is to love God, love others and serve all.
GOD SAYS : I AM IN CONTROL
Read Luke 21 v 25 – 36
John Edwards explained that today’s “apocalyptic” reading, like similar passages in Revelation, Ezekiel, Daniel 7, for example, is written in a kind of code. Written to encourage his listeners to endure struggles and sufferings to come. Jesus was referring to himself also. He saw himself as the Saviour of the World. “Are you the Messiah?” people asked. “I am” he replied. Enough for the high priests to want him dead. What a paradox: this man, who had been “there from the beginning” was to be condemned by a human court. God’s “foolishness”: a baby cradled in a manger destined to turn the world upside down. What it means for us? In spite of the Syrian war, the flow of refugees, Brexit, climate change, God is in final control. The Advent hope. God places huge faith in just one baby. He came to save the world, not just to “cheer it up” but to make us concerned at all these events, but to be rooted and grounded in hope during uncertain times. We are on the winning side and enlisted as workers in helping him fulfil his purposes. The establishment of this kingdom here on earth,
PEACE ON EARTH
Dr Keith White invited us to confront 7 hard questions: The angels had promised “peace on earth”. Is there peace on earth, so many years after the birth of Jesus? No. Blessings yes, but continued suffering of unimaginable proportions. Have things improved since the coming of Jesus? According to the dominant philosophies over the years, Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, Progressivism, the answer is Yes. Only the brave and blinkered can believe that these are any better than alluring myths. Has it been better in the areas where the Church held full sway? There have indeed been signs of peace and lives lived with love and integrity. But it’s a very mixed picture. There have been horrific eruptions of terror and oppression within the Christian story. So what did the Prince of Peace actually bring? He announced and lived out the true peace, shalom, the comprehensive peace with justice, mercy, gentleness, joy and so on. He brought a new way of living. He and it are literally gifts of God. Nothing to do with power or hierarchies. Not synonymous with “Church” or any organisation or system, God’s way of doing things. So what is the problem? We are. The hunman species. We repeat he follies of History. Sheep that have gone astray. Filled with delusions of grandeur This is the consistent prevailing message of the Bible. We need to realise that we are sinners in need of God’s help to make the first step towards peace. Will there ever be Peace? Yes, but only if we can allow God to open our eyes to the darkness of our minds and hearts. Then the light can dawn. So how should we live? As Micah put it: we are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with out God. Citizens of the coming peaceful Kingdom, living ahead of our time. Living prayerfully, carefully, watchfully, peacefully, patiently, seeking to be reconcilers, channels of peace. Fully aware of injustice and wars, but never losing hope. Read and be inspired by Isaiah 9, Isaiah 65 Isaiah 2 v 4, Micah 4, v 3 Rev 21 and Rev 22.
BEFORE THE JUDGE
Rowena Rudkin followed up the lighting of the third Advent candle by confirming that this was the week to think about John the Baptist, the last of the prophets and the forerunner of Jesus. A well-known tradition of his time: a sort of personal advertising campaign, letting people know that someone really important was going to appear. The season of Advent also embraces the “four last things”, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Unfashionable topics today, but part of the whole truth of Life. John certainly spoke boldly about the need to repent. Rowena admitted that she would prefer to stand before Judge Rinder than before the more fearsome Judge Judy if she were to be on one of their programmes. In spite of his kindness and recognition of weakness, fecklessness even, Judge Rinder didn’t hesitate to call his “clients” to account. We want forgiveness but that doesn’t mean a covering-up of what we have done wrong. In fact we need a cleansing process. Bitterness is one aspect of Hell, said Rowena. If people cannot forgive, they taste Hell. Watching the programmes, Rowena had seen how important it is that people actually need to face the punishment of their deeds in order to recover and be “healed”. John the Baptist, like all the great prophets, urged people (us) to take responsibility for our actions. He was making way for the longed-for Saviour to come.
PEACE AND GOODWILL
Read 1 Philippians 2 v 1 – 11 and Luke 1 v 26 – 38
Does the spirit of Christmas get discarded by the New Year? Revd. Ivan Moore pondered on how temporary the impact of God’s message is. “A short shelf life”. Peace and goodwill? Mere pipe dreams. The child, a refugee with a death warrant already awaiting him, born into a divided world. Seeking to foster reconciliation. Bringing tangible signs of peace and community during his ministry. The tax-collector side by side with former enemies. The incarnation is not just the first step. It is the sign of God becoming Man. Bringing transformation to people. Bringing us the right to be called children of God. But if we focus on his birth and dodge the implication of his call to mission, to a life lived out as God’s children, we’re not a light for the world, a bearer of hope. He welcomes us, damaged as we are and we are being invited to share his love more, to shed light in dark situations, to grab opportunities to deny ourselves as he did. We need to cultivate his mind, his heart in ourselves. That’s how the Kingdom is built. If peace is to become a reality we must play our part. Make a difference. Point to ( and become) signs of the world as it could and should be.
TIME TO TAKE STOCK
Read Psalm 33 and Luke 14 v 25 – 33
Revd Alan Beavis took us back to basics. Do we know the cost of being a disciple? Jesus didn’t ever invite people “to become Christians” but he does invite us to be and to make disciples. You can be a believer but never really become a follower. Jesus was the man-of-the-moment ( see Luke passage) but he wasn’t looking for more hangers-on. He was looking for those who would pay the price, put him first. He is sifting the fair-weather friends from the committed disciples. Our way of life should reflect who we belong to. It’s tough. Even dangerous in our time Yet faith seems to shine brightest when Christians are persecuted. Either Jesus is Lord of all or not Lord at all. What does it mean to bear your cross? No-one in their right mind surely would choose this “deathwalk”. We water it down. (It’s not “a touch of lumbago”) It’s a costly, sacrificial way of life, in terms of time and energy. Living for self is in complete contradiction to discipleship. We need to be devoted to Jesus, unafraid to be counted. He can use us, if we commit, to help in building his Kingdom.
NEW THINGS ARE HAPPENING
Read Isaiah 42 v 1 – 9 and Matthew 3 v 13 – 17
Revd Fiona Thomas started with the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist had fully understood his role. It was as a forerunner to Jesus. Pointing the way forward. Old things, observed Fiona, often have to be cleared away for new things to happen. What is the role of the Christian? It is a lifelong calling. We must pick up the task again and again. Jesus calls us to follow, not to sit still, What is the calling of a Christian congregation? To point to God. To be ready to change, to move on (while protecting the bruised reed). To be alert to something new happening. Fiona referred to one area where something new is happening: there is a greater awareness of the need to protect the planet by making changes to lifestyle and even diet. Veganism is growing. (Even Greggs have introduced a vegan “sausage roll”) Churches are disinvesting in fossil fuels. We have to carry on the conversation about food. People are also picking up on the need to campaign for the release of political prisoners. Churches are wrestling with “how to be Church”. Fiona handed round Mandalas and prayer circles, reminders of how God can transform us, reminders of the need for ongoing prayer. We are to notice, to be alert, ready to join in forward movements where they seem right for us. New things are happening.