Some sermon notes since May 2019
Read Acts 9 v 1 – 11 Rev 5 v 11 – end John 21 v 1 – 19
Revd Christopher Owens seemed almost to be on board the fishing boat with John and the others. No luck catching fish . But who was this stranger on the shore? What followed was not a miracle, insisted Christopher. This was a familiar incident in the fishermen’s lives. A poor catch. Then a massive catch. And a well-earned breakfast on the beach to follow. Jesus wasn’t walking through walls as he did into the upper room. He was sharing a meal with them. Very himself. Not a phantom or a hallucination. Who, joked Christopher, had time or inclination to count the fish? “There’s always more to John”: he knew Matthew’s version very well. No arithmetic there. So what was the significance of the 153? St Jerome had evidently claimed that it was the total number of fish species at that time. But was it also the number of different nations? Is John saying that by this net ( a drag net that hauled up everything from the sea-bottom, fish, old boots and all) every nation on earth was being gathered in by the infant church. That’s how God works, said Christopher. The new heaven and earth are not replacements for the old. The old created order, that in the beginning had been pronounced to be “very good”, would now be raised up and glorified and deposited safely on the shore. Very little to throw away if you are into the catholic understanding of the total forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, redemption and love brought to us by Jesus on the cross. “The sentence is life abundant.” (Though people are quite free to leave.) The Father has committed the judgement to the Son. The whole, redeemed and reconciled Creation would also be “very good”.
Read Leviticus 13 v 45 – 46 and Mark 1 V 40 – 45
Mr Jarrett Wilson-Gray invited us to consider the advances made in so many fields during our lifetime. Clearly medicine was one such area. Yet the circumstances described in Leviticus are by no means eradicated. In Jesus’ time this disease meant being outcast and shunned, yet here is a leper confronting Jesus. A man destroyed relationally, physically and even spiritually alone. (He was forbidden to enter the Temple). He doesn’t come demanding. He comes on his knees. He comes in faith. With a specific request ; “Make me clean”. He is not just asking to be cured of leprosy but to be restored to his life. Jesus touches him. An extraordinary moment reconnecting him to society, to the embraces of his children and his wife. In the other parts of the service, Jarrett described the wide range of work undertaken by The Leprosy Mission ( see page) There are now effective medicines available but the disease is still rampant and the task I enormous. In India alone, for example, there are 130,000 new diagnoses every year.
Read Acts 7: 54-60 and Acts 9: 1-19
Many people have a special moment which shapes their future. Major Peter Smith recalled how during the Boer war in 1899 Winston Churchill was confronted by a Boer soldier with a rifle. He reached for his pistol but had forgotten to bring it so had to surrender. It transpired that the Boer soldier was Louis Botha – both men survived and went on to become prime ministers of their respective countries. For Lord Shaftesbury it was his visit to the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ in Bethnal Green which caused him to become a pioneer of social reform. For William Booth it was his first sermon at the Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel, which led to the foundation of the Salvation Army.
Saul’s life-changing moment occurred on the Damascus road. Whatever happened is less important than the fact that it led to Saul’s immediate conversion, a new name, Paul, and a life-time of evangelism as the great apostle to the Gentiles. We should not forget the role played by Ananias and Barnabus who despite knowing of Saul’s previous history of persecuting the Christians welcomed him as ‘Brother Saul’ and supported and nurtured him. We all, even Christian, need an Ananias or a Barnabus to befriend, encourage and support us. Sometimes we find it easier to minister to strangers than to our friends, but we always need to be ready to be the ears, eyes and mouth of our Lord, even in our own community.
Read Psalm 23 and Luke 10: vv.25-37
The story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ comes half way through Luke’s gospel, by which time the Jewish leaders were totally opposed to Jesus. Revd John Edwards points out the it is against this background that the lawyer tried to discredit our Lord with his seemingly innocent question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The parable with which Jesus replies turns the tables on the lawyer by forcing him to admit that the Samaritan, generally regarded by the Jews as unclean, has been the neighbour to the hapless (presumably Jewish) victim of the mugging and by commanding him to ‘do likewise’. Once again Jesus demolishes all the contemporary boundaries by his revolutionary thinking. The passage has two messages for us. First, it reminds us that Jesus is the neighbour that we all, like the lawyer, need. Secondly, it challenges us to look at others in need not from the point of view of superior middle class suburbanites, but as people in need ourselves, a need which can sometimes be met by the very people we are trying to help. John admits that for him the homeless beggars on our streets are a challenge. The response from one such beggar to whom he recently gave some small change was to bless him – a response which filled John’s heart with warmth. In God’s upside down kingdom we are all his children, partners together, each helping the other to become more fully human.
Read John 14 v 8 – 21 Romans 8 v 14 – 17 Acts 2 v 1 – 21
At the Daisy Road Church, Major Glenda Holifield began with a picture. A person in prayer. A glowing light. Depicting perhaps a sense of abandoning oneself to God in the Holy Spirit. We are a little afraid of doing this, for fear of what God may ask of us, said Glenda. But the symbols of that first “church birthday” in the upper room, the flames, the wind, all point to the need for power, a spark to ignite our response and our action. Pentecost is that “small start”. We see the way groups of people from countries far and wide heard, in their own language, the news of Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples had been waiting expectantly, and were changed into bold apostles, eager to witness for their Lord. Confident and purposeful. We can imagine Peter chuckling at the idea that they were drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning. It’s “one small step” that God asks of us and he strengthens us in his Spirit to take it. We are not to get “drunk on wine” but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Are we open, eager, welcoming to Him? Is there even a small space to receive Him daily into our lives?
Read Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15
Many Church of England preachers dread Trinity Sunday, finding the concept of the Trinity too difficult to explain. Mark Lewis told of one such preacher who just said ‘Too Difficult’ and sat down! Why do some people get so worked up about the concept of three in one? Although there is no biblical foundation to the concept, there are many biblical references to ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ Mark suggested that the problem stems partly from viewing the concept through the eyes of its fourth century founders, for whom it was an attempt to explain how the divine Christ and one God can co-exist, and from not trying to re-interpret it for our own time. The word ‘persona’ in Latin and Greek describes how players presented themselves in a drama (as in dramatis personae) and the use of the modern word ‘persons’ limits our understanding. The concept describes a truth about the relationship, perhaps better described as ‘movements’ or ‘modes of action’, between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whose inter-connective divinity can be seen everywhere from the smallest molecule to the whole cosmos. A circle might be a better analogy than a triangle. In the words of Father Adrian Smith, a Catholic priest and former missionary in Africa, ‘God is the ultimate reality, Jesus Christ is what we desire to become and the Holy Spirit enables us to do so’. Although ultimately a mystery, to be authentic the concept of the Trinity must connect with the real world. Trinity Sunday, the only Christian festival associated with a doctrine rather than an event, should be a day when we think more profoundly, and perhaps develop new theological insights about the nature of God in our own lives. God can be seen as a very dangerous concept, so we should think more about a God of love. Being Trinitarian is love in triplicate and goes to the heart of being a Christian. We need time to give a new vitality to what it means to have faith, and what it means to say ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
A POWERFUL GOD
Read Isaiah 65: 1-9 and Luke 8: 26-39
Revd Stephen Heap once attended a church at which Caribbean members of the congregation would not serve the wine at communion because they felt that the power of God within it was too strong for them to handle. “You need to be careful when dealing with it”. In the story of the man healed of demons Luke goes to some lengths to show how powerful God is. The man possessed “legions” of demons. (A legion in the Roman army contained over 1,000 men). This was such a massive demonic force that people couldn’t contain it, even with chains, yet all Jesus had to do was to speak and the demons were overcome. We have a mighty, powerful God, and are fortunate that it is a benign power. There is no need to worry or be nervous about it – unless you are a pig! And therein lies the rub – there is a price to be paid, for along with healing comes destruction. The Israelites freedom from Egypt was bought at a terrible price for the Egyptians, culminating in the death of their firstborn children. People in Luke’s story were so afraid of Jesus’ power that they asked him to leave them. Be careful of this power, even in the bread and wine. But in Isaiah 65 God is not portrayed as a God of terror but one who reaches out to a rebellious people who do not ask for him. A God who seeks and saves. A God we see in Jesus. God is revealed in one mighty act – the crucifixion – in the light of which the rest of the Bible must be seen. Where God in Christ overcomes the demons for all of us. And who pays the price? God himself in Christ. The pain of the crucifixion goes to the heart of the Godhead. Despite the Trinity, Jesus cries out ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ The use of power is never easy, and neither is the gospel. God uses his power and pays the price, opening the door for us. A God who says ‘Here I am. Come to me for in my power I will go to a cross and save you.’ The sort of power the world needs.