Some sermon notes since July 2019
EVERYTHING CHANGED ON THAT DAY
Read Hosea 6 v 1 -7 and John 6 v 29 – 40
There are plenty of reasons for going to church, said Canon Rodney Matthews. But one very prominent one is to put ourselves in a right relationship with God. To be at one with him. Atonement. The Jews had worked out how to do this. Bringing a gift; making a sacrifice. Even in our Communion Service this idea remains: Cranmer wrote of Jesus’ “one oblation of himself, a full and perfect offering”. Everything changed on that first Good Friday as the meaning of the cross became clear: our guilt was removed, our fear of death; our relationship with God, our worship: all changed. The Old Testament is full of sacrifices to an angry God: Abraham was required to sacrifice a heifer and other creatures (Gen 15 v 9). It was the blood of a sacrificial lamb that was smeared on the doorposts in readiness for the first “pass-over” event. Not all Old Testament figures felt that this was the best way: “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6) Yet even when Jesus was taken first to the Temple, sacrificial turtle doves and pigeons were part of the purification ceremony. All that has gone now. It’s understandable (see John reading) that “many left Jesus” when he spoke of being the Bread of Life. And how confused, puzzled the disciples must have been when hearing him say those words for the first time: “This is my body. This is my blood”. After his resurrection they began to “put it all together”. To understand that he was preparing to offer himself as the one, perfect sacrifice for the whole world. God inviting our belief, our acceptance of his gift, our very selves ( Romans 12 v 1-2). As we accept the gift at the Communion Service, in our lives, all barriers between us and God are gone.
WORDS OF COMFORT
Read Colossians 1: 1-14, John 14: 1-6
Revd Elizabeth Price has been conducting several funerals recently, talking to families about the hope of resurrection – a hope that relates to life today, not just after death. When Jesus was anticipating the pain his death would cause to his disciples he gave them great comfort, promising them that though his physical presence would leave them his spiritual presence would remain. He offers the same comfort to us today: ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there I am in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20); ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). These promises are a great comfort in an age of conflict, disappointment and pain. No longer hindered by the limitations of a physical body, Jesus’ presence is available to us every day, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also promises his disciples that he will prepare a place for them in heaven, and will return to take them home in person, not just give them directions or a sat-nav to guide them. We will be residents, not guests, in our heavenly home. It is always good to come home, to a place where you are loved, accepted and free. In our heavenly home our Father will take care of all our needs along with those of the whole family of God.
HOW DID SAUL BECOME PAUL ?
Read John 3 v 1 – 21 and Galatians 1 v 11 – 24
We were asked by Ian Carnell to picture a bullying, obnoxious person becoming, overnight, our best friend. A description of Saul, the exterminator transformed into the encourager. Paul shared some of his life experiences in his letter to the Galatians. They found it hard to get their heads round the huge change in him. It wasn’t that he had “got religion”. He was already a very religious man “beyond many of his own age”. Zealous in the Jewish traditions, wanting to tick every box that would make him right with God. But how burdensome was his chosen way. It even made him rather unpleasant. Now he had experienced grace; the unconditional love of God. No-one is so good that they don’t need that grace or so bad as not to deserve it. The revelation of the Cross and Resurrection is life-changing. Life is “more like a party” said Ian. A great adventure. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship of love with God through Christ. The Gospels reveal “the beating heart of God” Grace is not solely for our comfort. We have the same responsibility as Paul did to share this gracious love. In every circumstance of life, whether in good times or bad times, remember Jesus. Grace is the very nature of our relationship with him.
SAINT MARK’S SANDWICHES
Read Psalm 150 but chiefly Mark 5 v 21 43
There were two parts to Revd Alwyn Knight’s sermon today: he spoke in depth about the sheer brilliance of Mark’s Gospel, and then also in depth about the events described in the above excerpt which exemplify one of Mark’s favourite stylistic techniques as a storyteller. Alwyn had a long standing “love affair” with this Gospel after hearing it read aloud from start to finish by the actor, Alec McCowan, to an entranced audience in the 1970’s in Stepney. It is the nearest thing we have to an eye-witness account of Jesus’ ministry. Written in rustic or even, some academics suggest, “barbaric” language. But what a storyteller! Tremendous pace and sparseness: almost every sentence beginning with “and” or even “and immediately”. But with a strange enigmatic ending: “The women said nothing. They were afraid”. Debates have raged about this; two other possible endings were discovered but scholars unite in saying their style was not Mark’s. So was this truly his intention? Urging the readers / listeners to live out the life “in all its fullness” that Jesus spoke about. (Alwyn strongly recommended David Suchet’s performance of Mark on U Tube).
St Mark liked “sandwiches”. Scholars have dubbed them “Markan sandwiches”. They occur at least seven times in his Gospel: Here is Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, a member of the religious establishment that is deeply antagonistic towards Jesus’ ministry. But this man sets aside any reservations and begs for his help for his dying daughter. Jesus agrees and they set off to his home. This is the first outer part of the sandwich. The supporting role. But now we have the “filling”. This is “what defines the sandwich”. Another desperate person, a woman, defined only by her disability. Twelve years of uncontrolled bleeding. The same years that Jairus’ daughter had lived. She came from behind. She has no name. No status since she is “unclean”. A double victim in her physical anguish and her social exclusion. The sort of situation that incensed Jesus. (Think of his attitude to the Sabbath rules, to the purity laws, to the shocking display by a mere woman with her precious ointment, poured at Jesus’ feet and smeared with her hair, to the meals with “tax-collectors and sinners). But what does he say to this woman: “Daughter”. (He has bestowed a relationship.) “Go in peace. Your faith has made you whole”. (He has restored her to society.) Straightaway we return to the rest of the sandwich. Was Jairus feeling impatient? Resentful? We don’t know. We have the restoration of Jairus’ daughter in the house of wailing where she lay. A homely touch, “Give her something to eat.” What does Mark want us to take from these events, sandwiched together so deliberately? Jairus was at the centre of society, in a little world in which tradition rather than experiment ruled. Jesus risked an experiment. This “other” sick daughter, who only dared to touch his cloak, was also and quite as much, a child of God. Compassion and love take precedence. And all inclusively, in God’s community. His Kingdom. A poster at a church near to Alwyn’s home summed up what happened here: “Step out of Convention into Love”. Alwyn concluded by reading the poem by one of his favourite poets – R.S.Thomas, The Kingdom.
CONTINUING WITH THE THEME OF GRACE
Read Mark 9 v 33 – 37 and 10 v 13 – 16
Revd John Edwards homed in on these passages from Mark. How strange, eccentric, even perhaps sometimes outrageous and daft must some of Jesus’ words have seemed to his disciples. Love your enemies? Whatever next! Here Jesus puts the focus on a child. Puts the child”in the midst”. But surely, “children were nonentities”. Even boys had to be old enough to achieve “importance”. Women not at all. Why did Jesus rebuke the disciples when they wanted to turn away mothers and children? What is it about children that makes them the model for Kingdom citizens? They depend for everything on their parents. When we fully realise our dependence on God, blessings ensue. The realisation that we are loved and accepted floods light into dark places. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is essentially a gift. It is the grace of God. The disciples still were turning children away from Jesus, in the second incident. All down the ages people whom Jesus would have accepted are turned away. Jesus himself was rejected. When Gentiles wanted to join, they were accepted; there were to be no exceptions. In a way, we are all the children we once were. When troubles come we must hold to the knowledge that God is with us.
LOVE: THE HEART OF THE CHRISIAN FAITH
Read Matthew 5 v 38 – 48 Colossians 3 v 12 – 14 I Corinthians 13 V 1 – 13
Major Peter Smith invited us to contemplate the enormity, the sheer wonder of the love of God for his Creation, for us, his children. The English word for love is used for a huge variety of situations. The original Greek had four different words for “love”, but above and beyond all other loves is the love the Greeks called “agape”, the unconquerable benevolence, the seeking of the greatest possible good for one another, our friends and even our enemies. This is the love that echoes the love of God for us. Peter looked at that great, familiar passage in our third reading: even great eloquence without love was nothing. He admitted he was glad when he received compliments on his preaching. (So easy to take the glory to himself, he modestly confessed.) Immense wisdom, knowing what lay behind all mysteries ( probably a reference to the Gnostics) was likewise worthless without love. Even dying for Jesus could not in itself outdo love. Peter spoke movingly of the many martyrs in the Church’s history. He asked us to try inserting our own name in that great list of Love’s qualities: I am kind. I am patient. I never cling on to resentments etc. This passage is our gold standard. This is what, in the light of God’s immeasurable love for us, we Christians should be demonstrating in our lives.