Some sermon notes since January 2020
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.
HOW TO BE GREAT IN GOD’S KINGDOM
Read Luke 17: 5-10 2 Samuel 17: 12-24
Helen Mullis Kunda found it incredible that the disciples in the Luke passage above should ask Jesus to increase their faith. After all, they had probably been with him for around two years by then during which time they had witnessed the casting out of evil spirits, multiple healings, a miraculous feeding of thousands, an amazing catch of fish, calming of a storm and even the widow’s son and Jairus’ daughter being brought back to life. What more could Jesus do to increase their faith? And his answer is perplexing until we realise that he understood the motive behind their question. The disciples obviously wanted more faith in order to do some of the miraculous things that Jesus did. They wanted the power to ‘do stuff’. After assuring them that this was possible with even a mustard seed amount of faith he went on to point out that real power came from servanthood. They were servants who wanted to get above their station. The best thing they could do was to follow his example, demonstrated when he washed their feet. Helen pointed out that the boy David only arrived at the battle against the Philistines as a servant, taking food to his brothers, but this put him in the position to defeat a giant. In servanthood we too can put ourselves in the position to proclaim justice and defeat giants.
Read 2 Timothy 3: v14 -4:v5 and Luke 18: 1-8
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE
The parents of Harry Dunn, killed by a car driven by an American with diplomatic immunity, are still fighting for justice. Mark Lewis reminded us that the Bible is steeped in issues of justice, mainly for the most vulnerable in society. The parable of the unjust judge describes how the persistence of the widow leads the judge to relent, for purely selfish reasons. The widow is a metaphor for the downtrodden and oppressed and the judge a metaphor for those who oppose justice, even today. We should never lose heart when striving for justice, even though that may come at a price, as Mark himself knows from a recent personal experience. It is easy to pass by on the other side, but sometimes essential that we stand up for what is right, even if hard hearts cannot be softened. Our Lord, who paid the ultimate price, tells us that sometimes we may even end up feeling like the victims.
In our prayer requests to God we should be just as persistent, remembering that Gandhi said that prayer is the most potent instrument of action. As we pray we should ask ourselves what demands our prayers are making on us, and how we can become part of our own prayers. In a world where people are crying out for justice, Jesus calls us to be a people of stubborn hope. It is more important to get heaven into people than to get people into heaven.
THE LAMB OF GOD
John the Baptist was what every preacher should be: “Forget me and look at Jesus” was his theme. Revd Alan Bolding explained that an Israelite would never be baptised; they were the chosen race and didn’t need cleansing. But John was suggesting that even they needed baptism, just with water, as a mark of repentance. John was saying they needed to prepare themselves for the entry into History of the King. ( Alan paused to share his insights on infant baptism, which in his younger days he had regarded as rather meaningless, with parents and godparents making promises that were often disregarded immediately. But the actual experience of holding the child in his arms and sprinkling the water had been revelatory: he sensed that God was saying,” Don’t worry about the parents, I am here for the child.”) What prompted John to utter those words as Jesus approached? “Behold the Lamb of God”. Was he thinking of the Passover lamb? The blood of the slain lamb protecting the chosen people in Egypt? Did he see lambs grazing on distant hills, or was he thinking of the lamb sacrificed daily in the Temple? Jesus was the one only sacrifice that can deliver his people from their sin. A sacrifice meekly and lovingly borne. John was nothing, Jesus was everything. We are to claim, trust and believe in the gift he gives us.
Read Isaiah 58 v 1 – 9 I Cor 2 v 1 – 12 Matt 5 v 13 – 26
Christmas casts a forward shadow almost obscuring Advent, said Revd Kevin Swaine. Yet Christmas itself is given short shrift. An expiry date! Why do we trudge so heavily into the hinterland of the New Year? The liturgical calendar offers help: the 5th Sunday after Epiphany revisits the spiritual themes of Christmas and even Advent as well . Isaiah is exhorting God’s people to integrity of living so that God’s light may shine like the dawn. The Advent rallying cry is taken up and simplified. We are reminded of poverty and inequality, the pointing finger, the malicious talk. meanness. Putting aside these things allows our light to shine , refracting God’s light. Note: our light. St Paul was fully aware of his gift of dazzling oratory, but he claims just to know the power of the Holy Spirit. Spirit led “enlightenment”, namely Christ crucified. The incarnation: the crib and the cross, two aspects of the one reality. Matthew offers a beautiful synthesis of these themes. Jesus has “hooked in his listeners” with the Beatitudes. Now he speaks of the visibility of virtue. He uses readily understood images of salt and light. Light to drive back the darkness.( Again it is our light, an interesting complement to John 8, “Christ, the world’s light”) . Bringing together words and deeds is the task of the true Christian. The sight of goodness calls forth praise. The early church used the words baptism and enlightenment interchangeably. Hence the baptismal candle. From that moment the child will walk as a child of light (Ephesians 5 v 8). Our vocation is to be an active continuation of the Lord’s presence in the world. Epiphany is also associated with Candlemass. Simeon (Luke 2) saw the child as a light to lighten all people. We need “light therapy” in the Northern Hemisphere Find it in faith expressed in good deeds. The message of Christmas. God with us. Even in February we can be the children of the light.
A LONG DISTANCE HEALING
Read John 4 v 46 – 54
Revd Dennis Martin explored in depth the encounter between a royal official and Jesus. Here was a nobleman used to giving orders. Expecting obedience. But now he had a problem he couldn’t solve. The worst nightmare of every parent, his son near to death. Jesus was by now well known for the Cana miracle. Could he save this man’s son? Jesus didn’t take on flesh just for the poor and marginalised. He didn’t say “Come back tomorrow when I’m less busy.” He sent the man away with the assurance that his son was healed. Could he believe it? No-one has a fully developed faith. There are various stages. But faith can grow in desperate circumstances. When the storm hits we cry out to God for help. The official had risked his position and reputation but had his prayer been answered? Realising that the healing had occurred at the very time Jesus had said the word, this man and his entire family became believers. Affliction is one of God’s medicines; not that he gives illness. He protects us through it but not always from it. God is merciful but he doesn’t want to be put back on the shelf till the next crisis. Whether healed or not we must continue to rely on God. Aim for the mature faith of the believer, not the backstop faith to bring out when troubles come. God has our best interests at heart. We must first believe. Then comes seeing! Faith is to believe what we do not see, but the reward of faith is to see what we believe. This nobleman had come 22 miles to see Jesus. On the way back what were his thoughts? The cheering, laughing friends and family coming to meet him brought good news. The miracle of healing was soon followed by the miracle of conversion. Grace spreading through all his household. We too face things we’d rather not face but that is how faith is born, how faith muscles are built.