Some sermon notes since August 2019
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.
JESUS THE PIONEER
Read Hebrews 11 v 29 – 12 v 2 and Luke 12 v 49 -53
Revd Fiona Thomas began by recalling two famous women pioneers in Medicine: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a doctor, and subsequent founder of the Hospital for Women in London and Louisa Aldrich Blake, born twenty years later and becoming the first woman to qualify in surgery, and later work at the hospital. What inspiration Louisa must have drawn from Elizabeth. The “great cloud of witnesses” referred to in the letter to the Hebrews speaks of the pioneers in our Faith, ready to endure persecution or worse. Still today Christians face trials and struggle. Jesus, the great pioneer of our Faith, is recorded by Luke as saying he had come to bring division. A difficult text, shaking us out of any complacency. But Fiona suggested that there is good conflict and bad conflict. Some tension is creative and renewing. In its resolution comes progress. Tensions between people with very different aims involve mistrust and suspicion. It’s easy to deny that there is any disharmony. Our Pioneer, Jesus, doesn’t bring us a blanket to keep us warm. He abandoned his own peace to enter into our human lack of peace. “God wants us to be alive, passionate, looking round at what’s going on”. In days of uncertainty, we may be called to be pioneers in pulling together the opposite strands, views, opinions. Combining joy and judgement.
BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS
Read Philippians 2 v 1 – 11 and Matthew 5 v 1 – 16
Revd Ivan Moore was in very recognisable territory when he spoke about the pressure we can experience perhaps on social media but also simply from the advertisers who bombard us with information about products that “they are certain we need.” It’s easy for the feelings of contentment with what we already have to be undermined. We may feel under pressure “to be different” or even “to fit in”. The Bible doesn’t want us to give in. We must love and accept each other as we are. Religion itself has been guilty of narrow, judgemental attitudes. We should rather look to be a positive influence, helping others be happy with themselves. Jesus lived for others: “My will is to do the will of my Father”. He didn’t stand in judgement. He preached and acted with compassion. Helped all those he met to be what they were created to be. Ivan had been saddened on a recent visit to his much-loved Ireland to see that sectarian views and prejudices were still influencing life in some areas. We should beware of influences that lessen our confidence, not only in ourselves but in our faith in Jesus. Modern “false prophets” in disguise.
THAT’S WHERE YOUR HEART WILL BE
Read Matthew 6 v 19 – 34
Revd Alan Bolding asked. “Where do we really place our trust?” This famous and wonderful passage in Matthew’s Gospel, invites us to consider the lilies in the field, more beautifully arrayed than Solomon in all his glory. And then to ask whether a God who created the lily could not surely be trusted to meet our needs. In times of uncertainty, or trouble , or illness, or fear, who do we really trust? Look, said Alan, where people spend their money; that is their treasure and that is where their hearts will be. We don’t sufficiently focus on our heavenly Father . Even in worship we may be distracted by thinking about the tasks or problems awaiting us. We can’t seem to shed them at the cross, to rely on the God who brought us into the Kingdom, the God to whom we belong. If you wonder how much God cares about us and is aware of all that each of us has to deal with, look at the Cross. We can leave our baggage here. His salvation doesn’t rot away. It doesn’t grow old.
Revd Kevin Swaine based his sermon on two famous passages about choice: Deuteronomy 30 v 15 – 20 and Luke 14 v 25 – 33. The choice Moses offers is a stark one: life and good or death and evil. Blessing or curse. But fear is a poor motive. “An ethical gun pointing at our heads”. Unless our hearts are in it and we recognise the worth of obeying God’s laws (the main thrust of Moses’ address) our choice will be made under duress rather than in “open-eyed” response. It’s worth comparing Matthew’s version (Matthew 10 v 37-38) of the words of Jesus in the Luke passage. Kevin explained that Luke suggests that Jesus directs us to “hate mother and father” if we want to follow him truly but Matthew understood him to mean that we must make Jesus our top priority. Kevin went on to explore the significance of the two illustrations Jesus used concerning choice: the man building a tower and a king planning for battle. Possibly the tower was a picture of the task Jesus was engaged in: not a tower as an escape hatch but a tower for rescue and protection. Like the calm at the centre of the storm. A battle against evil. Not with armaments but with love. “It is accomplished”, he said as he died. Perhaps the parables contain a warning. We must assess the cost of discipleship. Do we have the stamina? But Jesus rarely suggests caution. So perhaps he was giving encouragement to go ahead, to take the plunge, putting our whole trust in God. “The unfinished tower is a picture of almost every human life”, said Kevin. We seem to have insufficient resources in ourselves. But it is not in ourselves that we need to have faith, but in our loving God.
Read James 1 v 19 – 27 and Luke 15 v 1 – 10
Rev Jim Gascoigne asked us to consider how much of our time in church together is devoted to thinking through our time as Christians on the other days of the week. Whole-life discipleship. The Church outside. We should always be “prepared to give the reason for the hope that is within us”. You don’t become a disciple overnight. You shouldn’t be daunted by Jesus’ instruction “to go and make disciples”. The Pharisees were lost in their great panoply of laws. Has the modern church lost its way? It’s surprising that the Pharisees thought it disgraceful that Jesus should “mix with sinners”. The very people he came to save. If we put God first in our lives he will transform us from the inside. We will long to share with friends something that has been life-enhancing for us. The parable of the lost sheep illustrates God’s longing to bring every last lost soul into the fold. We are called to be risk-takers. What shape is our own personal and communal missional discipleship going to take?
HERO OR VILLAIN ?
Read Psalm 79 v 1 – 9 and Luke 16 v 1 – 13
This strange story Jesus told about the wheeler-dealer manager getting the sack comes just after the parable of the prodigal son. Someone else who famously mismanaged his affairs. It’s strange, said Canon Ann Easter that at this “winding-down” late stage in his ministry Jesus spent time talking about someone cooking the books. Based on the research and conclusions of well-respected theologians, it seems most likely that this was something of a patchwork of various elements of Jesus’ teaching. But it’s still intriguing to ask if this rogue manager was a hero or a villain. Tax-collectors (essentially this man’s role) were known to take a cut, add a bit on, feather their own nest. The word for “wasting his money” in the prodigal son story is the same as the one applied to this rogue. It’s certainly a story about morality. Jesus was en route to a terrible death. Would it be a pointless death? Our decision in the light of the cross is about eternity ( rather than just about avoiding unemployment and poverty, like this man). We can’t seem able not to think that there is somehow a catch. Jesus has done what needed to be done. So every day we can let the grace of God flow through us to all we meet in our day to day lives. Forgiven children of our heavenly Father.
Read Deuteronomy 26 v 1 – 11 and Psalm 65 and John 6 v 25 – 35
MOVING ON FROM PAGAN RITUALS
Harvest Festivals may be relatively modern, said Revd Richard Wyber. Dreamed up in the 19th century by one Revd Robert Hawker. But the celebration of the harvest goes back a very long way. Richard had found a fresh ( possibly unexpected) relevance in the OT passage ( approximately 700 BC) with its carefully constructed harvest celebration, its detailed liturgy and instructions about the dispersal of the harvested crops. They were not to be offered at the shrines of local deities. The reference to Jacob, who would become Israel, gives a flavour of almost a credal statement. Should we give more attention to this as part of our faith history? The gifts are seen as a thank offering to God. Few of us now work on the land so we tend to be disconnected from the severe effects of harvest failure in other lands. As we celebrate we should remember “the saving acts of God”. And there should be contrition and change when we see the damage done by our pollution of the earth. Jesus reminds us that true life is not just available to people with lots of food. The fruits of the earth do matter greatly, but they are perishable. Spiritual food is vital and we should be giving thanks to the one who makes provision while also giving close attention to what our human society has done that threatens failure.
MIXING WITH THE RIFF-RAFF
Read Mark 2 v 13 – 26 and Luke 19 v 1 – 10
Revd John Edwards compared the tax-collectors in Jesus’ day with the quislings in ours. The latter collaborating with the Nazis; the former with their Roman occupiers. What’s more, making money out of their own people. How could Jesus want anything to do with Levi? Even worse, Zacchaeus. This leading tax-collector wanting a good view of the latest “celebrity” but probably also the security of being up in a tree. The religious authorities were appalled. They had tried to lynch Jesus when he was in the synagogue; they had questioned his healings on a Sabbath day. They wanted to destroy him. But Jesus had no care for his reputation. When he healed a leper it was he who became the outcast. He put his own life on the line in all these incidents. But the authorities got their way at last. Golgotha : a stinking garbage dump. The criminals to be executed were trash. And there agonised Jesus because of his love for sinners, including tax-collectos. Including us. But he returned and we meet him in the bread and wine. We, like Jesus, must regard no-one as an outsider. We all belong in God’s great community of love He gave, with no strings attached. So much has been given to us. Much is required of us in response.