Some sermon notes since September 2019
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.
WHAT A REVELATION
Martin Lawrence urged us to read the last two chapters of Revelation and quite literally revel in the glorious vision of the future that it contains. God dwelling with his people. John describes the amazing beauty of the holy city, a place where there is no more crying, no more death, but a face to face encounter with our Saviour. Heaven is not for everyone, Scripture makes that clear. But it is not exclusive: we still live in an age of grace ( before Jesus comes again) And in the vision the narrow springs tumble down and grow wider and become a river for all who wish to drink. The spring of the water of life. (Martin had just returned from a holiday in the Scottish Highlands and had witnessed just such a scene.) The invitation is for everyone. As part of his Church we join in extending the invitation. “Let him who hears say Come” We should be offering something temporal now but something eternal then. Christ came into the world to save sinners and there is no other way to enter except by drinking the water of life. It will satisfy for ever. “You will never want for anything else”.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Read Psalm 84 v 1 – 6, 2 Timothy 4 v 6 – 8, 16 –18 , Luke 18 v 9 – 14
So many Christians, said Revd Martin Wheadon, think they are “not good enough”. In his gospel, Luke puts together a blanket rather like those we knit with lots of squares joined together. Luke has of course taken some details from Mark and other sources, but he has his own insights as a doctor. A healer. Here is one of his “squares”, one of his “shock parables”. It is contentious. It is about two stereotypes, the Pharisee and the tax-collector. Is it anti-Semitic? After all the Pharisees were good, well-respected people, much liked. They really kept the Jewish faith alive. Where do we get our stereotypes from now? From the newspapers, the media. We use “mental shorthand”. We are flooded with what we now call fake news. The tax-collector probably did deserve his bad press. The Roman republic sold “franchises” to people to collect taxes, and being entrepreneurial, the collectors made quite a bit on the side. The context of this story is the Temple, itself ready to exact taxes, beggaring some people ( like the woman for whom her “two coins” were her entire wealth). We’ve got to think for ourselves. Jesus doesn’t want blind followers but thinking Christians. Look in the mirror. You see yourself. But how does God see you? In the story it’s a shock that this respected man was so proud and judgemental while the hated man was reckoned to be much close to God, even though he hadn’t needed to make amends ( like Zacchaeus ( in one of the previous shocking “squares”.) We have to realise that we are sinners, said Martin, but, here’s the caveat, we are never to feel we are not good enough. We are precious children of God. He wants to give us more that we think possible but he doesn’t want to take away our humanity. Being a Christian is the most wonderful gift we can have,
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)