Some sermon notes since April 2019
Read Philippians 3 v 1 – 11 and John 12 v 1 – 8
Is there any visible proof that we are Christians? Revd Ola Franklin challenged us with this question. Paul’s letter spoke of how important the sign of circumcision was to the Jews. And good works in the fulfilment of the Mosaic law. For us it is what we all do because of our relationship with Jesus. If we rate knowing Jesus as our second priority we are on the wrong track. Are we just Sunday Christians or is our life all week empowered by our Sunday worship and fellowship together? Do we glory in Jesus? Do we “put our confidence in the flesh” (to use Paul’s phrase? It’s a metaphor for who we are, what we possess etc. Good looks? A great brain? Blue blood even? Paul certainly had all the right ancestry and upbringing as a Pharisee. But his encounter with Jesus changed completely his attitude to all this. He now counted it as rubbish in comparison with knowing God. He did not men “knowing about God”. Facts. Other people’s experiences. He meant knowing him personally. We all mess up. But God’s forgiveness means there is no barrier to knowing him. We can rejoice in the midst of suffering. It can chafe us but not defeat us. That was Paul’s experience. For us too perhaps being tested by difficult times can be a route to deeper knowledge of God because we recognise our need of him. God can use our trials to draw us closer to himself.
ON A DONKEY ? ead Luke 19 v 28 – 40
Leo Cheng drew us into the drama of this day. Palm Sunday. The King is coming! From the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. But why the donkey? Why not a golden carriage? He comes in humility. He comes in peace. A “red carpet” of cloaks and palm branches on the steep downward slope. Previously Jesus had downplayed the impact of his ministry. Now he lays claim to kingship. Confrontation of a different kind. Non-violence. He knows it will be a crown of thorns. No retaliation. He was buying our peace with God. Ours is to follow and to obey: “Do our best and let God do the rest.” Reflecting on his life and ministry both as preacher and surgeon, he recalled how his conversion and subsequent committed discipleship as a Christian convinced him that life was truly worth living “with God’s peace”. He felt a great freedom in not being able to have his own way. In not just doing what he wanted, but in trying to do what is right. “He who does not know love does not know God. For God is Love”. He invited us to be peacemakers, whether in good or bad circumstances. Untroubled by fear.” Faith in action is love. And love in action is service”.
Read 1 Corinthians 15 v 19 – 26 and John 20 v 1 – 18
Revd John Edwards begins in the garden where Jesus had been entombed. Here is Mary of Magdela, early at the tomb. She had stood at the foot of the cross. Now she finds a further hideous development to add to the horror of Jesus’ death. The stone rolled away. Who has done this? She runs for Peter and John. They run back with her. There is more running in this 20th chapter of John than anywhere else in his Gospel. The body seems to have passed through the shroud. Peter rushes in. John follows. Is there a glimmer of hope? They leave the weeping woman. There is no rationale in grief. She fails to recognise Jesus till he speaks her name. The second Adam, “the proper man”, in this second garden. She is transfixed. Wants to cling to him but “Go and tell the others” was his quiet command. She never let go of him after that. And he never let go of her. In this new resurrected state. He was with her, with all the disciples, and is with us, for ever. How could Peter have denied him during his trial? It was because he did not have Jesus at his side. But soon he would be bursting with confidence and assured of Jesus’ presence with him in this new way. And in spite of the threats of violent punishment by the authorities, we find that he cannot and must not stop talking about it. About Jesus alive again. The apostles have discovered the meaning of Easter.
THE BEST, THE ONLY, WAY
Read 1 Samuel 2 v 1 – 10 and Luke 1 v 26 – 56 Also Gerard Manley Hopkins: The May Magnificat
Mark Spencer-Ellis shed fresh and very refreshing light on The Magnificat, its context and content. What does it mean? My soul “magnifies” the Lord? “Extols” perhaps, or “expresses the wonder I have in the Lord”. The two readings are about prayers in barrenness and subsequent births. Luke’s account is deeply rooted in the Old Testament and Hannah’s song of praise and thankfulness. And here, now, is this young girl, Mary. Unlike Zechariah (Luke 1 v 18) Mary accepts the news brought by the angel Gabriel. With joy, not doubt. But how are we to imagine this girl, hurrying off to be with her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant also, though previously labelled (probably mocked) as “barren”? Given the contemporary age for marriage, Mary was probably just a girl of about 13. Elizabeth perhaps in early 20s. After his startling announcement, Gabriel “had left no phone number in case of any problems or queries”. Mary was quite alone with her pregnancy. Who best to talk to? Her older relative. It’s as if John the Baptist “kicking in Elizabeth’s womb” kicks off Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, reminiscent of Hannah’s song. (See also Psalms 98, 107. 126 etc) Mary calls herself God’s servant. The word really means “slave-girl” a person of the lowest possible status. She offers praise to a God who places his work and his plans in the hands of the weak. The events she refers to, the scattering, the bringing, down, the humble lifted high etc. All had happened “when poor and weak people had said yes to God”. This pattern was all there in the Old Testament and would go on through the New. And still does today if we too say yes to God. Look at the disciples, full of their own glory, aspiring to the best seats in the kingdom. They kept getting it wrong. (At that stage, anyway). It’s the women who most often got it right. Mary herself, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Canaanite woman who is the only person to change Jesus’ mind. (Puzzled? Here’s a tip: read Matthew 15 v 21 – 28). The Magnificat, with its strong message about the uplifting of the humble, the flawed, the apparently weak, has been banned at times by repressive governments, Guatemala in the 80s, Argentina in the 70s. It was seen as a rallying cry. How disturbing Christianity ought to be: not as a call to arms but to confidence in our Faith and the remarkable, essential, the best and only way in which God’s work can be done.
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.