Friday, 19 January 2018

Called

14 January 2018 – Epiphany 2 – Wingrave Methodist Church


Old Testament I SAMUEL 3

The Lord calls Samuel

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ 5 And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.

6 Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

8 A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’

Then Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’

Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family for ever because of the sin he knew about; his sons uttered blasphemies against God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, “The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.”’

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’

Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’

17 ‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’ 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.

Hymn 2

663 I the Lord of sea and sky

Gospel John 1

Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

46 ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’

48 ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.’

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ 51 He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’

Sermon p132—12

‘I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.”

Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.’ Stride towards Freedom—Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was changed by this epiphany—often referred to as his ‘vision in the kitchen.’ Nathaniel’s epiphany, in which he suddenly could see clearly who Jesus was, changed Nathaniel—just as Samuel’s vision in the Temple changed him.

Today—Epiphany 2. Readings describe two manifestations:

1. Eli could not perceive God—like others in his day—like our day? But the boy Samuel could.

2. Jesus first called Philip—Philip immediately called Nathaniel—‘we have found the Messiah.’ In response to his objections—‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’—Philip does not engage in debate, does not persuade, does not argue—“Come and See.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’

Characteristics of Vocation

1. God’s call may not be audible or obvious to us—very often may not be what we want or choose to hear—like Eli who was condemned, and all his family with him, by what God imparted to Samuel

2. We may have to rely on intermediaries—those people might not be obvious either—like Samuel

3. For many people in ordination training—call not clear—relied on doors opening and doors closing

4. God sometimes seems to be laughing at our detailed and personal planning of our lives

5. Call may be nothing like what we had in mind—God does not seem to micromanage our lives—we must remain openminded like Nathaniel and Eli. God may not answer in the way we expect—unlike Martin Luther King’s testimony.

6. God’s response might have no logical basis we can understand—how did Nathaniel jump from doubt to total affirmation of Jesus as Messiah?—there was no logic to his thought process or the reason why he came to his startling conclusion.

7. Our response to God is

a. Personal (‘Come and See!’)

b. Faith-based (gradual or immediate)

c. Having the potential to bring transformative change

How can we prepare?

Samuel and Eli were unprepared. It took 2 calls by God to Samuel before we read:

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

Eli clearly had not prepared Samuel—this same Eli mistook Hannah’s prayers for her being drunk—and it took Eli 3 attempts to recognise the voice of God in what he says he heard—yet God persisted, and so did Samuel.

This same Eli had sons Hophni and Phineas who were scoundrels and had scant regard for their priestly duties—Eli’s eyes were growing dim—not perhaps only physically, but spiritually too.

Eli had several opportunities and attempts to put matters to rights—but failed each time. Eventually he was left with no alternative but to accept God’s judgement on him and on his entire family.

17 ‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’ 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’

In the end—God’s will will be done—regardless of whether or not we respond to his call. That is a comfort in dark times like this. But we are the hands, feet and fingers of God—how can respond except by hearing and discerning how we can obey his call with all the gifts of grace he has given us?

Nathaniel was a naysayer—who can blame him for doubting Philip’s belief he had found the Messiah? Yet he was prepared for his preconceptions and prejudices to be challenged. What else but an epiphany could have turned Nathaniel round so completely?

Scripture is full of such moments—many of us are able to look back on such manifestations of God’s work in our lives. All we need do is keep an open mind—just as Nathaniel did—and follow where he leads us. Amen

Sunday, 7 January 2018

God’s marvellous plan–for the Gentiles and for us…

Wingrave – Epiphany – 7 January 2018

Ephesians 3:1—12

God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles


For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations

and believed in throughout the world.

All   Alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 2:1—12

The Magi visit the Messiah


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sermon

Epiphany is a ‘manifestation.’ The Greek word literally means an ‘appearance.’ The feast day falls on 6th January, but is normally transferred to the first Sunday after New Year’s Day.

What is being manifested at Epiphany? It depends who you are. For Christians, God’s glory is revealed to all people in the birth of Jesus Christ, incarnate in the world.

Children focus on the story of the Kings and the significance of the gifts they bring. They seem to love the mystical exotic flavour. Pub quizzers polish up their answers to the questions: “How many magi were there?” and “What were their names?” For the church, Epiphany joins the other major festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost which together signify God’s revelation of salvation for all people through his Son.

Technically God’s self-revelation is known as a theophany—like the Transfiguration, the Annunciation to Mary, Moses and the burning bush, Mount Sinai, and of course Jesus himself. God’s presence extends from lowest to highest: from the uneducated shepherds in the fields, to the priestly caste of Zoroastrians, who paid close attention to the conjunction of the stars, had an international reputation for astrology, and were honoured by Herod.

God’s glory reaches all people regardless of faith. The Wise men from East—are different in faith and background—yet God reaches out to them, and through them to the world. Birth of Jesus—was inauspicious—in a manger in Bethlehem—yet this birth was revealed through the stars to men of great learning. Only those in the know could interpret the announcement. It was persuasive enough to overrule the degradation of the event, as far as the Magi were concerned.

Through unlikely and mysterious, almost magical means, God’s revelation grows and reaches out. Jesus touches untouchables—eats with sinners—heals the sick—mixes with those who suffered disabilities—brought dead back to life—and was lifted up on the cross. All this demonstrates that no one is beyond God’s embrace.

The Magi spent months studying the star charts, and followed their leading over a long and dangerous journey. Herod had access to the same knowledge through his own advisors—yet failed to see God’s presence and glory and was not brought within God’s embrace. He was threatened by it. He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.

The lesson of the Magi might well be to reinforce the fact God moves in a mysterious way. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians did not boast of his decision to be baptized, or to become the foremost evangelist of all time, personally choosing to face danger in order to found and nurture fledgling churches around the Mediterranean. No, Paul boasted that it was God’s plan for his life, and he merely responded to the call through God’s grace. Paul rejoiced at the call, and ascribed to got whatever success he had as an evangelist and minister.

As he said in our reading from Ephesians:

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

What is our response to Epiphany? Are we like Herod—blind to the signs—blinkered to our part in furthering the gospel—not heeding the likes of the Magi as unconventional, and the shepherds as unfit for our society?

Or can we do our part in fostering a new openness? Can we allow God’s embrace to expand once more in our day and time, despite falling attendance at church and an ageing congregation? Will we leave the work to others, and look for God’s glory only in comfortable areas we understand—like Herod, frightened and threatened by what we find?

A new revelation—a new year—a new resolution. Paul uses the language of service and submission to God’s call. May we this Epiphany heed and hear God’s call for us—and submit to his plan for our lives through grace. Amen

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Easy or Hard? Galatians or Luke?

Christmas 1 – 31 December 2017

Reading Galatians 4

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,

the beginning and the end.

Alleluia.

Gospel Luke 2:15—21

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Sermon

Today’s gospel is familiar—announcement of birth of Christ child to shepherds—their journey to place of nativity in Bethlehem—Mary’s reaction—circumcision of the baby Jesus on 8th day as required by Jewish law.

Today’s epistle from Galatians is unfamiliar—it’s obscure theologically—talks of Jesus being born under the law—our adoption as children and co-heirs whereby we receive God’s spirit in our hearts—the Spirit that calls out Abba, Father—our future status as heirs—where previously we were slaves.

All this is hard to comprehend—I don’t want to appear as the ghost of Christmas past—just repeating all the past sermons about infancy narratives and those who took part in momentous events—I want to tackle Paul just for few minutes—New year; new understanding.

If we can understand these 4 verses of Scripture by Paul—we can understand more about God’s design of the Christ event that leads to salvation—that would be good as we stand at the gates of the New Year—as George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast in 1939:

“Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

So let’s attempt a paraphrase of what Paul is actually saying in these 4 verses from Galatians:

1. God chose to change the very fabric of life in order to liberate it from the power of Sin and Death—to which it had become enslaved.

2. God’s own Son was commissioned with the task. Jesus Christ entered the cosmos in the form of a vulnerable human being—like us, and all living things, he was constrained by the power that enslaved us.

3. The man Jesus, a Jew faithful to the Word of God, took upon himself the curse that came with this bondage on the cross—so that humanity might become the righteousness of God.

4. By his action—through our baptism into his death and resurrection—we receive the spirit of the exalted Christ—and so become adopted heirs—through which we rightfully call God Abba, Father.

If we can engage with it—Paul opens up for us a story of amazing scope—the world as he knew it before Christ has ceased to exist has been replaced with something entirely different—a difference as radical and far reaching as Life is from Death. That is why we celebrate the birth of the Christ child in the Christmas season.

You may ask why these events took place when they did—on the one hand it was God’s good pleasure—on the other hand conditions were favourable. They were right for the spread of the Gospel—the Roman empire had established the Pax Romana—Antony was defeated by Augustus—trade stabilised—roads were built—Greeks established common urban culture and language—there was an interest in religions.

The Jewish religion was monotheistic—contrasting the multiple gods of pagan Rome. The message of Christianity was summed up in a single commandment—love your neighbour as yourself—and this tendency towards peace and order was in the end adopted by the Roman empire. No longer would we be subject to the law—but one in Christ Jesus.

So let’s take to heart the message of Christmas—the Incarnation occurred “in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

Like Mary and the shepherds—let us contemplate the momentous news of the incarnation—and treasure these things as Mary pondered them in her heart—and as the shepherds glorified and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Amen

New Year’s Eve at Wingrave

1st Sunday of Christmas


Reading Galatians 4

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,

the beginning and the end.

Alleluia.

Gospel Luke 2:15—21

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Sermon

Today’s gospel is familiar—announcement of birth of Christ child to shepherds—their journey to place of nativity in Bethlehem—Mary’s reaction—circumcision of the baby Jesus on 8th day as required by Jewish law.

Today’s epistle from Galatians is unfamiliar—it’s obscure theologically—talks of Jesus being born under the law—our adoption as children and co-heirs whereby we receive God’s spirit in our hearts—the Spirit that calls out Abba, Father—our future status as heirs—where previously we were slaves.

All this is hard to comprehend—I don’t want to appear as the ghost of Christmas past—just repeating all the past sermons about infancy narratives and those who took part in momentous events—I want to tackle Paul just for few minutes—New year; new understanding.

If we can understand these 4 verses of Scripture by Paul—we can understand more about God’s design of the Christ event that leads to salvation—that would be good as we stand at the gates of the New Year—as George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast in 1939:

“Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

So let’s attempt a paraphrase of what Paul is actually saying in these 4 verses from Galatians:

1. God chose to change the very fabric of life in order to liberate it from the power of Sin and Death—to which it had become enslaved.

2. God’s own Son was commissioned with the task. Jesus Christ entered the cosmos in the form of a vulnerable human being—like us, and all living things, he was constrained by the power that enslaved us.

3. The man Jesus, a Jew faithful to the Word of God, took upon himself the curse that came with this bondage on the cross—so that humanity might become the righteousness of God.

4. By his action—through our baptism into his death and resurrection—we receive the spirit of the exalted Christ—and so become adopted heirs—through which we rightfully call God Abba, Father.

If we can engage with it—Paul opens up for us a story of amazing scope—the world as he knew it before Christ has ceased to exist has been replaced with something entirely different—a difference as radical and far reaching as Life is from Death. That is why we celebrate the birth of the Christ child in the Christmas season.

You may ask why these events took place when they did—on the one hand it was God’s good pleasure—on the other hand conditions were favourable. They were right for the spread of the Gospel—the Roman empire had established the Pax Romana—Antony was defeated by Augustus—trade stabilised—roads were built—Greeks established common urban culture and language—there was an interest in religions.

The Jewish religion was monotheistic—contrasting the multiple gods of pagan Rome. The message of Christianity was summed up in a single commandment—love your neighbour as yourself—and this tendency towards peace and order was in the end adopted by the Roman empire. No longer would we be subject to the law—but one in Christ Jesus.

So let’s take to heart the message of Christmas—the Incarnation occurred “in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

Like Mary and the shepherds—let us contemplate the momentous news of the incarnation—and treasure these things as Mary pondered them in her heart—and as the shepherds glorified and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Amen

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Midnight Mass–the Promise Shared

24 December 2017 – Wingrave Parish Church – 11.15PM


Reading Isaiah 9:2—7

2 The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.

All   Alleluia.

Gospel Luke 2:1—14

The birth of Jesus


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

Sermon

You probably have never heard a sermon preached on Isaiah 9. The content is difficult—warrior’s boots and garments rolled in blood—but it is set alongside Luke 2 birth narrative in Christmas readings, and who would not choose that?

Good news is clear—population census—Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem ‘city of David.’ Baby is born as had been foretold—angels appear to shepherds—sing glory to God and peace on earth.

Reading from first book of Isaiah is set around 732BC—northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to Assyrians—Tiglath Pileser III is conquering the whole region—only 2 centuries later Judah will also fall—this time to Babylon and exile.

All is darkness and failure—but the prophecy sets a different tone. People who walk in darkness have seen a great light—they are joyful and rejoice—a child is born who will reverse their fortunes and save them—he will become a great governor—a man of peace—there will be justice and righteousness throughout the kingdom. This saviour will reign on the throne of David forever.

The parallels in Luke 2 are self-evident—in both times, background is oppression, failure, separation from God, and despair—all symbolized by the brooding presence of darkness. From this unpromising context there emerges hope—the birth of a saviour from the line of David—the dawn of the light—rejoicing—a statement of faith, hope and gratitude. Just as it appears the powers of this world have a firm hold on humanity—God’s power brings the final victory.

How can we Christian listeners fail to hear in the words of the 8th C prophet the whole reason why we are here tonight?

6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Amen—Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Advent Carol Service

3 December 2017 at Wingrave Parish Church

Gospel Luke 12

Watchfulness

35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Sermon

How many words can you think of that end in -fulness? What is the longest, shortest or most obscure word you can think of? Sounds like a Pointless quiz question doesn’t it?

According to my sources, there are several 15 characters long. They include reproachfulness, resourcefulness, and disgracefulness. The longest word I thought of has 17 characters—disrespectfulness. Perhaps you can do better?

The shortest word I could find is awfulness.

Some words are bad, like unfaithfulness, sinfulness, or shamefulness. Some are good, like joyfulness, mercifulness, and prayerfulness. Others are uncertain, like wistfulness, regretfulness, or mournfulness.

Watchfulness is the theme of Advent. The usual translation of the Latin word Adventus as ‘arrival’ does not seem to me to properly describe what the church invites us to do. Often Advent is defined as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. But surely we should be ready and longing for the Kingdom of Heaven at all times, not just now.

In our gospel reading from Luke, the servants of their Master are not just waiting, however expectantly. No—they are commanded to be watchful so they can open the door immediately when he comes. They are not hanging around waiting—but ready—whatever the hour—because they don’t know when the Master is coming, and there may be false intruders who try and break in like a thief in the night.

For some reason, the lectionary misses out the warnings and sanctions awaiting those who are not ready. Jesus’s standard is clear:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

But we are consoled by the introductory verses:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

‘Do not be afraid’ is the hallmark of good news throughout Scripture and occurs many times in Luke’s story of Jesus as well. Not only does God long to give us the kingdom, but like the lilies of the field or the ravens, he will provide for our needs. Quite often we must provide for others by our almsgiving, for we have been entrusted with much, and much more will be expected of us.

As we enter the season of Advent, there is much to ponder and resolve. Generosity is a hallmark of the Christian life. Faith is not a measure by which we will be judged—but a shared promise, a mutual expectation which binds us to God in a new relationship of hope and fulfilment. Watchfulness is not an anxious wait for the end of time but an eager anticipation of God’s pleasure to give us all good things.

All of the commands and instructions about the way we live our lives—our faith, use of money, love for God, care for others, watchfulness and so on—are anchored in this shared promise that it is God’s good pleasure to bring us into his kingdom.

Later on in the same chapter:

41 Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’

The answer is obvious to all of us I hope, but not if we are unfaithful and unprepared. So:

35 ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.’

The trouble with watchfulness is that in the past couple of decades the electronic and communication distractions have multiplied greatly, and now offer so many competing calls for our attention that we find it hard to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds at a time.

What we have lost is peace. The pleasure of TV series such as Grantchester is that we are taken back to a life of greater simplicity with more time for others.

It seems to me we must find a way to release ourselves from the competing pressures, and open up our minds again to real watchfulness. In Lent we might deny ourselves good things we enjoy. This Advent, why not take a different approach? Make space for watchfulness. Rediscover peace.

The message of this gospel reading and of Advent is that we will be richly rewarded and enabled to make ourselves truly ready and watchful for all the good things of the kingdom, which Jesus has promised for those who are ready to accept him. Amen

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Sheep and the Goats

Christ the King – Bow Brickhill Church – 26 November 2017

Gospel Matthew 25

The sheep and the goats

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”

40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”

44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

Sermon

Christ the King—recent addition to church’s calendar—first instituted by RC church (1925) as last Sunday in October. Adopted by other churches with Revised Common Lectionary. Final Sunday in Ordinary Time—last Sunday before Advent.

Significance

· Christ the Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth

· All people, purchased by the shedding of his precious blood, are subject to his dominion—including judgement [as in today’s parable of sheep and goats]

· Christ does not only reign for all time over all people—he reigns over our minds and wills—he reigns in our hearts.

Sheep and Goats—last of 4 consecutive ‘judgement’ parables in Matthew chapters 24-25

1. Faithful and Wise Servant—Keep watch for the day and the hour are coming—the faithful and wise servant is ready at all times—the wicked servant is tired of waiting his master’s return—starts beating and abusing other servants.
The punishment is shocking:
51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth appears 7 times in NT—6 in Matthew—signifies torments of the damned—Matthew the evangelist has an apocalyptic view of the end of time.

2. 10 Virgins—the door is closed on the unprepared young women who do not take with them a sufficient supply of oil for their lamps

3. Bags of Gold—the servant who buries his master’s wealth in the ground instead of making it work and earning a return is condemned:
26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Not a sympathetic or moral picture of God—like other parables such as the Unjust Judge.

4. Sheep and Goats—the goats are sent to eternal punishment for their lack of care towards followers of Jesus, especially the vulnerable.

Interpretation—Matthew sets scene with gathering of all the nations before the Son of Man. Greek word for all people is used in Matthew sometimes for ‘Gentiles’ and sometimes in a universal sense—we’ll assume here Jesus is judge of all people, but this interpretation is controversial.

32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

This picture of judgement seems to include all Christians—whether they are inside or outside the church. Christians are condemned for their failure to take care of and nurture their brothers and sisters in Christ:

42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”

44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

The point is well made—do we see the face of Christ in the beggar on the streets or do we step over them and pass by on the other side? For his audience at the time, Matthew’s stress on neglecting fellow Christians must of course include those who do far worse—persecution of the early Christians was horrific.

Where does ‘justification by faith’ come in? Fear not—Matthew’s account of Jesus’ judgement parables and his insistence that Christian righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees is countered by Jesus’ words, when he says in chapter 11 that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Matthew’s Jesus is concerned to encourage and empower the persecuted Christians of the early church—but above the judgement and condemnation is the universal command to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.

If our faith has grown lukewarm—we would do well to take to heart the judgement parables—which are at least as radical as the command we should love our enemies. And if in our comfortable existence here we fail to care for our sisters and brothers throughout the church and across the world who suffer real and increasing persecution and violence, we are in some danger of neglect or worse.

It seems to me this encapsulates the message of Christ the King for us—judgement yes—not only that we should appreciate the risk of condemnation—but that we must work for Jesus in bringing in his kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice love and peace. Listen out for these words in the extended preface to our communion. Amen

The Parable of the Bags of Gold

2nd Sunday before Advent – Wingrave Methodist Church – 19 November 2017


Gospel Matthew 25

The parable of the bags of gold

14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”

23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Sermon p187 12

One month later—we are still mired in eschatological parables. Seemingly harsh God treats people unfairly—but it is the same God in Matthew who casts wedding guest into outer darkness—place of weeping and gnashing of teeth—as the compassionate God of the Beatitudes and the One who clothes the lilies of the field.

Talents—One of ‘difficult’ parables—Unjust Judge; banquet holder; labourers in vineyard. If these all portray Jesus or God the Father, why is he so unfair?

Traditional explanation—businessman represents Jesus—servants the church members—extended journey is life of church until end of time—reckoning is return of Jesus and settlement of accounts is judgement—bags of gold are wealth of spiritual gifts given to us according to abilities and χάρισμαtα.

Jesus portrayed as harsh masterI harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed—gospel of Matthew redresses somewhat the balance which has swung towards comfy churches with padded chairs and justification by faith alone—towards a righteous and perfect God who is slow to anger but turns away from sin—who requires only the best from us and sits in judgement at the end of time.

Justification by Faith—still we have to remind ourselves we cannot attain the Kingdom through any works of ours—however Christ-like, sacrificial and dedicated to serving others they may be. We cannot effectively work out our own salvation—for most of us that is a comfort because of our inadequacy and recurrent sin.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth—yet in these parables we constantly hear of those who fail to make the grade—consigned to outer darkness for failing to get dressed for the wedding.

Talents—again, we should remember that God freely gives out bags of gold—impossible riches for a slave—signs once again of God’s abundance and generosity towards us.

Master of Slaves—the parable is an allegory—must beware of pushing any allegory too far and too literally—associating God with an unjust judge and a slave master too closely brings far too many problems to the text. But Matthew’s concentration is not on the first two slave who do well—both turn a 100% profit and are rewarded with a happy outcome—but all the emphasis is on warning us to avoid the fate of the lazy slave who did nothing with his money—still, he did not lose it but returned the gold intact.

Outcome is not inevitable—for Matthew, the end of time and our place in it is not a foregone conclusion—his portrayal of outer darkness is not consigning us to oblivion—but his parables are warnings and admonition to us as to how we live our lives and use the abundant grace that God has given us.

For all the difficulties of this parable—Matthew uses the words of Jesus to encourage faithfulness—not condemn us. For the early church the eschatological parables deal with the extended absence of Christ and how Christians should behave. Rather than focussing on judgement of failure—instead we should give thanks for the fact God in his mercy and abundance has entrusted his wealth to us [v14]. God does not want the destruction of anyone

Words and Faithful Deeds in Matthew’s gospel are inseparable—in this sense, justification by faith alone means that our faithfulness is translated into action. As faithful servants of Jesus the Messiah, the ending of the parable of the talents comes as a goad to faithful action. God’s judgement is deeply related to his divine justice and mercy.

God is with us—Immanuel. That’s how Matthew starts his gospel:

23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). [Matt 1:23] God is with us—and that extends to the end of time. Amen

Sunday, 5 November 2017

All Saints

BCP at Great Brickhill – All Saints – 5 November 2017



Reading Revelation 7:9—end

The great multitude in white robes

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’

11 All the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying:

‘Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!’

13 Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’

14 I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’

And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

‘they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 “Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’

Reading 1 John 5:1—3

Faith in the incarnate Son of God

5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

Gospel Matthew 5:1—12

5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sermon

Today I have a clear choice, to preach on the Beatitudes, or to take my text from Revelation.

Thing about Beatitudes—Jesus not saying it is desirable to mourn, to be poor, to hunger or thirst. He is saying you have the assurance you will eventually be blessed if these things happen to you. Meek will inherit the earth—those who mourn will be comforted—the persecuted will inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

Reading from Matthew is set for All Saints. So is the glimpse of the end of the world in Revelation 7. The 7th seal is about to be broken. Just when we are expecting more apocalyptic destruction there is a pause. A ‘salvation interlude.’ The 4 angels at each corner of the world hold back the destructive winds—signs of God’s judgement—at least until God’s own people can be ‘sealed’ on their foreheads.

Initially the number is the often quoted 144,000—12,000 from each tribe of Israel. After that, John sees a ‘great multitude in white robes that no one could count.’ They come from every nation, people and language. Unlike some other faiths, Christianity is an inclusive and welcoming place for all.

These people stand in the presence of God and worship him. Their tribulations are over. Far from staining their robes with the blood of Jesus the lamb, their garments are now white as snow, and God will shelter them in his presence.

Notice the parallel here with the Beatitudes:

16 “Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,”
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
“he will lead them to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’

Or Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    for ever.

Even though we find apocalyptic literature hard to take, still we can understand the promise of God. At the time when the vision of John the Divine was written down, the tribulations suffered by God’s people were terrifying. State sponsored persecution, torture and death. Social and economic marginalisation. These woes awaited those who refused to participate in the Roman economic and political system. For contemporary audiences, the promise of the future in God’s nearer presence and under the protection of his Son was likewise very real.

“Who is able to stand?” is the rhetorical question left dangling in the air following the breaking of the 6th seal. Interlude portrayed in today’s reading gives God’s people their answer to that question. We are the redeemed community, dressed in white, standing in God’s presence and worshipping him. By the end of the salvation interlude, we can confidently answer, as God’s people, “With God’s help, we are able to stand.”

In a strange reversal of identities, Jesus the lamb morphs into Jesus the Shepherd and Saviour.

17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be …our shepherd;
“he will lead …us to springs of living water.”
    “And God will wipe away every tear from …our eyes.”’

This last verse explains why the passage from Revelation is sometimes chosen for funerals. The language and style of revelation in general might be unfathomable and plain weird, but there’s no getting away from the promises laid out before us.

I am sure the Kingdom of Heaven will not involve us standing around in the huge multitude singing songs and waving palm branches, but you get the idea. What lies behind the imagery is the promise of the Father.

During my ordination training, my tutor declared Revelation his favourite book in the Bible. He took a 6-month sabbatical to write a commentary. The fact he ended up not writing a word was not, to his students like me, greatly surprising. I doubt this part of the NT represents regular reading for you, but perhaps we might learn from what we have heard today and try again to penetrate this strange and daunting literature for ourselves. Amen

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Harsh God?

Wingrave Methodist Church – Sunday 22 October 2017 – Trinity 19


Gospel Matthew 22

Paying the poll-tax to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

21 ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Sermon

4 weeks ago—Bow Brickhill—workers in vineyard. Mother—Proverbs 31. Parables about Kingdom—portray God negatively—Unjust Judge, Vineyard owner, Talents.

Gospel reading—paying tax to Romans—follows on from Wedding Banquet. Responsibility as citizens to civil and religious authorities—often conflict. Our responsibilities to law of land—our faith when there is conflict.

What is right and what is wrong?—how do we act when our faith collides with the law or the way society expects us to act?

Examples—same sex marriage in church—Sunday working—standards of honesty and conduct.

Poll tax question was a trap—opens with these words:

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.

Follows previous verse:

14 ‘For many are invited, but few are chosen.’ Many=Jewish nation=Pharisees. Herodians—political party supporting Herod the Great.

Trap question—no easy answer—started with flattery—called Jesus Teacher—commended his impartial integrity. One answer—trouble with Romans—subversion—campaign of disobedience. Opposite—trouble with people.

Margaret Thatcher latter-day example of troubled tax! Poll tax unpopular—recalls Can’t Pay-Won’t pay—slogan from 1990 riots. Jews traditionally paid religious taxes:

· Telos—merchandise and travelers—VAT

· Phoros—property

· Kensos—tribute to foreign rulers—started with first King—unpopular

· Temple tax—ancient—half shekel yearly by males over 20.

Teaching of NT[i]—people should pay tax to lawful rulers—here Jesus seems to concur. In UK—no church tax—no right to withhold.

Text is about Righteousness. Trap is set—Jesus answers cleverly—talks about two kinds of righteousness.

1. Civil righteousness

2. Spiritual righteousness

1. CIVIL—Martin Luther—discusses in introduction to 1535 commentary on Galatians. Civil—we work out daily—we are accountable for how we behave.

2. SPIRITUAL—our relationship with God—not something we can work on—determined by God’s love in Christ—we can no more increase it than walk on Jupiter.

In his answer to the trap—Jesus is drawing our attention to similar division of rightness in modern life.

1. Our obligations and duties as citizens locally, of our country, and the World—we owe to the state what is demanded of us by government

2. Our obligations and responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom. We owe to God what is God’s.

If the two conflict, what we owe to God supersedes.

There are dangers—relying on our own strict interpretation of Scripture—current immigration and asylum seekers debate—some obligations are far from clear, like declaration of War and conscription.

In answering the trap, Jesus exposes the irony of the Pharisees—in paying taxes they give tribute to the Emperor—in seeking their own power over other people, they are failing to honour God.

We are to be in the world not of the world. What to do if we are at odds with the society in which we live? We may find our civic duty and rightness in voicing our opposition to government policy—engaging, being involved with, and understanding political debate—may lead to civil disobedience—Nelson Mandela—Desmond Tutu—Dietrich Bonhoeffer—Dalai Lama—Mahatma Gandhi—Mother Teresa—Malala Yousafzai.

We are not to confuse civil and spiritual—some churches and organisations are well known for their work for justice, peace human rights, relief of deprivation—but the danger is they place this work above the spiritual—Jesus asks us to keep them separate. We are in the world not of the world.

Equally the trap can be that we spend a lot of time on the spiritual realm—leading to being silent on the civic realm—we must do both, not one or the other.

Jesus did not come bringing harmony. He came bringing love, but especially in the church we recognize that we don’t always agree on everything. There are Christians on opposite sides of many issues, and that includes doctrine, authority of scripture, national and international relations, ethical and moral issues, and so on.

These present many traps for us. We recognize that people of conscience view the world in sometimes polar opposite ways. The key might be to find a way to proclaim the good news of God’s love for us while also calling people to think about what God’s good news and justice might look like in the world.

Essential to this endeavour is being open to listening for that call while realizing that others might hear it differently than we do. When we disagree, can we trust that God is at work even in those who think differently than we do? This is where today’s gospel comes in. We give back to God those things that are God’s. Let’s hope that we can. Amen


[i] Romans 13:1-7 1 Peter 2:13 1 Peter 2:14