Thursday, 7 November 2019

Stand Firm

2nd Sunday before Advent—17th November 2019—Gt Brickhill

Gospel Luke 21

Alleluia, alleluia. Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. All Alleluia.

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’

7 ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Sermon

Jesus has a generally positive attitude to the Jerusalem Temple, which makes his predictions of the Temple’s destruction all the more stark.

We have been reading through Luke’s gospel. He tells us, for example:

  • Simeon enters the Temple ‘guided by the Spirit’ (2:27);
  • It is a place of ‘fasting and prayer’ (2:37; 18:10; 19:45);
  • The boy Jesus was discovered there learning (2:46);
  • Jesus attempts to protect the space as a “house of prayer” (19:45).

The destruction of the Temple was not therefore something to be desired.

After the prophecy in today’s reading, Luke records Jesus as teaching in the Temple on several more occasions; and the final verse of Luke’s Gospel reports not only the disciples worship of Jesus (in itself quite shocking for first-century Jews!) but also how they remained ‘continually in the Temple blessing God’ (24:53).

In Acts, Luke’s follow-on from his gospel:

  • Peter and John attend the ‘hour of prayer’ at Temple (3:1-3) and heal a disabled man who ‘entered the Temple with them’ (3:8-10);
  • The apostles teach in the Temple area regularly (5:20-25); in fact, ‘every day in the Temple’ they taught Jesus as Messiah (5:42);
  • Paul claims to have done nothing wrong ‘against the temple’ (25:8);
  • Paul even received his ‘revelation’ (of Jesus’s Gospel) in the Temple itself (22:17).

Now, you may be thinking of the words of Jesus when he threatened to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in 3 days. You’ll recall that this promise was used by his accusers during the trial leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion.

In John 2:18ff he says:

18 The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’

19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

The same accusation is made in Matthew 26 and Mark 15—as well as against the early Christians at the trial of Stephen, the first martyr.

These accounts are rather different from today’s passage. Jesus seems to be warning the disciples about the so-called end times and how they should behave. How do I know this? Well, it’s the mention of earthquakes, famine, pestilence and persecution—all characteristic of eschatology.

For most of my life, I have lived in a benign religious environment where most faiths are tolerated, but the changing aspects of our multi-faith environment have led to shocking scenes of persecution against Christians where previously various different religions were practised side by side. This is even the case within the UK, so perhaps we should give more attention to the words of Jesus about eschatology in general and persecution in particular.

Jesus’s words of advice and command were of course addressed to a contemporary audience—and so we must be wary of adopting every saying as equally relevant to a contemporary audience. But we can distil Jesus’s commands into 5 pieces of advice:

· Be prepared to ‘testify’ (Luke 21:13);

· But do not prepare to testify in advance (21:14);

· Depend on Jesus’s ‘Wisdom’ (21:15);

· Family breakups will be part of this time (21:16);

· Do persevere (21:19).

Ultimately, although the teaching brings mixed news of persecution and family breakup, Jesus affirms:

18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Persevere. Stand firm—because whatever happens in this world all around us, the victory will in the end be ours. Amen

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

It’s all about looking down on others

Last after Trinity—27 October 2019—Ivinghoe Benefice

Gospel Luke 18

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Sermon

It’s rare for Jesus to explain to whom his parables are directed. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is one example when he does.

Jesus explicitly aims it at those who are confident in their own righteousness, who look down on others.

Which includes me, of course…. As you may have seen, many priests are good at spiritual superiority.

In getting to grips with this parable, we need to forget all we know about the stereotypes of Pharisees and Tax Collectors.

Pharisees

The Pharisees of the first century were not “legalists” who were trying to earn God’s favour. They were a Jewish movement that emphasized the importance of obedience to the law of Moses.

The Pharisees’ attention to things like rituals for cleansing one’s body or one’s cookware was part of a larger effort to encounter God’s holiness in everyday life.

Not only did the Pharisees seek to follow the Law, but they also spent time developing the Torah—the oral body of interpretation of the Law. Even if the Pharisees became arrogant and contemptuous of others—they certainly were not villains, otherwise Jesus would not have spent so much time debating with them.

Tax Collectors

It’s hard to be sure what part the tax collectors played in collecting individual taxes, but we know private citizens were encouraged by the Roman authorities to bid for contracts to collect taxes, and to line their pockets with whatever they could recoup over and above what was properly due.

Forcing people at point of dagger to hand over more than was due did nothing for these men’s social standing—nor did the fact they were prepared to collude with the Romans. But tax collectors were not murderers or anything more than petty scoundrels—otherwise Jesus would not have socialised with them, nor reached out to them as objects for his mercy and compassion.

Justification

Having understood a bit about the Pharisees’ search for holiness and the Tax Collectors’ pursuit of money—we can now turn to look at what was the point of the parable.

The Pharisee gave an account of all he did—with thanks to God for his righteous and holy life. What help did he seek? None. He was not looking for forgiveness. He did not have to ask for mercy, because he did not feel in any need of it. After all, following the Law was what God asked of his chosen people, and that’s exactly what the Pharisee did.

The tax collector on the other hand could not bear to look up to heaven and pray to God. All he managed was “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Yet Jesus says:

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

When the tax collector leaves the temple “justified,” he goes home unburdened. Vindicated. In restored relationship with God.

But when Jesus says, “This man went down to his home justified” we should imagine his words taking his audience’s collective breath away. The tax collector is not the kind of person one might expect to be so easily restored. Beating his breast in sorrow, the man utters a simple request for mercy and confesses his sinfulness. But he does not promise to change. He does not offer to pay back what has extorted nor find another job.

Justification, for the tax collector, comes with simple, real, costly contrition. Forgiveness will almost certainly lead to repentance and reconciliation—but that is for the tax collector to offer.

Contempt

But what follows from the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is not the full explanation. The Pharisee’s main problem is that his prayer regards the tax collector with such contempt. He assumes his corrupt neighbour has placed himself beyond God’s mercy when in truth he has not. So the message of the parable—for me—is one of contempt not just sin.

The parable exposes the disdain we harbour. What is disdain? It is the manifestation of a belief that we know better than God who should receive mercy and how they should receive it. Disdain is the failed attempt to put ourselves in the place of God. That’s the ultimate sin, and the rationale behind this small but powerful parable Jesus told.

Contrition or Contempt?

Contrition or Contempt. All of us—priests, parishioners, publicans, Pharisees, pastors, politicians, or perpetrators—are capable of either contrition or contempt. Those attitudes express themselves in how we view our neighbours and in what we rely upon to guide our daily lives.

Take the example of the tax collector—he could not bear to look up to heaven and pray to God. All he managed was “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen

Parable of the Shrewd Manager

14th after Trinity—22nd September 2019—Wendover


Gospel Luke 16

The parable of the shrewd manager

1 Jesus told his disciples: ‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

3 ‘The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg – 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

5 ‘So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

6 ‘“Three thousand litres of olive oil,” he replied.

‘The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifteen hundred.”

7 ‘Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

‘“Thirty tons of wheat,” he replied.

‘He told him, “Take your bill and make it twenty-four.”

8 ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’

Sermon

The parable of the shrewd manager

The parable of the shrewd manager or dishonest steward comes after a similar passage in Luke chapter 15—the parable of the Prodigal Son.

In both parables, a subordinate is accused of squandering resources belonging to his superior— either the prodigal son’s father or the master of a house steward.

The Parables follow one another, but I will leave you to judge whether or not they are linked. They do seem to have several things in common.

Both stories run counter to our ideas of justice and fairness. The prodigal son comes to his senses and returns to face the music. He is rewarded, but his elder brother (who did not waste or squander anything) is left in self-imposed exile from his father's grace and mercy. His story can indeed be called The Parable of the Lost Son.

The Shrewd Manager on the other hand, at first seems to be treated very badly. When called to see his master, the report of his inefficiency is accepted without further enquiry, and the manager is summarily dismissed from his job and his future livelihood.

For the moment, we’ll assume he has been guilty of dishonesty, since that seems to be the implication of the teaching with which Jesus ends his parable. But what happens next is very strange.

After getting the sack, the Shrewd Manager comes up with a plan of action to ingratiate himself with his former master’s debtors. He could not make deals on his master’s behalf if his cash books—the symbols of his agency and his authority to make deals—had been taken away from him on the spot, so we have to assume his dismissal was not quite so summary as it seems.

His plan was to call in his former master’s debtors one by one and come to an accommodation with them, which was highly advantage to the one who owed money and prejudicial to the one who was owed. Debts were halved or heavily reduced in full and final settlement of what was due.

Now you might have thought the master would kick himself for not taking away his former steward’s authority. Far from being angry, the master commends his former steward for being shrewd.

This is where our sense of right and wrong rebels. The next few verses defy any simple explanation. Perhaps we should start at the end—the punch line Jesus is working towards.

13 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’

This proverb picks up the master’s first words when finds out what the steward has done:

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

Luke loves contrasts. Economic restitution is part of the joy of Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:53) and the gospel proclaimed to tax collectors such as Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus restores what he had defrauded four-fold, he is justified, as proclaimed by Jesus, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:8).

What Jesus is saying is that, in a time of oppression of the poor, fraud, overcharging and violent debt collection, the debts the steward managed were almost certainly exorbitant, and all he had done was charged a fairer sum. In doing so, no one was really wronged, and the jobless steward might get another job from one of those merchants by showing himself honest and fair dealing.

Remember that no Jew was permitted by their law to charge interest, let alone reduce it, and all debts were written off automatically each jubilee year for everyone.

Going back to Jesus’s punchline, the disciples are sometimes called ‘children of light’ and those outside the Kingdom are contrasted as the ‘children of this world’ who love darkness more than light.

If your standards are the same as those practised by this evil world, and you cannot be trusted to behave in a distinctly better way, how can you expect to be trusted with the things of the Kingdom of God?

The steward redressed a number of wrongs by his own changed standards, and the master commended him for it.

No one, God says, can serve me and behave as the world does. Either they will love one and hate the other or hate the one and love the other. You cannot have it both ways.

As if by way of a bookend, Luke then follows up with another Parable that might also be linked: the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus loved the good things of life, but ignored the poor beggar sitting by his gate. When the rich man dies, he petitions Abraham to reverse his fate—or at least warn the rest of his family to repent. But Abraham replies:

Son remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

The rich man passing Lazarus on a daily basis received his comeuppance. It was too late for him to repent. But the shrewd manager was commended by his former master for his actions: for that man, it was not too late.

Amen

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Good Samaritan–Wingrave 14 July 2019

Gospel Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’

27 He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’

28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Sermon

The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are among the best loved of all Jesus’s teaching.

The Prodigal Son—or Parable of the Lost Son—is the more complex in my view, especially when you realise the message is as much about the elder brother (or lost son) than about the Prodigal who repents and is found.

The Good Samaritan on the other hand is fairly easy to understand, but is so important that it bears repetition and further thought, every time the Luke passage is set in the lectionary.

It’s fair to assume that when the man who is introduced as an “expert in the Law” asks for Jesus’s interpretation of the Law, the answer is already well known to him. We can find it in Leviticus chapter 19:

18 ‘“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord. 33 ‘“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Not much doubt about that then. On the other hand, it’s also fair to assume the lawyer well knew this was not the interpretation applied by the Jews, regardless of what was laid down in the books of the Law.

The lawyer probably thought he took good care of his immediate Jewish neighbours—helping them in hard times—providing for their needs—and lending them money interest free. But the Samaritans were clearly not eligible for consideration. On the contrary, they were reviled and thought unclean, even though they believed themselves Jewish and worshipped the same God on Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. In effect, they were untouchables, as we will discover.

Why was this, especially when care for the stranger and alien is a repeated theme throughout the Torah? Here’s another sample from Deuteronomy 10:

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

A good sermon will need examples, and today these are not hard to find. We are surrounded by people who need our help.

We, like the Jews and the Samaritans, are a tribal people at heart and habit. We are most comfortable with, and care most about those like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes as did the Jews and Samaritans.

Whether or not we live in multiracial parts of the country, or whether our neighbourhoods are made up of rich or poor—still we are close to places that are very mixed indeed and pass through them regularly.

How do we react to those sitting begging? What is our deep-down instinctive reaction when surrounded by people of another tribe, who are fundamentally unlike us? How did increasing immigration and asylum seekers impact on our attitudes? Who do we help, and how?

In Jesus’s parable, the priest was not a bad man. He saw the need, but he would have rendered himself ritually unclean were he to touch a dead body and one that was unclean anyway.

Likewise the Levite was not a bad man. He checked that the injured man was not one of his tribe—that would have been obvious from the victim’s dress—but like the priest, he did not bother to discover whether the injured man was alive or dead.

It’s no different really from the occasional reports from the streets of London when a homeless person dies and crowds of passers-by step over him, assuming him to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol—not wishing to intervene.

As familiar as the parable of the Good Samaritan is, it needs constant repetition, because the messages are so necessary to understanding what Christianity is all about. Each of us must wrestle with our conscience.

The Christian faith, following Jesus, reaches out beyond our tribal walls. Supporting homeless charities. Donating to Crisis for Christmas. Volunteering in a homeless shelter. Reaching out in other ways. At the very least, acknowledging that the person who needs our help is a human being—a child of God, made in his own image.

The Good Samaritan might be an easy parable to understand, but it is one of the hardest to follow. Deep down, the message is simple. Who are our neighbours? Our “neighbours” are those who need us. Amen

Monday, 1 April 2019

The Two Lost Sons–One Found

St Mary’s Wendover – 31 March 2019


Gospel Luke 15:1—3;11b—end

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So, he divided his property between them.

13 ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 ‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 So he got up and went to his father.

‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.

21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

22 ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So, they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

28 ‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

31 ‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’

Sermon

The last-minute chance to talk about the Parable of the Two Lost Sons is too good to pass up, even if I cannot do it justice in the time available to me.

I’d like to introduce you to a Middle Eastern theologian whose name is Kenneth Bailey. His book Jacob and the Prodigal interprets Jesus’s retelling of the Genesis story of Jacob, traditionally known as The Prodigal Son.

What sets Bailey apart is that not only does he scrape the barnacles of time from the parables but he explains in detail how the characters would have behaved, and the reaction of the tax collectors and sinners to what they heard—all through Middle Eastern eyes.

The story opens with the background. A father has two sons. The younger son makes a request. He wants his father to divide up his inheritance without further ado.

What is not clear to us today is how shocking is the younger son’s request. His father is likely the head man of the village, or at least a very important and powerful individual. Property was not passed on until death—and the elder son would have inherited the entirety. The younger son’s request was tantamount to wishing his father dead, as well as depriving him of his standing in the village and authority, and robbing his brother.

Jesus’s audience would have gasped at the sheer horror and sin behind the request.

Most people would have expected the father to react with fury—and his fellow land owners to have gathered together to shun the younger son for what he had done. But the father accedes to his son’s request—no doubt to the consternation of the elder son.

When the Prodigal Son gathered together his new-found wealth, and set out for a distant land, no one wanted to see him back ever again. But after squandering his money on riotous living, he was left penniless and starving when famine struck, and all his fair-weather friends deserted him. He was abandoned in Gentile territory, as we know from the mention of pigs whose food he was reduced to sharing.

But we are told he repents—and comes to his senses. There was nowhere further to fall—he was at rock bottom—and decided to throw himself on his father’s mercy and repent. The best he could hope for would be to be taken on as one of his father’s servants. The worst—utter rejection.

But the younger son’s reception by his father was full of grace. Had other men from the village spotted him first, they would have banded together to chase him away, exclude him from the village to protect his father from further unwise action, and very possibly kill the son. But his father sees him from far away—and literally runs down the main street to meet him and welcome him home.

The senior men in the village were horrified. They would never run, and never hitch up their robe to expose their legs. Instead, the father is extravagant in his forgiveness without precondition, and the other villagers can only fall into line, since to refuse an offer of a great celebration would cause grave offence to the host who has asked them.

The parable does not end here though. We tend to forget there is an Act 2. This concerns the elder brother, who to most of the villagers had behaved impeccably throughout, never refusing to work for his father, but ever resentful for the way his younger brother had been treated.

Returning home from his work in the fields, the older son asks what the noise of celebration is all about. No one seems to have sent for him in the fields—he hears from a servant that his father has killed the fatted calf and showered honours on his wayward and sinful brother. Who can blame him for his deep resentment and anger? Who would join the revelry—given what the younger son had done—who would have thought the father could be so weak-minded and unfair?

When the elder son refuses to go in, what does the father do? Does he wait for his son to come in and show proper respect? No—the father reaches out to his son, in exactly the same way he did for the younger one. He leaves the feast in search of the missing son.

Of course the wronged brother has a point. He should have had the entire inheritance—now he has to make to with half—he should have been honoured for his stalwart service—instead his brother is treated with honour and respect, and he is left out in the cold.

The punchline of the story is hard to swallow:

31 ‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’

Who is who, in this parable? Clearly God is represented by the father. Through grace, he has humiliated and shamed himself in order to forgive and receive back his sinful sons. What is surprising is that the Prodigal Son repents of all his wrongdoing and is freely and fully forgiven. The older son’s actions are commendable, but he shows no grace and remains mired in sin, without repentance, and asking no forgiveness.

Who are the two sons meant to represent? Well—I’ll leave you to decide. Perhaps the two sons stand for you and me? If so—which is me? Which is you? Amen

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Clinging to the Worldly Measure of Glory

Sunday 3rd March 2019 at Wingrave Parish Church


Reading Exodus 34: 29—end

The radiant face of Moses

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Reading 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Gospel Acclamation

I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Lord. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Gospel Luke 9:28—36

The transfiguration

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Sermon

Transfiguration Sunday this year occurs on Tuesday 6th August, but most of the liturgical churches following the Revised Common Lectionary observe the Transfiguration today, as is obvious from all three readings from Scripture.

The radiant face of Moses shone on Mount Sinai when he had been speaking to the Lord, with the result that no one would come near him and he covered his face with a veil.

This theme is developed by the writer to the church in Corinth. We are not like Moses he says, whose veiled face prevented the Israelites seeing what was passing away—the old covenant—but whenever anyone turns to Christ, the veil is taken away. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and we are transformed into his image with ever-increasing joy.

I’m sure you’ve heard many sermons in the past about Luke’s account of the Transfiguration in his gospel. I won’t repeat what is often said about the event, but maybe just pick out a few interesting points for you to reflect on.

Luke anchors his timeline to “about eight days” after Jesus had predicted his own death. He also warned his disciples:

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Despite everything that has been said, it will take more than an apocalyptic revelation before the disciples understand Jesus’s true vocation, identity and mission. Some are not ready—and so the only witnesses to this theophany are Peter, James and John. Even they misinterpret what they see. The signs are all there—a light bright as a flash of lightning—the presence of the OT Law and Prophets in the form of Moses and Elijah—the voice of God masked by a cloud—Jesus’s shining face— and God’s seal of approval ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’

In case you should think this was some sort of vision or a dream, Luke makes it perfectly plain that Peter and his companions were wide awake and correctly interpreted at least part of what they saw. But why did they tell no one about it?

As soon as Jesus descends from the mountain, he is accosted by the father of a demon-possessed boy. The remaining disciples had failed to effect a cure whilst Jesus was up the mountain praying, with Peter, James and John. As if to underline their lack of comprehension, Jesus reveals his frustration and says: 41 ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ […], ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?

The answer was ‘not long’—and in case the disciples did not get it the first time, Jesus immediately follows up with a second prediction of his death. These visions of glory will not be consummated until after the crucifixion and resurrection.

Even so, the disciples cling to their worldly measure of glory—they compete among themselves for status—and James and John put in a request for seats of power on Jesus right- and left-hand side, when he comes into his Kingdom.

You may have wondered at the presence of Elijah and Moses. Apart from representing the Law and the prophets, Luke tells us they are discussing Jesus’s departure with him. The actual word used is ‘exodus’ which gives us a clue of how the crucifixion and resurrection are to be regarded.

Very soon now, Jesus will set out for Jerusalem, where the prediction of his death will be fulfilled. Looking forward, Luke is concentrating our attention on the resurrection, and not on Jesus’s death. The exodus imagery evokes liberation. As Moses led the people out of Egypt, so Jesus’ death and resurrection usher in an era of salvation and blessing.

But when the cloud dissipates, and all becomes clear, we are left with the ringing endorsement—the divine approbation ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ Amen

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Blessings–and woes…..

St Mary’s Wendover – Sunday 17th February 2019


Reading Jeremiah 17:5—10

5 This is what the Lord says:

‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

7 ‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.’

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 ‘I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.’

Reading I Corinthians 15:12—20

The resurrection of the dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Gospel Acclamation

I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Lord. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Gospel Luke 6:17—26

Blessings and woes

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Sermon

In 325AD the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.

In the Gregorian calendar, Easter falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. This year, Easter is almost as late as it can be. It’s on 21 April. The last latest Easter was in 1943. It won’t happen again until 2038.

Today is the 3rd Sunday before Lent. Epiphany ended with Candlemas, but there are themes running through Epiphany and ordinary time which we can explore.

Today’s readings liken the faithful to elements of the natural world—in Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1 we are compared to trees planted by streams of water.

I Corinthians 15 reassures us that this life is not the end, but is followed for the faithful by the resurrection of the dead.

Our gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Plain—it also reassures, particularly the faithful lowly, of God’s provision—but the blessings are followed by woes, especially for the rich and well-fed who neglect the needs of others.

This was indeed the same passage set for this particular Sunday in 1995, when the vicar of St George’s Campden Hill in Kensington mounted the pulpit, his sermon about the woes of the rich and well provided for at the ready, and looked down, only to see in the front row several directors of Barings Bank—founded in 1762 but brought to its knees by rogue trader Nick Leeson. Too late to change his words, the vicar delivered his planned sermon regardless.

Most of us would probably admit to being well-fed. Most of us would confess to being rich by comparison to the world’s population in general. Many of us feel how wrong it is that the rich get richer and the poor poorer, but how do we—how should we— react to the messages of the Sermon on the Plain?

Many of you will recall Archbishop Makarios back in the 1970’s—the Greek Cypriot leader who became the first President of Cyprus. He survived four assassination attempts and a coup d’état. Makarios in Greek means “blessed”—it’s this word that is used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain.

Some people find it baffling that Jesus suggests the poor, hungry, and those who weep or are hated by others are specially blessed. Others are worried that those who are rich and well-fed are condemned by Jesus in the so-called woes. What is going on?

The first thing to be said is that although Jesus was surrounded by a large number of people, the blessings and woes are specifically addressed to his disciples and followers, and not a wider audience.

Secondly, Jesus doesn’t suggest that poverty and hunger are somehow desirable—but if the disciples suffer and are rejected by others, their reward is in heaven.

Thirdly, for those who are rich, well-fed and popular—they already have their reward in heaven—and their task now is to love and help others.

The remainder of chapter 6 is taken up with the rest of the Sermon on the Plain. Now Jesus’s words are addressed to the crowds:

27 ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.

Love your enemies, and don’t judge others. Consider the plank of wood in your own eye before removing the speck of sawdust in your brothers’. Judge other people by their fruit—a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Or look at other peoples’ deeds—for a house built on sand has no solid foundation and cannot survive life’s buffeting wind and rain.

Although Luke does not explicitly encourage us to make a choice—nevertheless it’s clear that Luke wants listeners to choose the way of blessing.

What to us as Christians seem to be woes, may yet prove to be blessings. Those who hunger and thirst in this world will be satisfied—perhaps through our giving and sharing as a means by which God provides for them—but also because their hunger for the coming of God’s Kingdom will include them in the world to come.

To be sure, condemnation awaits those who do not repent. But a longer view of Luke’s attitude towards the wealthy reveals a pastoral concern—Luke wants them to avoid condemnation by repenting and joining the movement towards the Kingdom, which means putting their material resources at the service of the community. Luke intends to shock people with wealth into repentance and freely sharing their money and possessions.

So next time you feel good because you have saved money or received a bonus, remember that is your comfort. Next time you feel happy and well-fed, remember that is your reward. Next time everyone speaks well of you, remember you have had your just dessert.

But next time you are in a position to love and help those who weep, those who are hungry, those who are hated by others, those who are abused, neglected and counted as of nothing, and those who have little enjoyment of the world’s good things, rejoice for great will be your reward in God’s kingdom! Amen

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Christmas 1 - Holy Cross Slapton - 30 December 2018

Reading 1 Samuel 2

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.

Reading Colossians 3

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia.

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

All   Alleluia.

Gospel Luke 2: 41 - end

The boy Jesus at the temple

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’

49 ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Sermon

1. One of great Christmas readings—Hebrews chapter 1
God’s final word: his Son
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

2. Today similar reading—Colossians 3—contrast doctrine of Hebrews 1 about nature of Christ—with ethics of Colossians—how we should behave.

3. Budgens—orderly queue at one basket till—member of staff opened up check out. Woman at back of queue dived in—unloaded shopping onto belt. Loud argument from woman in middle of basket queue—reply from woman’s daughter—can’t you see she’s 81 and in poor health? Argument raged on until both had left store.

4. No sign of forbearance—embarrassing to staff and customers—probably still seething throughout the day and beyond—affront to her dignity as a person—should have asked individual in front of her in queue to be served first before jumping in.

5. What conclusion can we draw about two protagonists—woman and her mother who jumped the queue—and woman who felt affronted because she had been waiting longest? Can we judge their personalities from the way they behaved? What about Vicky and me—kept our heads down—avoided confrontation—would have behaved like a doormat to avoid unpleasantness?

6. As I was thinking about today’s sermon—confrontation led me to reflect on how we should behave towards one another.

7. It seems that Christians are to ‘put on’ certain characteristics so that they live these qualities—they do not merely ‘have’ them. They are not just traits, but actions which define Christian living. As Christ lived, so Christians are to live.

8. If this is so—the difference should be obvious in the way we behave. Justification should not be by faith alone—but by works and faith combined—one leads to the other—both are intertwined.

9. Five virtues— compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—are actually attributes of God in Christ—we are not commanded to show them as desirable in themselves—the ethical way to behave—but because we are to copy Christ himself.

10. These ‘virtues’ describe the character of active Christian living—as God’s chosen people who are called out of the ordinary realm of human existence to be especially dedicated to God because God loves them. The Christian community lives as it embodies the very gospel by which it was called—and that is what it now proclaims.

11. The rationale of all this—is not just that we follow Christ—but as the passage says: Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

12. This gospel reading is addressed to the Christian community as a whole—the word ‘you’ is consistently in the plural form—the gospel is personal but certainly not private.

13. Over all these virtues—we are to put on love and peace— Άγάπη—that characteristically self-denying form of Christian love. The kind that would help an 81 year old woman in poor health to unload her shopping—the kind that would sing to God with gratitude in their hearts—the kind that would not hold back from admonishing wrongdoing but teach and encourage others—the kind that continually gives thanks to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen—Come Lord Jesus.

Advent 4 – 23 December 2018 – Wingrave Methodists

Collect

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Reading—Micah 5: 2 – 5a

2 ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.’

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labour bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

5 And he will be our peace

Reading Hebrews 10: 5 - 10

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –
    I have come to do your will, my God.”’

8 First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’– though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hymn 2

· xxx

Gospel Luke 1: 39 - 55

Mary visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

46 And Mary said:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.’

Sermon

Sang Magnificat every Sunday—know little about it—sung by Mary who prepares to visit Elizabeth her relative or kinswoman.

Zechariah is country priest—not rich or distinguished—belonged to priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth his wife—both elderly and unable to have children. Shame and disgrace—judgement of God added to her sorrow at being unable to conceive.

Zechariah on duty in Temple—vision of angel announcing Elizabeth will conceive—baby will ne a delight and joy—name him John—John Baptist will be ‘great in sight of the Lord.’ John will announce coming of the Lord—forerunner

Zechariah struck dumb following vision of angel Gabriel until he had named his son.

After his tour of duty as priest—Zechariah returned home—Elizabeth became pregnant—remained in seclusion for 5 months—God has taken away my disgrace she says.

Gabriel had busy time—sent by God to Mary—betrothed to Joseph—addressed her as highly favoured by the Lord who is with her. Not sure this greeting would prove accurate.

After the annunciation—Mary indicated her acceptance of what the angel announced—“May it be to me as you have said. We may only wonder and reflect on what would have happened had Mary declined—how many other young women had been asked?

Mary had her share of disgrace—very young woman—did not count in society—given in marriage as a possession and had no say in her future. Worse, pregnant and unmarried—her family shamed and disgraced—Joseph thought about breaking off the betrothal and walking away from the transaction quietly as a kindness to her.

In our terms—Mary far from blessed—this may have been reason why she travelled to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth—whose disgrace had been mitigated by her pregnancy.

Mary could not have known what the future might bring—sadness turned to joy then catastrophe. We sang Simeon’s song Nunc Dimittis alongside Magnificat every evening—but did not include the prophecy that followed:

33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ Luke 2

This is background to Mary’s Song—Zechariah’s Song follows it—Simeon’s Song is in next chapter.

Songs important in Scripture—over 200 in all—of which 150 are Psalms. Songs stir us and unite—songs can be laments or triumph—pleas to God for justice—calming songs like David sung to King Saul—many others.

Why did Mary choose to sing? What was she actually saying? Her song harks back to Hannah’s—mother of prophet Samuel:

Hannah's Song, 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah prayed and said,
"My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

Both Hannah and Mary rejoice in their God—and take heart in the promises given them by God—that He considers, cares for, and does great things on behalf of the lowly, not just those who are mighty and powerful

Both identify that what God is doing for them, he is also doing for all people.

Both Hannah and Mary sing a song that can be, or should be, our song in this Advent season. As we have prepared for the coming of the Christ Child, we too can sing in thanksgiving, in celebration, in remembrance, and in proclamation of the promise made to our ancestors.

Like Hannah, and Mary, and Elizabeth too, this is the time for us to indulge in celebratory joy in the promises that come to us in Jesus. Let us raise our voices, like Mary in a great cry, magnifying our God.

Amen

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Christ the (Servant) King

Christ the King – Last Sunday before Advent

St Mary’s Wendover – 25 November 2018


Gospel John 18

Alleluia, alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’

38 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate.

Sermon

Back in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new feast day in the Roman Catholic church. He called it Christ the King.

Other churches adopted the feast day with the Revised Common Lectionary. It was moved to the last Sunday in Advent, where it remains today. There is also another name for this Sunday, which comes from the post-communion prayer, but I will leave you to discover that for yourselves. Listen out for it after communion.

The Pope apparently wanted to highlight the increasing secularism of the age. People were more keen to live in the kingdom of this world than look towards the kingdom of heaven.

You may be wondering what was the link between secularism and Christ the King. In truth, the Pope was keen to settle an argument that had been debated in the church since as far back in time as St Cyril of Alexandria. The theological difference of opinion concerned the supremacy of Christ over all things.

And so, as we prepare to begin a new church year next week with the First Sunday of Advent, and the coming of Jesus, not only in Bethlehem, but the second coming as well, we pause and reflect upon who Jesus the Christ is in our lives.

To challenge our thinking we turn, not to stables and shepherds, but to the final trial of Jesus. If we are to live in God’s Kingdom, we, like Pilate, need to know the answer to the question “are you king of the Jews?” or in other words “Are you Christ the King?”

So, let’s have another look at Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate. There are 7 short scenes. We’re interested in the first two:

1. The opening scene of the trial begins when Jesus is brought to the Roman procurator’s headquarters. Pilate asks what is the charge, and gets no answer—except that Jesus is a criminal.

2. Today’s gospel reading is scene 2. Pilate retreats into his palace to interview Jesus privately. “Are you King of the Jews?” he asks. Pilate is not concerned whether or not Christ (as the name implies) is the anointed one. 35 “Am I a Jew?” he scoffs. But if Jesus is a political leader who might challenge the supremacy of Rome, and with it Pilate’s position and power, that is a very different matter.

From our perspective in the modern age, we know that John has been telling us, from the beginning of his gospel, that Jesus is in fact the King of Israel. When seeking Jesus, whom his brother, Phillip, has told him is the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets, Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49).

The gospel then goes on to explain that Jesus is not a king that the world would ever recognise. He is a king who speaks to the lowly and the rejected. He is a king who serves rather than being served. Jesus is a king who enters the holy city, not triumphantly on a horse, but seated on a donkey (John 12:14). He is the Servant King.

Pilate asks what crime Jesus has committed. Jesus replies that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate cannot understand such a king as that.

We know that Jesus is the Word of God that has become “flesh and lived among us.” Jesus has come from God and has come “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b).

We also know that, in order to recognise this king, this only Son, we must be “born from above” (John 3:3). Unless we have experienced this new birth, we, like Pilate, are unable to recognize the kingdom of God that surrounds us on all sides—this is the reign of Christ the King.

In the end, Pilate mocks both Jesus and the Jews. He could never understand that Jesus is a king not of this world, and not like any in this world. But in the end, Pilate unknowingly speaks the truth. “Here is your king” he says to the people.

And over the cross Pilate places the announcement for all to see, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

Today is the last Sunday in the church’s year. Today we are invited to respond, in preparation for Advent which is coming. Are we willing to accept Jesus as our King, or are we drawn more towards the kingdoms of this increasingly secular age, with all its evils and distractions?

Do we live in the time of God’s new reign? Are we followers of the Servant King? Does the way we live our lives reflect that service? Do we reach out to the least and the lost? In short—are we fully citizens of God’s Kingdom? And can we answer Pilate’s prophetic question: “What is Truth?”

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.