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.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Dan Brown–the End of Times

Sunday 18 November at Stoke Hammond

2nd Sunday before Advent


Old Testament Daniel 12

The end times

12 ‘At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Epistle Hebrews 10

A call to persevere in faith

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 ‘This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.’

17 Then he adds:

‘Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.’

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Gospel Mark 13

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 Mark.

The destruction of the temple and signs of the end times

13 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’

2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’

5 Jesus said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains.

Sermon

I have recently finished Dan Brown’s latest thriller published October last year. You’ve probably read some of them—light hearted page turners that are good for holiday reading providing you don’t take the content at all seriously.

The book is called Origin. The story is the usual mix of science and religion. It starts with the assassination of a scientist who is about to reveal a new absolute proof that creation happened out of chaos, and that no creator—no God was involved.

I won’t spoil your next journey through Gatwick, Luton or Stansted by revealing any more of the story—except to say if you liked any of his other novels you will probably enjoy this one—and maybe it will give you pause for thought about what the Bible calls The end times.

Two of today’s readings are headed with the end times and the Hebrews passage talks about the last day approaching. Like Revelation, and much of the apocalyptic literature of the Bible, the language can seem fanciful—most Christians never look at it—but today the preacher can hardly avoid it. Is this fair—or should eschatology (as it is called) attract our attention more than it does.

Why should it? You may ask. Well, the study of eschatology is described as ‘the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind’ which sounds pretty important to me, and central to our faith. Increasingly we seem to think about our own mortality as we age—so why not reflect on what will be the scenario when the world ends, as almost all respected scientists agree will inevitably happen.

Mark’s portrayal of what Jesus is like dominates his gospel. At the beginning, Jesus proclaims the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. He grapples with demons and other worldly beings. Chapter 13 is an extended discourse about the end times, but in reply to a question about when this will all happen from Peter, James and John—he will not be drawn.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

The portents and warnings given by Jesus are similar to what is in the Old Testament, and has been developed for centuries. Religious deception, violence, and betrayal. Planetary signs in the skies—the sun and moon go out—the skies will shake—'And God will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.’

Interestingly, these warnings can be linked to events at the time when Mark wrote his gospel—narrowing the dates down to around 66 – 70 AD.

The warnings accompanying the end times all sound terrifying, as Jesus must have intended. Why did he frighten his listeners in this way—especially as all they asked was when the world would end, not the signs and events that would accompany it? The answer seems to be in the repeated words “Watch out.” They appear in verses 5, 9, 23 and 33. Be prepared. Take nothing for granted.

The discourse ends with a parable about a man who leaves on a journey. Jesus’s charge to his disciples is the same as to those in the house while the owner is away.

35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’

What is the equivalent charge Jesus would give us today? We live in an age of unprecedented scientific discovery, although perhaps not as dramatic as the E wave supercomputer imagined by Dan Brown. But our knowledge doesn’t really change anything—the cause of the end of the world might be a massive asteroid—climate change—a threat to the human race along the lines of whatever caused the elimination of the dinosaurs—or conflict using nuclear weapons and so on.

Whatever happens and when, we should remain active in the faith. Not become lukewarm. Not think the end times are so far away we have plenty of time to prepare ourselves.

If Jesus were sat here today, he would almost certainly repeat when he said in answer to his disciples’ question: Be on guard! Be alert! For you do not know when the end times will come. God works outside the cosmos, and can end this experiment called human kind at any time. Amen

Sunday, 29 July 2018

All things are possible

Trinity 9 – Sunday 29 July 2018- Stoke Hammond


Gospel John 6:1-21

Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus walks on the water

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Sermon

Today’s gospel reading from John describes the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, and immediately following that is the account of Jesus walking on water.

You have probably heard countless sermons on the so-called nature miracles; and most clergy have preached several times on these events, which turn up more than once, every year in our lectionary.

Let me start by reading for you a passage from 2 Kings chapter 4 in the OT by way of background:

Feeding of a hundred

42 A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn, along with some ears of new corn. ‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said.

43 ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, ‘Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: “They will eat and have some left over.”’ 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

The ‘man of God’ was Elisha the prophet, and I am sure you were struck by the similarity of the miracle with the feeding of the 5,000. In fact the chapter is full of such events involving illness and famine.

Jesus’s audience would have immediately made the link for themselves. Did John want to depict Jesus as a prophet in the mould of the OT prophets? We know Jesus constantly quoted the Hebrew scriptures, and called himself Son of Man and so although we nowadays are not steeped in the Old Testament prophets, we can understand better the miracles such as the Feeding of the 5,000 by appreciating how the first audience would have interpreted it.

The parallels are obvious. Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea. The last meal that they ate in Egypt was the forerunner of the Passover, and of course the Holy Communion. Moses went up a mountain, and so did Jesus—and so on.

But the passage is not just about Jesus the Prophet, but who Jesus was which goes way beyond the fact that Moses talked face to face with God, as did Jesus himself. This is where we have the advantage—we know and believe Jesus to be divine, which would have been a giant step too far for those who sat down the eat with him.

Elisha’s servant protested to his master that 20 loaves of barley bread were hopelessly inadequate to provide a meal for a crowd, and Philip protested to Jesus that ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ Elisha’s servant just did what he was told and there was food left over. Likewise there were 12 baskets remaining of bread left over at the end of the Feeding of the 5,000—proving God’s abundance and grace to those who put their trust in him.

The crowd are impressed by what they have seen, but they only conclude that Jesus is a latter day prophet in the OT mould.

‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ they say. This is why Jesus resists being acclaimed king. He is much more than that, but it will take more than a ‘sign’ before they are prepared to see him as more than just a prophet. This will be by a series of signs, some demonstrating mastery over the forces of nature which can only point to his divinity.

The Walking on the Water is a case in point. He tells the frightened disciples ‘It is I; don’t be afraid,’ making reference to the words “I AM” —It is I—which in this case is the name for God.

So here we have the start of a transition between how Jesus portrays himself in a way that people steeped in the OT can understand, but also laying the foundations with his disciples who will be called on to assert he is much more than just another prophet.

The test of our faith and that of the church is to put ourselves in the shoes of Philip and Andrew, or of Elisha’s servant. Would we respond with the impossibility and impracticality of what we were being asked to do—of what Jesus challenges us to believe—or would we put our faith and trust in him and boldly lay out the provisions, inadequate as they seem to be?

Putting prayer at the centre of a life of faith provides that challenge. Do we ask for the impossible? Do we stick to asking for what we believe can be answered? Do we listen to God’s command and believe that in Jesus, all things are possible?
Amen

Monday, 9 July 2018

Be prepared

8 July 2018 at Wingrave – Trinity 6

Collect

Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reading 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. 3 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel Mark 6:1-13

A prophet without honour

6

Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.

4 Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus sends out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.

Sermon

Be Prepared was a motto I learned at cubs. I never was prepared, and generally considered a boy who could immediately lay his hands on a swiss army knife as a bit of an anorak. Still, I am sure it was good advice at the time.

As I looked at today’s gospel reading, the thought occurred to me that we were witnessing an important preparation for the disciples in their training and development to be witnesses to Jesus, and we might learn from them too, but in this context was is it to “be prepared”.

Jesus’s encounter with the people of his home town starts chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel. It’s a self-contained unit. Jesus has been performing miracles elsewhere, but in Nazareth he encounters rejection and a complete lack of faith which prevents him doing the same in his home town.

The text suggests a positive reception at the beginning, but the crowd are scandalised when they consider who Jesus is, his questionable paternal lineage, and his familiarity as a tekton—a craftsman, a small builder or a carpenter.

You will recall that in Mark 3 Jesus’s family came to fetch him and stop him preaching and teaching because they thought he had gone out of his mind. Tradesmen did not suddenly morph into prophets and miracle workers—it would be like your local village handyman leading public meetings and claiming to be inspired. ‘Who does he think he is?’ would probably be most peoples’ hostile reaction.

Given his known background, it’s no wonder those who have known him all his life refer to him as ‘son of Mary.’ This question of Jesus’s identity is a recurrent theme in Mark. Think forward to chapter 8, where Jesus himself asks:

‘Who do people say I am?’

—and after Peter’s declaration

‘You are the Messiah’

we are asked the same question

‘But what about you? Who do YOU say I am?’

The sending out of the disciples follows from verse 7. The background is not auspicious. The disciples in chapter 4 fail to understand Jesus’s parables, and ask for explanations. In the same chapter the disciples are accused by Jesus of lacking faith and being fearful before he stills the storm. They wonder ‘Who then is this?’—a man who can intervene in the forces of nature and save them all from drowning.

The immediate background is the controversy in Nazareth, and the people’s complete lack of faith which prevented Jesus performing any miracles in his home town. Now the disciples are told they are being sent out on a mission to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. It’s this challenge that I think speaks to us today.

The first thing that occurs to me is that God does not necessarily choose those who are well versed and equipped to do his work. The disciples were for the most part completely unqualified and lacking the skills to face the immense challenges that came their way. Maybe we need to hear this kind of encouragement occasionally when we doubt our ability to fulfil our own mission.

Secondly, the list of equipment and resources the disciples were allowed to take was meagre in the extreme—yet people continue to emulate this unpreparedness even today. A month or so ago I saw on Breakfast TV a disabled cyclist who rode her recumbent bicycle round the coast of the UK. It took her years to complete the task—she carried everything on her bicycle—and when she was not camping out in bad weather alone she was invited into people’s houses and given provisions needed for her immediate needs. God will provide—and does—through our own hands.

Thirdly, how much does our own faith determine how effective we are in furthering God’s mission through his Son here on earth? Jesus marvelled at the unbelief that surrounded him—but for some of us, in our nice houses, with lovely views and every advantage including a pension that will guarantee our economic security for the rest of our lives—how much are we like the man who pulled down his barns and built bigger, in order to house all his wealth and put his feet up—only to wake up the next day and find his soul had been required of him?

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.

What is the modern day equivalent of this I wonder? The disciples took a walking stick—and not only no money, food or possessions, but no bag to hold anything they were given, and no pocket in which to keep donations.

While the disciples were away, John the Baptist was beheaded. They returned to report back:

30 The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

Notice how Jesus cared first for their physical wellbeing before anything else. Yet the comparison between their meagre equipment and the abundance associated with the Feeding of the 5,000 could not be more striking.

We do, though, have one thing the disciples did not, and it makes all the difference. We have experienced the faithfulness of God in Jesus crucified and risen. So, we may marvel at the unbelief around us, but still we go forth, proclaiming and practising our faith in Christ, trusting in God to provide abundantly for our journey. That is to “be prepared”.
Amen

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Family Troubles

Trinity 2–10 June 2018 at Great Brickhill


Reading Genesis 3

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

10 He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’

11 And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?’

12 The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’

The woman said, ‘The snake deceived me, and I ate.’

14 So the Lord God said to the snake, ‘Because you have done this,

‘Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’

Reading 2 Corinthians

13 It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 5.1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Gospel Mark 3

Jesus accused by his family and by teachers of the law

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

30 He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’

33 ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’

Sermon

Our journey—in the lectionary year B—takes us through the gospel of Mark. We have reached chapter 3, and in the beautiful weather of an English June we are suddenly confronted by a need to linger on the offence Jesus caused, and the reasons behind it.

The incident we are focusing on today has three competing groups of people:

1. The crowds who constantly swarm and press in on Jesus

2. His family, who are concerned about him

3. The Scribes—theological heavyweights come down from Jerusalem

At this stage—chapter 3—the crowds seem interested in what Jesus has to say and what he does. They want to hear and learn more. They express no worries and ask no questions—but are a constant presence that will in the end be manipulated by the Scribes among others and turned against him.

The second group is Jesus’s family. They have come to rescue him from the trouble and notoriety he has got himself in. His family think they are the ones who know him best. Their belief is that he is out of his depth, and that dangerous groups of people, such as the Scribes, and watching him and judging his impact on the crowds.

These people have the power to put an end to his teaching, or worse to put an end to his freedom and even his life. His family think he is “beside himself”—not in his right mind—the Greek is existemi [εξιστεμι]—the same word can also be translated as ‘insane.’

We the readers know he has been acting this way since his baptism by John the Baptist—his family members have therefore come to find him and take him away to a place of safety.

The last group is the Scribes. These are the experts in theology—come down from Jerusalem to investigate and make a judgement on what Jesus is doing. They recognise that a power is at work in him—but do not consider that God is performing a revival through him—instead they decide Jesus is an agent of evil—a servant of Satan.

In one sense, it was good that the Scribes took Jesus’s power seriously—and did not put his works down to magic, illusion or pronouncing him a charlatan. On the other hand, branding him a Satanic agent was deeply damaging.

Unlike the magicians in Egypt, who could replicate the ‘signs’ that Moses and Aaron performed—the Scribes could not match Jesus’s miracles, and so had to fall back on ascribing his power to a malevolent force.

Jesus in return accuses the Scribes on being blind to the possibility of truth—they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit—searching for every possible source of power except that of God’s renewal and forgiveness—healing, casting out demonic possession, freedom from guilt and sin, both to individuals and the people as a nation. Their minds are closed—they do not recognise the transformative power of God’s grace at work.

The response from Jesus is short and to the point. He does not address the accusation at length, but does point out the logical absurdity of saying that he is using Satanic power to act on itself. The powers of evil show no signs of loosing the bonds of oppression—the reign of Satan is dominant and ruthlessly unyielding. In reality, are the Scribes in thrall to the evil one themselves?

Jesus’s little parable is short and to the point. He likens himself to a burglar, who breaks into a house owned by a strong man who represents Satan. The possessions the strong man has plundered can only be taken from him by tying him up and neutralizing his power.

This rest of the gospel harks back to this little illustration. God in Jesus comes to displace the reign of Satan—to tie down and neutralize the kingdom of evil—a power that is not given up easily, but only by the transformative love of Jesus, so aptly illustrated by Episcopalian bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

Jesus then turns back to the other protagonists—his family. He renounces their claim on him—family ties and love are not sufficient to divert him from his clear mission in the world.

So in this passage we have the start of the conspiracy against Jesus by various groups who eventually join together in a plot which leads to the cross. As we continue to read through Mark in year B of the lectionary, we can see how these attacks develop—how the conspiracies play out.

Jesus promises good news—but this is very different from comfortable news as his family found out. The reign or Kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about is not going to have a smooth ride—it is far from ‘business as usual.’ Amen

§ Amen

Intercessions

We pray for God to fill us with his Spirit. Generous God, we thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to make us wise to understand your will. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the peace of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to keep us confident of your love wherever you call us. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness where there is division, sickness and sorrow. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to equip us for the work which you have given us. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the fruit of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to reveal in our lives the love of Jesus. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit, given us by the risen Lord. We ask you to keep the whole Church, living and departed, in the joy of eternal life. Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God, you sent your Holy Spirit upon your Messiah at the river Jordan, and upon the disciples in the upper room: in your mercy fill us with your Spirit, hear our prayer, and make us one in heart and mind to serve you with joy for ever. Amen.

The Great Conspiracy Theory

10 June 2018 – Great Brickhill – Trinity 2

Gospel Mark 3

Jesus accused by his family and by teachers of the law

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

30 He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’

33 ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’

Sermon

Our journey—in the lectionary year B—takes us through the gospel of Mark. We have reached chapter 3, and in the beautiful weather of an English June we are suddenly confronted by a need to linger on the offence Jesus caused, and the reasons behind it.

The incident we are focusing on today has three competing groups of people:

1. The crowds who constantly swarm and press in on Jesus

2. His family, who are concerned about him

3. The Scribes—theological heavyweights come down from Jerusalem

At this stage—chapter 3—the crowds seem interested in what Jesus has to say and what he does. They want to hear and learn more. They express no worries and ask no questions—but are a constant presence that will in the end be manipulated by the Scribes among others and turned against him.

The second group is Jesus’s family. They have come to rescue him from the trouble and notoriety he has got himself in. His family think they are the ones who know him best. Their belief is that he is out of his depth, and that dangerous groups of people, such as the Scribes, and watching him and judging his impact on the crowds.

These people have the power to put an end to his teaching, or worse to put an end to his freedom and even his life. His family think he is “beside himself”—not in his right mind—the Greek is existemi [εξιστεμι]—the same word can also be translated as ‘insane.’

We the readers know he has been acting this way since his baptism by John the Baptist—his family members have therefore some to find him and take him away to a place of safety.

The last group is the Scribes. These are the experts in theology—come down from Jerusalem to investigate and make a judgement on what Jesus is doing. They recognise that a power is at work in him—but do not consider that God is performing a revival through him—instead they decide Jesus is an agent of evil—a servant of Satan.

In one sense, it was good that the Scribes took Jesus’s power seriously—and did not put his works down to magic, illusion or pronouncing him a charlatan. On the other hand, branding him a Satanic agent was deeply damaging.

Unlike the magicians in Egypt, who could replicate the ‘signs’ that Moses and Aaron performed—the Scribes could not match Jesus’s miracles, and so had to fall back on ascribing his power to a malevolent force.

Jesus in return accuses the Scribes on being blind to the possibility of truth—they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit—searching for every possible source of power except that of God’s renewal and forgiveness—healing, casting out demonic possession, freedom from guilt and sin, both to individuals and the people as a nation. Their minds are closed—they do not recognise the transformative power of God’s grace at work.

The response from Jesus is short and to the point. He does not address the accusation at length, but does point out the logical absurdity of saying that he is using Satanic power to act on itself. The powers of evil show no signs of loosing the bonds of oppression—the reign of Satan is dominant and ruthlessly unyielding. In reality, are the Scribes in thrall to the evil one themselves?

Jesus’s little parable is short and to the point. He likens himself to a burglar, who breaks into a house owned by a strong man who represents Satan. The possessions the strong man has plundered can only be taken from him by tying him up and neutralizing his power.

This rest of the gospel harks back to this little illustration. God in Jesus comes to displace the reign of Satan—to tie down and neutralize the kingdom of evil—a power that is not given up easily, but only by the transformative love of Jesus, so aptly illustrated by Episcopalian bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

Jesus then turns back to the other protagonists—his family. He renounces their claim on him—family ties and love are not sufficient to divert him from his clear mission in the world.

So in this passage we have the start of the conspiracy against Jesus by various groups who eventually join together in a plot which leads to the cross. As we continue to read through Mark in year B of the lectionary, we can see how these attacks develop—how the conspiracies play out.

Jesus promises good news—but this is very different from comfortable news as his family found out. The reign or Kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about is not going to have a smooth ride—it is far from ‘business as usual.’ Amen