Sunday, 31 May 2009


Service at Cheddington Methodist Chapel

John 15.26,27 16. 4b – 15

The Work of the Holy Spirit

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

1 All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their hour comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Writing sermon – whilst mowing vicarage lawn.

How many strips before emptying box?

Front - mostly moss. How to kill?

Parable of wheat and tares
Matt 13:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 The owner's servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’”

Lawns look better after being mown

Made up of various plants – from distance looks like grass

Still known as a lawn – still called grass – even though made up of lots of different plants

Lawns – bit like fruits of the Spirit – long list, but essentially the same thing. Love.

Today is Pentecost

Greek means 50 – 50th day after Easter

Whitsun – ‘White Sunday’ after white dresses worn to church by women

Jesus had made certain promises to disciples:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem

In all Judea and Samaria

And to the ends of the earth

At Pentecost – these promises were fulfilled:

Power of HS comes as violent wind and divided tongues of fire

Peter and others speak to crowds – witnesses in Jerusalem

Persecution in Jerusalem forces early Christians out into Judea and Samaria

Ends of the earth – Ethiopia, Cornelius (first Gentile convert), Paul around the Empire and to Rome itself

Peter’s speech at Pentecost addressed to ‘Men of Judea.’

Not to Gentiles

Quotes prophecy of Joel “I will pour out my spirit on ALL flesh”

But Peter restricts message to “You that are Israelites…”

Later, when HS possesses Gentiles too, the apostles realise the gift not for the Jews alone

Crowd were the same people who had bayed for blood before Pilate, by calling for Jesus to be executed in place of the condemned criminal Barabbas.

So they were cut to the quick when they saw prophecy fulfilled in dramatic fashion

“Brothers, what should we do?” they ask.

“Repent and be baptized, so that your sins may be forgiven” is Peter’s response.

Awe came upon them, when they saw the many signs and wonders being done by the apostles.

Gifts of the Spirit

No one seemed to be quite sure what would happen after the promise of the gift of the HS was fulfilled

Saw physical signs – but what did they mean?

I Corinthians written by Paul to church in Corinth – 20 years later

Chapter 12: Gifts of the Spirit

To each person – different gifts




Gift of healing

Working of miracles


Discernment of spirits

Various kinds of tongues


Different gifts, but same Spirit

Like one body with many members

We are all baptized into Jesus Christ

Foot cannot decide to cease being a foot and act like a hand

Whole body cannot be an eye

Nor can any member cease to be part of the body if it chooses

Fruit of the Spirit

Paul exhorts us to live by the Spirit in letter to Galatians.

Fruit not fruits – one fruit with 9 flavours

How do we recognise the activity of the Holy Spirit?

Galatians 5 lists fruits of the Spirit









Self control

Like the vicarage lawn that is called grass but is made up of a long list of other things, so this list of the fruit of the Spirit is summed up in one – Love. All these other fruits stem from Love.

Love brings with it patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, joy and self-control.

So let’s look at Love as it applies to the Christian faith

Who should we love?



Our neighbours

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22

Sisters and Brothers in Christ

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13

Our enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matt 5

How should we love?

Love has no agenda

It is unconditional

How does Love work out in our everyday lives?

Consider the checklist in I Corinthians – Love:

Is patient Never gives up

Is kind Cares more for others than self

Does not envy Does not want what it doesn’t have

Does not boast Does not strut

Is not proud Does not have a swelled head

Is not rude Does not force itself on others

Is not self-seeking Is not me-first

Is not easily angered Does not fly off the handle

Keeps no record of wrongs Does not keep score

Does not delight in evil Does not revel when others grovel

Rejoices with the truth takes pleasure in the flowering of truth

Always protects Puts up with everything

Always trusts Trusts God in everything

Always hopes Looks for the best in everything

Always perseveres Keeps going to the end, never looks back

Never fails Love never dies

To which we can add a few:

Love always grows It is always getting better

Love does not differentiate It always sees the face of Jesus in others

Love always works It cannot be held in check

Love is positive It is always active. It can never do nothing

Love has time for others It can never be too busy

Love endures It bears trials calmly

Love is a matter of the head Not just of the heart

Love is at peace Peace with God and with each other

In the fruit of the Spirit are seeds

The fruit is not an end in itself. It exists to propagate

The fruit of the Spirit, in all its flavours, will seed itself and reproduce

It will grow and flourish

It does need to be taken out and planted

It will not thrive if kept in the dark

Like the Spirit of Pentecost, it should break out and be obvious to others


Is the fruit of the Spirit growing in my life?

Am I rooted in God’s word?

How are my relationships – is there pruning going on?

Am I in step with the working of the Holy Spirit – or trying to go at my own pace?

Am I aiming for the highest standard, or will less than the best do?

46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt 5

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. Rom 8

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
All who are led by the Spirit of God
are children of God and fellow-heirs with Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people.
Renew the face of your creation, Lord,
pouring on us the gifts of your Spirit,
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
For the creation waits with eager longing
for the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Easter 7 – Sunday 24 May 2009

Gospel John 17.6-19

Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed: 6‘Father, I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’


Last Thursday – Ascension Day.

Next Sunday – Pentecost

In between time – disciples wait for promised gift of Holy Spirit

Today’s gospel – John 17

Jumps back to time before betrayal

Jesus speaks directly to disciples

Starts by telling about Advocate

Spirit of Truth

Whom he will send

Who will testify on his behalf

Talks about work of Spirit

After Jesus has gone, Spirit will talk about

Righteousness – he will prove world wrong about sin

Judgement – evil powers of world have been condemned

Disciples cannot bear to hear anything more from Jesus

After ascension Spirit will guide into all Truth

Will declare the things that are to come

Will glorify God

Once Jesus has gone

Sorrow will turn into joy

Like a woman in child birth – pain will turn into happiness – pain of Jesus being seen on earth no more will turn into joy after Ascension and gift of Holy Spirit

At end of previous chapter

For first time disciples understand:
“Yes now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God” 16:29

As soon as disciples ‘get it’ Jesus looks up to heaven

“Father the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…”

Goes on to pray for the disciples

They have been given to Jesus by the Father

Now he gives them back to God

Asks for them to be sanctified – ‘made holy’

Allusion to Lord’s Prayer – hallowed be thy name

Disciples no longer part of the world

Contrast between ‘world’ and those who belong to Jesus Christ

Set at odds with world and its evil – so Jesus prays for protection

Two words


From evil (Lord’s Prayer again)


Jesus protected them whilst he was with them

Asks God to take on that responsibility after he has gone

The world will hate them – because they are set apart

Aim is that disciples may have joy as a result even after they have lost their Master

Joy in believing - contrasted with hatred by the world and evil one

Jesus then asks for all believers to be one

Just as Father and Son are united

So should all believers be at one

Like Parable of True Vine

Prayer for unity in church something we all long for – never been the case throughout the ages to the present day and probably beyond

What’s next?

After the Ascension comes gift of Holy Spirit – Pentecost (Whitsun) 50th day after Easter Sunday

Holy Spirit of God is Comforter of disciples – also convicter of sin – indweller bringing us to conversion and new life – inspirer and interpreter

Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Spirit is one of the ways we perceive God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Trinity Sunday follows when we annually wrestle with the mystery of the Trinity.

Like disciples, let us pray that we may be sanctified, set apart from world and its desires, displaying the fruits of the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Easter 6 – Mentmore Sunday 17 May 2009

First Reading Acts 10.44-48 NRSV

44While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Gospel John 15.9-17 NRSV

Jesus said to his disciples: 9‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’


Last Sunday our gospel reading was about The True Vine. Today’s passage is a continuation of that reading in John chapter 15.

Remember Jesus said he is like a vine. God is the gardener. We are the branches. Vines cannot be left untended if they are to bear fruit. They must be pruned and trained in order to maximise their fruit. Any branch that does not bear fruit is cut back and thrown away. Any branch that is withered or diseased is removed and burned, so as not to allow the infection to spread to the rest of the vine.

Although all this attention is for our own good, it may feel chastening at the time. Yet we must remain a part of the vine, since branches cannot have a separate existence on their own. If they remove themselves from the main plant, they quickly die.

Tending a vine is a labour of love. The owner of a vineyard is in it for the long term. You cannot expect good fruit for several years. Along the way, there are a great many threats – from disease, insects, frost, drought, too much or too little sun, and so on. Yet we are commanded to remain part of the vine which is Jesus Christ. By so doing, we will bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father, who is the vine dresser. In this way we show ourselves to be his disciples, or learners.

This is the point at which today’s gospel reading starts. It’s all about love. Remaining a part of the vine is to remain in God’s love. The gardener loves his vine, and so if we are a part of that vine we bask in the light of God’s love. Just as Jesus was obedient to his Father’s commands even to death, so we must obey his commands too. To do so is to remain in his love. In that way, our joy is complete.

This love does not flow up and down, but throughout the whole plant. So we must not love God alone but one another. There can be no greater love, Jesus says, than the love which would sacrifice all for another. The kind of love which would make someone lay down his life for his friend. The Sydney Carton love. The love of a man who risks death in no man’s land to rescue his fallen comrade. The love of a saviour who dies on the cross for fallen humanity. The implication is, our love for God and for each other should be as great as this, the ultimate self-sacrificing love.

Slaves or servants would not have this kind of feeling for each other. Only friends, close families, mothers, husbands and wives, could have the sort of love that might place them in mortal danger to save someone else. So we cannot be the slaves or servants of Jesus, but family members and friends. He chose us. We did not choose him. He chose us to become part of his existence, and by being part of him to go out and bear much fruit. Fruit that will last. The fruit of love.

Now, we may think the likelihood of our being called upon to put our lives on the line to save another is slim, but that would be to miss the point. It’s the type and strength of love that is the point – not what we may eventually be called upon to do with it. It’s the sacrificial type of love, that puts self last and others first. The love that consults another person’s interests before even considering one’s own.

This love works in very many small ways too. Yes, it may be the love that ensures everyone else is safe before climbing into the lifeboat. But it’s also the love that joins the back of the queue. The kind of love that spends time caring for a sick neighbour. The kind of practical Christianity we all instinctively recognise in others when we see it, but we often don’t notice because this kind of love works quietly, does not advertise itself, and is not often found out.

This kind of love is a wake up call for those Christians who spend more time on church ritual and liturgy, on the right way of doing things, on slivers of interpretation of scripture, and on how many angels can balance on the head of a pin – than they do relieving suffering, offering practical help where it is needed, and supporting the less fashionable charities that work closer to home.

It also reduces to absolute simplicity our faith. Love God and love one another. All those papers presented at clergy conferences. All those hardback books of theology. The rational and systematic search for religious truth. What a relief: faith distilled into a few words that even a child can understand with perfect clarity.

So let’s take this wonderful passage to heart and put it into practice.

16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Matthias – Thursday 14 May 2009

Reading Acts 1

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk [c] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry."

18 (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20 "For," said Peter, "it is written in the Book of Psalms:
       " 'May his place be deserted;
       let there be no one to dwell in it,'
       " 'May another take his place of leadership.'

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."

23 So they proposed the names of two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Gospel John 15

9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.


Matthias is a name derived from the Greek Ματθιας, in origin similar to Matthew. His name is not mentioned anywhere in the gospels. Matthias first appears in Acts, when Peter proposes to 120 disciples that they choose a replacement for the traitor Judas Iscariot who is said to have committed suicide.

So as we heard in a previous week, they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Nothing more we can say about him. There is no further mention of Matthias in the NT. In one tradition he is said to have preached the gospel in Ethiopia. In another, he is said to have been stoned by the Jews in Jerusalem and subsequently beheaded.

There is a lost gospel of Matthias, which Clement of Alexandria quotes from in his writings. Other church fathers also refer to it, but we only have a brief sentence which urges its readers to deny the flesh and increase the growth of the soul through faith and knowledge.

His remains were said to have been found by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine and taken to the oldest German town of Trier where they were interred in the Abbey of St Matthias.

That’s all we know – precious little – but as one of the first apostles Matthias has his own feast day, either today or in other churches on February 24.

Even though there is not a paired gospel reading as Matthias does not figure in the gospels, we have instead a passage from John that follows Sunday’s reading about The True Vine. As Christians we are branches of Jesus the Vine, and God is the vine dresser. We are commanded to remain in Christ, as branches have no separate existence of their own, but wither and die and are consigned to the fire.

If we do remain in Christ, we remain also in his love. Not as servants, but as friends. Friends who will bear fruit because we are part of Christ. Friends that love one another, bearing fruit that will last.

“This is my command” Jesus says. “Love each other.” Who says understanding the Christian faith is complicated?

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Easter 5 – Sunday 10 May 2009

First Reading

Acts 8.26-40

26An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.


John 15.1-8

Jesus said to his disciples: 1‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’


Those who attended the Lent Course will remember gospel reading as one of the great I Am’s from John’s gospel. It’s the Parable of the True Vine. Unlike many parables or analogies, the explanation of what it means is mixed in with the narrative. We don’t have to work out for ourselves what the parable means. Jesus explains it to us as he goes along.

God is the vine grower. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. Our task is to remain in place on the vine and to bear fruit. So far, so good.

At first sight it looks a pleasant pastoral analogy. But as the first disciples who heard the story were well aware, vines can be attacked by insects, rot, lack of water, disease and all manner of other threats to its health and its very survival. So we quickly pass from the image of ourselves as the branches, producing much fruit, fed from Jesus the vine, and lovingly nurtured and cared for by God the Father, to a series of warnings about what happens if things go wrong.

We all know that vines cannot be left to their own devices or they will go to wrack and ruin. They have to be pruned. Cleansed of disease. Sprayed. Irrigated. Protected from insects. And so on. All this is not a short term task. Vines do not produce fruit at once – no, it takes years of careful tending and nurturing before they fruit at their best.

It’s no good being too kind to a poorly performing vine. Branches have to be pruned even when healthy. When they are withered or diseased, they have to be ruthlessly cut out if the whole vine is not to be affected.

John the Evangelist, writing in Greek, indulges in a little word play. He removes in the Greek is airei. He prunes is kathairei. And you have been cleansed is katharoi.

Playing with words sounds like a joke, but no. The similarity of the Greek words emphasises the process of ruthlessly removing dead wood. Pruning and disciplining the branches. Training them. Cleansing them from infection. Protecting them from frost and attack.

So the familiar task of vinedressing becomes a threat to our very survival as Christians if we do not abide in Christ and bear fruit. The Christian who falls away is likened to a branch that is trashed. It withers and is burnt. The parable does not make comfortable reading. It is of course an allusion to the Last Judgement.

Will this happen to me, we are all asking ourselves? The positive side of the parable follows, as Jesus tells his disciples about the efficacy of prayer and the glorification of the Father. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. We have of course to ask in Jesus’s name, which means our prayer must conform to his will. After all, we are a part of him. The branch is part of the vine. It has no separate existence – in fact it must remain attached for its very survival.

Why should we pray? My Father is glorified by this. And how is God glorified? …that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. Those are the two linked reasons: we glorify God by becoming disciples of Jesus, and by becoming his disciples we bear much fruit.

It’s a learning process, rather than an evangelising one. The word for disciple does not mean a kind of follower. It means a learner. We have to just stay rooted in Christ in order to learn from him. The other positive message is that tending a vine is a long term, nurturing, loving process. That is the lovely picture we have of the Father as a vinedresser. He is not in it for the short term, and whilst the process of pruning can often feel painful to us, we have the confidence in knowing that it is all for our own good and in order that we may bear fruit that we feel we are being chastened in this way.

As for cleansing, that should already have taken place. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. It says in verses 3 and 4.

So let’s learn the lesson of the True Vine. Jesus is the True Vine. God is the vine grower. We are the branches. We have already been cleansed by his word. The Father trains, nurtures and prunes the vine. All we must do is remain in Christ. Then we will bear fruit and glorify the Father.


Thursday, 7 May 2009

Paul and Barnabas

Reading Acts 13 13-35 TNIV

In Pisidian Antioch

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak."

16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "People of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct [a] in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.

    "After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'

23 "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is someone coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'

26 "Brothers and sisters from the children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 "We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
       " 'You are my son;
       today I have become your father.'

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,
       " 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.'

35 So it is also stated elsewhere:
       " 'You will not let your holy one see decay.'

Gospel John 13 16-20 TNIV

16 Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

18 "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil this passage of Scripture: 'He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' [a]

19 "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."


Last week – the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch after Philip explained to him the reading from Isaiah and how it related to the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Then attention turns to Saul – his conversion after a vision on the Damascus road that struck him temporarily blind. Paul’s preaching in Damascus after he regained his sight. Then Paul’s journey to Jerusalem where he sought to join the disciples there, who were initially afraid of him.

Then back to Peter. Peter heals a young woman in Joppa who was feared dead. His encounter with the centurion Cornelius which signalled the start of the mission to the Gentiles. Lastly the account of the death of James, the brother of John – killed by a sword on the orders of Herod – Peter’s miraculous delivery from prison – and the death of Herod himself.

Now we shift back to Paul who was commissioned with Barnabas to commence their mission, starting in the Greek isles, then Perga and Antioch. Here Paul is invited into the synagogue and asked to address the people. Using his extensive knowledge Paul expounds the Hebrew scriptures as they foretold the coming of Jesus Christ. But Paul stresses his testimony is not to the Jews alone, but is an inclusive mission to the whole world.

By all accounts, his speech was well received. He was asked back the following week to tell the people more about the background to his mission, and the challenge of the future – the offer of forgiveness of sins. The Jews reacted badly and chased Paul and Barnabas out of the city, but the Gentiles rejoiced.

More next week, a couple of chapters later, on the feast of Matthias the apostle.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


All-age communion Cheddington

Gospel Matthew 28

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."



8 track players
Carbon paper

Button A and B

MS Dos
Floppy disks

Curly bus tickets
Slam door trains

Top loaders

Blue whitener

Facit machines

Dial telephones


iPod v1


About to become extinct

Yellow pages
Video recorders

Telephone boxes
Ham radio

Incandescent Light bulbs
Analogue TVs

Camera film

Emperor penguins
Dot matrix printers

Book shops

Correct punctuation
Stag beetles

Family dinners at table
Public toilets

Make your own list of 3 each

Did anyone include the Church of England?



1968 1.6m

2008 850,000

C of E losing 20,000 per year


1997 180,000

2007 127,000

-30% in 10 years

Sunday attendance dropping – but monthly and midweek holding up.

More than 1.7 million people attend Church of England church and cathedral worship each month while around 1.2 million attend each week - on Sunday or during the week - and just over one million each Sunday.

Cheddington – about 1 – 2% attend church.

Graph shows church will be extinct in a few years – what can be done to reverse the decline?


What happens if membership of a club declines? What do we do?

Personal invitations to join a club
Taking people along to meetings


The Great Commission

All authority has been given to Christ

We are commanded to go out and make disciples

A disciple is one who learns – not a follower

Not followers or supporters or associates

So we are to impart the good news, as if to pupils

The man with the extinguisher “I’m not a religious man”

We need to impart knowledge – not convert – that is for God alone.

In doing so, we can remember that Jesus is with us, beside us, and the Holy Spirit will provide the words to speak: as he says at the end of the Great Commission -

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.