Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas Day Eucharist

Reading Hebrews 1

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 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. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
Or again,

“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
his servants flames of fire.”
But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,
and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
He also says,

“In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”

Gospel John 1

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

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

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

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Two of greatest readings in whole of Scripture. Both describe who Jesus is, and what he represents. Profound declaration of what incarnation means.

Author of Hebrews spends most of book celebrating unique status of Jesus as Son of God, through whom God has spoken to us. Like the opening of John’s gospel, the claim is Christ was with God at the very beginning, and took part in creation itself. Through him, John says, were all things made.

Both passages portray a remarkable picture. They could not be further from describing Jesus as an itinerant preacher who did and said many wonderful things and revealed to us the Father. Both pictures are very much the same: they are on an entirely different and higher plane.

According to Hebrews, God appointed the Son as heir of all things, sustainer of all things, agent of creation, and our great high priest who, through his own sacrifice made purification for our sins. But more even than all that, Jesus is the imprint of God’s own essence, the clearest picture we have of what God himself is. Yet the very next chapter focuses on the lowliness of the Son who identifies with us as his sisters and brothers. So we share not only in his humanity, but in his glory as heirs of the promise of God. A staggering thought. It’s almost impossible for us to grasp the enormity of it all.

The imprint or ‘exact representation’ of God means we see God and his image recorded in perfect detail in his Son. More than a mould, a stamp or an engraving – but God’s very DNA revealed in Jesus Christ. We cannot see the Father, but we can observe his perfect likeness through the Son.

The opening of John’s gospel says much the same, this time in philosophical terms. But if we remain on this higher plane, we neglect the very reason why these books were written. Not to enchant us with the glory of it all – though they certainly do that. But to bring us to an understanding of what Jesus represents, and what our response to that should be.

John declares his purpose to be that you may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing you may have life in his name. John’s aim is not to wow us with the divinity and glory of the Word made flesh, but he wants us to have a personal encounter with the born and risen Christ and for us to believe in him.

The incarnation means bread is no longer bread, water is no longer water and wine no longer wine. In our Eucharist today all of them reveal the glory of God and call for a response from us. John’s gospel does not leave us floating on the clouds, though: it is an intimate and personal gospel. It has more intimacy than any other. Jesus rubs mud and spit into the blind man’s eyes. Mary anoints feet not head. Mary Magdalene grabs hold of the resurrected Jesus. The disciple whom Jesus loved reclined on his bosom.

Christmas can lift us to the heights, as angels sing, uplifting passages are read, and we see his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. But I invite you, this Christmas, not to gaze upward and be dazzled by the glory and majesty of it all. Instead, look down and see the intimacy of the Christmas message, the personal nature of the response John calls on us to make, and perhaps see in it the Christ of Easter overshadowing the Christ of Christmas. Amen

Sunday, 26 December 2010

New Year Resolutions

View from the Vicarage – Village Newsletter

Top ten New Year Resolutions

The urge to start every New Year with a few resolutions seems undimmed. Determining to do something different, to turn over a new leaf, to wind back the clock and start again is, it would appear, as attractive as ever. I wonder – have you made any resolutions yourself, or, for you, are they only for children?

Ever since David Letterman included top-ten lists on his daily show and most probably long before, Americans have been obsessed with them. Some I find wonderfully comforting. For example, some guide books give the top-ten sights in every city. Ticking them off gives you the feeling you have seen the very best. You have achieved a milestone. You are successful as a tourist.

Sadly, the top ten resolutions are not as positive. Here’s one list I found in Pittsburgh:

1. Spend more time with family and friends

2. Take more exercise – get fitter

3. Lose weight

4. Give up smoking

5. Enjoy life more

6. Reduce alcohol intake

7. Get out of debt

8. Learn new things

9. Help others

10. Get better organised

All very laudable I’m sure, but most of them are of the ‘give up’ or ‘do less bad things’ variety. They don’t say how these difficult aims are to be achieved, or how to stiffen our feeble will-power. It’s not surprising therefore that few of these kinds of resolutions last more than 10 days.

The Christian perspective on the upper reaches of the list is fairly clear. Writing to the church in Corinth, where early Christians asserted their right to do anything they liked, St Paul argues: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” That means if we were created in God’s image, we are to honour God in the way we treat our bodies. Excesses of eating, drinking or alcohol and drug dependence dishonour our bodies and the mar its image of God.

As the list goes on though, it becomes more outward-looking. Broadening your mind. Volunteering. Using time more effectively. Simple acts of kindness. Caring about others, especially the vulnerable, rather than just looking out for Number 1. All this starts to sound like the gospel message. But in our own New Year resolutions, we should remember that the Christian gospel is far more radical than just ‘love your neighbour’ and do good to those whom you like. No – in Matthew 5 we are told to love your enemies, do good to those who treat you badly, give your coat to the person who steals your shirt, and give to the one who wants to borrow from you without any expectation you will get your money back.

New Year resolutions all have one thing in common. We believe they are achievable. With some effort, we can turn things around. Christian resolutions are not like that. Try this one: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Of course, you’d be crazy to adopt that one. It’s obvious you can never hope to be perfect through your own strength alone. The real Good News of Christmas is this: Jesus does not remain the baby in a manger, but becomes the Suffering Servant of Easter. His therefore is the strength, if you will grasp its grace, and not yours alone.

Happy new Year!
The Revd. Robert Wright 01296 661358 Church Blog: http://wrightreverend.com

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Advent 3 – Justification by Works?

Reading James 5.7-10

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel Matthew 11.2-11

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”


Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. First words of snippet we read from James. Appropriate for mid Advent – season of expectant waiting.

Being patient sounds like advice to be quiet, accepting, unresponsive, or inactive. Not so – unless you read what comes before and after today’s little passage, you’ll misinterpret what is being said. Unless you add in all the things James requires of us to do, you’ll miss the point completely.

James is a doing book. So much so, Martin Luther questioned its status as scripture at time of Reformation. He said it appears to contradict Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone. Yes it offers a counterbalance, which is why so many Christians are fond of James – to say it contradicts is going too far.

James has been said to be a little like a Christian version of the Wisdom literature in OT, like Proverbs. Offers us practical morality. Echoes teaching of Jesus himself – like Sermon on Mount. Probably written early on, well before Gospels.

James is faithful to the Law. Not characteristic marks of Judaism like food laws and Sabbath day observance, but is full of general good advice on how we should act. If Advent is time of expectant waiting – active not passive – so patient waiting for second coming is all about doing and not just being – works of the law and not just blind faith.

Faith without works is dead – that’s the whole thrust of chapter 2. And the works James is talking about is how we act towards each other. Judgemental? Critical? Colluding with ways of the world, or holding to a higher morality in our affairs?

Here’s a good description of banking crisis:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted. Your gold and silver have rusted.

2 weeks ago I talked about two strands of Advent. Waiting for Christmas. First Coming. Waiting for Kingdom. Second Coming. But if we see face of Jesus in everyone who is our neighbour (unexpected – like Good Samaritan) then we experience the coming of Jesus again and again throughout our everyday lives. So how do we act – faced with this constant second coming of Messiah?

Not with passive faith, but active works underpinned by faith. One springs from the other.

Here’s a few examples. Like SM, not worrying overly about our lives. God will provide. Patient waiting is acting in a way that is filled with Holy Spirit. Patience deeply rooted in faith. Working towards personal goals. Not grumbling and grousing against God or our neighbours. Not judging, because our own Judge stands at the door.

Show patient endurance in suffering. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. In this, and so many other ways, set yourself apart from the ways of the world.

One theologian sums it up like this:

In fact, it would seem that a characteristic of this is precisely a deep compassion and love towards the other as if James is writing, "slow down, seek first the kingdom of God, be attentive to one another, let all things happen in and for God, then all else will be given. God will grant all in God's time."

When John the Baptist had doubts – in prison – hearing about Jesus’ ministry – not sort of Messiah John had in mind – sent to ask “Are you really the One?” Jesus did not send messengers back with theological exposition. Did not fill them with teaching. Did not call upon them to have faith. No – tells them to see his works:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

So as in this Advent season of Expectant waiting for Christmas, and Second Coming, Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming but let your patience be active not passive, action based not laid back, full of the Holy Spirit, for by their works ye shall know them, and by your works, underpinned by your faith, will you be known. Amen.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Manor House Quartet

A stunning concert on Friday 10 December. Vaughan had spent hour upon hour adapting a range of Christmas carols and other seasonal music for his Manor House Quartet.

The concert was in aid of St Giles Church and its bell appeal.

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this concert possible.


Manor House Quartet

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Are you the one?

Thursday 9 December – Holy Communion at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 15

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

   “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.


Question in Matthew 11 is about who Jesus is? It’s asked by John the Baptist. Clearly has doubts. Not what expected Messiah to be like. Not how expected him to act. So he asks: are you the One, or must we wait for another? Strange question by acknowledged forerunner.

Jesus turns it round. Asks disciples what they expected John to be like? Weak man, swayed by the winds of opposing doctrines? Rich man in fine clothes – like US TV evangelist? Someone tough and uncompromising, like OT prophet of old?

John was expecting imminent arrival of Kingdom of God on earth. In Lord’s Prayer, we also pray for coming of Kingdom. As Martin Luther said - Kingdom will come, whether we pray for it or not. That petition in Lord’s Prayer is that Kingdom will come – for us.

Message sent back to John through his disciples was that John fulfilled OT prophecy – what he said, way he looked, how he acted. But so did Jesus. Invited John’s disciples to report what they saw: blind see, lame walk, sick healed, dead raised, good news proclaimed to poor. All these things prophets predicted of Messiah.

Continue through Advent – we also ask ourselves, what is this Messiah to us? Those who see the way we act, way we look, what we say – can we also tell them, having seen all this, does this point towards the coming Messiah? Are we too his forerunners? Are we preparing the way of the Lord?

The blessings of Advent are here for those who are not scandalised by the message of Jesus. Who do not take offence at him. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. Amen

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Thursday Holy Communion in Advent Week

Reading Isaiah 26

1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

   We have a strong city;
   God makes salvation
   its walls and ramparts.
2 Open the gates
   that the righteous nation may enter,
   the nation that keeps faith.
3 You will keep in perfect peace
   those whose minds are steadfast,
   because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the LORD forever,
   for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.
5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
   he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
   and casts it down to the dust.
6 Feet trample it down—
   the feet of the oppressed,
   the footsteps of the poor.

Gospel Matthew 7

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”


Juxtaposition of readings.

Isaiah – song of praise to God. Like a psalm. Song sung in Judah. City of Jerusalem – matter of pride. New Jerusalem. Purified. Only righteous allowed to enter. They enter through gates to holy place beyond.

Enter into God’s holy presence beyond. People have faith and trust in holy God, who keeps them safe and overcomes enemies.

4 Trust in the LORD forever,
   for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

This same rock is faith of wise man, who founded his life on the Rock of Ages.

First Advent reading from Matthew. Salvation. Entry into Kingdom.

Comes from end of Sermon on Mount. Winds down with many warnings. Not everyone who professes faith in Jesus will enter his Kingdom. Only those who do will of Father.

Many will preach in Jesus’ name, prophesy and perform wonders but still their works are evil. By your fruits you shall know them. Not what we say but what we do that counts.

Man who built house on rock is the one who hears the Word and puts it into practice in his life. Not someone who listens but his faith is academic. Understands but does not act accordingly. This is the man whose house looks good – he professes his faith, but does not carry it into action. His roots are not firm, and it does not take much strife for the whole structure to be lost.

As we continue through Advent and read from Matthew, notice there are few shades of grey in this gospel. No half way house – either firmly fixed or utterly washed away.

Sobering thought for all of us – we can use right words, profess the faith, act in a certain way – but when called upon to sacrifice, get hands dirty, walk the narrow way, abandon our cosy existence – yet still not really put into practice what we have been taught.

Advent – a season of expectant waiting – time of self-examination – parallel adventure as we anticipate first coming at Christmas and long for the second coming of our Lord – this is just the time to ask ourselves these hard questions.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Reading Romans 13.11-14

Understand the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Gospel Matthew 24.36-44

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 Matthew

All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Contrast these two readings. Both about Kingdom. Seem to offer slightly different teaching about eschatology.

· Romans: Paul: hour come; salvation near at hand: let us behave as if salvation imminent.

· Gospel: Jesus: no one know; not even Son. Will be divisive.

Both counsel – be ready for unexpected.

1st Sunday Advent. Prepare for the coming of Christ. Be ready for the unexpected: Paul gives this advice after quoting 10 Commandments and Golden Rule. Teaching on ethics. Do not commit adultery, murder or steal. Do not covet. All other commandments summed up in : Love your neighbour.

Love your neighbour. We ask: who is my neighbour? Is it not Jesus himself? Good Samaritan – least likely person. We see face of Christ in our neighbours.

Advent: not only preparing for Christmas. Constant, repeated returns of Christ in our neighbours. How prepare for that? Love God; love your neighbour – says Paul.

Awake from slumber. What does this mean? How are we asleep? You know what time it is. Night is far gone. Salvation comes in the morning. Salvation nearer than when we first believed.

What means: to be asleep? Our sleep is sleep of darkness. Sleep of sin. Cast aside works of darkness; put on armour of light. Put on Jesus Christ. Slumber is spiritual darkness. Light is Christ.

Nothing wrong with sleep. Has its place. But if we felt alive when first believed, has that wide awake feeling been dulled by lethargy? If so, how can we reawaken our spiritual eyes – prepared for imminent return of Saviour?

Putting on armour of light – not just ‘being good.’ Doing good works. Loving God and neighbour. These all works. Cannot reawaken ourselves. No alarm clock to set.

No – we can only be made alive by opening ourselves to influence of Holy Spirit. Making us holy. Being clothed with Christ. Being moulded by the Holy Spirit into his likeness. Allowing God’s Spirit to work in our lives. Then real Advent-ure can begin.

Gospel passage stresses end of adventure is unknown. Unknowable. Surprising statement – the Son himself does not know – only Father knows end of time. Like Noah – everyone pooh poohed his warnings. He made himself prepared. Did as he was commanded. Built ark. Invited others to join him. Those unprepared, or who did not believe, left behind.

Are you and I saying judgment will not come in our lifetime? How do you know? Aren’t you just being unprepared, as the gospel warns?

Analogy of judgement. Not only, what we should do – be ready – but what happens if we ignore. Appropriate readings for Advent. Yearly chance to check our spiritual health. Assess our preparedness for call of Jesus Christ. Keep watchful- you don’t know when Kingdom comes.

Divisive when time comes. Notice: judgement self-selective. Elect to take heed, like those who entered ark. Or elect to remain behind. Jesus uses analogy of the times: two work in fields: one taken one left behind. Two women grinding at hand mill. One taken – other left.

Here, as is always the case, God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live and walk by faith day after day. We have assurance about the things hoped for, and conviction about the things not yet seen, but what we do not have is a timetable in the Scriptures, nor would that have been very helpful to the faithful anyway.

We all know we are dying. It’s only a matter of how soon. But if we know we are dying tomorrow, on death row for example, we act in a certain way. Take chances. Throw caution to winds. Who cares? We say – tomorrow we die anyway.

Even for those of us who do not know time or date of our death, cannot just ignore it. Analogy is: judgement comes like thief in night. Imagery: surprising, unexpected, least prepared. Hence exhortation: stay awake, be prepared.

Nowadays we know everything in advance. 24 hr. news. Call ahead on mobile phone. Check if convenient to call. Coming of Kingdom not like that. No warning.

Today is start of Advent-ure. Countdown to coming of Christ. Familiar. Know what will happen and when. Challenge: act differently. Prepare for unexpected. Open to influence of Holy Spirit. Be ready. Be holy.

Christ may have come at Christmas. But – Son of Man will come at a time when you least expect him. Amen

Sunday, 28 November 2010

View from the Vicarage December 2010

When I was young, I loved Fry’s Chocolate Cream. It was a good size, hard on the outside and soft white fondant when you bit into it. Just wonderful. I bought Rowntrees fruit pastilles and fruit gums with my pocket money – only I didn’t like the green ones. Big bars of Cadbury’s chocolate (a glass and a half of milk in every bar) were holiday treats and bribes. Being a big family we bought loose, broken Huntley & Palmers biscuits from tins you could peer in (if you were tall enough) and the grocer brought our purchases on his bike. My sisters and I wore the same type of sandals. Clarks – with crepe soles and a starburst cut out on top.

I’m not just reminiscing, or recalling a world long gone. No – all these products have something in common. They were all made by Quaker firms. There are many others – like Barclays and Lloyds Bank, Friends Provident, Bryant & May and so on.

I worked as a Factory Manager for Clarks Shoes early in my career. There were no licensed premises in Street. Clarks was efficient and tough as an employer, but caring and almost paternalistic. Everything was provided. You never needed to leave Somerset. All the houses looked the same. On Sundays, people volunteered to do communal tasks, helping the elderly, painting railings, or picking up litter. Clarks had 22 UK factories. Now it has none. It is no longer Quaker.

Bourneville railway station is painted purple, and the Arts & Crafts houses with neat little gardens and excellent public facilities still attest to the Quaker vision and values of the Cadburys. Like most of the brands so familiar from my youth, they have been subsumed into global conglomerates. Cadbury’s was acquired by Kraft Foods In February this year. Apparently a hedge fund was willing to sell out. They didn’t care about past history, values, or tradition. They didn’t even care much about chocolate. A premium of 20p per share was enough.

The loss of a proud heritage is sad, but is there something more important going on here? On Radio 4 recently I heard a discussion about values in business. Honesty. Treating employees fairly and compassionately. Sensible multiples of remuneration between high and low paid jobs. That sort of thing.

One politician deplored the death of Quaker values, and wondered how in the absence of a religious underpinning we might return to times past. The thing is, he added, these firms were incredibly successful. They treated people well, but made huge profits. People liked working for them, and enjoyed living in their model villages. Consumers loved their products. They still do, but something is missing and their futures are all now less secure. The discussion ended rather bleakly: someone quoted Voltaire. If God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent Him. Without religion, to return to these values that served us so well, we might have to reinvent it.

Everything has a price, so we are told. Even people these days are called human capital. Trading shares reduces chocolate bars to mere banknotes. Luckily not everyone thinks this way, and not everyone is prepared to sacrifice the goose for its golden eggs. The good news for our secular politician is that religion has not died. In our village, lots of people work tirelessly for each other, without thanks, sometimes without recognition, and usually without recompense. Our ‘big society’ is alive and well, and, like religion, does not need reinventing. Thank God for that.

Now – can we all settle down, and learn that like the banks, greed and avarice have led us astray? We can’t turn the clock back, but can we not adopt once again some of those kinder, compassionate, and highly successful values that served us well for so long? Oh yes – and whilst we are at it, can I have my Fry’s Chocolate Cream back, please?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Destruction of Jerusalem

Holy Communion at St Giles

Reading Revelation 5. 1 – 10

The Scroll and the Lamb

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

   “You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
   and with your blood you purchased for God
   members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
   and they will reign on the earth.”

Gospel Luke 19. 41 – 44

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”


Gospel passage headed ‘Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.’ Comes immediately after triumphal entry.

Jesus sits on a donkey, in fulfilment of prophecy. In Luke, only the disciples cry out. The people are silent. What disciples shout, echoes the song of the angels.

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Luke wants us to see that what is to happen on earth follows from what happens in heaven.

Then comes today’s reading. Jesus weeps because of the judgement that will be meted out on Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem has rejected the messiah and followed her own determined path, so her destruction is inevitable.

What has Jerusalem rejected. It has rejected Jesus himself, and his way of peace. Israel is the cause of her own ruin.

Just after today’s passage comes the cleansing of the Temple.

By the time Luke’s gospel is written, Jerusalem will already have been sacked and destroyed by the Romans. That took place in 70AD.

So all this is seen as an interpretation of prophecy, so that by the time of Revelation Jesus is described in messianic terms:

“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday

Cheddington, St Giles


God is our refuge and strength;
a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46.1

I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from whence will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121.1-2

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Lamentations 3.21-23

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew
their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40.31

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6.8


15 "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14: 15-21 and 27


What is Remembrance all about? Giving thanks for sacrifice of all those who served in armed forces for country to maintain and preserve peace and freedom and oppose evil. Our promise – ‘we will remember them.

What not about? – glorifying war? Glamourising conflict? Making out that armed conflict is somehow desirable. It is not. It is a failure.

My generation too young to remember WW2. Born 1947. Have been wars throughout my lifetime. When your age, fear of Cold War. Nuclear age. Arsenals big enough to obliterate human kind. Dr Strangelove. Bay of Pigs. Confrontation.

This feeling is back – ‘war on terror’ – fear of attack going about daily business – wars of religions.

Now added poignancy of tragedy of young men and women killed or maimed through war. Remembrance now as popular as Harvest.

But this service is not about all that. It’s about Peace. How to avoid war.

I don’t have the answer – but I can say something about our faith and what it tells us about Peace.

Book of James poses this question:
From James 4: 1, 6-7
What causes wars and fighting among you?
Is it not your selfishness at war inside your hearts? Greed, pride, envy etc.
But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

Peace is God’s gift to us. Those who work for peace are specially favoured by Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Matt 6:9

As long ago as time of Micah, the prophet foretold a time when wars would cease:
He will settle disputes among the nations, among the great powers near and far. They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again. Everyone will live in peace among his own vineyards and fig trees, and no one will make him afraid. The Lord Almighty has promised this. Micah 4

This time, which we call the Kingdom of God, is not yet come, or only partially here. My and my father’s and grandfather’s generation made a mess of the 20th century. Yours is the responsibility to do better.

If the answer lies in the peace of God, then the voice of truth must not be masked by a perverted view of religion, where a faith based on peace and brotherhood is used to justify terrorism and hate.

I’m not just talking about Islamist terrorism – Christians have been responsible for many acts of barbarity over hundreds of years as a perversion of their faith.

I said I don’t have an answer. Perhaps I do. Love God, and love your neighbour. Isn’t that what it all comes down to? Removing misunderstanding and fear. Walking in each other’s moccasins. Striving for the peace that comes from Christ.

21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Sermon at St Giles – Sunday 7 November 2010

Gospel Luke 20.27-38

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”



If our greatest hope for eternity is heaven, you’d expect us to have a pretty good idea of what it’s like. What’s in store for us. What redemption brings. The hope of salvation.

If a child asks – what would we say? Wouldn’t we look in the Gospels? Find out what Jesus told us? Can you think, off-hand, of a few verses that come to mind? If not, that’s because Jesus said almost nothing about what heaven is like. Ever wondered why not?

By the magic of search engines, there are 140 uses of word heaven in Gospels. Many say nothing about heaven as a place or a state of being. Like your Father in Heaven… Just another way of saying God.

The references that actually say something about heaven reveal that heaven is:

· Place of reward

· Many will come from E and W – take their places with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

· Everyone there is equal – but even least will be greater than John the Baptist

· Secrets given to little children

· Peter given keys

Most of descriptions are what heaven is like:

· Mustard seed

· Yeast

· Buried treasure

· Pearl of great price

· Net let down to catch fish

· Owner of house who brings out storeroom treasures old and new

· King who settles accounts with servants

· Owner of a vineyard who hires workers

· King preparing wedding feast

· 10 virgins with lamps

Reading passage – query by Sadducees about resurrection. Does not even mention heaven. But forget the trick question – response is closest we get to what heaven is like.

Heaven is where people

· neither marry nor are given in marriage

· can no longer die

· like the angels

· God’s children

· children of the resurrection.

Perhaps our imaginations are too limited. Our vision is too narrow. Our comprehension too small. That’s why Jesus gives us so little to go on.

Still people have dreamt. Let their imaginations run riot. Wonderful book of Revelation. Apocalyptic glimpse of heaven. In his dream, John looks, and there in heaven a door stood open. A voice invites him to come up to heaven and see what must take place after this. Then in the spirit he sees a throne and One sitting on it. He describes the wonder of what he sees.

Most people find this sort of literature hard. Challenging. Even threatening.

They prefer more homely account by Jesus in John 14 – no mention of heaven – comfort to those who are grieving.

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 My Father's house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."

5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Comforting words. Trust. Faith. Reliance on God. In a way, we don’t need more.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

All Souls

2 November 2010 All Souls

Reading Wisdom 3:1-9

The Destiny of the Righteous

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
2In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
3and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
4For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
5Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
6like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
7In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
8They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
9Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.*

Gospel John 11: 17 – 27

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."


First 3 gospels – miracles. In John – signs. Raising of Lazarus – last sign in John’s gospel.

Usually, when Jesus performs sign or miracle – it is then followed by interpretation or discourse about it.

Here – events prior to sign receive bulk of space. Raising of Lazarus gets only 2 verses. Jesus comments on the sign before it actually happens.

Focuses our attention on the discourse, not the sign. Not to say raising of Lazarus is unimportant. One of only 2 examples in gospels. Only one where the person had been dead several days.

Discourse is with Martha. Mary stayed at home. Remember Lazarus had two sisters – in Luke, when Jesus visited their brother – Martha complained Mary sat listening to Jesus whilst Martha did all the work.

Martha again complains. Why did Jesus not come earlier? Maybe life saved?

Jesus’ does not answer her directly. He replies: “I am the resurrection and the life.” What sort of answer is that?

What he is saying is – eternal life more important than a few more years here on earth. Lazarus is dead – no doubt – but he will rise again.

Notice that Jesus makes two claims. One – resurrection is through him. I am the resurrection. That’s something we can understand. Many Jews believed in a resurrection – so did Martha. So do we.

Second claim is harder to understand. I am the life. Resurrection is promise of new life in the future. But Jesus also says there can be new life in him today. Right now.

Martha heard the first part clearly. Knew her brother would rise again. Did not hear the second part. What Jesus was actually saying to her was that even though Lazarus was dead, even he could share in the life Jesus offers to us all – not in the future but now, on earth, this evening, right now.

For Lazarus – that meant the dramatic event recorded later on. For us, if we thought I am the resurrection and the life meant essentially the same thing, as we celebrate the life of our loved ones departed, we can examine our own lives and consider what, for us, Jesus meant when he said I am the life.

In the next chapter, the anointing of Jesus takes place at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. We are told that Martha served, Mary anoints Jesus, and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was one of those at the table with him. The raising of Lazarus gave him new life with Jesus.

So, for Lazarus I am the life did not mean something in the future, but right now. For us too, our intimacy with Jesus need not be something we can only enjoy after we die, after the resurrection, after the end of time as we know it, but here and now.

For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Amen

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sunday 31 October

Sermon at Methodist Chapel – Cheddington


Romans 3.19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the "law" that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law.


Luke 19.1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”


Reading from Romans is so familiar to us, it has become something of a cliché. How does the preacher base a sermon on a cliché without saying the same things every other preacher has said before?

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Good news! We don’t have to do anything. Although we have all sinned – fallen short like an arrow aimed at a target – yet we are justified freely by the grace of God that came by Jesus Christ. Easy. We can just sit back and accept the redemption offered to us. Is it really that simple? Is that really what Paul is telling us? Let’s looks a bit more closely.

Go back a bit to verse 19, and Paul says:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

That means regardless of what God offers us, we are still under the law. Because all are subject to the law, it follows all have sinned. All our lives, we are reminded of this. Every service in the Church starts with a Confession. It seems whatever we do, we cannot escape from this condemnation. We keep having to confess our failings. Why can we not break out of this dreadful cycle of wrongdoing?

Paul’s answer is that whatever we do, however good our intentions, regardless of how blameless a life we lead, we can never attain the righteousness of God. And that is the only measure that counts.

No one can reach God through his or her own merits. No one can meet God’s standard through their own conduct or good works. No one can reach God by their own efforts – it is God who reaches to us, not the other way round.

This is what it means to be under the law. There is nothing we can do. Even in our most beautiful moments, with our most deeply spiritual insights, at a time when we are most Christ-like – we cannot ever clear the bar because it is set at God’s only standard – perfection.

How depressing. Well, not really, because there is another way. Righteousness, we are told, comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But is this as comforting as it sounds? OK, salvation comes through faith and not works, but don’t we constantly feel our faith is weak? Isn’t faith just like a ‘work?’ Surely ‘believing’ is something we do. It’s tempting to conclude that whilst we have shed the burden of all the other ‘works’ and obedience to the Law, we have simply substituted something even harder – faith, and a strong belief in Jesus.

I would say, if faith sounds to you and me like something we have to do, if belief sounds to you and me like something that can be measured against some sort of standard, then we have missed the point and it has indeed become just another work.

Let me suggest to you another way of looking at it. The standard of righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. That’s what Paul says. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Freely by God’s grace – does that not mean nothing is required from us in return?

The faith Paul writes about here is the faith of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s righteousness. It is this righteousness – the person of Jesus – that creates and awakens faith in us. Faith is not something we have to struggle with – it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Where and when the Spirit wills.

Take Zacchaeus, for example. He was a sinner. He did not have a strong faith – he was inquisitive, and wanted to know more, so he went and climbed a tree. He did not approach or engage Jesus like the Canaanite woman. He didn’t shout out ‘Lord have mercy on me!’ It was Jesus who noticed and approached him. After agreeing to provide hospitality to the Messiah, then Zacchaeus spontaneously offered to recompense fourfold everyone he had robbed, and to give half his wealth to the poor. These actions were clearly ‘works.’ Jesus accepted his works as evidence of repentance, but he would have entered Zacchaeus’s life regardless. All Zacchaeus had to do was accept the grace freely offered to him.

There is another trap waiting here for the unwary. That is the phrase sacrifice of atonement.

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

What are we to make of this? Listening to many Christians they seem to be saying that God is a parent who requires sacrifice. That God needs to be appeased by a violent and degrading sacrifice as a prior condition to offering salvation and reconciliation to his creation.

Surely this is not the God even of the Old Testament, let alone the New. God did not require sacrifice of Isaac. In Canaan human sacrifice was utterly condemned. In Psalm 51 it says:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

The Gospels are not about a God who is appeased by a sacrifice. They are not about a God who needs to be bargained with; many atonement theories, grounded in this idea of sacrifice, are simply guises for a ladder theology. It’s like saying ‘we can still DO something to get to God. Well, we can’t.

Christ sacrificed himself, but it was the evil of men that killed him. Execution is probably a more apt description for what happened than sacrifice. Sacrifice takes away our responsibility for his death. Execution doesn’t.

What Paul actually says is that God presented the death of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement. That was the effect it had. Not that in some way his death was required. Jesus did what he did to show his righteousness.

God ‘s part in this was to make known to us how great is the righteousness that is now given to us (verses 21-22), that now becomes ours as faith.

This is the real metaphor for atonement. Christ takes everything that is ours and lays the burden on himself and gives us everything that is his. The gift of Christ is his faith. This gift imparts righteousness to us, makes of us believers, not through our works but through the promise that Christ has accomplished all for us. Amen

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bible Sunday

Reading Isaiah 61

The Year of the LORD 's Favour

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
       because the LORD has anointed me
       to proclaim good news to the poor.
       He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
       to proclaim freedom for the captives
       and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour
       and the day of vengeance of our God,
       to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
       to bestow on them a crown of beauty
       instead of ashes,
       the oil of joy
       instead of mourning,
       and a garment of praise
       instead of a spirit of despair.
       They will be called mighty oaks,
       a planting of the LORD
       for the display of his splendour.

Gospel Luke 4.16-24

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his home town.”


Today – Bible Sunday. Theme is Free to Go. Bible is a liberating experience to those who read it. Gospel set for today relates an incident in early part of Jesus’ ministry and took place in Nazareth.

Nazareth was where Jesus grew up and his family lived. Joseph was a carpenter and, according to tradition, died when Jesus was relatively young, leaving him the main breadwinner for the family. He ran the carpentry business in what was a small community with a population of no more than 400.

The synagogue in Nazareth was familiar to Jesus and would have been the main gathering place of the community. Synagogue is derived from a Greek word that originally meant assembly or congregation, referring to gathered people, but over time it came to mean the building where they met.

Imagine simple building. Tiers of stone benches around walls faced onto central platform where readings and prayers conducted. Nothing unusual in any man who could read and comment on Scripture standing to read a passage, then sitting to say a few words about it. What was shocking was the choice of Isaiah 61 – Year of the Lord’s Favour – which begins The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me... which Jesus unambiguously applies to himself. Today in your hearing this Scripture is fulfilled.

Those who heard knew Jesus from a boy. Small builder. At first, impressed. Local lad speaks well. Then enormity of his claims sinks in.

Heard about miracles he did in Capernaum. Ask him to repeat them in Nazareth. He cannot. They have no faith in him. Is this the reason? He cannot do wonders unless we have faith? Seems puzzled himself. No prophet is accepted in his home town – quotes occasions from OT when prophets were sent to Gentiles in preference to the Jews.

Men in synagogue furious. Drive him out of the town. Would have killed him. But Luke says Jesus walked through them and went on his way.

This event comes at start of Jesus’ ministry. Just after baptism and temptation. First detailed account of his mission. Like a manifesto. Sets the scene for what is to come.

I have always found it hard to understand swing from welcome, admiration, acceptance and praise – through condemnation – to driving out and attempted murder. All because Jesus read a few verses from prophet Isaiah. Illustrates in stark way power of scripture. Appropriate for Bible Sunday.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all religions ‘of the Book.’ Scripture for Christians is revealed by God. In Anglican tradition, together with tradition and reason, our interpretation of scripture determines how we should act. Yet how much time do Christians spend studying the Bible, compared to Muslims?

Perhaps the Bible is too familiar, too readily available to us, too cheap, too easy to lay our hands on. There is a certain embarrassment we would all feel if we took out a Bible in the Underground or in a train and read it openly. Maybe we should imagine a time when it is banned, when people are killed for just possessing a copy, when lives are lost in an appalling manner for translating it into English.

Some churches, instead of observing Bible Sunday are marking it as No Bible Sunday. There’s even a web site nobiblesunday.org when services take place with no Bible, no Bible quotations and no teaching. No hymns for example. No readings. Imagine – what would we do?


The aim is to make people value Scripture more than they do. Taking something away usually has that effect. The plain fact is, though, that for hundreds of millions of people every Sunday is a No-Bible Sunday.

What is the Bible is not in your language? What if you can’t read? What if owning a Bible is illegal and the punishment is severe?

It’s only 480 years since first complete Bible published secretly in English. Wm. Tyndale was strangled to death whilst tied to the stake and his dead body burned for doing it. This is the legacy of Bible Sunday. Something we take for granted today was the very same book many lost their lives creating.

If we engage with it, we can once again unleash its power to change lives. We are free to go – with God’s love that is at work through the pages of scripture. What was so hard won, for which great sacrifices were made, we should value and reverence more than we do.

Tyndale's final words, spoken “at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice”, were reported as “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes.” That was in October 1536. 4 years later, 4 new English translations had been published, including King Henry VIII’s own Great Bible.

The Bible is so many things – too many to relate in a short sermon. Jesus’ choice of Isaiah focuses our attention on prophecy. The Spirit of the Lord, he says, is on him. He has been sent to preach the good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind (both physically and spiritually) and release to the oppressed.

Our freedom to engage with it has been hard won. More people have died horribly so we can read it than any other publication. So let the message of Bible Sunday sink in. Let us value Scripture more than we have in the past. Let it be, for us, the liberating experience it was intended to be.

Today, Jesus said, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Amen

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dan the Man

All-age service at St Giles

Dan the Man – Children’s Playlet


Bad King Nebuchadnezzar was on the throne in Babylon. He had many magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men in his court. But Dan the Man was ten times cleverer than all the others.

One day, bad King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. He woke up in a sweat, and could not get back to sleep. So he sent for his magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men.


I have had a bad dream. What can it mean? I want you my magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men to explain it to me. I want to know what it means.


The magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men replied: ‘O King, live forever! Tell us your dream and we will interpret it.’ The King didn’t trust them. He thought the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men might just invent an explanation, like the royal horoscope that was printed in the Babylon Times. So bad king Nebuchadnezzar came up with a cunning plan.


This is what I have decided. I want you to tell me what my dream was. If you can’t tell me my dream, and then explain it, I will have all you magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men cut in pieces and bulldoze your houses into piles of rubble.


Once more, the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men replied: ‘O King, tell us your dream and we will interpret it. The King was angry.


You are just trying to gain time. If you can’t tell me my dream, there is only one penalty for you all, for you have conspired together to mislead me and tell me wicked things.


The magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men answered the King: ‘What the King asks is too difficult. No one can reveal the King’s dream except the gods, and they do not live among men.’ This made the King so angry he ordered the execution of all the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men. He sent for Dan the Man to put them all to death. Now the King favoured Dan the Man, because he showed wisdom and tact, but Dan the Man worshipped the one true God.

When Dan the Man heard about the decree, he asked why bad King Nebuchadnezzar was being so harsh. The King’s officer explained why, and Dan the Man went to see the King.

Dan the Man

O King live forever! I can explain the King’s dream to the King. Just give me some time, and I will return and explain all that the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men could not reveal.


Then Dan went back to his house and consulted his friends. He asked them to pray for him and to plead for mercy from God concerning the mystery. That very night, the mysterious dream was revealed to Dan in a vision. When Dan awoke, he sung a hymn of praise to God.

Dan the Man

Praise be to the name of God. He reveals deep and hidden things. He knows what lies in darkness. He gives wisdom to the wise. I thank and praise you O God for answering our prayers. For you have made known what we asked of you, and revealed to us the dream of the King.


Then Dan the Man went to see the King’s officer. Do not execute the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men he said. Take me to the King and I will interpret his dream for him. The King said:


Dan – are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and explain it to me? All the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men have failed. Can you succeed where they all failed?


O King live forever! The magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men cannot explain it, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.


So Dan interpreted the King’s dream and explained to him what it meant. The King was delighted, even though the dream spelled bad news.


You’re the Man, Dan! Surely your God is the God of gods, for through him you were able to reveal this mystery to me. I will promote you to a high position and lavish you with gifts. You will be ruler over the whole province of Babylon. You will take charge of all the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men.


But bad King Nebuchadnezzar did not change his ways. He built a statue of gold and set it up in the province of Babylon. He made all his officials bow down and worship the image. But Dan and his friends would not bow down when all the others did. When they saw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not fall down and worship the golden statue, the high officials, the magicians, enchanters, soothsayers and wise men reported them to the King for disobedience.

The King was furious, so when Dan ‘s friends still refused to obey he had them thrown into a blazing hot fiery furnace for refusing to worship the golden statue. The fire was so hot, the slaves who tied up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and threw them into the flames died at once from the scorching heat. The King looked into the fire and to his amazement saw four men walking around.


Look, are my eyes playing tricks? I see four men walking around in the burning fiery furnace. Yet we only threw three men into the flames. They look unharmed, and the fourth man looks like an angel. Open up the furnace and let them out.


So the doors were opened, and the King shouted into the furnace.


Come out!


So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out. Everyone could see they had not been harmed. Not one hair on their heads had been singed, and their clothes did not even smell of smoke.


It’s a miracle! Praise be to the God of Dan and his friends. Only God could have rescued his servants from the flames of fire. So I will promote Dan’s friends to positions of power in all the land, and everyone who says anything against them or their God will be torn in pieces and their houses reduced to piles of rubble.


So that’s the end of the story of Dan the Man, his friends, bad King Nebuchadnezzar, his dreams and the burning fiery furnace. You can read more stories about Dan in the Bible. How he interpreted more dreams. How there was a great feast, and a spooky ghostly had wrote strange words high up on a wall. And how Dan was thrown into a den of roaring hungry lions but survived.

Thursday 21 October Holy Communion

Reading Ephesians 3

A Prayer for the Ephesians

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family [a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Gospel Luke 12

Not Peace but Division

49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."


Gospel shows danger of taking passage out of context. Did Jesus not come to bring peace? Do we not offer one another sign of peace? Is the gospel not the good news of love? How come then Jesus says he has come to bring fire on earth. Division not peace. Strife not harmony.

Taken in context – chapter all about coming of Kingdom and our preparedness. Parable of Rich Fool – this night your life will be demanded of you. Do not worry about your life – the flowers and birds are looked after, so will you be. Servants waiting for return of their master from wedding banquet – be ready for Son of Man will return at a hour when you least expect him.

So there is great responsibility – everything will not be sweetness and light. There is a dark side to the Kingdom – judgement for the unprepared. There is also inevitable division and selection. Self-selection probably. Those who turn to God, and those who turn away for their deeds are evil.

Jesus here tells disciples to be alert and respond to urgency of the times. They must be ready, even at expense of causing divisions within own families. Jesus did not come to bring division and strife, but that may be the inevitable result of his coming.

What then is the fire? Fire of Holy Spirit. Fire of purification. And suffering – disciples will have to suffer, as indeed did Jesus himself at his crucifixion.

So Luke is warning his readers, in the words of Jesus, to be prepared – ready to suffer, ready for difficult times. The end of the race is in the Kingdom of God – but there are many hurdles, pitfalls and diversions across out path along the way.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

‘Seeing’ is Believing

Trinity 19 – Holy Communion at St Giles 10 October 2010

Gospel Luke 17

Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


It’s telling that if you type ‘Martin Luther’ into a search engine on the Net, most of the results that come up relate to Martin Luther King and not the 16th C Dominican friar. The real Martin Luther protested the sale of indulgences and sparked the Reformation in Europe by posting on the church door of All Saints Wittenburg his 95 Theses.

This Martin Luther, amid the white heat of ethical and liturgical reform was once asked what was the nature of true worship. His reply was ‘the tenth leper turning back.’

Luke’s account of the healing of 10 lepers takes place in the region between Samaria and Galilee. That would be like saying today that an event occurred in the region between Palestine and Israel. Geographically there is no such region, but I think we can all grasp the significance of where the event took place.

Theologically, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. What happened along the way says more about the Kingdom he is about to establish after his death than its precise location.

Did you notice anything odd about what Jesus did? 10 leprous men stood at a distance and called out to him. Jesus did not approach or touch them, but told the men to go and show themselves to the priests. This is presumably what they would have done had they already been healed – giving thanks, offering sacrifices according to the law.

Believing, they turned and went. The gospel doesn’t say so, but I think we can conclude their faith played a part in their cure.

One man, seeing he had been healed, never made it to the priests, but turned back to give thanks to Jesus. The odd thing, for me, is that Jesus then complains about the other 9 for doing what he told them to do. They obeyed, and went to show themselves to the priests. It seems a tad disingenuous that the one man who disobeyed – a hated Samaritan – was commended for turning back to give praise to God.

Like the others, his faith made him well. The Greek word sozo can also be translated saved. ‘Your faith has saved you.’

Immediately after this account comes a passage about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, which I think is significant.

What I want us to see this morning, though, is what occurred at the very point when the tenth leper was healed. It says as soon as he saw he was healed, turned back… As soon as he ‘saw’…

Seeing is believing. All the lepers were healed, but only one ‘saw’ his cure in a particular way. He was the one who shouted in a loud voice.

The Samaritan leper ‘saw’ the origin of Jesus’s power. He returned to give praise to God. The other nine may have only attributed their cure to an itinerant preacher and healer, of which there were many.

Seeing in this way causes him to change direction. He veers from his previous course. And he turns from the old faith of the Temple towards a new revelation in Jesus Christ. That must have appealed to Martin Luther.

Think about all this made me ask certain questions about how we see our faith.

· Faced with human need, do we see demands or gifts?

· Faced with God, do we see a stern judge, or do we see ourselves as beloved children?

· As we look to the future, do we see a fearful uncertainty, or faithful discipleship in the loving arms of the Father and God at work in our lives and in the world around us?

How we answer these types of questions depends on how we see and believe. How we see dramatically shapes our outlook on faith, and so profoundly affects our behaviour.

At the outset of the story, 10 lepers are outcasts. Socially, religiously, economically and in every other way. They are in the region beyond – neither in one place nor another. A region that does not exist.

Jesus notices them, and draws them in. All re-enter society. They are made clean – acceptable once again. But only one remains outcast – he is still a Samaritan. Yet he was the one who saw in a special way. So he was not just ‘healed’ but ‘made whole’ or ‘saved.’ He might not have been restored to society – but he was restored to God – in the true sense of the alternative meaning of sezoken he was ‘saved.’

In Luther’s eyes, he was the tenth leper who turned back. Then, as now, turning back, changing direction, turning away from the conventional path, makes all the difference.

Seeing – is believing.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Persistent Prayer

Thursday 7 October – Holy Communion at St Giles

Gospel Luke 11

5 Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"


Teaching on prayer.

Previous chapter ends: Jesus visits Mary & Martha. Mary listened to Jesus. Martha complained she had to do all work in kitchen. Jesus replied Mary has chosen the better part.

Chapter 11 starts with Jesus praying in a certain place. When he finished, disciples ask Jesus to teach them prayer (as John taught his disciples). So the background to this request was Jesus’ own time of prayer, and his commending Mary for listening to him and not being distracted by more mundane things.

It’s easy to be distracted – there is so much to do – things that have to be done, and can take our attention away from higher things.

Like in Matthew 6, which has longer form, Jesus starts with Lord’s Prayer (Disciples’ Prayer).

2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:
       " 'Father,
       hallowed be your name,
       your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 Forgive us our sins,
       for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
       And lead us not into temptation.]' "

Then by way of explanation, we have today’s story.

Parable talks of need for urgent and insistent prayer. Not a mumbled routine set of words in church we hardly even notice or comprehend. For Luke, it’s about the end of time.

The request for bread is an urgent petition that cannot easily be denied. Answer has to be right now. Cannot be put off.

However grudging, we know the earthly friend will get up out of bed and help his friend. The message is that our requests for heavenly bread must be equally persistent and immediate.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.


Thursday, 30 September 2010

Baptism of Ethan Gough

Sunday 26 September at St Mary Mentmore

Reading 1 Timothy 6.6-19

Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Gospel Luke 16.19-31

Jesus told the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


Money = root of all evil. Misquoted. Love of money... Ever wondered why it is condemned?

· Waste of effort? We bring nothing in... take nothing out.

· If we have money we just want more...and neglect those who deserve our help. That’s the story of Lazarus.

· Faith in God incompatible with material abundance? – No, love of money is condemned. But – leads to false self-reliance, causes us to pursue selfish goals and neglect others, and gives us a desire for more, like addiction.

More than anything, it’s a distraction. Diverts our attention from what really matters – higher things.

Message of gospels – where your treasure is...your heart will be also. If bank vaults, high-yield securities, tax avoidance – that’s where you will place your value. Like parable of rich man who tears barns down and builds bigger – that night his soul was required from him.

Those who invest in things of this world will never have enough. Those whose time is spent with God will have abundance and share in inheritance of saints in light.

Story of Lazarus not about after life. Not about neglect of others or riches leading to hell. Could have helped, but too busy conserving and making more money. Distraction.

Maybe in another talk – obscene wealth and abject poverty – both evils in themselves. Even in this life, Jesus talks in Beatitudes of reversal of fortunes – happy are poor, meek, hungry, mourners.

So what’s the message? Give more away? Rely less on material wealth and possessions? Go and help in a homeless drop-in? Engage with dispossessed? Recognise Big Issue sellers as a person, or even in them the face of Christ? Turn attention away from latest gadgets to higher more permanent things? All these, and more.

Baptism of Ethan. Our promises not to give him best start in life. Good education. Best of health. He will have all of these.

No, our promises are to bring him up in the faith. Knowledge of God, so he can make informed choice when 16. In other words, we equip him for higher things – all others are distractions from what will be really important in his life. These are what we pray for this morning.


Thursday 30 September Holy Communion at St Giles

Reading Job 19

21 "Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
       for the hand of God has struck me.

22 Why do you pursue me as God does?
       Will you never get enough of my flesh?

23 "Oh, that my words were recorded,
       that they were written on a scroll,

24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
       or engraved in rock forever!

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
       and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
       yet in my flesh I will see God;

27 I myself will see him
       with my own eyes—I, and not another.

Gospel Luke 10

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6 If the head of the house loves peace, your peace will rest on that house; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for workers deserve their wages. Do not move around from house to house.

8 "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 'Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.' 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.


Story of Job well known. Job an upright man. Had 7 sons – 23 daughters – 7,000 sheep – 3,000 camels – 500 yoke oxen – 500 donkeys – many servants.

One day, God tells Satan about how good Job is. Satan says he is only good because God is good to him. Satan given permission to test Job to the point of his life.

First, all sons, daughters and livestock slaughtered. Then he suffers painful sores all over body. Still he does not curse God. Satan, having failed, disappears from the plot.

Job’s friends then wade in, and conclude Job must be bad if bad things happen to him. Job protests innocence. In the end, God gets angry with two friends for doubting him and for doubting Job’s goodness.

God answers Job’s prayer, and he ends up with more that he had at the beginning. In today’s passage from chapter 19, Job has confidence he will be vindicated in the end. He thinks he will die, but after his death a mediator will appear who will argue his case before God. He himself will in the end see God with his own eyes – I know that my redeemer liveth.

Job is a wonderful literary work. Poetry and prose. Good story. Written probably as early as 6th C BC. Attempts to address problem of evil. In OT good people prospered and bad people suffered in the end – so if someone suffered ergo they must be bad. Job challenges prevailing view. Bad things, it suggests, can be a trial.

Whether you believe that or not, problem of evil and innocent suffering is clearly as intractable and puzzling today as it was in 6th C BC. I have no answer, but I do know that it is essential for us to retain faith and hope, as Job dies. Despite all his pain and suffering, he can still say:

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
       and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
       yet in my flesh I will see God;

27 I myself will see him
       with my own eyes—I, and not another.