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.

Human Flourishing

View from the Vicarage

Back in the early days of word processing, I remember a primitive grammar checker suggesting that the word ‘diarrhoea’ – a notoriously hard word to spell – was incorrect and should be replace with ‘dire rear.’ Well, I could understand that even if it was funny, but things have come a long way since then. One is multitasking – no longer the preserve of women who can do ironing and watch TV at the same time, whilst I have to turn off the TV before I start. Multitasking is what every young person does all the time. They send IMs, check Facebook, answer texts and chat to their friends, all at the same time.

I am not a particular fan of Drew Barrimore, but an interview on Radio 4 with her about her latest film caught my ear. Much of the film was unscripted. What happened between the leading characters was filmed as they made it up. According to the interview, there seemed to be two themes: communication and happiness. The lead characters spent ages communicating with each other by various means as each travelled the world. But despite the many ways they seemed to be talking to each other, the communication wasn’t working. It didn’t promote happiness. And what is ‘happiness’ anyway? How does if differ from ‘contentment?’

I think I have hit a rather big nail on the head here. If young people spend ages communicating in the way they do, yet it doesn’t work, does this explain their lack of contentment? Contentment I think is long lasting. Happiness is just of the moment. Remember how often emails have upset you in the past? You can’t see the sender’s face. You can’t hear their tone of voice. You can’t work out the body language. And how much real information can you convey in 140 words?

The truth is that doing many things at the same time is to do most of them badly. I have a friend who immediately picks up the phone as soon as I send him an email. He prefers two-way communication, you see, and email is one-way and prone to misunderstandings. I see his point. Usually I don’t bother to send him messages any more. I just pick up the phone.

Don’t get me wrong – technology has its place. You can search a book for a lost quotation in an instant. You can do things quicker and more easily. You can communicate in an instant. But – and it’s a big one – all this comes at a price. The Cloud helps me write this and access it from any computer anywhere, but I prefer a visit and a shared cup of coffee in the garden to anything I get down a wire. Chats are more reliable and more fun. They get more done. They are – more human.

The Christian faith – OK don’t stop reading just because I mention religion – is all about a good and loving Creator, but it is as much about ‘human flourishing.’ The woman who lights a light and searches for the one coin she had lost, then rejoices when she finds it. The lamp shining from a window. The voice of a bride and bridegroom. The sound of music, and workers at their trade. All these examples of human flourishing come from the New Testament – and in Revelation 18, when taken away, they are replaced by ‘the magic spell through which all nations were led astray.’ Sounds familiar?

Scary stuff – it means we have to give more attention to our humanity than we do inventing new gadgets, finding a use for them, and then wondering why our children seem better at mastering computer games than they are at talking to each other face to face – and listening.

There’s a virtual church on the internet, where you can attend public worship and even take communion – although you have to provide the elements yourself. This has a place if people are elderly or disabled, but shouldn’t the church be visiting them? Where is the human flourishing in that? Being a vicar is delightfully old-fashioned work. Sitting chatting over a cup of coffee. Singing with toddlers. Being alongside people in moments of contentment and tragedy. Doing all those old-fashioned things. Loving those hard to love. Putting self last. Going the extra mile. The Christian faith is like that – counter-cultural, upside down, shocking. But just like the Cloud versus face-to-face encounter, is it not even more vital to all our futures that we are not diverted by the impermanent and unreal?

Robert Wright
01296 661358 (fixed – not mobile…)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Meaningless – chasing the wind

Ecclesiastes – Thursday 23 September 2010

Holy Communion at St Giles

Reading Ecclesiastes 1

2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."

3 What does anyone gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of people of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Gospel Luke 9

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8 others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him.


Ecclesiastes – comes between Proverbs and Song of Solomon. Takes form of monologue spoken by The Teacher.

Author adopts common ancient practice of setting philosophical teaching within series of speeches. Invents a character called Teacher, and comments on his words.

Words used, and knowledge of these writings by late authors leads us to believe written maybe only a couple of hundred years BC.

Commentary: ‘ideas of Teacher are notoriously confusing and contradictory.’

Summary: world is changeless – humans unable to comprehend what it all means or how it works – cannot make any impact on it.

Society is unjust and unfair – future unpredictable.

God has designed everything this way. All we can do is enjoy what we have – we are in no position to seek more – greater understanding will only lead to unhappiness.

Meant to be words of wisdom from wise man. Constantly comes back to word hebel - ‘meaningless.’ Lit: ‘breath of wind’ – transience, useless, deceptive. Vanity of vanities does not do it justice in the modern age.

Depressing? World is impervious to human effort. Humans are born, die and pass on but nature continues regardless. Reaches no end or conclusion. Each day, sun rises and sets then hurries back panting to its starting place.

Unchanging – might have been so in the Teacher’s time, but human beings today have found ever more damaging ways of despoiling the planet. Our quest for understanding is ever less futile. We can change things – cloning, stem cell research, manipulation of life itself, natural resources used up and not replaced. Today futility is not that the earth resists change but we can alter it too freely. Our efforts no longer meaningless or chasing the wind.

Here’s the value of this book for reflection on what has changed, and what is God’s part in all this? Amen

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Sin, hellfire and damnation?

Sermon at St Giles for Trinity 15 on Sunday 12 September 2010

Reading 1 Timothy 1.12-17 (EvE)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Luke 15.1-10

The tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


Sin. Hellfire and Damnation.

You can’t fail to notice both readings about Sin and sinners. Wrongdoing. Outcasts. The Lost.

Nowadays we don’t talk much about Sin in sermons. Deeply unfashionable, except in TV shows from USA. But isn’t that what church used to be all about? Making people feel guilty. Frightening them with ghastly paintings. Warning them to be good, or else?

Rather than sweep under carpet, is there some quite different message underlying all this talk of Sin? Can we strike a more positive note?

In first letter to Timothy after opening sentences, writer magnifies God’s grace. God, he says, extends forgiveness to himself – the worst of sinners. If this was Paul, he had indeed been a violent despiser of Jesus, and murderer of his followers. Yet despite all his wrongs, he was confident in his total forgiveness.

God’s mercy did not come in a general way. God did not just happen to forgive him all his terrible crimes. No, God’s mercy is bound up inextricably with the mission and person of Christ. That person showed gentleness, forbearance, self-giving – and so he was a model for our lives, as well as being the very means of salvation itself.

Why was the writer of this letter forgiven? Because he did not fully appreciate what he was doing? Like those who crucified Christ, who knew not what they did. Because of his metanoia – his complete about-face, turning from sin and towards God? Through the grace of God freely given and overflowing?

His was the worst sin anyone can be guilty of. Opposition to God. In his letter to Corinthians, Paul describes himself as the dregs, someone unfit to be an apostle. Yet after his metanoia, he became the greatest of the apostles, one through whose ministry the gospel spread throughout the Roman world.

Does that mean everyone can be forgiven? Or are some so bad that no redemption is possible. What is Adolf Hitler repented at the last minute in his bunker? Or Josef Stalin? Idi Amin, Pol Pot, or Ivan IV of Russia? What then? It’s not for us to say, but judging by this passage we can only state categorically that God’s love overflows with forgiveness and mercy.

According to Luke, sinners are the ‘lost.’ Lost sheep and lost coin – both are about sin and redemption. So was the Parable of the Banquet in previous chapter, where poor, blind, maimed and lame replace the so-called more worthy guest list.

Jesus is the companion of sinners. He talks, eats and hangs out with them. Does not forgive or show mercy from afar, but up close and personal. Passage starts with tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus, whilst Pharisees mutter.

You may be thinking, are we not all sinners? How come the 99 are safe and only one was lost? How come the 9 coins are OK and only one needed to be found? In Luke’s world, not all are sinners. Some need to be found because they are still in need of repentance. The rest – the righteous – have no need of repentance. They are already found.

Isn’t that a much better picture that the one which characterises us all as sinners all the time, with all the associated guilt?

The stories reveal God the Father going to any length to retrieve the lost sheep. To reach out to sinners in need of repentance. Leaving the 99 who are already safe. Going in search of the one that needs to be found. And the lost sheep needs to do nothing – it just has to allow itself to be found; to be picked up and carried home to safety.

The shepherd then rejoices. He spends more on a banquet for his friends and neighbours than the lost sheep was worth. His hospitality is overflowing. Grace abounds to the worst of sinners. God does not count the cost. God does not evaluate the need by human standards of measure.

God’s table provision is overwhelming, and in the Eucharist that is about for follow, we are on the receiving end of the self-giving love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, the good shepherd who goes before the sheep, and would do anything to find the one that was lost, even to sacrifice himself that the lost one might be found. Amen

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Shocking and counter-cultural message

Thursday 9 September – Holy Communion at St Giles

Jesus’ Foundation Sermon

Gospel Luke 6

Love for Enemies

27 "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."


People seeking to explore faith – confirmation class – what is the essence of Christianity? Like jailer (Acts 16) who woke up to find prison open: “What must I do to be saved?”

Insufficient to answer that faith based on love. Love God. Love your neighbour. Doesn’t every religion preach similar? “Even sinners do that.”

Words of Jesus in Luke 6 more radical. Passage from verse 17 Jesus’s sermon or Sermon on the Plain. After rejection of Jesus at Nazareth and healings at Capernaum, there is controversy about fellowship, fasting and Sabbath. Jesus then calls first disciples and embarks on foundation sermon. Not surprising he sets out his radical message so clearly at outset of ministry.

He was not alone. A multitude came to hear him. Talks about what community of followers will be like. Beatitudes – poor, hungry, weepers and excluded are blessed. Means those who have suffered in this life will be vindicated by God. Blessed are those who mourn – radical, runs counter to everything we believe in our own lives. Woe to you when all speak well of you. Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who laugh. Woe to you who are well-fed. Society turned on its head.

Then he says: “Love your enemies” – do good to those who hate you – bless those who curse you. If someone steals wallet or purse, give them mobile phone too and don’t ask for anything to be given back.

Love your neighbour – do to others as you would have them do to you – old hat. Jesus moves goalposts. Conventional wisdom becomes foolishness for Christ. What reward do you have for doing that? But to love enemies, and lend to those who will not repay you, give your possessions to those who are undeserving – for all that counter-cultural teaching your reward in heaven will be great.

This is where Christianity – established church – has lost its edge. We don’t preach enough of the shocking and surprising words of Jesus, given here in his foundation sermon and elsewhere.

Today, in our gospel reading, we are invited to reflect on the demands made on us, and translate these demands into action. Amen