Thursday, 27 January 2011

On a lampstand – or under a bucket?

Thursday midweek communion at St Giles – 27 January 2011

Gospel Mark 4

Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations
and believed in throughout the world.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

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

A Lamp on a Stand

21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

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


This one’s for Philip – who likes a simple gospel message every now and then. What could be simpler than the lampstand?

Sunday’s sermon was about the shining light. Not based on gospel, but Isaiah 9: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Prophecy referred to lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, who were prey to invasion and exploitation. Could not be protected by rest of Israel. Located at far north – Galilee.

Prophecy was that into their deep darkness of domination by foreign powers comes the shining light of the Messiah. To us, the interpretation is Jesus the Messiah, as a shining light coming into the world as an epiphany. God breaking into the world through the incarnation of Christ.

When Jesus talks of the light, he is referring to himself. The light of the gospel. The parable he tells is about those who have seen the light. They have accepted it. But instead of radiating the light to others, they hide the light under a bushel, as the AV says. They put it under the bed, or beneath a bucket rather than lifting it high onto a stand.

Why do they do this? Because they are ashamed of the light. It is for them, but not something they want to admit to others in case they are ridiculed or accused of preaching to them.

It’s all a misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel. Rarely are we asked to preach. Hardly ever do we have to justify our faith by what we say. When did you last enter into a theological discussion with anyone about religion?

No – we show forth the light by what we are, as much as what we say. How we act, especially towards others. If our light is held high, others will be able to see it. We don’t have to attach a loudspeaker to the light. What we are is normally sufficient.

But there may still come a time when we have to stand up and be counted. And we must be prepared to stick our necks out when that time arises. This is what the last part of the reading means.

Our response to the gospel should be whole hearted. We must not hold back. If an explanation of our faith is required, it must be a full one.

With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you – and even more. It’s a market analogy. If you shortchange someone in your dealings with them, you will get that reputation and you will be shortchanged in return. It’s a quid pro quo.

So in God’s eyes, those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away from them.

Transparency – that’s the modern term. It means nothing is hidden. All is clear. All is on display, and there’s nothing that is opaque in the gospel. But that carries a responsibility – the way we act and the way we explain must be like the light, clear for all to see and understand, not obscured or hidden.

Nothing can be clearer or simpler than that, Philip…


Thursday, 20 January 2011

What is a priest?

Midweek Communion at St Giles – 20 January 2011

Reading Hebrews 7.25 – 8.6

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.


Author of Hebrews admits passage about Christ and Melchizedek is long and difficult.

Nature of priesthood. How Christ can be a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. Quote from Ps. 110 – starts The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” This was the verse quoted by Jesus in Matt. 22 when Pharisees asked whose son is the Messiah? They reply David’s son” and Jesus then asks how David in the Ps. Could call the Messiah Lord when he is his son.

Who was M? He appears in Genesis, when it says Abraham defeats coalition of 5 kings and rescues his kinsman Lot. M of Salem appears, blesses Abraham, and in return A gives M one-tenth of his spoils.

Many speculations of who he was, and why he is important. Suffice it – he is a priest who blesses A. For Hebrews, this leads to discourse about priesthood.

In OT priests lived and died. Christ did not die, and remains a priest forever. OT priests were human, fallible, and sinful. Christ is holy and blameless. So where earthly priests offered sacrifices for their own failings before could intercede for others, Jesus had no need to do so. His sacrifice was not for his own sin and then for the sins of others, but he sacrificed himself for our sins.

In this sense, as M was important in OT, so in NT Christ has superseded M as our high priest. But where many priests in OT lived and died, making offerings for sin, in NT there is only one priest, Jesus Christ. He did not require to be perfected, but through suffering became part of the divine plan for salvation in himself, not through any offering he made for us to God.

Likewise, earthly priests had to continue making sacrifice day after day, night and morning, as a ritual of atonement. By contrast Christ’s offering of himself was once and for all, having no need to be repeated.

Where does this leave the Christian priest? What is out business? We are not here to offer sacrifice, but to act as kind of apostles in the community called Church. As Rowan Williams put it:

The fundamental task is that of announcing in word and action in the middle of the community what the community is and where it is; it is telling the Church that it is the created universe insofar as that universe has been taken up into the activity of the eternal Word and transfigured by this fact, and that it is in consequence the place where Christ's self-offering continues to be most freely real and effective. The priest is therefore in the business of – as we could put it – immersing in Christ's action the gifts and prayers and love of human beings.

Takes some ‘getting your head round.’ Comforting, at times when we feel least successful, to know the task is an impossible one, but one we have to strike to aim for. Task we all share – not just delegated to the one ordained by the church to lead it. May God give us the strength needed to continue with this task, because it cannot be done from our own strength alone. Amen.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Daniel & the Lions’ Den

All-Age Service at St Giles – Sunday 16th January 2011

  1. Characters: Narrator (Emily Nathan)
  2. Daniel (Daniel Nathan)
  3. Belshazzar (king of Babylon) (Anna Wallace)
  4. Writing on the Wall (Phoebe Greenstreet)
  5. Ghostly Hand (Ben Ells)
  6. Chief Good Official (Madelyn Key)
  7. Chief Nasty Official (Abi Mandry)
  8. Darius (king of Persia) (Juliet Wallace)
  9. Good counsellor (Emily Hale)
  10. Wicked Counsellor (Adam Spencer)
  11. Lion Keeper (Immy Pledge)
  12. Guests
  13. Good Officials
  14. Nasty Officials
  15. Bloodthirsty Lions (Church Mice)

Narrator I’ll tell you a story that happened 2,500 years ago. The hero of my story is Daniel.

Daniel Hi, I am Daniel. I come from a place called Judah. My family was taken from our home by the King of Babylon. He conquered the whole of Judah and carried all the important people into slavery. But of all the young men, I was singled out for my good looks and intelligence. They gave me the best food and beautiful clothes, and trained me to be a high official in the king’s palace.

Belshazzar (Proudly)
I am Belshazzar, king of Babylon. I worship gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, and no one dare defy me.

Narrator But Daniel refused to worship the king’s pagan gods. Instead, he worshipped the one true God, which made him unpopular and sometimes got him into trouble.

Daniel That’s true. I was thrown into prison, and released only because the king needed my help. There was a great banquet. They all feasted and drank wine from the sacred vessels they had stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem. The king gave them gifts, for he liked to be kid to his friends, to keep them on his side.

Belshazzar As my friends and I feasted and drank a ghostly hand appeared. It had no body – it was just a hand.

All the guests gasp in alarm

The Ghostly Hand floats towards the Writing on the Wall character

The Writing on the Wall character slowly opens a scroll

Ghostly Hand (Points along the opening scroll and reads)
May nay may nay teckel yoo farsin.

Belshazzar (Frightened)
The hand floated towards the wall, wrote words there, and vanished.

All the guests gasp in alarm

Chief Good Official What does it mean?

Chief Nasty Official I don't know. I can't understand it.

Chief Good Official Nothing good. That's for sure.

Chief Nast Official I'm scared. I'm going.

Chief Good Official Me too.

All the guests run away

Belshazzar I was alone and scared. I trembled. I could not understand what the words meant. No one could interpret them. But they frightened me. So I sent for Daniel.

Daniel The hand wrote these words. “To the King. You have been weighed on the scales. You are a lightweight. Your days are numbered. Tonight you will die.”

Daniel points to Belshazzar who shrinks back

Narrator The great king Belshazzar shrank into a corner. His knees knocked with fear. All his friends deserted him. That very night he was killed

Belshazzar Aaaaargh!

Belshazzar falls down dead, as flamboyantly as he likes

Narrator The new King was Darius.

Darius I am Darius. I conquered all the nations round about. My empire grew, so I needed many officials to help me rule it. (Darius points to the nasty officials) They made me a god.

Nasty Officials (Bowing down)
Oh great god Darius.

Darius It was silly. I am not a god but a man. But they insisted. They also insisted that I make a decree, that no one in my kingdom should worship any god except me. Anyone who worshipped other gods would be thrown into a den of bloodthirsty lions.

Darius points to lions

Bloodthirsty Lions growl and claw at the air

Daniel How horrible! But what can I do?

Narrator Daniel was in a jam. He liked King Darius and became his friend. But he could not worship him. The king's nasty officials were jealous of Daniel's friendship with the king and plotted to get rid of him.

Wicked Counsellor While Daniel is the king's friend we get no presents or favours like we did in Belshazzar's day. We must find a way to trip him up.

Nasty Officials Aye!

Narrator And they found a way. For despite the king's decree, Daniel prayed prayed as usual to the one true God. The nasty officials spied on him and discovered this.

Nasty Officials He-he-he! Now we can get our revenge on Daniel and destroy him.

The nasty officials rub their hands together in glee

Narrator So they ran to King Darius and told him what Daniel was doing.

Nasty Officials Throw him to the lions!

Good Officials Spare him, oh king!

Nasty Officials Throw him to the lions!

Good Officials But Daniel is your friend!

Darius What shall I do? Daniel is indeed my friend. But I have made my decree. How can I go back on it?

Good Counsellor Be merciful, oh king! Spare you friend! Your people will love you for it.

Darius Yes. Yes. If I am kind my people will love me.

Wicked Counsellor Be strong, oh king! Punish you friend. Your people will respect and fear you for it.

Darius Yes. Yes. If I am strong my people will obey me.

Good Counsellor Your people will love a merciful king.

Wicked Counsellor But they will only obey a strong one. Remember Belshazzar. He was kind to his friends. Look what happened to him.

Darius He's right.

Nasty Officials Throw him to the lions!

Good Officials Spare him, oh king!

Nasty Officials Throw him to the lions!

Wicked Counsellor Remember Belshazzar!

The Bloodthirsty Lions growl at Daniel

Darius Alas! I have no choice. Daniel my deputy has been caught praying to his God three times a day as usual. I cannot revoke my decree without appearing weak and probably ending up murdered like Belshazzar. A king must be strong. My order must be obeyed. Poor Daniel must be thrown into the den of bloodthirsty lions and be killed. Alas!
(Points at the Lion Keeper)
Throw Daniel to the lions!

The Bloodthirsty Lions growl and claw at the air

Lion Keeper (Seizes Daniel)
Here you are, lads. A nice tasty little snack.
(He throws Daniel into the lions' den)

The Nasty Officials cheer

Daniel Aaaarghhh! Now I’m in big trouble. These lions look very bloodthirsty. And they’re starving.

The Bloodthirsty Lions growl and claw at the air

Daniel All I can do is pray to God and ask him to rescue me.

Daniel prays

The Bloodthirsty Lions stop growling and look meek

Narrator King Darius could not eat or sleep. All night he paced up and down his bedroom wishing he had been merciful. In the morning he went sadly to the lion’s den. The stone was rolled back, and he anxiously looked in. To his amazement he saw Daniel, alive and well, and unharmed by the lions who were lying around like pussycats.

Daniel Long live the king! I prayed to my God and he sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths. God did this because I have done no wrong, and because I put my trust in him.

Darius I am overjoyed. Come out my friend!

Darius extends his hand towards Daniel

Daniel walks to Darius, bows, and stands beside him

The Good Officials cheer

Darius But Daniel, how is it that the bloodthirsty lions did not eat you?

Daniel I was spared because I prayed to the One True God and he protected me.

Darius Then I withdraw my decree. From now on, my people will no longer worship me. Instead they will worship the One True God of Daniel.

The Good Officials cheer

The Nasty Officials scowl and shrink back defeated

The Bloodthirsty Lions turn towards the nasty official and growl

The Nasty Officials run away terrified

Narrator The nasty officials who had tried to destroy Daniel fled in terror, but they could not run far enough. King Darius arrested them and threw them all into the lions’ den, together with their nasty families.

The Good Officials throw the Nasty Officials into the lions' den

Lion Keeper (To the lions) Here you are, lads. Grub up!

Narrator Even before they reached the floor, the bloodthirsty lions overpowered them and ate them all up.

Daniel Oh dear. That wasn’t what I had in mind at all! But I suppose they did deserve it.

Narrator And that is how King Darius decreed that all his people should worship the God of Daniel. He even wrote a song to the living God, who rescues and saves, and who performs signs and wonders in all the earth. After this, Daniel went on to interpret many dreams, and to have visions himself.

Daniel You can read about all this in my book, the Book of Daniel, which you will find in the Old Testament after Ezekiel, among the prophets.

Narrator So – did the story end happily ever after? What do you think? Was Darius a good or a bad king? Was he strong or weak? Was Daniel brave or foolish? Think about this story and what happened in it, and then make up your own minds . . . .

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Baptism of Christ

Reading Isaiah 42.1-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the LORD says –
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Gospel Matthew 3.13-17

Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ was revealed in flesh, proclaimed among the nations
and believed in throughout the world.

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

Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

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


Father’s funeral.
Found it hard to offer encouragement. Counselled against taking risks – could seem negative. Did not often say ‘well done’ but said what could be done better next time.

Sons often have difficult relationship with fathers. Same with daughters and their mothers. Either very close, or constantly at war, especially as teenagers.

Baptism of Christ
When Jesus came to John for baptism, clearly John thought it inappropriate. I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me? John’s doubts – his baptism is for repentance – how could Son of God need to repent? Jesus responded it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.

What was going on here? Baptism signalled start of Jesus’ ministry. Joseph and family return from Egypt to Nazareth. Then nothing about early life, until John the Baptist bursts on scene. He prepares the way and immediately Jesus comes to him and is baptised with water. Jesus is acting in obedience to God. His is a compliant spirit – from the outset, Jesus gives a powerful picture of obedience to God’s call.

Affirmation by God
His action receives God’s approval. Jesus saw Spirit of God – third person in Trinity descending onto him. As if to encourage him – affirm his status – God plainly states This is my Son. With him I am well pleased.

God’s approval is unequivocal. Jesus confirmed as God’s Son at start of journey to cross. He is assured of God’s love – even though his life characterised by suffering, and his baptism experience immediately followed by long and arduous temptation. During those 40 wilderness days, he can think back to what happened with John in Jordan – and strength he gained from that knowledge. So it is with our high points – they can carry us through the dark nights of the soul – the slough of despond.

In whom I am well pleased...
This incident is one of three in Matthew when God directly affirms his faith in Jesus his Son. No words were spoken in Transfiguration, yet Jesus’ face shone like the sun. The other occasion was in chapter 12 when Pharisees plotted to kill him when he healed on Sabbath. Jesus withdrew from that place and Matthews explains his escape was in fulfilment of prophecy by Isaiah. This prophecy is exactly the passage we read from Isaiah 42 just now:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.

Suffering Servant
Passage from Isaiah part of Suffering Servant oracles. Servant never named. Seen by evangelists as prophecy concerning the Messiah, what is will be like, and what he will do.

According to Isaiah, God will hold the Messiah by his right hand. He calls him by name. He calls him in righteousness. The Messiah will open eyes of blind, set prisoners free, and bring forth justice.

Later on in chapter 53, we read those familiar words: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." The Servant of God will indeed experience persecution, but he will endure it in silence.

The Messiah is gentle with those who are weak. He will not break a bruised reed. He will not snuff out a smouldering wick. He will give the underprivileged justice and not falter or be discouraged. He will establish peace and justice.

Personal Faith
Most of what is preached today and much of what we read is about me and you and our personal faith. Our personal relationship with our creator. The ‘me generation’ puts us at the centre of our own universe. We twitter and tweet – and hundreds of people can read our thoughts, as soon as we have them.

Our faith must of course be rooted in a personal relationship with God, but that’s only part of the picture. The Christian faith is heavily steeped in social justice, the pursuit of justice and peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, care and concern for the oppressed, the deprived, and underprivileged. These are what will sing God’s praises, and not just the me-relationship with him.

Remember that those Jesus denied were the ones that did not clothe him when he was naked, and did not visit him when a captive, or give him something to eat when he was hungry. Practical ‘doing things’ not mere faith and prayers.

Message of the Baptism
All these are tied up with the prophecy of Isaiah, the Suffering Servant as he calls him, and the way we interpret the ministry of Jesus and what he seeks to achieve. Justice, not through force, but meekness. Quite the opposite of what it says on the Golden Syrup tin – out of the strong comes forth sweetness.

For me, there is one more important message to be learned. Jesus saw his baptism as symbolic, but the confirmation was not for him alone, and was not just to offer him the comfort of knowing God was with him and his vision of Messiahship was approved.

Likewise, for us, when our own personal faith is challenged, when our relationship with God is dry or weak, we can turn to the more practical aims of working for others, visiting those who are lonely or in hospital, providing practical help for those in need, supporting the weak, promoting justice, fairness and peace. Not only are they laudable aims in themselves, but these practical issues go to the heart of our faith. And in the very doing of them give glory to God.

See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”