Monday, 30 May 2011

William Tyndale

View from the Vicarage

Cheddington Village Newsletter June 2011

One of my heroes from history is a man called William Tyndale. You may never have heard of him, but Tyndale, born in 1490, taught himself 8 languages and was the first to produce an unauthorized version of the New Testament in English. At the time, churches in England only had a 1000 year old Latin version of Scripture which even most priests could not understand. Tyndale paid with his life. He was charged with heresy, half strangled then burned at the stake in Belgium. He was killed on the orders of Thomas More who was later made a saint. Ironically, only three years later, Henry VIII commanded there should be an English Bible in every church, and the version issued was largely Tyndale.

Other versions followed, but they were of variable quality until exactly 400 years ago the King James or Authorized Version was published. This was the only Bible I had when I was young. We knew no other. It was still the version I was given when made a priest in 2004. The language, of course, is unparalleled. 75% of the material is still largely Tyndale. The words and phrases have entered our collective consciousness. They have a unique beauty. The language is concise and clear. Instinctively we use phrases such as a stumbling block, kill the fatted calf, holier than thou, money is the root of all evil, physician heal thyself and so on. All from the King James Bible.

Just as you would not read an instruction manual for your iPhone in 16th century language, it is unwise to rely on such a translation for your whole reading of Scripture. For one thing, many of the words are outmoded, and many important manuscripts have been discovered even last century that correct many errors. That does not mean we should resort to some of the truly awful modern translations, several of which are still produced each year. There are beautiful, poetic, and accurate versions like NRSV and NIV you can buy which combine majesty of language, even read aloud, with good scholarship.

Likewise we should not rely solely on services from the Book of Common Prayer. They have their rightful place, although I for one, whilst admiring everything else about last month’s Royal Wedding, was sad the couple chose the 1662 service which hardly reflects a modern view of the equality of both partners in marriage.

So, whilst rightly celebrating the stupendous achievement of the martyr William Tyndale, and his legacy found in the King James Bible, we should remember that Scripture is for our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (II Timothy 3:15-17) and that, despite numerous movies, God does not exclusively speak to his world in Shakespearean English.

The Revd. Robert Wright

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Holy Spirit

Sermon in the Methodist Chapel 29 May 2011

Reading Acts 17.22-31

22Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

Second Reading 1 Peter 3.13-22

13Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel John 14.15-21

Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.

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.

Jesus said to his disciples: 15‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

Holy Spirit – what do we associate with the Spirit – what is the Spirit like? – what experience have we of the Spirit? – how does relationship between members of Trinity work?

Spirit-filled worship – does that sound attractive to you? Or do you associate it with people falling down, speaking in strange sounds, waving arms in air?

In Scripture – many pictures of HS. Spirit broods over water in Creation. Psalmist asked God not to take HS from him. Mary became pregnant by HS. HS appeared as dove, as cloven tongues of fire, and as wind.

In preaching, HS is not often named or described in detail. Somehow we are afraid to do so. Our knowledge is so sparse. And what we do see, we are often very dubious about. We talk about the HS at Pentecost, but only to try and explain the Trinity. That’s hard enough. Easier to talk about a God who is creator and sustainer, or Jesus as redeemer, the incarnate God. But somehow talking of the Spirit is to tread on dangerous ground.

At Last Supper, Jesus talks about separation. Disturbing prospect. But there is comfort. He will send the Holy Spirit.

The disciples will be bereft. They will feel abandoned. But Jesus says he will not leave them as orphans. He promises to come to them in a different form. Where he is, they will be also. Because I live, you also will live he says to them.

That’s all very well for them, but what about us? They have seen and experienced the Lord. They have spent time with him. They have seen and heard him with their own eyes and ears. We have not.

So what does he promise after the resurrection? Something or someone who is present but absent. A paracletos – which is translated Advocate. παρακληπός

Does this strike you as odd? An advocate is someone who appears for you in court. It may be someone called to your side when you need help. A professional who advocates a particular cause. A person who pleads your case with authorities when you cannot act effectively for yourself.

From this you might think the Holy Spirit brings up our case before God in the hope he will be merciful. Isn’t that what an advocate would do? But that can’t be right. Think about it. Isn’t God already merciful? Has he not through abundant grace offered us the way of redemption, freely, without measuring our sins, through faith in Jesus Christ alone?

No – I believe the Advocate works in the other direction. The Advocate is the Spirit of God. He sits alongside God. The Spirit mediates God to us, not us to God.

God has already given the gift of love unstintingly through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life. The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter.

Didn’t Jesus do that as well? Didn’t he speak to us of the love of God? Didn’t he show us what God is like? Yes, he did. And that should not surprise us. Jesus made it clear, the Holy Spirit could not come to us until he had gone to the Father. Even in today’s reading, he says:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

The functions might be the same, but the Holy Spirit is not Jesus, and he is not the Spirit. Jesus glorified God, but the Spirit glorifies Jesus too. Both bear witness to the truth and expose the world’s wrongs, but the Spirit did not die for our salvation. The Spirit continues the work of Christ, but cannot replace him or what he did for us.

The Holy Spirit is rejected by the world, in the same way that Jesus himself was. The world here means those people who are alienated from God. So the Spirit acts as advocate, filling our hearts, teaching us what to say and how to act, disclosing to the world the truth about the life and death of Jesus and what it means, if the world will only pause and listen.

This picture of God’s advocate is closer to the still, small voice, the sound of sheer silence, than it is to the tongues of fire or the noise of Spirit-filled worship. It’s closer to our needs – the advocate who will be with us forever. It’s more like having Jesus alongside us, inside our very being, guiding us, convicting us, speaking to us of God, than an influence that affects many people at the same time. Both, no doubt, are valid. Feeling the Spirit in our worship is important, even where only two or three are gathered together.

How will be know? How can we be sure? First, because that is the promise of Christ in John 14. Second, because as Christians we will know him, even though the world does not recognise the Spirit or the Spirit’s influence. Third, because the Spirit lives in us all the time, to be with us. All we have to do is be silent and listen. Listen for the Spirit who is there.

17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Our Emmaus Journey of Faith

Cheddington St Giles – Easter 3 – 8 May 2011

First Reading Acts 2.14a,36-41

Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

“Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Gospel Luke 24.13-35

Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
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.

That same day two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.

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


Acts – written by Luke – both about surety and conviction. Acts starts

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

Luke wasn’t there – not eye witness. His gospel begins:

I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

That you may know the certainty... Peter – denied Christ 3 times – after crucifixion has no doubt. What we heard is end of his Pentecost sermon. States boldly what he saw. “Brothers, I can tell you confidently...” “Therefore let all be assured...” “We are all witnesses to the facts...”

How did apostles who denied, hid, and betrayed in such a short time come to this conviction of certainty? It was by faith, bestowed on them through Holy Spirit.

Peter’s outspoken conviction confronts the crowd who plotted Jesus’ death. They themselves are convicted. Blood on their hands. Complicit in their guilt. They were cut to the heart, and asked ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Greek verb for repentance is metanoeo. Combination of meta meaning with or after, and noeo meaning perceive or think. Repent is having second thoughts. Changing your thinking. Criticising yourself, then coming to a new conviction. This follows from inspiration of Holy Spirit in our lives and hearts.

It was a very different picture during and immediately after crucifixion. Road to Emmaus – many people’s favourite story. And mine. Like a road movie – disciples meet a stranger – turns out not to be what he seems – has a profound effect by what he says and does – brings about a turning around, metanoeo, repentance, thinking again, new conviction – whatever – but profound and complete.

It was the same day when Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. First day of week. Two men in gleaming clothes like lightning meet the women. ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen! Remember what he told you in Galilee?’

The way Peter and apostles acted could not, I think, be down to faith. Not so profound a change. Not so soon. That’s not my experience. Faith ebbs and flows. Takes time, prayer, hard work. Pitfalls. Setbacks. Revelations. Ups and downs.

Two frightened fugitives escaping. They know something of what Mary found. But 3 days have passed, and Jesus has not reappeared. They are full of despair, shattered dreams, forlorn, all hope lost.

Walking a couple of hours out of Jerusalem. Lying low. Going home. Away from the heat of retribution. Outlaws going into hiding.

Who is Cleopas? We have no idea. Except he is probably in outer circle of followers of Jesus. His companion isn’t even named. Odd. But they had close knowledge of events, and were welcomed back when returned from Emmaus with their news. So must be more than observers.

The story is full of movement. They go. They walk. They go in and eat. They turn back. Why? Because, like us each week, they have recognised Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

You see, it’s not just a road movie, an account of what happened in real time, a turning again – back to Jerusalem where the Messiah was meant to appear. No – it’s more than that. It’s a parallel of what happens in our lives. It’s symbolic of our journey of faith.

How often do we doubt? Faith grows cold. We question. The hope of redemption grows cold. We slowly walk away, back to reality as we see it? We endlessly talk. Try to make sense of it all.

But then a chance encounter. No one special. Just passing the time on the road, waiting for a plane, on a ferry, just hanging out. The stranger has to be almost forced to stay for dinner. He is keen to be getting on, but it’s night and the road is dangerous. It almost seems like the revelation is unplanned. But something makes them insistent, and he stays to break bread with them.

It wasn’t his place to break bread. That was for the host. But Jesus naturally takes the role of Good Shepherd, providing for them, feeding them, caring for his own, the lost ones who were bereft after all that had not come to pass as they had hoped.

In Luke, Jesus spends a lot of time feeding others, eating with them, spending time with people who would not be given house room by the respectable. Us, in other words. Us, in our sin.

Or you might say that Cleopas and his friend are also us. Frightened. Hiding. Weak in faith. Saddened by our diminished hope. But suddenly, our eyes can be opened. We can’t control the Holy Spirit, who opens eyes when we least expect it. And sometimes, alas, closes them.

But from this story, today, as we are about to break bread together, we may find that Jesus walks with us, and reveals himself to us. We might have a glimpse of the Lord, as we reflect on the Road to Emmaus – our road – our journey of faith. Amen

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Unbelieving Thomas

Easter 2 – St Giles Cheddington

Gospel John 20.19-32

Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
All Alleluia.

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

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

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


You may wonder
2 great readings – Holy Spirit – preachers tend to go on about Thomas. Or ask curate to preach. Why? We want to save Holy Spirit for Pentecost on 12 June. That explains why you hear sermons on Thomas on Easter 2. I don’t want to get stuck on him, but I do want to use the opportunity to ask what it means to believe.

Thomas is stuck with moniker ‘Doubting.’ For centuries. Who can blame him for doubting – he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to other disciples. They told him about it afterwards ‘We have seen the Lord!” Would you have believed? Or would you want more proof?

Unbelieving Thomas
More correct translation of apistos - unbelieving. Favourite word in John’s gospel. Verb not noun. Says something about what it is to believe.

When we say “We believe...” e.g. Creed – we then list number of doctrinal statements. In one God. Jesus the Son. Holy Spirit. Maker of heaven and earth. Death and resurrection of Jesus. etc

Likewise – Thomas asked to believe in resurrection of Jesus without any evidence of his own eyes. No wonder he was apistos. But there came, through Grace, a second chance. Like Lost Sheep Thomas was not abandoned. Jesus, Good Shepherd, sought him out. Then Thomas entered into relationship with risen Christ for himself. Not because of what he was told to believe. But his relationship directly with the risen Christ himself.

Instead of second chance let’s say there were two stages to Thomas’s belief. First, what he was taught to believe. We have seen the Lord. That resulted in his unbelief. Then second, he entered into a relationship and saw with his own eyes. Then he believed.

What then happened is Thomas’s testimony. Not You are the Lord. Or You are God incarnate. Instead “My Lord and my God.” Thomas’s response is personal.

Two stage belief
Thomas was not the only one to doubt. When Jesus first appeared to Mary in the garden, she tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Did they immediately accept her word? Did they at once respond with That’s wonderful – now we believe Christ has risen too? No – like Thomas, they wanted more proof. Seeing is believing – then they were persuaded. Again, a two stage process.

Then there was the Samaritan woman at the well. She left her water jar, and went to tell the other villagers she had found the Messiah. It was only later, after they entered into their own relationship with him, that they truly believed.

"It is no longer what you said, but we have heard for ourselves." That was the second stage.

I am the Door
Back in chapter 10, Jesus described himself as Good Shepherd. Thomas had his second chance. So do we – and a third, fourth, fifth and so on to infinity. God’s grace knows no bounds, no limits, no last chance. But Jesus also said he was the Door, or Gate to the sheepfold.

In chapter 20, disciples behind locked doors. Same word in Greek. Thura. Jesus was the door to the sheep. And Jesus miraculously appeared in the Upper Room even though the doors were secured. He became the door to the sheep, his disciples, us.

Thomas may have thought about his previous appearance in chapter 14, when he said “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus gave him a similar answer. This time, not the Gate or the Door but “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Here again we have the second stage of belief. To really know the Father through his incarnate Son.

On this first Sunday after Easter, the real deal is all about belief and not doubt. The belief that comes from the Holy Spirit, poured out into our hearts. Through that Spirit we can pass from the first, academic, doctrinal stage of belief to the second, personal, relational.

You can believe in the resurrection all you want – and belief in the empty tomb is an essential if you are to be a true Christian. But that’s not the point.

Like any doctrine, the resurrection is just the resurrection. It’s incredible – which is another way of saying unbelievable. It could end there, except for the second stage. This is to be in that personal relationship which accepts Jesus as the Resurrection, the Door, the Gate, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus says to us the same as he said to Thomas. Stop doubting and believe. Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

That means us. Amen