Sunday, 27 November 2011


Reading 1 Corinthians 1.3-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Gospel Mark 13.24-37

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
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: “In those days,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

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


Let me ask you – what are the signs of the coming season? Christmas, I mean. And when do you start seeing them?

When I was in retail, we planning Christmas Stationery from the beginning of May. It opened on September 7. Many people thought that was too early. But there were queues on the first day. Some folks just lived for Christmas. Others had to catch the last posting date to new Zealand, which was surprisingly early.

What other signs are there? TV ads for gifts from October. Christmas lights from mid November. Christmas markets. Santa hats everywhere. Increasing panic – like the man who rushed in as the shop was closing on Christmas Eve and bought his wife a vacuum cleaner. Bet he had a good festive season.

Cards in the post. Happy Holidays for the politically correct. All those tedious annual descriptions of the children’s achievements.

Today is Advent Sunday. It signals a period of waiting for the coming of Jesus.

Mark describes the drama of the Son of Man played out in 3 acts.

Act 1 starts on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is hailed Son of David. He moves in and out of the Temple, and is challenged by the authorities, both religious and secular. Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes.

Act 3 is the Passion narrative. It starts at the Last Supper and ends as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried before sundown.

That leaves Act 2. Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel. Today we read the last few verses. Jesus teaches his disciples the truth of God’s presence. They ask when the end of time will come. Jesus tells them the signs to look out for, but warns them only the Father knows the time of the apocalypse.

This reading inaugurates the Advent season for us. All around us we hear silver bells. Ho ho-ing Santas. Jollity. Christmas carols. The faces of smiling children.

The church, on the other hand, offers us this text:
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken”

What chance does that have against Santa Claus is coming to town? What relevance do all these cosmic signs and dire warnings have for the Advent season?

Well, one could be forgiven for thinking a secular Christmas is a lot more fun, but as we know, so many of its signs and portents are empty ones. About a third of the whole year’s profit in department stores comes at Christmas. But what does it signify? What is Christmas really all about? Sweaters you would not buy for yourself. Toys that break down before Boxing Day? Kids who prefer to play with the wrapping than what was inside?

What is inside Advent? What presents are we offered? The incredible promise within this passage is that which expresses the very heart of what we preach in Advent. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (13:31).

Amidst the chaos of this time of year, we hear a promise that transcends the cultural focus of our time. The transitory frenzy of our preparations for this grand secular event offer nothing truly meaningful. But this is where our word of the coming of the Messiah should, and does mean so much more. It is permanent and will not let us down. It will not disappoint. It will keep on, even when the decorations come down and once proudly lit up trees wait collection lying on the pavement.

During Advent, we are commanded to remain alert. Keep awake. We are told this three times, in case we were not alert enough to hear it once. What are we waiting for? Well, the coming of Jesus, naturally.

At the end of Advent, Jesus comes as a child in Bethlehem. But he comes also, not as a baby, but as the Son of Man. He comes as the Messiah. He comes in the evening. He comes at midnight. He comes at cock crow. He comes at dawn. All these times are given us in Mark 14 and 15. The cross is present during the Advent season, because of the coming of the Son of Man. This is as important as the coming of Jesus as a baby, born in Bethlehem. The two are inseparable. This is the real Advent message, which remains permanent and vital as the emblems and icons of secular Happy Holiday wishes die away, and reality intrudes on our consciousness.

Hear the closing promise of Jesus, the Son of Man, in light of all that has been said in this marvellous Advent text: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (13:31). Likewise, the final word of our Advent text is a word of urgency and watchfulness: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (13:37).

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christ the King

First Reading Ezekiel 34.11-16,20-24

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.”

Gospel Matthew 25.31-46

Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.
All Alleluia.

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

Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

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


Luke Woollard is about to be baptized. The words we use are as up to date as we can make them. But still they have a very ancient flavour. Baptism is a joyful occasion, and there are words of welcome and joy. It’s not a naming ceremony, but still we give thanks for Luke’s safe arrival and make promises to care for him and start him on his journey through life.

As Luke is not of age to answer for himself, his parents and god parents make promises on his behalf. Luke can then choose to confirm those promises if he wishes when he is of an age to do so. Meantime, his friends and family are asked to protect him from evil and live their lives in such a way as to give Luke a good example to follow. The wording is ancient, but the promises timeless.

So, whilst baptism is a time of rejoicing, there is a dark side to life which we must all acknowledge. We see it all around us. And it would be wrong if we did not make mention of the bad things as well as the good when we welcome Luke into membership of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

Today in the church’s calendar is called Christ the King. It’s the last Sunday in the church’s year. Advent starts next week. During Advent, we look forward to the coming of Jesus, born at Christmas.

Just as there is a serious intention in our baptismal service, so on the feast of Christ the King we see a different side to Jesus and the implications of right and wrong, of love and neglect, of selfishness and selflessness. Much of what is in the gospels is about love. Jesus, as God incarnate – God in bodily form – at the end of times will be the judge, and we will all have to account for the way we have lived our lives.

Matthew 24 and 25 concern the end of the age. Christ the King is asked about what signs there will be to herald the end of time. The day and the hour are unknown, he replies. Only God knows. So we must be ready. We must keep watch, for none of us can tell when we will be called to account.

Jesus uses the example of sheep and goats. The good and righteous are separated from the bad. He tells the bad that they have neglected him. They have not fed Jesus when he was hungry. They have not taken care of him when he was destitute. They did not visit him in prison. They did not offer him a glass of water when he was parched.

When was this? They ask indignantly. The answer come back that when they did not take care of the underprivileged and needy here on earth, they were neglecting Christ himself. Because we, as Christians, must see the face of Jesus himself in all humanity, and act accordingly. Giving when there is need. Making personal sacrifices to help others. Feeding the world’s hungry, and selflessly doing good.

It’s such a clear and simple message, yet it comes with a sting in the tail. That’s the message of Christ the King. So it’s appropriate that we adopt this lifestyle and accept this faith for ourselves, so we can impart it to Luke as he grows up. Every week, I see him changing. Getting bigger and stronger. Doing more for himself. It’s a pleasure and a joy for me to watch all the Church Mice as they progress from one step to the next.

Every baptism we attend offers the chance for us all to restate our own baptism vows. Let us affirm the service says together with the one who is being baptized our common faith in Jesus Christ. As we come to that part of today’s service, let’s make it count. Not as witnesses of an event taking place in front of our eyes. But as participants and supporters, who each rededicate ourselves to that way of living which Jesus describes in Matthew 25.

Where else can I finish, but with the words of Christ the King:
‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Amen

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance 2011


Reader 1
Hear these words of the New Testament from John’s gospel
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Reader 2
Hear these words of the New Testament from the letter of James

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace

Reader 3
Hear these word of the New Testament from the first letter of John

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

This is the word of the Lord.

Gospel John 15

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

17 This is my command: Love each other.


Jesus in John 15 is talking about love. He says God loves him and he loves us. If you love someone, you want to do what pleases them. If you know something upsets someone you love, you want to try not to do it. That’s what love is all about. That’s what follows from loving another person.

And so, when Jesus asks us to love him, it follows that we will want to do what he commands us to do, just like he himself does God’s will. Love each other, he says, as I have loved you.

Christianity is not complicated. It’s not hard to understand. Doesn’t take months of study, or a degree to discover what it teaches. No, it’s simple. Love God. Love one another. Treat others just as you would want them to treat you. Simples – as the meerkat would say.

Sadly, life doesn’t always work out as it should. Instead of love, there is conflict in the world. Instead of friendship and neighbourliness there can be misunderstanding. Instead of love, there can be resentment, even hatred.

In these situations, Jesus still asks us, out of love for him, to follow his commands. What are they?

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this:

38 You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'

39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

War, then, is a failure. Not something to be glorified or desired. But that does not mean we should not remember those who fought for the freedoms we all enjoy. We should give thanks for their sacrifice. We should remember them. Not only those who fought in WW2 but all the other conflicts that have occurred since then with unfortunate regularity.

So when Jesus says:

13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

…he is not saying that dying for others is a good thing. He is not glorifying martyrdom. But he is recognising that the ultimate sacrifice sometimes has to be made, through the sin of us all in failing to live as he would have us live.

He himself is an example, being tortured and dying on the cross. He did not have to die. Salvation and atonement was freely offered by God through grace. But, through the sin of evil people, Jesus did die, and the result for us is forgiveness of sins, through faith in him.

So that’s the message of remembrance Sunday. Not glorifying war, but remembering the sacrifices of those caught up in it, so that we may be free, and hopefully work to avoid it in future.

So now let us affirm our faith, and pray for those who continue to suffer as a result of conflict. Amen


Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:
for the service men and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief
and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For all members of the armed forces
who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends
and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence
the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For peacemakers and peacekeepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
All Amen.

All Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.


God grant to the living grace,
to the departed rest,
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all people,
unity, peace and concord,
and to us and all God’s servants,
life everlasting;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
All Amen.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

6 November 2011 at St Giles

First Reading Wisdom of Solomon 6.12-16

12Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
13She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
14One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
15To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
16because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

Gospel Matthew 25.1-13

Alleluia, alleluia.
Stay awake, praying at all times
for the strength to stand with confidence before the Son of man.

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: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

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


Whoever wants to be wise, says Solomon, should get up early in the morning. Wisdom is easily found by those who seek her. Wisdom seeks out those who look for her. She graciously appears to them. She meets them in every thought. Wisdom, notice, in Scripture is feminine.

The parable of the bridesmaids in Matthew 25 is part of what theologians call the eschatological discourse. It covers two chapters – 24 and 25. Eschatology literally means studying the end. The end of time. The return of Jesus. The last judgement. The coming in fullness of the Kingdom.

As usual, Jesus teaches in parables. His disciples find him alone, on the Mount of Olives. They have a question for him. “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” He replies with a long list of cosmological signs, and warnings about what will happen on earth. Scary stuff. But then Jesus tells three stories. First the bridesmaids (or 10 virgins); then the 8 bags of gold; and lastly the sheep and the goats.

Our story today is a very feminine one. The bridegroom makes a cameo appearance. All the other characters are young women. Wisdom is feminine – but only half the 10 bridesmaids are wise.

The story’s setting is significant. The prophet Zechariah says the Lord will return and will be recognised as King over all the earth, and will stand on Mount Olivet. Jesus starts with a familiar phrase: “The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this…” So there’s no doubt what his teaching is all about. There’s a wedding feast, a banquet, a big celebration – all signs of the Kingdom throughout the gospels.

You can retell the story for children in terms they understand. Imagine the 10 young women are driving in their cars to a big family get-together. Half of them fill up with enough fuel to get them there. The look at Google Maps. They know the precise distance.

The other half fill their tanks. They allow for delays and hold-ups. They know how misleading a Tom Tom can be. So, when it turns out the destination is much further than the reckoned, half the drivers are running short of petrol. They need to fill up urgently. But they know if they divert to the nearest garage, they will be late and miss the beginning of the party. So they stop and ask the others to spare some of their fuel. But the ones who filled up know that if they share, all of them will run short, and none will make it in time. So they refuse to stop and the party gets under way.

The foolish bridesmaids, on the other hand, find fuel, fill up, but are very late. The doors are locked. The bridegroom refuses to let them in. Their invitations are not recognised. They are shut out in the cold. Tough.

The story is about endurance. Remaining faithful to the end. Many of the faithful will fall away, Jesus is saying. They will not endure. I pray that we will not be like the foolish bridesmaids, but will rise up early and seek wisdom.

The point is that in Jesus’ day it was almost certain the bridegroom would be delayed. Why? Because he had to go and fetch his bride from her home, and she, of course, was never ready. And even if she was, there was often last minute negotiations with the bride’s father about the gifts to be exchanged. The price paid for his daughter. Hours might pass, in Middle Eastern weddings, before all was ready. It was predictable.

The bridesmaids had to wait, but their job was to greet the bride and groom with a procession of light. So the oil lamps were an integral part of the marriage. They should have planned for a delay. It was virtually certain. That’s the whole point of the parable.

Nor is the choice of lamps incidental. Jesus is the light. Jesus comes into the world as the light, banishing all darkness. So it’s right and proper the end of time is signalled by a procession of light. Jesus himself, I think, is the bridegroom.

There’s a clear message, for us, at the end of the story in verse 13. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Keep awake. Be vigilant, it means, because Jesus could return today, or tomorrow, or next week. Like the parable, his timing is uncertain but like the bridesmaids we must be awake, prepared for any eventuality, primed and ready to greet him with our lights trimmed and burning brightly.

Some of you may, in the past, have felt secretly sympathetic towards the foolish maidens. But maybe that’s a lesson in itself? The church, and many Christian people, behave as if there will be aeons of time. Do they, and does the church behave like the foolish bridesmaids, who are unprepared and are caught unawares? Have they fallen away? Are their lamps dimmed, or even running out altogether?

To live in vigilance means that we are to be busy doing those tasks we have been appointed to do in preparation for the Master’s coming. In Matthew's Gospel, those tasks include bearing witness to God’s kingdom by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46), and making disciples in all the world (28:19-20).

Today’s Old Testament reading finished at verse 16, but goes on like this:

Wisdom of Solomon 6.17-20

17 The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,
18 and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,
19 and immortality brings one near to God;
20 so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

So let us choose Wisdom, for the desire for her leads to a Kingdom – the Kingdom of God. Amen

Friday, 4 November 2011

All Saints

First Reading Revelation 7.9-17

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God forever and ever.

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Second Reading 1 John 3.1-3

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Gospel Matthew 5.1-12

Alleluia, alleluia.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people,
called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
All Alleluia.

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

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’


4 before Advent. All Saints – transferred from 1 November.

Picture of saints – we think of martyrs, those who have lived unique, special and blameless lives and died for their faith. These are the saints.

Revelation portrays them. Wearing white robes. Standing before the throne, and the Lamb. A great multitude no one could count. From every nation and language.

These are the saints who have come through great tribulation and been purified. Their white robes sign of cleansing, through blood of Christ. But is this the only picture of the saints we have? I have another picture here. I’ll pass the picture round...

Mirror – these are the saints as Paul describes them.
. . .to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” I Corinthians 1:2

The word Jesus uses is makarios. Those with long memories may think of Archbishop Makarios, primate of Cypriot orthodox church, later president of republic of Cyprus. Name means blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged.

Makarios – the happy ones. That’s how the early church described themselves. Saints and martyrs, rather than church members.

It all sounds rather farfetched when you consider what they went through. Many were persecuted, killed for their faith, shunned. Yet they called themselves happy ones. Jesus in the Beatitudes does not strike a happier note either. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, those who are reviled and persecuted. Even they are to rejoice and be glad, he says. Why? Because their reward is great in heaven.

So whatever happens to us here on earth, however difficult life might become, regardless of the way we are treated because of our faith, we are makarios because of what is in store for us after the curtains come down on our short time her on this earthly stage.

Our blessing, and theirs comes through the Kingdom of Heaven. As we know, the Kingdom does not exist only after the end of time but here, on earth, right now. It is present to us now, here in this place, where we are gathered together. Why? Because we all share and display the values of the Kingdom. Providing we live in poverty of spirit, we are blessed and sanctified as Jesus has promised in the Beatitudes.

The Kingdom of heaven has come near. That’s what John the Baptist preached. Those same words were given to the disciples when they were sent out on mission. That was the message Jesus gave them to preach.

Living the values of the Kingdom helps bring about the Kingdom in the here and now. Those who show mercy. Those who work for peace. Those who are poor in spirit, who do not lord it over others, those who are pure in heart – to them belongs the Kingdom, and it is those people who are sanctified by Christ and called Saints. Through them, Jesus brings about the possibility of goodness.

What does all this mean to us, the latter day saints, those of us who are at this service today? It means we align ourselves with all the saints of the past. Those who have run their course. Those who have gone before us. Those who now enjoy their reward in the nearer presence of God in heaven. We carry on the work they carried on from those who went before them.

We like them live according to the Kingdom values Jesus outline in the Sermon on the Mount. Our blessings reside both now, as well as in the future.

It’s not that we look only to the future, or look back to those saints of the past. No, we are living even now within and under the reign of God. We don’t fully understand what this means. It’s enough to accept we are fully in God’s hands, and trust in him.

We are blessed to share in the Kingdom right now, whilst moving towards a new creation in the future. And at the end time, we will receive the rewards of those who have remained faithful to the last. Past and present, not just a hope of things to come.

All this is fine in theory, but where can we get inspiration from? Who can we follow? In the past, people tried to emulate the saints. They were examples of sacrifice and sanctity. But if we are all saints, we need to be on the lookout for people who bring alive the Kingdom of God in our midst. Those who endure hardship themselves whilst dedicating their lives to others. Those who have selflessly found their ministry in the service of their fellow human beings. Very often, such people are almost invisible. They work in the background. Their whole lives are spent helping the sick, frail or others in need. They are the true meek whose trumpets are unheard, yet whose Christian sacrifice is well known to God. Think for a moment of anyone you know who is like that. Instead of admiring them, can you not follow their good example. The Big Society is absolutely the wrong description for such as they are. Yet these are the saints we should all aspire to copy. And by seeing in their faces the likeness of Christ himself, we are copying Jesus.

The other reading set for today puts it rather well. It’s from I John:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.


All Souls

Reading Romans 13. 8-10

Love, for the Day Is Near

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.

9 The commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbour as yourself.

10 Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

Gospel John 6

35 Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.


I have just started reading a new book by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It’s called The Great Partnership. The book is all about the two rival positions. The New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, who say you must be sad, mad or bad to have a faith and believe in a God. And that half of the world’s population who are Christian, Jewish or Islam and have faith in one God.

Most people see this a Science v. Religion, but it really isn’t. Many scientists are open to debate and reason concerning what cannot be seen or proved. Equally most of us who have a faith do not for one moment regard science as incompatible with it.

The new atheists have launched an aggressive assault on religion, and it’s a pretty bleak picture they paint.

For them, there was nothing before the Big Bang. The universe emerged 13.7 years ago from an unimaginable vast explosion for no reason whatsoever. Everything else that developed just happened despite massive improbabilities and coincidences. And at the end of all this, there will be nothing, just as there was at the beginning.

If the new atheists are asked “Why are we here?” or “What is the meaning of life?” the answer is silence. Faith, to them is fiction dressed up as fact. We have no souls.

On All Souls’ Day, when we have all gathered together to celebrate and remember with gladness and joy all those who have meant so much to us and whose lives have touched our own in a particular and special way, in faith, hope and confidence we prefer a very different picture.

The universe was called into being by One who is outside the universe. Eventually life formed and evolved, and messages broke through now and then from this creator to his created beings. Jonathan Sacks stops at Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, of course, but for Christians we don’t have to be content with the God who called himself I am who I will be but we can see him more directly and clearly in Jesus through the gospels.

This is profoundly important to us, especially on a day like this. Our hope for the future is that at the end of time, and at the end of our time, there is meaning and not just nothing. Let me read you again what Jesus said in John’s gospel chapter 6:

38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

In one sense, what awaits us remains a mystery. In another sense, what Jesus promises couldn’t be clearer. I go to prepare a place for you he says later in John’s gospel. It’s a reading often given at funeral services.

2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told 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. I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me