Monday, 24 December 2012

Midnight Mass

St Giles Cheddington – 24 December 2012

First Reading Isaiah 9.2-7 Chris

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Gospel Luke 2.1-14(15-20)

Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory. John 1.14
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.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

There were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

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

Sermon

· 8th C BC prophecy applied to coming of Jesus Christ.

o Original coronation of child king

o Hopes for freedom from oppression – walked in political darkness – rule by Assyria – corruption

o Light dawned – rejoice – burden lifted – no more fighting

· Isaiah warned King Hezekiah what would happen – relied on Israel covenant people – but they had broken covenant with God

· Coronation of child king – what hope he will accomplish – what he will be like – wonderful counsellor, everlasting father, prince of peace – Mighty God?? No. Names apply to God?

· Name of King unknown – what accomplished? – fulfil promise?

o Is it right to apply specific prophecy to Jesus – was that foreseen or intended?

· Prophesies of Isaiah scattered through lectionary – deeply embedded in culture and liturgy – in our consciousness and music – hard to hear them without thinking of birth of Jesus

· Does it matter? – whether or not applied to Christ does not change what he is or what he did for us – like Luke’s infancy narratives.

· Child king did not bring about freedom – only God can do that.

o Hezekiah failed – disobedience broke covenant with God

· Likewise our own sin and disobedience – we can do nothing in our own power – God accomplished this in Jesus at Christmas and Easter

o Prophecy applies to all time – parallel to Israel and the child king – Jesus born a child – offers redemption for our sin and disobedience – frees from oppression

· Not just to Israel – for

... to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Message - not just for 8th C BC Israel – not even just for us today – but universal, for all time – the message of this night. Amen

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mary and Elizabeth (oh, and Hannah, Sarah and Micah too)

St Mary the Virgin Mentmore – 23 December 2012

First Reading Micah 5.2-5a

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labour gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be their peace.

Gospel Luke 1.39-45(46-55)

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

All Alleluia.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.

All Glory to you, O Lord.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon

In his Autumn statement two weeks ago – the Chancellor George Osborne squeezed us all, but for some strange reason he squeezed the rich and the poor more than those of us in the middle. Taking from the rich is all very fine, but shouldn’t we be acting more like Robin Hood and giving the proceeds to the poor.

The prophet Micah lived through a time of turbulence. It was the 8th century BC. Small countries like Judah were dominated by the power of the Assyrian empire. Micah foretold freedom from the yoke of Assyria. He prophesied a ruler would come, who would stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. Micah foretold a saviour would come, who would bring peace, nourishment and prosperity to the people who had been oppressed.

But this could not happen until the moral and social decay in the land had been purged. The poor were evicted from their property. Officials took bribes. Weights and measures in the marketplaces were fixed. The rich abused the poor. Corruption was rife.

God’s wrath was directed not only against the perpetrators of sin, but also against the prophets and religious leaders, who should have been standing up for the downtrodden and oppressed. In the end, out of devastation will come a time when righteousness and peace is restored. Swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and everyone will sit in the shade of their own vines, olives and fig trees.

We read the words of Micah’s prophesy as applying to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. We are right to do so – Jesus himself is steeped in Old Testament prophecy, and clearly applies many passages of Scripture to his own mission here on earth. The original prophecy was addressed to Micah’s contemporaries, but God speaks to all people at all times. God is outside time itself. So his words apply to Micah’s time, as well as to Jesus but also crucially to our own time. To regard Micah’s prophecy as merely foretelling the coming of the Saviour Jesus is to miss the word of God applicable to our own situation.

You see, God in Christ constantly turns everything upside down. Read the prophecy for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount did the same.

In today’s gospel reading, two women fill the frame: Elizabeth and her cousin Mary. Elizabeth, like her forebears Sarah in Genesis and Hannah from I Samuel is unable to bear children. Her condition was thought to be her fault. She was looked down upon by society. She was considered unable to fulfil her role as a woman. Yet here she was, miraculously 6 months pregnant, visited by Mary the mother of the Saviour foretold by the likes of Micah and Isaiah.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, is not just someone’s mother and someone’s wife. She is a prophet in her own right. Take note all those who are against the consecration of women bishops. Hannah’s song is much like Mary’s song. The first verse sounds much like the opening of the Magnificat:

"My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

Everything is upside down. God has brought down the mighty, and elevated the humble and meek. He has scattered the proud and fed the hungry. The rich go hungry. This idea of social justice is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Wrongs will be put right, and the coming of the Kingdom on earth means we must start the process right now.

Is this why big tax breaks for the rich feel so wrong at a time of long term austerity? Politics is about pleasing the majority of the people, or at least persuading them to go along with your policies. Politicians have in mind the chance of re-election, ahead perhaps of social justice, doing what’s right, and protecting the poor, needy and disadvantaged. In the past, when our administration and law were firmly founded on Christian principles, we could perhaps take it for granted that the Christian gospel message of social justice and care for the poor would be at the forefront of policy making, but alas no more. That’s where our faith informs how we act, not only towards our neighbours but also in the way we cast our votes and influence governments.

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Jerusalem

Midweek Holy Communion at St Giles 22 November 2012

First Reading Revelation 5.1-10

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

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

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

Gospel Luke 19

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

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

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

Sermon

Gospel reading from Luke 19 starts at v41. It’s about Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus had been teaching through parables. Now went on to Bethany and Mount of Olives. Here Jesus sent 2 disciples to prepare for Passover meal:

30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Whilst preparations being made, triumphal entry. NIV Jesus arrives as King. Disciples cry “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke them, but he would not.

Then Jesus laments over fate of Jerusalem, prior to entering Temple courts and overturning tables of traders and moneychangers.

Earlier in ministry, Messianic secret. Now in fulfilment of prophecy, Jesus openly declares himself Messiah. But in Luke’s account, only disciples welcome him, not crowds. Luke reports a lukewarm reception at best. Had the throng crowding Jerusalem for Passover acclaimed him, there would be less reason for Jesus to emphasize the fate of Jerusalem, which we know was overthrown and destroyed by Romans in 70AD.

But more than Messiah, more than Christ is Jesus’ divinity. Evident in Revelation. No one else was found worthy to take the scroll and break the seals. Only the Lamb who had been slain.

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

So now, with Jerusalem in ruins, salvation is for every nation and language, purchased by the blood of Christ through his death, which he knew to be his fate when he arrived in Jerusalem. Amen

Sunday, 4 November 2012

All Saints

Cheddington 4th November 2012

Gospel John 11.32-44

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.

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.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

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

Sermon

Chapter 11 of John’s gospel begins like this:
Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’

This chapter is usually called The Raising of Lazarus but Lazarus says nothing, and in fact most of the action revolves around Martha. Our reading starts, though, with Martha’s sister Mary. Mary accuses Jesus of delaying his return to Bethany. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says. For Mary, Jesus is partly to blame.

Why did Jesus deliberately delay answering the sisters’ call for two days? We don’t know. The fact was that an attempt had been made on his life in Bethany, when a crowd tried to stone him. It was natural he would be reluctant to return and expose both himself and his followers to danger. There’s a heavy irony in Thomas’s voice when he says: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Jesus’ excuse – if that’s the right word – is that he delayed “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” When Jesus eventually arrives at the outskirts of Bethany, Martha rushes out to meet him. Mary remains at home. By then, Lazarus had been dead more than 4 days. When shown the tomb, there follows the shortest verse in the Bible Jesus Wept.

Was that his divine nature, grieving over the suffering of humanity? Or was that Jesus’ humanity, mourning the loss of a dearly loved friend and the grief of his family?

In a sense, the raising from the dead is not the lesson we should take home from this gospel reading. Why? Well, Lazarus was clearly dead, and was brought back to life – but only for a time. The raising of Lazarus proves God’s power over life and death, but we all know and accept that anyway. Lazarus will die again, like all of us. No – I think the real message comes from the lips of Martha. Rather than The raising of Lazarus maybe the passage should be called The confession of Martha.

Martha and Mary are contrasts. In John 12 we either associate with the one sister or the other. One sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. The other beavers away in the kitchen. You could add that one acts like a woman in her day would be expected to act. The other doesn’t.

Here too, there are contrasts. Mary sighs and says “If only.” How often do we say the same, when it’s too late. Martha engages Jesus at a much deeper level. Famously, Jesus asks Martha to have faith. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha replies: ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

Out of bleak tragedy and darkness of the worst kind comes one of the greatest confessions and admissions in the whole of the New Testament. IT’s Martha’s ultimate statement of faith – made not by one of the male disciples but by a woman.

Like All Souls – the commemoration of the faithful departed – All Saints is meant to help us live our Christian lives by providing us with examples of faith we might learn from or even emulate. Martha of course is one such person. But so is Mary.

Ironically, the raising of Lazarus was a tipping point in Jesus’ ministry. As a result of what he accomplished, the Pharisees started plotting Jesus’ death for real. When Jesus returns to Bethany (which is just outside Jerusalem) 6 days before Passover, Lazarus threw a party in Jesus’ honour, at which Martha served and Mary anointed his feet with oil of pure nard. The sheer extravagance turned Judas into a plotter, along with the religious leaders.

All these characters are fallible, ordinary folk like ourselves. The saints – just a word for all Christians from the early church – are not necessarily special martyrs (although many are) but they offer us something special to follow, to copy and learn from. So do all souls – those people who have taught us the faith, those whom we have loved and see no more, those who have and continue to be important to us in very particular ways. That’s the value of this weekend – All Souls and All Saints. What did Martha do? She just believed.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” said Jesus. So they rolled away the stone. Amen

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Simon & Jude

Cheddington – Sunday 28 October 2012

Reading Ephesians 2.19-22

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Gospel John 15.17-27

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: “This is my command: Love each other.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

“When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

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

Sermon

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. That’s the promise conveyed in the letter written to the Ephesians.

Sounds like Downton Abbey. Jesus upstairs – chief cornerstone. Saints living in grand apartments, isolated from the world. Us – below stairs – butler, cook, kitchen maid, chauffeur, valet, or nursery maid. Rigid hierarchy, even amongst servants.

Who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’? On the face of it, we were ‘out’ – foreigners and aliens – but now we are ‘in’ God’s household. Slaves perhaps, serving him. But not in a servile way. Children. Heirs of the promise. Sisters and brothers of Jesus himself. Sons and daughters.

And his command for this household? Love one another. Quite a contrast to the bickering above and below stairs at Downton.

It all sounds cosy, but are we really ‘in’ or are we ‘out’? from the world’s perspective, we should indeed be ‘out.’ Rejected. Not belonging. Persecuted. Treated with contempt. Not listened to or obeyed. Reviled and hated without a reason.

If, though, we are not hated, but pillars of the community – liked, elected to club membership, accepted, part of everyone’s favoured inner circle, life and soul of the party, invited out to everyone’s dinner parties – what then? Is this cause for concern? If we are not sidelined, avoided, disliked for what we stand for, should we be worried that our faith has become lukewarm?

Yes and no. Our society is mainly benign, founded on Christian principles, albeit that they are being eroded. Often, we can exist as followers of Christ without the need to make waves. But sometimes, holding back, not speaking out, not being prepared to stand up and be counted when something is plainly wrong, not siding with the poor and dispossessed as we should, putting our own comfort before the manifest needs of others – all these can make us lukewarm.

The fate of the church in Laodicea is a salutary lesson to every church. In Revelation 3, it says:

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

It’s an indictment to us all. We consider ourselves rich, yet in God’s eyes we are poor, blind and naked. I remember Mike talking about a church which advocated tithing 10% of each member’s income. The richest woman said “Surely that doesn’t apply to everyone. In my case, 10% would be a huge sum. There’s got to be an upper limit.”

I laughed, like everyone else, but afterwards thought – yes, but isn’t that what we all feel, each in our own way? And if we are comfortably off, and want for nothing, do we still put a £1 coin in the collecting box of a worthy cause? Should our giving not only be more sacrificial, but also personal – giving of more than our small change, but our time, intelligence, commitment, dignity, and time?

I’m not pointing any fingers here – indeed, my own finger is pointed mainly at myself. Of course I should do more. Of course I should get stuck in. Of course, others in much greater need should take precedence. But don’t.

Mike went on to talk about the rich young ruler, who turned sorrowfully away because he had great wealth. Why was he asked to give away everything he had? Why were others asked for half, and some for none at all? What is your faith asking of you? What is my faith asking of me?

I don’t know, but I am sure of two things. One – now’s a good time to find out, as we prepare for the onset of Advent. Two – it’s got to be more than I give now, much more, not of charitable giving, but also self-sacrifice.

Perhaps the answer lies in the Spirit of Truth – the Paraclete or Advocate who stands alongside us, convicting us, testifying to the truth, comforting, advising, representing, and pleading for us with the Father. For in this household, of which we are members, as it says in today’s reading, in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. What is God’s Spirit saying to you? What is the Spirit saying to me? Amen

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ask and you will receive

Midweek Communion at St Giles Cheddington

Gospel Luke 11

5 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” 7 And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

9 ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

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

Sermon

Prayer – at heart of Christian life – source of joy, frustration and sometimes pain. Reading comes after Lord’s Prayer.

Longer sermon might include: How do we pray? How does God answer prayer? Why does God sometimes seem to ignore my prayers?

Jesus praying at a certain place. Disciples ask him to teach them how it is done. Jesus replies succinctly:

‘When you pray, say:

‘“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”’

That’s it! Bits included in Matthew left out. But follows with parables. Sounds like Jesus is telling us to be persistent, even cajoling. But meaning closer to shameless or bold.

Breadless man asks only once. Does not persist, but relies on his friend’s willingness to help. Bold and confident in his request, regardless of time of night and inconvenience of his request.

So we should be bold in making our petitions to God, not hold back, calling upon him to keep his promises to us his children, and reliant on his desire to give us both what we need, and what is good for us.

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

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Christian in Community

Combined service with Methodists – 30 September 2012

Reading James 5.13-20

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Sermon

Brought up evangelical – monthly communion – choruses – extempore prayer – informal worship. Non-sacramental environment. Thought of anointing sick with oils only for Roman Catholics – extreme unction

St George’s Campden Hill – Anglo-Catholic – genuflecting – incense – exposition of blessed sacrament. Caused some strife – Mary Mason’s funeral – holy water – incense – Shine Jesus Shine.

Here in Cheddington – no tradition – no label – middle-of-the-road. Danger lukewarm – neither one thing nor other – get run over.

I prefer to think – best of each tradition. Baptism – signing with sign of cross in oils. Anointing sick – home communion.

If anyone questioned – point to scripture. James – emphasis on personal responsibility in moral issues. James follows tradition of Deuteronomy – singles out Elijah as example of good man whose prayers were answered because he prayed earnestly. Yet he was just a man like us.

James is certain his prayer leading to healing and anointing with oil done in the name of the Lord. Following example of Jesus himself. Or think of Mark – sending out of disciples on mission. Mark 6:13

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.

Anointing with olive oil widely used in OT – Leviticus 14 e.g. in relief of leprosy. Anointing if kings – like modern day ordination – set apart to be holy or for a sacred purpose. Other examples you can think of.

2 weeks ago – email. In hospital – finding it hard to write because I haven’t been to church for a while – but I’m in trouble and badly need your prayers. In people’s minds – some sort of link between sickness and wrongdoing. Why has God done this to me and my family?

Job – all about sickness and trouble – whose responsibility? Job’s friends are convinced his misfortune must be result of his sin. It isn’t – but even though unpalatable to modern sensibilities, surprisingly there is an explicit link in James between anointing with oil and forgiveness of sins.

Perhaps we should do healing services in Cheddington? When people come up – stand in line – two members of congregation pray for them – priest anoints both hands with oil – folds hands together in gesture of receiving healing – heal you of all that harms you.

We might be sensitive about charismatic healing – too many perversions and TV evangelists seeking donations to their Toronto-blessing style ministries. James is clear this is not so much a personal charisma, but a community ministry by church members.

He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

So the sick are not left to pray for themselves, but the community joins in the effort on their behalf. I read an article last week about a young man diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a form of cancer. He listed help from his friends that he did not find helpful.

· Some things are meant to be – God’s plan

· Long battle against cancer – as if he fought it

· Berating God in prayer – always happens to nicest people

Best intervention from retired priest – no responsibility to pray for yourself – we are church family – we take on that task for you. Individual faith is commendable – but the plight of the gravely ill should not be made worse by feeling they are alone in their fight.

What then of link between healing and forgiveness? Did Jesus not pronounce forgiveness of sins before he healed? We are not Christ – but his body the church. If someone wanders from the truth says James it’s for us as a group of church members to bring him back. The link is clear – a community of support is to pray for a sick person – and a community of support is to care for those who have gone astray. We bear a mutual responsibility for each other.

The more we retreat into our own homes; the more we communicate only through email and social networking; the less we meet each other face-to-face – harder this becomes, and less effective. I sometimes think it’s harder to ask for help than to offer it. But love for others is essential component in Christian journey. Journey we make together, side by side. Like pilgrimage. We are all involved in each other’s lives, helping each other in our physical and spiritual journeys, and that’s the nub of the text from James.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.Amen

Friday, 28 September 2012

Wishing the Olympics would last for ever

View from the Vicarage – Village Newsletter

There are not many things in life we really don’t want to end. A memorable holiday. A run of fine warm and sunny weather. The Paralympic Games. A great concert. A family celebration. We all have our own list.

There’s a sadness when it’s time to move on. These past few weeks have been a case in point. Even those who had no interest in sport were caught up in the excitement of this most remarkable summer. We didn’t want it to end.

The question now being asked in various forms of media is What now? Will there be a lasting legacy? Will our attitudes towards disability change for good? Will the way we now feel about ourselves as a nation be transformed for ever? Fans of Andy Murray will say yes. Followers of cricket may not be so sure.

As with so many other aspects of the Christian life, wish fulfillment is turned on its head. We believe there is a transformed life to come. However good we feel about the here and now, or however bad, we look forward to what is to come with joy and hope.

It wasn’t always this way. When the early church spoke of the coming of Jesus Christ, they thought of a day of judgement. Nowadays, images of judgement are eclipsed behind our picture of a loving, compassionate God. Yet when we hear Jesus knocking at the door, should we not ask ourselves “Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God’s dwelling place?”

The wartime theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said ‘We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us.” Bonhoeffer went on to say that only when we have felt the terror of the matter can we recognise God’s incomparable kindness, cleansing and sanctifying us in the midst of evil and death. “God makes us happy, as only children can be happy.”

Bonhoeffer’s words came from a well-known Advent sermon. For him, Advent is a time of waiting, of self-examination, or preparedness. But Advent is not just an annual event running though December until Christmas. Our whole life is waiting for a new order, a new heaven and earth. We are not reluctant to move on, but full of hope.

When will this come to pass? The first disciples asked Jesus, and received no answer. Down the ages, countless people have asked the same question. The Bible talks of the Kingdom of God coming in like a thief in the night.

Bonhoeffer’s sermon ended with the words “Yes – come Lord Jesus.” He was not even 40 years of age when he died. In the last few days of the war, Bonhoeffer met his end at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Robert Wright

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Wisdom and Humility

Sermon at St Mary Mentmore – Sunday 23 September 2012

Reading James 3.13-4.3,7-8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Gospel Mark 9.30-37

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 and his disciples passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

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

Sermon

Choice of name for Olympic volunteers was telling. They were ‘Games Makers.’ When I first heard the description, it sounded overblown. How could group of untrained volunteers ‘make’ the Games? How could their contribution be so significant?

Many I know were well qualified: I met a man who had spent 30 days at both Games, spent £1,000 on travel, and was a skilled coach who worked with the athletes in their training and warm-up facilities. But the ones who were praised and lauded for their contribution were not the unseen ones, but those who directed the massed streams of humanity coming in and out of the Park, entertained them with singing and witticisms, and smiled. Yes they smiled and laughed a lot. Another man I met said his hands stung from all the high fives with children.

What does it mean to be a VIP? To be important. To be admired by others? The Church Times runs a weekly feature interviewing one person about their aspirations. One question is always “Who would you choose to be locked in a church with?” The answer is rarely a banker on a £2m salary; or a political leader; or even an Archbishop. Usually people choose a person who is not ‘important’ in the eyes of the world, but with who they could have an unending and fascinating conversation.

If I had been Lord Coe, or one of his colleagues who had taken all the risks and worked hard for 7 years to make the Games happen, I think I might have been just a little miffed that others who directed traffic got such high praise, and those who had the concepts and delivered the aspirations were given scant recognition. Yet that’s the way the book of James says things should be for a Christian.

Who is wise and understanding among you? asks James. Not the boaster. Not the person who harbours bitter envy of others. Not the one with the selfish ambition. Not someone who conceals the truth. Such wisdom, he adds, is earthly, not spiritual.

Just like the Games Makers who ‘made’ the Olympics and Paralympics for so many others, these people are Peace Makers. They are ‘peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.’

Many people don’t get what they want because they rely on themselves and not on God, or they ask with selfish motives. Peace Makers get what they want without the need for quarrelling or disputes, but by listening and aligning their wills to what God wants for them, and not what they think they want for themselves. Their kind of peace is the peace of the Lord. The kind we wish each other at every Communion service.

It’s hard to be counter-cultural. To run contrary to the established ways of the world. Our children are trained to be self-sufficient. To yearn for success by standing on their own two feet, getting ahead of others on the ladder, influencing other people rather than making friends of them.

Wasn’t this just what the disciples were arguing about on the road to Capernaum? Who would be the most important and influential in this new kingdom Jesus was talking about? Jesus stopped them arguing. He turned the conventional wisdom of self-help books on its head. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

When he took a little child as a live illustration of what he was saying, Jesus did not advocate here that his followers should become like little children. No – he says we should not be so important in our own eyes that we have no time for simpler folk, and that we take time to welcome them, for whoever welcomes little children in his name welcomes Jesus himself.

Back in the 1970’s there was a popular TV series called The Good Life. Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal played the young couple who produced their own food. Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith were their pretentious neighbours. The message was simple: those who think they are above others are actually below them.

For James, and for Jesus alike, submission, humility, childlike trust, charity and mercy represent the Good Life. The Christian way.

Submit yourselves, then, to God, says James. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Amen

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Love actually

Thursday Midweek Communion at St Giles

First Reading I Corinthians 8

8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Gospel Luke 6

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.

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

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

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

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

Sermon

Easy to modernise gospel for kids. If someone steals trainers, give them iPhone as well. Reaction outrage. No respect for anyone acting like a doormat. Anyone can walk all over them. Be strong. Stand up for self. Show what you are made of. Reject abuse and bullying.

Is this really how we are to behave? Jesus did, during arrest, trail and execution. But what about encounter with moneychangers? Exchanges with Pharisees and religious leaders? Was he not robust?

1. This is personal code – does not apply to countries and organisations. Invasion of Poland and resisting Nazi domination does not come into it.

2. Peaceful resistance not necessarily pacifist. Not always negative. What about Gandhi, Mandela, Bonhoeffer? Did Peace and reconciliation not achieve more lasting and real peace, because not based on being a doormat but on real and genuine repentance.

Perhaps more than pacifism, this philosophy of life is a rejection of the me-first generation. Do unto others – the golden rule. Love for enemies, as heading suggests. Not acting as others in the world act – but being recognisably different. Counter cultural.

In the Kingdom, the invited guest sits in the lowliest place. But he doesn’t stay there. He is promoted – invited to move up to a place of honour. He conquers through humility. And the Jesus movement starts that way, by rejecting the values of his day. Choosing to die for the cause, rather than live a lie. Who knows – in most cases turning the other cheek does not invite another slapped face, but puzzlement and a desire to find out more. To be reconciled.

love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Amen

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Holy Picnic

Sunday 19 August – 4 churches together at St Giles

Reading Ephesians 5.15-20

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel John 6.51-58

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: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

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

Sermon

Mary Berry – secondary modern – good for nothing except nursing or cookery. Sent to France by father. First night – ate horse meat – had left much loved pony behind – sobbed throughout evening – hosts thought her home sick.

A levels – Bromley – heart – Methodist couple – duty to eat what God put in front of me and be thankful.

Horror was mild compared to the reaction of the Jews to Jesus’ invitation that we eat his flesh. We are horrified by Shylock’s pound of flesh – something abhorrent about that demand for restitution – but if the Jews who followed strict rules concerning the preparation and consumption of meat were shocked by what Jesus said, then it was adding insult to injury to require of them that they also drink his blood. Scholars to this day argue whether his language was incarnational, or whether he was speaking figuratively of the Eucharist.

Just 4 weeks ago we read of the feeding of the 5,000 when those who sat down to lunch misunderstood what was going on. For them it was a miracle they all were satisfied – next day came back for more. But what was actually going on was the institution of Holy Communion, more important than the miracle of feeding, and a sacrament we still rehearse week by week to this day.

This time Jesus is not offering his hearers any choice. The first part of what he promises is positive. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Sounds like good choice – free, full of grace, why would anyone not rejoice?

What follows is a double negative. No choice this time. An absolute command. “…unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Many people say – “you don’t have to go to church in order to be a Christian.” What would they make of this verse? “…unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” How do we explain it?

If you were put off by the double negative, Jesus immediately follows up with “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” So the reference to “you have no life in you” does not refer to our life here on earth, but life eternal.

Don’t forget – this life is not attained through any form of doctrine – no need to believe in anything – this is achieved through a relationship. A personal experience of being with Christ which demands living in a particular way. Feeding that relationship with God through prayer. Nurturing that relationship with him through constant communication, listening, seeking and finding.

In case you thought the Christian life is all about self-denial and constant striving against sin, the prize offered is much more than you could ever imagine. Throughout chapter 6, Jesus develops his theme. We are offered:

· Life ongoing (v52)

· Raised up on the last day (v52)

· To abide in Jesus (v53)

· To have Jesus abide in me (v53)

· To live because of and for his sake (v53)

· To live forever (v58)

For those who during feeding of 5,000 misunderstood what was going on, now all is clear. It’s not about the bread. It’s not about the wine. It’s not even about what they represent – the body and blood of Christ. It’s about life with him.

Those picnickers interpreted what was happening literally, and came back for more. Like them, we can interpret the Eucharist at a literal level – argue about what is actually going on – fall out about the significance of the words and actions – and make the same mistake. We can see the literal level and miss the depth of riches that lurks just below the surface, unseen by those who take the literal interpretation.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Forgiveness

Midweek communion at St Giles – Thursday 16 August 2012

Gospel Matthew 18

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.

The parable of the unmerciful servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’

22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 ‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

29 ‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.”

30 ‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 ‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

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

Sermon

People ask about forgiveness. Marital affairs. Forgive once, but not twice. Yellow card. Jesus says 77 times. Or 70 times 7 – depending on translation. 7 a magic number. Both ways of expressing how many times = infinite.

Does this mean you will be taken for a mug, as a soft touch, a doormat? Maybe, or maybe not. We all know those lovely people who would forgive anyone anything. They are not treated worse necessarily, or taken advantage of.

That’s not the point, though. As Christians, our whole aim is to be like Jesus. WWJD?? He is incarnate God. How often do we expect our sins to be forgiven. Twice? Seventy times seven, and you’ve used up your lives. Or times without end?

If that’s what we expect of God, and that’s what we are taught, then that’s how we must behave towards our neighbours. Forgiveness is not unconditional though. You can only forgive when repentance is real and true. And that often means restitution. Putting matters right, as far as you can, to the best of your ability.

As the Lord’s Prayer says, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” Repentance, restitution, reconciliation – all ingredients leading to putting matters right with God and our neighbour, as far as we are able.

The point of the parable is clear. God forgave the servant a huge debt. One he could never repay in several lifetimes. In return, he was expect to forgive his fellow servants smaller debts, not by mere word, but ‘from your heart.’ Amen

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hearing but not hearing–seeing but not seeing

Cheddington Midweek Communion

Gospel Matthew 13.16-17

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

Jesus said, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

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

Sermon

Another short gospel reading Unlike last week, cannot be taken out of context. Part of parable of sower. One of only two parables with explanation – most have many, according to listener.

Before Jesus explained parable disciples asked “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Good question. Why not be clear? Why not make meaning plain. Improve communication. Even Sower explained only to select few.

Jesus replied “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables”

Secrets of the Kingdom Does that mean message of salvation deliberately withheld from some and not others? No, it means the gospel cannot be studied and understood academically. Not like reading a text book and understanding. The Word himself has to be accepted. You have to engage with Jesus – and live out the Christian life. Only that way will the message be received and understood in abundance. Others can only try to partially understand, but what little understanding they have will be lost to them.

It’s not that Jesus wants it to be this way – he quotes the prophecy of Isaiah:
You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

Why is this? – because people’s eyes and ears are closed – their hearts have become calloused – so they hear with their ears and see with their eyes but their hearts and minds are unaffected by what they hear.

But blessed are your eyes, ears and hearts – says Christ. Because many clever people heard but did not hear – saw but did not see – but your eyes are blest because they have seen and your ears are blest because they hear. And the result is that they, and we, receive healing. Amen

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A prophet in his Home Town

5th Sunday after Trinity

Gospel Mark 6.1-13

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 went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him.

Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

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

Sermon

We all know it too well. Life has its ups and downs. One minute everything is going well. We are on a high. Then suddenly several things go wrong, and we can be cast into disappointment and despair.

In the early chapters of Mark, Jesus’ ministry was a great success. In the synagogue at Capernaum, the people were amazed at his authority. His teaching through parables was not at all like the Scribes.
‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’ 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1)

He healed many people. He forgave them sins by his very words. Those who heard his teaching had faith in him. Only his family, thinking he was possessed, came to get him and save both him and themselves from disgrace.

By chapter 4, Jesus was teaching in parables – the Sower, the lamp stand, growing seeds. He demonstrated his power over the elements by calming the storm and saving his disciples (including seasoned fishermen) from drowning. ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (4:41)

In chapter 5, Jesus brings back to life a dead girl, and restores a man said to be possessed by demons. It was all going so well, until he returned to Nazareth, where he was well known. At first, they too were impressed. After all, how could the young man who had fixed their houses suddenly speak with such wisdom and perform healing miracles? Then even they agreed he must be possessed by the very powers he had himself cast out.

If the hometown folk were amazed at him, Jesus was amazed at them. Amazed at their lack of faith. How come they were so hostile – even insulting him by referring to Jesus as ‘Son of Mary.’

His own explanation that a prophet is not without honour save in his own home town sounds like a rationalisation. But in saying this, Jesus is claiming to be a prophet. Prophets in antiquity were automatically given honour, and he certainly was not being treated as a prophet with any honour in Nazareth. As a result, Mark says Jesus could do no any miracles there.

If this was because of their lack of faith in him, does this give us any clues when we ourselves reflect on the ups and downs of our own lives? Would we, in his position, blame ourselves for what happened? Would we consider what we had ourselves done wrong? Would we seek a rational explanation? Or would we attribute our failure to our own lack of faith and trust in God, or maybe that of others?

What happens next is equally instructive. In our case, we might become discouraged. Decide not to repeat what had gone badly. Do something different next time. But far from showing any lack of conviction, Jesus sends his disciples out on their mission to the world.

The disciples have seen Jesus’ liberating acts, his healing, his parables and his teaching, his mastery over nature and life itself. Crucially, the disciples have learned from how he responds to failure. Not changing strategy, but amazement that people did not listen to him and believe.

The other lesson for us is that God may not be able to help us if we ourselves don’t have faith. To put our trust in him. Not just walk away from problems, but seek guidance through prayer. Ultimately that means leaving them in God’s hands.

In the end, we know we are God’s hands and feet. We must listen to the voice that signals the sound of sheer silence. To be tuned into the signals, and not allow them to be drowned out by the noise and interference of our daily existence.

How much better is that than allowing the downs of our lives to get the better of us? To disable us, and emasculate us? Turn us inward, and through a lack of faith cause even our saviour to be amazed and powerless to help?

It’s a 2-way street. Without faith, God may not be able to help us. But in order for God’s power for good to be revealed in the world, it may only be through ourselves, our hands, our feet, our minds, and our speech that his grace is poured out to us and to others. This is how the downs of life can be smoothed into more of the ups. When we find our way, in humble childlike trust, and do God’s will. Welcoming him into our dwelling, where he can stay and use us according to his good pleasure. Amen

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Help my Unbelief

5 July Midweek Communion at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 9.1-8

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 stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

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

Sermon

Jesus comes home. Crosses the sea of Galilee. Other side gentile territory. On way across, stilled storm – then healed 2 demon possessed men. “Gadarene demoniac” (KJV). Presence of pigs (swine) marks the place out as non Jewish land. Demons begged Jesus to be allowed to enter pigs, which then rushed down steep slope into lake and all drowned. Not surprisingly, local populace asked him to leave.

So comes back to Nazareth, when people bring him a paralysed man for healing. To be told his sins forgiven not what paralytic wanted to hear.

Sometimes Jesus acts in a way people don’t expect. They want one thing, and get another. The sick man was focussed on his illness, as were his friends. Jesus identifies his greatest need as different from what he expected.

Perhaps also he had another purpose. To demonstrate to those who heard him pronounce forgiveness of sins his power over evil itself. To provoke his hearers and critics into a charge of blasphemy. Note that the teachers of the law were not bold enough to make their accusation public. They kept it to themselves. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, brought them out into the open.

Jesus went on to demonstrate his power over physical infirmity (visible to all) and thereby show his power over sin (hidden in our hearts – not visible to all). For those who accused him, his reply was that performing a healing miracle was easier than forgiving our sins. Throughout the middle east there were miracle healers doing the same as he did. But they could not perform the harder task of addressing our deeper needs. Only he could do that.

Not without our cooperation. The man who came to him on his bed had to have faith in Jesus’ power to make him whole again. So it is with us. In another gospel account, the teacher in his home town could do nothing. Could perform no miracles. Why? Because of their lack of faith. They thought of him as a small builder, whose family they knew, who grew up in their midst. This was a bar to their faith, and Jesus was amazed he could perform no miracles in that place.

So our faith is needed, if we are to be saved. All we can do is rely on God’s grace, as we pray for an increase in our faith. As the father of the sick boy said in Mark 9:24

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Amen

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Irenaeus–Thursday 28 June 2012

Thursday midweek Holy Communion at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 7.21-29

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

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

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

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

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

Sermon

Each of us has two sets of beliefs. One is what we say. The other is what we do. In order to discover what we truly believe, instead of listening to the words we use, you get a better indication from examining our behaviours.

For example, we may say we always avoid falsehood and hold the truth dear, but we may then go on to tell a lie if by doing so we gain an advantage.

Often we delude ourselves. We are convinced by what we think we believe, but in reality our actions do not line up with our words.

Here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is a stern warning. It concerns our eligibility to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Are we people who are convinced we are saved by what we say we believe? Or are we able to demonstrate our faith by showing we have done the will of God throughout our lives?

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

This is the explanation of the parable that follows. The Man who built his house on a sure foundation. He was the one whose house was securely rooted. He did what he said. He took the trouble to ensure permanence.

The other man’s house looked the same from the outside. He probably said the same things, and even believed he did the will of God. But his house was not securely founded. Temptation, adversity, unsound doctrine, and challenges to his faith left him fatally weakened. His house was swept away. His words were as fine as the appearance of his house, but they lacked a secure foundation.

So it is with us – this parable challenges us to examine our faith, and ask ourselves whether we sound good, or whether we really are that way. Does the way we live our lives match the way we act?

Remember the story of the lamp stand? Does our light shine out, or is it concealed from others’ view?

You are the light of the world:
no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket but on the lamp stand and it gives light to all.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Paul’s unwavering hope

Cheddington 10 June 2012

Reading 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Sermon

Young – slightest illness causes worry. Concerns highlighted because everything normally works well. Body heals itself quickly. Signs of age not long in coming. Aches and pains become more common, whereas if we were young we may have sought medical advice. In older age, these things are always in the background.

Life expectancy has been rising throughout my lifetime. It has gone up by 9 years since I was a teenager. The search for longevity seems right and proper when you are young. When you get older, to be told you will live on into 90’s may be less welcome. Operation – longer lifespan not what I wanted to hear.

One of saddest aspects of new atheism is they have no hope for the future. What happens after you die? Oblivion. Never to meet loved ones again. No thought of eternity or resurrection. Just nothing beyond the grave.

Paul lays out alternative clearly in letter to Corinthians. Paul shows his profound faith in God’s power to save. God is a God who can defeat death itself. God is a God who chooses mere mortals to reveal his divine glory here on earth. What then are the sufferings of this present age, when such a hope of glory beckons from beyond the curtain we pass through called death?

Paul himself is no stranger to suffering. We don’t know what was the thorn in his side, but he refers to a severe affliction elsewhere in the same letter. The apostle also recounts beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck and other near death experiences which he suffered for his faith. Just before this passage comes a catalogue of human frailty. All of these hardships, Paul says, prove that “death is at work within us.”

This situation is not permanent. Outwardly, what is visible in our bodies is that we are wasting away. Spiritually as well as physically. Inwardly, though, we are being renewed day by day. The troubles we experience are momentary and light, when compared to the hope of eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, rather than look down on what we see in our bodies, we can look up to what is unseen. For what is visible is temporary. But what is invisible is permanent and eternal. And this hope is that this same God “who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us ... in his presence.”

Underlying this passage, and indeed the whole of II Corinthians is the certainty Paul has that what he describes will come true. This vision extends from the empty tomb, the very heart of our Christian faith, without which our belief is as nothing. So it matters less and less that we age and become more frail, because what is really important is the permanent hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ. I like the simple image Paul shows us. It’s like our present existence on this earth is in a tent. Tents are fragile. They are buffeted by the winds. They let in water. They don’t stand up to the elements. Tents are no more than temporary structures. No matter – because we have a permanent building that is from God. An eternal house in heaven. One not built with human hands.

This age says Paul is passing away. Our citizenship is no longer on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven. This is why Paul calls the church to think in terms of God’s new kingdom – a place where death is swallowed up by life – not this time an extension of our earthly existence where we continue to suffer more aches and pains – but a permanent life with Christ in the new Kingdom of God.

Amidst real hardships and suffering, Paul expresses hope in God’s work to redeem and to transform.  The threat of hardship would be enough to drive most believers away, but Paul will stop at nothing to be a bearer of the gospel to others.  For he knows that the God who is at work in his mortal body is the same God who resurrected Jesus from the dead.   It is in this God whom, like Paul, we can place our unwavering hope.

Amen

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thanksgiving for Holy Communion

Thursday 7 June 2012 – Corpus Christi at St Giles

Reading 1 Corinthians 11.23-26

I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Gospel John 6.51-58

Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord.
Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. John 6.51
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: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live for ever.”

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

Sermon

Corpus Christi means body of Christ. Feast on Thursday after Trinity. Like Trinity, does not celebrate any particular event, but in our church is now known as Day of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion.

Institution of Eucharist celebrated on Maundy Thursday. This is actual event. Last Supper. Washing of Feet. New commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. So today, the feast day focuses solely on Communion without other events.

Holy Communion – what is happening – how we regard it in our worship – differs markedly for everyone. For some, it is a regular rehearsing of the last hours of Jesus’ life on earth, according to his command Do this in remembrance of me. For others it has a much more sacramental significance. For all, the Eucharist stands at the centre of our worship. It is regular, unlike for example Baptism which is a single event.

So the first reason for regular Communion is that Jesus told us to observe it. We are remembering Jesus, and all he did for us in his life, death and resurrection. At the same time, we take the opportunity of examining ourselves, making sure we are right with God and our neighbours before approaching and sharing in the meal.

The names we use vary according to our tradition – Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Mass – but in this church most commonly the word communion reminds us we are participating in the body of Christ, which is the church and all Christian people. His life becomes our life. There is one loaf that is broken for us, but although we are many we are one because we all share the one bread and the one cup.

Lastly, communion is a statement of faith. We are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again. So this is what is going on as we prepare ourselves for the Eucharist and approach the altar. Each week afresh, despite the risk of staleness through familiarity. Listening anew to the words, and not just allowing the language to wash over us, but to retain its significance and meaning in our lives. Amen

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Power of the Trinity

Cheddington – Trinity Sunday – 3 June 2012

Reading Romans 8.12-17

Brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Gospel John 3.1-17

Alleluia, alleluia.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
one God, who was, and who is, and who is to come,
the Almighty.
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.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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

Sermon

In the past – many Trinitarian illustrations. One in 3 – 3 in One. Clover leaf. Meat and 2 veg! Ice, water, steam. Apart from showing all persons of Trinity are the same, how do these advance our understanding? Good for children – fully formed Christians require more.

Paul’s language is Trinitarian. Does not focus on doctrine or illustration. Dives right in with a problem. What about our sinful nature? How come it constantly gets the better of us? How can we stop living according to our sinful nature, and live as children of God and heirs of the promise of salvation?

Paul skips over niceties of doctrine and proclaims good news of the gospel into the nitty gritty of realities of trying to live the Christian life as we experience day in day out. This is the fundamental dilemma: the power of sin, dwelling within us, prevents us through our own efforts alone doing what is good and right, despite our best intentions.

According to Paul, the solution to this human dilemma is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

It all sounds very easy, doesn’t it? All we have to do is open ourselves up to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit. We all know it isn’t that straightforward – but it could be.

Nicodemus who at first ‘came to Jesus by night’ never got a chance to explain why he came, or ask a question. Jesus told him he must be born again – born of the Spirit this time. Then Jesus half mocked him when he failed to understand.

The trouble is, temptation is ever present and it’s a powerful and subtle force. Personalise it if you will. The old fashioned 7 Deadly Sins have been replaced with a myriad of sin’s systematic manifestations in modern life. Is it any wonder that most people feel powerless and overwhelmed by its insistent clutches? Like many forms of addiction, many people don’t realise how trapped they are in the grip of such forces.

It’s just like the early days of the Blackberry. We all thought these devices were a wonderful gift and vied to be given one. Only when we got one did we discover it was a ball and chain. We had become enslaved to work. We were available 24 hours a day, and on holiday too in any part of the world.

Once you’ve got a mobile device, it’s almost impossible to give it back. Paul does not see things that way. God’s desire that we receive the true life that God so willingly offers to all, he says. Life is yours! That is a powerful promise, affirmed many times through Paul's letters and again in our passage: if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

The resurrection promise is not for Jesus alone. It is for all of us who are in Christ. No one is so dead to sin that the power of God’s Spirit cannot bring them back to fullness of life.

As Nicodemus was told no one can enter the Kingdom unless they have been born again of the Spirit. Adoption into God’s family as children of God is brought about through the Spirit. The spirit of adoption, through which we become daughters and sons of the Father. Abba is an incredibly personal name for one’s dad. Hardly credible anyone might us it of the Almighty God, who was not even named throughout the Old Testament. A wonderful and mysterious promise indeed.

When words fail us, as we read elsewhere in Romans, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. As many adoptive parents will attest, such children and loved just as much as those born to the family in the usual way.

Even more staggering is the claim Paul puts forward that through adoption we become co-heirs with Christ. Christ is a joint heir with us: he suffers and is glorified, and we suffer and are glorified with him. What happens to Christ – his resurrection life - happens to us; the glory that is Christ’s - as God's son - belongs to us as well who have become God's children.

Where else is this made clearer than in John 3:16. First Bible verse I ever learned. Perhaps the best known in whole of Scripture. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Amen

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Work of Discipleship

 

Sunday 20 May 2012 – St Giles

First Reading Acts 1.15-17,21-26

Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus – he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Gospel John 17

Alleluia, alleluia.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
All Alleluia.

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

Jesus looked towards heaven and prayed:

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

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

Sermon

Perhaps nothing breathes more strongly the promise and presence of the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel than the words and promises of the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus in John 14-17, portions of which have occupied our attention during the last several Sundays of Easter.

Next Sunday is Pentecost. Pentecost – time of gift of HS – stands as fulfilment of Easter season and promise of the resurrection, leading on to Trinity Sunday a week later. But now, focus on disciples and Jesus’ prayer for them before he leaves them to continue his mission on earth.

The hour approaches and along with it the glory of both the Father and the Son as Jesus prays on behalf of those to whom the Father has authorized him to give eternal life.

Continuing work of disciples evident in Acts 1. One of first ‘acts of apostles’ is to choose successor to Judas the betrayer. As you heard, after prayer they select two candidates who have been with Jesus throughout, and cast lots between them. Wonder how many of you, faced with important life choices, might consider throwing a dice after praying for guidance as to which fork in road to take!

Jesus’ prayer is lengthy one, filling chapter 17. Sounds like disciples are present. Most prayer and reading anyway in those times was aloud. Jesus’ prays for his followers, and exhorts and encourages them in the words of his intercessions.

How else might they have been able to record and recall his very words unless they were also witnesses to what he actually said? These are the words of an already resurrected Lord who now encourages a company of his disciples, including us in light of the resurrection promise. As Easter people, we are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus' continuing presence, now that the work for which he was sent has been accomplished. “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (17:4).

In the prayer, you may have noticed how many times the work giving is repeated. God gave the disciples to Jesus. Jesus gave the disciples God’s Word. He protects and sanctifies them, before giving them back to God – only one is lost – that is Judas. The message: God is an extravagant giver and his relationship with the Son is cemented by mutual giving.

This means we belong in a special way. One thing we have been given is knowledge of God and his name, through the Son. God's ‘name’ stands for all that He is and has done, most importantly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When Jesus says we have been given the Word it reminds us of the opening of John’s gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. To know the Word is to know God, and to unlock new life in Him – entry into his kingdom. This knowledge implies adoption as children of the Father. Knowledge of the Word made flesh, leading to belief in the One sent from God. The whole objective of John the Evangelist in writing his gospel.

Nothing is held back by extravagant grace. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. True sharing in its entirety. Much to ponder in these words.

Although discipleship can be a dangerous place to be, yet we are not taken out of this world, but rather sent into it. The love of the Father is not a cotton-wool love. Just as the Father sent the Son, so we are sent into the world – a world that will most likely reject and abuse us. Just as it rejected Jesus himself.

Guarded and sustained in that Word we can know ourselves as a faith community, constituted in the power of Christ's death and resurrection and in the promise of his presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit. About which we will hear more in next Sunday's lesson when we join together as a newly formed missionary team at Wingrave Church for Pentecost Sunday. Amen