Thursday, 15 August 2013


After 10 years’ ordination, I am taking a few months off.

Back around Christmas.

Best wishes to my successor as Team Vicar of Cheddington with Mentmore!


Sunday, 19 May 2013


at St James the Great, Aston Abbotts

First Reading Acts 2.1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Gospel John 14.8-17(25-27)

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

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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


Pentecost—Πεντηκοστή ἡμέρα 50th day after resurrection of Christ—Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. Jewish harvest festival.

Whitsun—7 weeks after Easter—50 days—Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the 12 Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in Acts 2 which forms today’s first reading. Pentecost is sometimes described by some Christians as the ‘Birthday of the Church.’

Pentecost—profoundly disturbing time. Accounts vary—from Jesus breathing on disciples—quiet, private, still small voice, comforting—to fire, wind and public disturbance.

Jesus predicted gift of Holy Spirit in John 14. Chapter opens:

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Imagine disciples reached low point when John 14 is read at funerals. Passage is balm—like comfortable words in BCP. Thomas famously is the only one of disciples to admit they don’t know where Jesus going. Jesus replies I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Philip asks Jesus to stop talking in riddles—Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us. Then Jesus admits I and the Father are One. Astounding admission. How can they take it in? Particularly when Jesus is no longer with them?

Answer: Presence and action of Holy Spirit. What exactly is third member of Trinity? Three different accounts—don’t conflict—HS is all of them.

1. John

a. Advocate

b. Continuing comforting presence of Jesus in Church

c. Source of Peace.

2. Paul

a. That which unites us to Christ

b. Makes us into his body

c. Gives us particular gifts for good of community

3. Luke/Acts

a. Power of God

b. Mighty burning wind blowing Church into new and unexpected places of ministry

Gospel reading is comforting. Comforter. Counsellor. Advocate—one standing beside you in court—pleading your case—being on your side.

Acts is disturbing. Fire—wind—noise.

· Church transformed unto community of prophets

· Transforming Spirit given to all in body of Church

· Rebounds as sign through early church—lowest to highest—slave and master—means of telling whether someone is or is not Christian.

John the Baptist predicted action of Christ—Coming One will baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire.

If I was invited to lead service, and said it would be Spirit led or Spirit-filled you might be wary of what sort of worship this might be. Toronto blessing. Falling over backwards. Speaking in tongues. Liturgical Woodstock.

But should our services not all be filled with the Spirit—led by the Spirit in some way? Notice the same confusion applied on the very first Pentecost. People from all over empire crowded into Jerusalem. Witnessed the hubbub, confusion and disturbance of this kind of public revival meeting.

But no one spoke in tongues. The people heard the disciples speaking in their own languages. Some accused the disciples of being drunk, but that claim was easily refuted.

Peter stood up with the 11 and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfilment of prophecy 'And in the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams."

Acts 2:41 then goes on: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Continual outpouring to present day. Are we aware of this gift of grace? Do we experience continual outpouring of God’s Spirit? For it is nothing less than the way we perceive and experience God’s presence with us, which just as likely will be barely perceptible—sound of sheer silence—rather than noise and disturbance of fire, wind or tempest. Or speaking in tongues and falling backwards, for that matter. But without a personal experience in our worship and in our lives, we are the poorer for it—that’s my challenge today, to develop our relationship with God through his Spirit, in our lives and in our worship.

Jesus said to Philip How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

So must we live in Christ, and allow God’s Spirit to live in us, and do His work through us. Amen

Sunday, 21 April 2013

I and the Father are One

Easter 4 at Aston Abbotts

Gospel John 10.22-30

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

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

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

The time came for the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered round him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

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


We read today from John 10, verse 22 to verse 30. It’s the festival of lights – Hanukkah. Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Porch. This portico was on the east side of the Temple. The location is not just a detail thrown in by John. It’s important. Solomon’s Porch was also known as the Porch of Judgement. This was where the king held court, forming judgements and dispensing justice to complainants who came to him.

Here is Jesus walking round this historic place, representing fairness and justice for all in his own person and through his ministry to the poor and disadvantaged. That’s what so much of his life and teaching was all about.

The Jews—says John—by which he means the religious authorities I suppose—have another agenda in mind. “Stop keeping us in suspense” they say. “Tell us plainly who you are. Are you the Christ, the Messiah?”

This constant questioning of his identity must have become a constant annoyance to Jesus. He snaps at them. “I did tell you, but you don’t believe me.” Which is not really fair, because Jesus never unequivocally stated who he was—nor does he answer plainly here.

This is what theologians call the Messianic Secret. In the gospels, Jesus tells those he has healed not to reveal his identity, in case the crowds overwhelm him and prevent him moving freely around the countryside or allowing the authorities to see his Messiahship as a military or political threat to their relationship with Rome.

The reply Jesus gives the Pharisees here is that they do not believe in him because they are not numbered among his sheep. It must have sounded odd at the time and it seems strange to us, until we put this passage in context. You see—chapter 10 is all about sheep. Unless we understand what Jesus is saying about sheep, we cannot understand his reply to the Pharisees.

The Parable of the Good Shepherd, as its name implies, tells us more about Jesus the shepherd than it does about us, his sheep. The Pharisees do not belong to the flock because they do not behave like sheep act towards the shepherd.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, of course. Sheep will not follow anyone, but only the shepherd. They recognise his voice and follow him. Not only do the sheep recognise the shepherd, but the shepherd knows them all by name. Jesus calls us all by name. He goes before us, facing danger with us and giving us eternal life in his name, so that we will never perish whatever might befall us in this transitory life here on earth.

John the Evangelist makes it clear the Pharisees do not understand. In verse 6, it says: 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. That’s why the Pharisees asked Jesus to tell them plainly whether or not he was the Christ, the anointed one.

Eventually, at the end of our gospel reading, perhaps in frustration, Jesus puts himself at great risk by abandoning the pastoral metaphors and admitting that “I and the Father are one.” It is God who has given him the sheep of his flock. We are his sheep, and no one can snatch us from the care of the Good Shepherd. The sheep do not die—they are not ravaged by thieves who come only to steal, kill and destroy. No—the Good Shepherd is the one who will die, because the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, so that we may have life and have it in all its fullness.

No wonder the crowd immediately pick up stones to mete out on Jesus the traditional punishment for blasphemy. What greater sin could there be but to claim that I and the Father are one. As yet, his time had not yet come, and Jesus escaped from their grasp.

We of course know the end of the story, or maybe it is only the beginning as we are still celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in Eastertide. There are two marks to being in his flock. We hear his voice and follow him. As his followers, we are protected by the One who is all-powerful against anything that threatens to do us harm, whether spiritual or in any other sense.

Many of us have known hard times. We may have been afflicted by disease. We may have tragically lost loved ones. We may have been abused or belittled. During these darker times, very likely we have not felt protected or cared for. But this is the context into which we able to bring the gospel message of grace. This is the context into which we bring a message of reassurance and hope. We are called to minister to others, and help them hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and to follow him in their lives.

In another parable, the Lost Sheep, we learn more about the sheep than the shepherd. It maybe should be called The Sheep that was found. Because the lost sheep could do nothing. It was lost. All the sheep could do was wait to be found, and accept help when it came. Then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brought the sheep home. So it is with us and those to whom we minister. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. No action we can take to save ourselves. We can only have the grace to permit ourselves to be found, and brought back into the fold. Amen

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Feed my Sheep

Easter 3 at Stewkley

Gospel John 21.1-19

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

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

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

Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

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


When I was a kid we had a large round net on a long rope, and used to drop it over the side of the Cobb in Lyme Regis. The bait was a decomposing and very smelly kipper, which was secured with string just above the net. The idea was to dangle the net after midnight, and haul in prawns or even the occasional small lobster. Then as a family, we’d take our haul back to the house we had rented, tip the catch into boiling water, and enjoy the freshest shrimps you’d ever tasted. It was exciting, easy, and meant staying up late.

Fishing is not my thing. Mostly it’s too boring. Sitting by a canal all day in the rain, catching the occasional carp you can’t even eat, is not for me. If I had to fish, I’d prefer prawns at midnight to any number of hours of preparation, waiting and eventual disappointment. But that’s what some of the disciples experienced in our gospel reading for today.

Why were these disciples fishing? After all, this was the fourth time Jesus had appeared to them or to Mary Magdalene since his crucifixion. Yet they remained in hiding for quite some time, and then decided to return to their previous occupation and earn some money. You can just imagine the scene. There they are, behind closed doors in an upper room, bored. Peter, their leader, suddenly has enough. “I’m going fishing” he says. “We’ll come with you” the others reply.

This was not what Jesus had in mind. The Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel is to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them about everything Jesus commanded them to do. Not give up, and go fishing. To be fishers of women and men, not fishers of fish.

Perhaps it was no coincidence when Peter and his companions worked all night and caught nothing. Bored, demoralised, and frustrated they approached the shore. There was something familiar about the man who greeted them. Have you no fish? He asked, somewhat ironically. Go out again, and this time do something completely unconventional. Cast your net out on the wrong side of the boat.

John is very precise about all the details in his gospel account. So theologians have speculated for centuries about the significance of the 153 fish they caught. 153 is a special number. Add every number between 1 and 17 together, and you get 153. Add factorials 1! 2! 3! 4! and 5!—you get 153. Arrange a triangular collection of balls from 1 at the apex through 2, 3, 4 balls and so on up to 17 in the bottom row—and there are 153 balls. Apparently you can even add together the value of the Greek letters in Mary Magdalene’s name and you get 153—but that’s too Dan Brown for me.

My explanation is radical. I think there were 153 fish. Simples, as the meercat would say. But that’s not the point of the story. The fact was that the disciples had almost given up, yet Jesus was waiting for them. Not with words of condemnation or disappointment, but with breakfast cooked on a fire.

And Peter, who denied him three times was not berated. No, Jesus just asked him—three times—to reaffirm his love for him. Then, after Peter gets tetchy, Jesus tells him to “feed my sheep” and to follow him.

Standing where he does, and waiting for his disciples to return frustrated, cold and disappointed, Jesus is calling them back to the fold. The symbolism is unmistakeable. Don’t fish for fish—fish for women and men—and if you do so in my name and with the authority and power of the Holy Spirit, you will haul in abundant success, just as the 153 fish were safely landed and did not break the net. And when we go astray, or take the easy, familiar way, rather than the more challenging, harder and more risky path, there is Jesus standing there, with encouragement and no blame, to call us back and set us once again on the right road.

Make no mistake—this account of Jesus on the shore is a Eucharistic event. There might be no wine, only fish. But just look at the wording Jesus uses when he invites his disciples to “come and have breakfast.”
“Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

Once they had had communion with Jesus they received a recommissioning from him. They are reminded who they are and what they were originally called to be. They are challenged to get back in the boat and try again—in more ways than one.

Supposing we apply this for a moment to ourselves and our church. Following the call of Jesus means for us putting our nets back into the water even when we are tired and have had no success. Casting our net on the wrong side of the boat opens up some creative discussions we can have as to what church and mission might look like when we follow Jesus’ commands unquestioningly, and when that means doing things the way we have never done them before. It’s an end to inertia—it’s a liberating approach that calls us to follow him, and not to stay comfortably, year in year out, doing the things we have always done before in ways we have always done them. Amen

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Disbelief moves to Belief

Easter 2 at Wing Church

Reading Revelation 1.4-8

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.
So shall it be! Amen.

Gospel John 20.19-31

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John 20 is the penultimate chapter in John’s gospel. It’s a story of belief and disbelief. Belief and disbelief ebb and flow. People start by doubting, and move towards faith.

There are 4 scenes in chapter 20 that illustrate what is happening. I’ll describe them to you one by one. Remember – each move from disbelief to belief. Think about how this transition might apply to you.

Scene 1 – It’s Sunday morning – the first Sunday. It’s still dark. Mary Magdalene arrives to find the tomb where Jesus was laid empty. Disbelieving, she runs to Peter and the unnamed beloved disciple and says: They have taken the Lord.

The two disciples run to the tomb. Peter enters and sees the folded grave clothes. The other disciple comes shortly afterwards. His reaction was: He saw and believed.

Disbelief turns to belief.

Scene 2 – Mary Magdalene still disbelieves. She is crying when a man she assumes to be a gardener approaches. If you have carried him away, she says, tell me where you have put him.

The man calls her by name, and she recognises it is Jesus. Convinced, she goes to find the other disciples, and tells them I have seen the Lord.

Disbelief turns to belief.

Scene 3 – this forms our gospel reading in today’s lectionary. The disciples are still in the Upper Room. The door is locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, not the Romans. Jesus appears, and says Shalom – Peace be with you.

The disciples believe, but one among their number is absent. He is Thomas the Twin – who garnered the ill reputation as Doubting Thomas for the rest of time, even though he ended up a greater believer than any of the others who had been present. Thomas, in this sense, represents us. We can all associate with what he went through. Who among us would not have done the same?

The other disciples catch up with Thomas, and tell him We have seen the Lord. Disbelief and fear turn into some form of belief, but Thomas doubts.

Finally, we come to Scene 4. Jesus appears to Thomas. A week has gone by, yet the disciples are still locked away in the Upper Room. So how lasting was their belief, and how strong their fear? They had seen clearly the risen Christ yet they remained in hiding. Why were they not proclaiming the fact from the housetops and on every street corner? The answer – they were human and fallible, like us. For the time being, they remained out of sight. It would take some time before the enormity of the implications of what they had seen and experienced for themselves sunk in.

But Thomas reacts much more strongly. Faced with the evidence in front of his very eyes, he doesn’t even bother to reach out his finger and touch the cruel wounds left by the process of crucifixion. No – previously Doubting Thomas shows himself one of the Bible’s greatest believers. My Lord and my God – he says.

Just think of that huge leap of faith. For a Jew of his time to come to the conclusion that the risen Jesus is actually divine – none other than God himself. How unfairly history has treated Thomas! If we think he is much like us, then we focus on his doubts, and ignore completely this major statement of faith.

At the end of Scene 4 – Jesus in effect turns and speaks directly to each and every one of us. It’s like he turns from Thomas, and addresses the great cloud of witnesses gathered round, including we ourselves.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Jesus is offering us his blessing, if only we number ourselves among the believers, who have faith yet have not seen him in the flesh — incarnate.

Does it matter that our faith ebbs and flows —just like Mary and the disciples? Those disciples only reacted with joy when Jesus was present with them. After he had left, they remained under lock and key. So how strong was their faith?

Their faith might have been imperfect—isn’t that what faith is all about anyway? Faith is not knowledge, nor is it even strong belief. It is faith. Even with that imperfect faith, still the disciples took forward the mission of the Messiah, and our presence here, thanks in large measure to Paul and others, is evidence of what results from... from what?

Well, certainly not the strength of 11 fallible men, together with a larger group of women and men who formed the outer corps of followers. No, it was more than human activity and endeavour.

Even before he met Thomas, remember that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So it was in the power of God’s Spirit that those fearful men were empowered to take the mission forward. That was what changed for the disciples —it wasn’t that they saw the Lord in the flesh, but that he conferred on them the gift of the Spirit which then convicted and convinced, and then led them into all truth.

This gift does not have to come to us in a flash, with fire and noise, heat and impact obvious to all. No, what is quieter than a breath? Jesus breathed on them. Like the sound of sheer silence—the still small voice as Tyndale translated it from I Kings 19. Barely audible. Intimate even. Yet intensely powerful and transforming. So let us pray for that same Spirit, and for its transforming power in our lives, both now and for evermore. Amen

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Day 2013

Farewell to St Giles Cheddington

First Reading Acts 10.34-43

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gospel John 20: 1 - 18

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

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

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

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

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


Each of the 4 gospel resurrection narratives is slightly different, but they all have 3 things in common.

· Inspection of the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning

· Mary Magdalene is present

· The tomb is found to be empty

In today’s alternative reading from Luke, there are a lot more women. Luke has at least 5 – possibly more. “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them” Three named women, plus “other women with them.” 2 of those, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, were named back in Luke 8 amongst the women who provided for the expenses of Jesus’ ministry from their own means.

The men don’t come out of it very well. They don’t believe the account of the empty tomb, dismissing the women’s account as an ‘idle tale’ in Luke. Peter ran to the tomb, but although he returned amazed, there is no real sign he believed. That was why the walkers on the road to Emmaus returned to confirm they had seen the risen Lord, confirming he had appeared to Simon.

John’s portrayal is a bit kinder to the men. When Mary Magdalene came running to find Peter with her news, Peter took off with another disciple who overtook him and arrived first. But it was Peter who impulsively pushed past him and went into the tomb, where he saw the folded grave clothes put to one side.

This evidence clinched it for Peter. Who, taking the body of Jesus would have carefully unwrapped it and set the soiled linen to one side? Peter saw and believed. But the other men still did not understand or remember Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection.

Peter saw and believed. That’s surely the theme of every Easter Day – that we should see and believe. Whatever part Mary Magdalene is always credited as playing – it’s clear she did not link the disappearance of the body of Jesus to anything like his having risen again. For Mary, the body was missing. Who had taken it, and where had they put it? So, after Peter had run back again having believed, Mary stood weeping.

Today is Easter Day. Every Sunday is a little Easter – a weekly celebration of the resurrection – the eighth day of creation as the late 2nd century Epistle of Barnabas puts it – a day when every week we remember Jesus rose from the dead and brought about our salvation.

This might be my last sermon in this place, so for once why not follow the threefold Anglican pattern I have usually ignored? There are 3 thoughts I should like to leave with you:

Firstly, Easter is perplexing. Believing in the resurrection is not easy, but we know the fact of the empty tomb is the one crucial non-negotiable element of our faith. Peter saw and believed. We have not seen, yet are called upon to believe.

Even the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is perplexing. Why did she not immediately recognise him? Why did the walkers on the road to Emmaus spend so long with Jesus before it dawned on them who he was?

Secondly, Easter provides a tipping point between death and new life. Not only for Jesus himself in those three days, but for us as well. We walk the way of the cross. And as God raised the lifeless body of his Son, so we pass from spiritual death to new life, if only we can have faith in him and what he accomplished for us.

Thirdly, if Easter is the tipping point, what comes after? What comes after is a new creation. It begins with the resurrection. It continues with the proclamation of the gospel – the good news of the resurrection. As the apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!

Our first reading this morning came from Acts. It’s mandatory. Whatever else we pick from the lectionary, Acts must be read. Why? Because it includes a speech by Peter himself, laying out what he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. We are witnesses says Peter of everything Jesus did. He was not seen by all the people, but by us, who ate and drank with him. He commanded us to preach and testify...that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

This is of course the Easter message in its simplest form. It’s the message I leave with you. But I don’t want you to remember what I said next Easter, but every Sunday – each ‘little Easter’ – when, as today, we too eat and drink with him.

Mighty God of mercy, we thank you for the resurrection dawn, bringing the glory of our risen Lord who makes every morning new.

Renew this weary world, heal the hurts of all your children, and bring about your peace for all in Christ Jesus, the living Lord. Amen

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Nature of God

Self-sacrificial service – a sermon for Palm Sunday

First Reading Philippians 2: 5 - 11

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel Luke 22: 14 - 23

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and given him the name that is above every name.
All Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

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.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!’ 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

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


When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday all the events were in fulfilment of prophecy. The prophecy of Zechariah is headed “The Coming of Zion’s King.”
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Do a search for the words Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord and with the Palm Sunday references in all the gospels you also discover the same phrase used in Psalm 118:
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

No wonder the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples. They were not just hailing their Master, but in the reference to the Hebrew Scriptures at the very least hailing him as King, challenging the status quo, but very likely also Son of God.

What interests me more this morning is not a repetition of all the sermons you have heard in the past about Palm Sunday, but what Jesus was claiming for himself, and what God gave him. The paired reading from the letter to the Philippians is in the form of a hymn. It seeks to explain the things Jesus did which were certainly not what you would have predicted, and absolutely not what the crowds claimed on the first Palm Sunday. This is followed by what God did – and I would add how we should respond in our imitation of Christ which is the total objective of the Christian life.

What Jesus Did

You might have expected the arrival of a King would signal an uprising, leading a rebellion against Roman rule. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Jesus is in very nature God yet he did not seek to take advantage of his equality with God or his divine nature. Instead, Jesus did two things: first, he ‘emptied’ himself by taking the form of a slave: and secondly, he humbled himself by submitting to death on the cross.

Jesus somehow divested himself of his divinity, and embraced true humility. His humility led to self-sacrificing service of others where, alternatively, he might have exploited his equality with God to overcome all obstacles and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven as his disciples expected.

What God Did

The divine response is perhaps very much less surprising. God exalted him to the highest place, and gave Jesus a name that is above every name so that every knee should bow to him and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

You can almost hear these words sung by the early church as a hymn.

Because Jesus the incarnate God reveals to us what God is like, what does this tell us about the divine nature? Well, Jesus existed in the form of God – the NRSV actually translates the Greek as “who, though he was in the form of God” but really the meaning is “because he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.”

To me, this means that the way Jesus acted was the way God would have acted, and indeed the way God did act. That means it is in God’s very nature to act in humble, self-sacrificial service.

In the Gospel of John, Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, and Jesus answers, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). The hymn suggests that Jesus’ revelation of God is most conspicuous in his humility and death.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of a book by Thomas a Kempis called The Imitation of Christ. It was composed in Latin early in the 15th century. Even today, this work is regarded as a spiritual classic. The book starts with the words:
He who follows me walks not in darkness. By these words of Christ, we are invited to imitate his life... Our chief effort should therefore be to study the life of Christ.

As we enter holy week and the Easter season, what better aim can we have but to reflect day by day on this one aim, to be imitators of Christ. This means, of course, on Good Friday thinking about what it actually means to take up the cross and follow him. And the letter to the Philippians could well be something to read and think about, teaching us as it does that it is in the nature of God to empty himself of all exaltation and take on the task of self-sacrificial service to us.

Our response must surely be to become imitators of Him, sacrificing our own interests and pursuit of gain and advantage, and in their place serving others, as Christ himself ultimately did in his obedience, even to death on a cross. Amen

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mothering Sunday

Sermon by Robert Wright at St Giles on 10 March 2013

Gospel Luke 2.33-35

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’ father and mother marvelled at what Simeon said about Jesus. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

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


Let me take you back to Christmas for a while. The reading from Luke 2 comes after a passage very familiar to us, which is read every Christmas, sometimes more than once.

Caesar Augustus the Roman emperor called for a census. Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, make the journey to Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus is born.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

15 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.’

As the law required, sometime later Jesus is presented in the Temple. A sacrifice had to be offered. For the poor, a sacrifice of two doves or young pigeons was laid down following the birth of every firstborn male child.

But before this took place, a man called Simeon approached Mary. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. For years maybe. It had been promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing God’s Messiah. The Holy Spirit, Luke says, was upon him.

When Mary and Joseph approached, Simeon came forward and took the baby Jesus in his arms. He praised God, in the words of the Nunc Dimittis:
29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’

All good news, you might think, and it was – except for the cloud that would hang over Mary his mother for the rest of her life. This is the reason for the choice of reading on Mothering Sunday, which reflects on the sacrifice of parenthood and its burdens as well as times of great happiness.

Simeon’s prophecy in the Nunc Dimittis predict salvation for all nations through the Messiah. Atonement offered freely by God, not only for members of the chosen race but for all nations. Jesus is the light of the world. His coming into our space as the light which banishes darkness is what we celebrate at Easter, when we re-enact his coming in our Service of Light, this year in Wing Church on Easter Eve at 10pm.

What follows this good news from Simeon is a number of warnings. For many in Israel, the Christ child is destined to cause a falling away and not a rising to new life. This prophecy reminds us of Mary’s own song, in which she sang that God had put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. Salvation through Jesus will not be equally well received. This is the first and most ominous prediction that the narrative which follows will be a story of conflict along with the good news of new life for all who call on his name.

Then Simeon turns to Mary, and tells her a sword will pierce her own soul too. The effect on Mary’s life will be devastating, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

I suppose the ritual of purification is a bit like our modern day baptism. Imagine you have arranged the date. Unwrapped from its tissue paper the gown once worn by a great grandparent for their baptism. Invited family and friends to the service. Fulfilled all the obligations, and made vows with godparents and supporters. Only then are you given a glimpse of the ups and downs of your life as a parent, and the joys and sadnesses you will face in the future. Not great timing is it?

But this prophecy does say something about motherhood especially, and fatherhood too. As we remember and celebrate the lives of our mothers – and the great thing here is that we all have a mother and can all, without exception, share in that celebration and thanksgiving, whether our mother is still with us or not.

At the centre of all this action is the child as he is known. Jesus is mentioned by name only once, in verse 27. Elsewhere he is only referred to as the child. So it’s not the baby Jesus who is the centre of attention, but his parents and the prophets Simeon and Anna. Yet what substantial and dramatic words are spoken of someone so small and helpless.

Luke has been showing us the contrasts throughout the infancy narrative. Born in a stable, yet potentially saviour of the world. His offering is not gold, frankincense and myrrh but two pigeons, a sacrifice only for the very poorest families. And his mother’s joy is quickly turned to dismay when told what is in store for her and her son. Yet knowing what the angel promised, Mary would not change anything, even though a sword would pierce her heart. This is the model of sacrifice and obedience to God’s call that we see mirrored in the sacrifice of our own mothers, hopefully in a more muted fashion. And so, as we give thanks for them and give flowers to everyone present in celebration of all our mothers meant to us, let us give thanks not only for them but for Mary also. For their joys. For the pains they bore for us. For their love, and for their endless care and concern. For all they have given to us, we thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Whose fault was it?

Lent 3 – March 3 2013 – Holy Communion at St Giles Cheddington

First Reading Isaiah 55.1-9

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Gospel Luke 13.1-9

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.

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

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


Vicky tells story – mother’s cherry tree – produced fruit only when about to be chopped down for road widening. No second chance for that tree. Too late. But parable of fig tree tells different story of God’s grace.

Today’s gospel starts with serious questions. Whose fault was it when seemingly random accidents occur? Whose fault when people suffer at the hands of a cruel tyrant? Why were some chosen, and not others?

Same questions posed in Job – Lent Course. Job’s friends, like many people, conclude he must be at least partly to blame.

A few verses before this passage – we read Jesus told crowds they were good at predicting weather – but could not interpret the present time. Similar saying in Matthew 16:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” 3 and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

The crowds responded with two questions. Two cases of unjust suffering. Told him about Galileans murdered by Pilate in ghastly event. Their blood mixed with sacrifices. Did they deserve it? Was Pilate agent of divine retribution? Were they worse sinners than anyone else?

Second question: a tower fell in Jerusalem, killing 18 people. Were they more guilty than others living in Jerusalem? Or did they just happen to be passing by at the wrong moment?

Those who raised these questions can hardly be faulted. Who was to blame – always first question asked by TV news reporters about almost any event, including natural disasters, acts of God, insane and random shootings, whatever.

The assumption is that we live in a universe of rewards and punishments. That way of thinking is reflected within the Bible itself. The book of Job is a particularly eloquent case. Job suffered severe losses (family, property, and health), and he carried on a long verbal interchange with three friends. According to Job’s friends, he must have done something wrong to deserve his suffering. God is all-powerful. God is not malevolent. Surely God could only allow the suffering of the innocent by deliberate choice, or he would have put a stop to it.

Job throughout maintains his innocence.

How does Jesus respond to these important questions? He addresses the concerns head on. Just like in John 9 when he encounters a man born blind. Whose fault was it? – disciples asked. Who sinned – man or his parents?

Jesus declares Galileans killed were no better or worse than any others. They happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Construction workers, developers or financiers cutting corners, using shoddy workmanship, or cheap materials through corruption may have played a part I suppose – but that’s no reason to blame God for what happened, any more than if the tower had been struck by lightning.

The question of God’s justice persists to the present day. The doctrine is called Theodicy. To think that human suffering is due to divine punishment for sin, or perhaps to some unknown flaw or secret misdeed, is too simple, but very familiar.

Of course, there may be consequences and suffering as a result of risky behaviour. But that’s not the point being made here. Scripture itself has enough instances of divine punishment resulting from human sin, and many of these are much easier to explain. But not the sort of random acts Jesus is being asked about in today’s gospel reading.

Having said those killed by Pilate or the fallen tower of Siloam were not more to blame than any other Galilean, Jesus adds: But unless you repent, you too will all perish. In other words, God is not punishing just those who were killed, but judgement waits for all of us. So don’t focus on seemingly unfair and isolated events – consider your own destiny.

That sounds harsh, but consider the parable which follows. It’s a parable about judgement. The two protagonists are the landowner – that is God – and the caretaker hired to look after the vineyard. The landowner plants a fig tree – that’s probably us - but it never produces any figs. It’s a waste of space, says God, I’ll dig it up and use the land for something more productive.

The caretaker persuades his boss to give the barren fig tree one more chance. He’ll dig round the tree, and fertilise the soil. In a year, the tree might produce fruit, and in any event, a new tree would take several years more to get established. The landowner agrees.

The implication is that God is patient, which gives Jesus’ hearers time for repentance, but there is a limit.

The parable helps place God’s judgment and grace into a wider perspective. God’s grace is greater than God’s judgment. How could it be otherwise? Divine patience is simply another expression of God’s love for us and his grace. As we heard in our first reading from Isaiah:

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”


Sunday, 24 February 2013

The challenge of Lent

Mentmore Sunday 24 February 2013

First Reading Genesis 15.1-12,17-18

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?”

So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.”

Gospel Luke 13.31-35

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
All Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

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.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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


Once you have a reputation – good or bad – it’s hard to shake it off. Take Herod for example. Or the Pharisees. Both loom large in today’s gospel reading.

Why did the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod was plotting to kill him? Didn’t they themselves want the same thing? What about Herod? Was he as black as history has always painted him?

First of all, the Pharisees may not have been sincere, and they probably only told Jesus what he already knew, but there’s no reason to suppose their caution was not real. After all, didn’t Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with them, so they could hear what he preached for themselves on more than one occasion? And if we read Luke’s sequel, Acts 15 tells us that some Pharisees actually converted to Christianity in the early church.

As for Herod, after beheading John the Baptist he worries that John might have come back to life in Jesus. He’s a superstitious man, unlike his wife. Or Pilate’s wife, who warned the Roman governor to have nothing to do with an innocent man. “Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” says Herod, And he tried to see him. Later on, in chapter 23, during Jesus’ trial by Pilate, we read:

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.

Whatever their motives, Jesus made use of the threats by the Pharisees and Herod to say something about his imminent death. Jesus will die – but not at the hands of Herod or the Pharisees. In fact, his death is the expected culmination of his mission on earth. His death is the completion of his purpose in the world.

Jesus describes his ministry as casting out demons and performing cures. The significance of casting out demons for Jesus’ ministry is given in 11:20: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” Casting out demons is part of Jesus’ battle against evil and so a part of his establishment of the kingdom of God.

Performing cures is likewise a part of the fundamental character of Jesus’ mission, announced in 4:18-19 as being “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” (quoting Isaiah). Another statement about the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Despite the threats, Jesus remains in control. The today and tomorrow when he carries on his work will still take place. He must keep going, and finish his work here on earth. But on the third day, Jesus says he will reach his goal. A goal he must achieve in Jerusalem, when his resurrection occurs on the third day.

Today, tomorrow and the next day are one continuity. They go together in sequence. They are linked. Today and tomorrow Jesus heals. On the third day, he completes his mission. In the meantime, Jerusalem will at least first recognise him for what he is. ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ is of course a reference to Palm Sunday. Jerusalem may have been party to his crucifixion, but at least it first recognised its Messiah.

Throughout Lent, we should be preparing ourselves to experience the cross of Christ alongside and together with our Saviour. Today’s gospel passage invites us to consider whether our lives lead appropriately to the cross? Can we make sense of the way we live our lives as consistent with the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the world?

Would we be frightened away from our mission by the threats of the darkened world? As the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, how readily have we accepted the words of Jesus to change us radically from what we have been to what we will become? How have we recognised God’s Kingdom? By sharing in the cross of Christ, or acting like Jerusalem – at first welcoming him but then denying and condemning when put to the test?

So often in Scripture, we are offered the model of faith against all the odds. Like God’s promise to Abram to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Yet Abram had no son, and his estate would be inherited by the son of a servant in his household. Still against all the odds, Abram believed, and God credited his faith as righteousness.

What is asked of us seems to me rather less farfetched. We have the historical records of the life and death of Jesus. Most of us have been brought up in the church. So our welcome for the Kingdom is far less that even the people of Jerusalem who welcomed Christ as Messiah, even though they turned on him so soon afterwards. What is harder is the way we live up to that faith. Our enemies are not so much persecution, idolatry and false teaching as lethargy, a comfortable existence and plenty, which leads us to think we are self-sufficient, and have no need of redemption. But the warning in today’s gospel is that, if we are not willing to wholeheartedly believe, and put our faith into practice, we will indeed be left desolate. God longs to gather us to himself, even as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But it’s up to us to allow ourselves to be gathered in, and not walk away. Amen