Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Holy Innocents

Sunday 28 December 2014

Stewkley and Soulbury, Buckinghamshire

Reading Jeremiah 15

15 This is what the Lord says:

‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.’

16 This is what the Lord says:

‘Restrain your voice from weeping
    and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,’
declares the Lord.
    ‘They will return from the land of the enemy.
17 So there is hope for your descendants,’
declares the Lord.
    ‘Your children will return to their own land.

Reading I Corinthians

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 

Gospel Matthew 2

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.

The escape to Egypt

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’

16 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 ‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.’


There’s a choice of service provision in the lectionary, set for today. One is the festival of The Holy Innocents . The alternative is just the 1st Sunday after Christmas.

Normally, churches would decide to celebrate a festival in these circumstances, moving it from the nearest weekday to the Sunday if need be. But today, especially with many clergy taking a well-earned rest, a lot of churches will instead observe Christmas 1.

The reason is pretty obvious. It’s the subject matter. After the joy of the Nativity, we are plunged into the massacre of babies and children by a despotic tyrant. It’s not likely to lift the spirits. Continuing the Christmas season is easier and more pleasant.

But isn’t that the very reason why we shouldn’t duck the issue? The Christmas season is filled with happiness, and that’s right and proper, but our world is not always perfect, and our lives are sometimes tinged with sorrow as well as joy.

Matthew’s gospel sets the story of Joseph, who was warned in a dream to take the baby Jesus and his mother away to Egypt, in fulfilment of prophecy. Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 15:

‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.’

It all seems so wrong. There was no night time warning for the mothers of the babies in Bethlehem. Those families were just caught up in the politics of the region. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet God let this happen to them.

Fast forward 2,000 years or so and we find nothing has changed. Just before Christmas, 180, mainly children, were injured or killed in the attack on an army school in Pakistan. What had they done to deserve such cruelty and horror?

If anyone feels these incidents take place a long way away and don’t affect us directly, we only have to look at the intercessions in Common Worship suggested for today. In them, we pray for the children of our world, that they may grow up knowing love and security, but we also remember those who suffer physical and mental abuse. We pray for those communities that still live with the memories of massacre and gross cruelty. We pray for those corrupted by power, who regard all human life as cheap. Most of us know families who have suffered the death of a child, and of course they come to mind on a day like this.

Where, then, is the message of Christmas against the background of so much suffering? Surely it can only be that God comes to bring new life, Emmanuel — God with us — even into this madness of want and evil. He comes to show us the way.

This is why our focus on the Holy Innocents instead of the First Sunday after Christmas is a strong way to proclaim the gospel. The image of salvation in the midst of cruelty is accurate. It is crucial rather than something to avoid. We should not be afraid of it.

A shallow faith will not want to hear about the murder of children, but such horrors are not endured by failing to hear about them. What overpowers the bloody spectacles human beings create is the overwhelming truth that God gives not only a means for responding to evil but also a reason: God’s creation is holy, intended for good.

The ways of God are not easy to understand, with our limited comprehension, and the fact that evil seems to flourish provides a stumbling block to faith for many people. God is not an absentee, of course: he does intervene, as we all know in our own lives.

Joseph had 4 dreams, giving guidance and warning, telling him not to fear, and enabling him to act against his own strong instinct and social conventions. After that, his job was done. We don’t hear anything more of Joseph throughout the rest of the gospels.

We might prefer a God who is more like Superman — a power constantly intervening to put wrongs right and protect the vulnerable, but that’s not the way things are. Christians do not worship a God who fixes problems, but in tune with the whole Christmas story, a God who suffers, and comforts those who suffer.

This is the importance of The Holy Innocents. Jesus came to a world of suffering in the midst of Herod’s brutality. This same Jesus knows our suffering, comes to the frightened and the sick and the hungry, feeds and heals, and teaches the presence of God’s power wherever there are tears.

‘I will comfort you,’ says the Lord, ‘ as a mother comforts her child,
and you shall be comforted.’

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Day

25th December 2014 at Ivinghoe

Reading Isaiah 52: 7 – 10

7 How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    ‘Your God reigns!’
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Gospel Luke 2: 1 – 20

Alleluia, alleluia.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

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.’

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Christmas Message

Paper aeroplanes thrown.

What we do as a child influences the way we are as adults. Designers of Concorde seem to have looked back at attempts to fly paper planes as far as possible with minimum drag.

Birth Narratives

Events surrounding birth of Jesus. Background to where he was born, and in what circumstances.

Story unfolds in three episodes:

1. We sympathize with Joseph and (especially) pregnant Mary, as they make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Mary delivers her first-born son in the lowliest of conditions.

2. We delight in the shepherds and get to share in the angel’s joyful “birth announcement” of the Messiah.

3. Finally, we get to accompany the shepherds to the manger, where they share the remarkable birth announcement to the amazement of all. These are indeed words that we, like Mary, treasure in our hearts.

Designers of Concorde had to move on from childish attempts at design to high tech world of modern aviation construction. Radical new materials instead of paper. Supersonic engines instead of elbow grease. Safety and control, instead of crashability.

So it is with Christmas. Window displays — Christmas carols — cribs — are today what Christmas is all about.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

wrote Charles Wesley — if that’s the impression we get of Christ, even in church, and pass it on to our children, then we do him and ourselves a disservice.

Focus on the child

Without the man, there is absolutely no reason to focus on the child of Bethlehem. The baby is unremarkable. Many others would have been born in squalid, unhygienic conditions to homeless, unmarried mothers.

What I want us to think about, this Christmas, is that this child became a man. His background, whatever it was, surrounded by drama and prophecy, was just the precursor of what was to come.

It’s no coincidence we hear nothing more of Jesus fate until he was in his thirties. Nothing about his childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Certainly no reference to a marriage, whatever Dan Brown might say.

Surely this is because the baby and the child are nothing without the man — what he was to become — his ministry, teaching, life, death, and eventual resurrection.

Christmas has no meaning without Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

God the Helper of Israel

Isaiah 41 – Mid week Holy Communion at Wing Church – 11 December 2014

Reading Isaiah 41: 13 - 20

13 For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.
14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
15 ‘See, I will make you into a threshing-sledge,
    new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and reduce the hills to chaff.
16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
    and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord
    and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

17 ‘The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Gospel Matthew 11: 11 - 15

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

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

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

All Glory to you, O Lord.

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

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


Context — Babylon — exile — 6th C. To c39 concern for fate of Jerusalem. Leading citizens exiled — dispersed, no threat.

c40ff — setting Jerusalem — leading men able to return — Persians looked on with favour.

Sunday reading“Comfort ye my People...” “A voice crying in the wilderness...” — c40 opening — time of punishment is passed Prophet’s role and message has changed.

Today — “The helper of Israel...” is God. Trial scene — “Be silent...” Accused no longer Israel — they have paid double for all their sins.

God opens accusation — claims to rule nations — subdues kings before him. God roused victor from the East — might be Cyrus Persian acting as agent of the Lord?

Idea of Servant introduced —appears 20 times c40-55 — Israel bidden not to fear — echoes of Jesus.

c41 today“Do not fear...” oracle. Israel a “worm” or “insect.” Akkadian word might mean louse. God is the Holy One of Israel. Now called Redeemer — not necessarily in religious sense — bondsman, kinsman needing help.

Israel has important part to play in God’s purpose. But for us — parallels of redemption, suffering, power of God to rule despite all to contrary, not being afraid — taking our part in God’s purpose whole heartedly. Amen

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Parable of the Talents

Aston Abbotts 16 November 2014

Gospel Matthew 25.14-30

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

When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

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


Today’s gospel reading is the Parable of the Talents. This parable is one of the trickiest in the gospels to interpret. I’m not sure I have ever read a really convincing explanation of exactly what it means. There’s a lot at stake—our very souls, perhaps. Our fate when Jesus returns in judgement at the end of time, maybe? How we live our lives, and what use we make of the resources God has given each and every one of us, possibly?

I’m sorry I can’t give you a complete answer this morning. In one way, that’s inevitable—parables are for each one of us to work out for ourselves, and each of us may come up with a perfectly valid interpretation that works for us, but differs from other people’s. On the other hand, I usually like to suggest some possible answers, and pose a few questions for you to ponder, but on this occasion, as we’ll see, that’s very hard to do.

The starting point is the traditional interpretation. Our reading is from Matthew 25. A man, Jesus says, is about to journey into a foreign land. He gives his goods over to his servants, or slaves. They are not divided equally, but each servant receives a different amount. Why?—because each receives a certain sum according to his ability. The parable then goes on to describe how each of the servants use their lord’s money.

Luke has the same parable in his chapter 19. But instead of talents, in Luke the nobleman gives his servants one mina or one pound each. The difference is not just in the detail. A talent was a huge sum of money. A talent of gold weighed 59 kg. A talent of silver would equate to 9 years’ pay for a highly skilled worker. Why is the sum so huge, and is that why Luke’s version of the parable is more believable?

The traditional explanation was that once again Jesus was using hyperbole: he was exaggerating for effect. My own view is there is obviously an element of hyping up the story to get it noticed, but another possibility is that we are all given huge resources by God, and must make best use of our talents in his service. The Greek word ταλεντών does not mean the same as talents in English, of course, but we are still talking about resources, and what use we make of them.

We can be fairly sure that, like the parable of the Ten Virgins which comes before it, the parables are both about the Kingdom of Heaven. If so, why is the nobleman so unfair, giving his servants different sums of money, and stealing other people’s crops that he had not planted or tended? Many of these parables depict God as authoritative and even threatening, and judgement as somewhat arbitrary and harsh. We don’t know. What we can say is God’s provision might be unequal, but it is embarrassingly abundant and we have a responsibility as God’s servants to make best use of what we have been allocated, until the Lord’s return.

Both of these parables involve a delay. The bridegroom delays so long that the foolish virgins run out of oil for their lamps. In today’s reading there is a long delay before the master returns. I think these are clearly the long wait for the end of time, when Jesus will return in judgement. Who knows when this may come? The point is that we should be ready, even though he comes like a thief in the night.

When the master returns, he calls each servant to account. Those who received the most managed to double their money through trade, and were commended for their shrewd business acumen. The one who received least and left it mouldering in the ground was condemned as a lazy and wicked servant, not even bothering to put his money in the bank to earn interest. That’s fair enough, you might think, but why was his talent taken away and given to the servant who had the most?

We’re left with several uncomfortable, unanswered questions, but the main thrust of the story is still clear. Our own ideas about right and wrong are not necessarily God’s.

What talents and resources we possess must be put to good use in the service of the Kingdom. They include our money, our involvement in the mission of the church, our skills and abilities, and the time we have to offer.

We might feel we are safe in the arms of a loving God, but many of the parables speak of the harshness of judgement, if we by our unfaithful lives reject Him, walk away from the light, and end up in the outer darkness of sin and failure.

Am I sounding like a Victorian preacher of hell fire and damnation? Maybe—but have we all strayed too far in our faith towards the cosy and comfortable? Not all is black, of course, even in today’s parable. The servants who pleased their master are treated very differently. Who could doubt the power of those saving words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

These were no longer servants or slaves, but equals. They were invited to share in their master’s happiness. They were given charge of many things. So, however uncomfortable we might feel about the details of the way the story develops, the main lessons I think are straightforward, and the welcome awaiting the faithful, as children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom outweigh all other considerations. Amen

Sunday, 2 November 2014

All Saints Day

Sunday 2nd November 2014 at Stewkley

Gospel Matthew 5.1-12

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

All Alleluia.

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 Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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



On a day like this, as we commemorate All Saints, after several years of writing sermons, the temptation to recycle one I wrote a few years ago is strong. The readings rotate in a 3 year cycle, which offers the preacher some variety, but All Saints and All Souls comes around every year.

In Cheddington, we used to observe All Saints the evening of the 1st of November. All Hallows. The day after Hallowe’en. In a very moving service, we read out the names of all the loved ones who had died.

All Saints was transferred to the nearest Sunday, which is today. The emphasis is similar. We did not only commemorate those special people who are called saints, but all Christians. Search through the NRSV and you will find 65 references to saints. Most of them are in the New Testament, and they refer not to special, wonderful people but ordinary Christian folk like you and me. For example, when talking about Paul, Ananias says:  ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem”

I expect you have heard all this in previous years, so I’ll continue to resist the urge to recycle, partly because I think today’s gospel reading from the Beatitudes is an interesting choice in itself.

Who are all these “Blesseds” referring to? Are they commands for us to emulate? It might be good to be merciful, but should we mourn, or be constantly hungry and thirsty? It might be good to make peace, but should we go all out to be disliked, persecuted or spoken evil about? Or is Jesus just saying we should count ourselves blessed if it happens as a result of living the Christian life?

In order to answer this question, we have to remember this is teaching by Jesus. It’s the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Verses 1 and 2 say: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.” So that means we are meant to learn from what he teaches.

Secondly, Jesus is offering instruction in righteousness. The SM will have plenty to say about how we should behave as people of his Kingdom.

Now, you would have expected a sermon like this to begin with lots of Thou shall and Thou shalt nots just like the 10 Commandments but it doesn’t. Too often, people try and make the Beatitudes into laws. Clearly, they’re not.

The list is indicative not imperative. The words are descriptive, not prescriptive. Jesus is not saying we should all become people with all these characteristics. Some people might starve to see justice done, but for others that may not be their main focus.

What he is saying is that such people are blessed of God. God looks upon such people with favour. God’s eye is on them; they will be happy in the end. This, says Jesus, is the way things are.

But if the Beatitudes are descriptions of reality, what reality is this? What kind of world are we talking about? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound much like the world I know.

In my world, the meek don’t inherit. They’re often at the back of the queue. Those who mourn are tolerated for a while, but then they’re expected to pull themselves together and get over their grief. In the world I know, the pure in heart are often dismissed as hopelessly naïve.

No, this is closer to the world I know:

Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.

Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.

Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.

So the picture Jesus paints is not the current order. For now, we do not yet see all these things coming to fruition, but we do see Jesus. Jesus not only declares, but embodies the new world order. In that day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that a crucified man is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

When that day comes, everyone will see at last that the one hung upon a tree in shame, the one who in poverty of spirit was forsaken by everyone—even by God in the end, it seemed—the last of the last, is first, is Lord of all.

The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed and embodied is precisely a new way of seeing, a new way of naming, and so a new way of being. Until that day, the Beatitudes stand as a daring act of protest against the current order.

Jesus cannot very well insist that we be poor in spirit, but he can show us how to look upon such people with new eyes, and so gain entrance to a new world.

On All Saints Day, the Beatitudes testify to how things will be in the fullness of time, when there is a new world order, and when we, who today are called saints, become fully children of God, inheritors of the saints in light. Amen

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Last Sunday after Trinity

Sunday 26th October 2014 at Aston Abbotts and Cublington


Gospel Matthew 22.34-46

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.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?” No-one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no-one dared to ask him any more questions.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All Praise to you, O Christ.



This confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees is one of a series of arguments between our Lord and the lawyers, chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees and their disciples.

Today’s gospel reading seems to focus on a riddle, which Jesus poses to the Pharisees, which he knows they cannot answer. Jesus asks about “the Christ” which means “the Anointed One” The word “Christ” in the Pharisees’ minds does not refer to Jesus himself. He is asking them about the promised Messiah — whom they have been expecting for many generations.

The riddle concerns the relationship of the Messiah with King David. The Christ is “Son of David” they reply. “How then can David call him Lord?” Jesus asks.

Reading this riddle in the gospels, now, today, two millennia after the words were spoken, we don’t really get the significance and why it is reported so prominently. But it doesn’t really matter that we don’t fully understand it, because the first part of the exchange is, for us, much more important. It’s about love.

The Sadducees had their own tricky question about the Law. “Which is the greatest commandment?” they ask. Jesus has no difficulty fielding this question. His reply seems deceptively simple. He gives what has become known as the Golden Rule: Love God — Love your Neighbour.

The Golden Rule is not unique. You find it in other faiths too. But here it is invested with all the authority of Jesus himself, and is at the heart of our faith.

The Sadducees are silenced. But we cannot pass on to the exchange with the Pharisees quite so readily. What has been spoken by Jesus we must ponder again and again, throughout our whole lives. Love God. Love our Neighbours.

You probably know that the Greeks had several words for different kinds of love. Not quite so many as the Eskimos have for snow and ice, but more than the one of two words we have in English. Two or three of them are clearly illustrated in the Golden Rule.

Love is a strong emotion in our modern society. It’s a force for good, and the glue that holds family life together. However perversions of love, like perversions of faith, can lead to the most appalling crimes. Love can be dangerous, as well as wonderful.

Jesus does not always behave in the cosy fashion we expect. He provokes; argues; disputes goads; is sometimes violent. If love is a strong emotion in our society, why should it not be so in the Bible? The thing is, Jesus has no difficulty reconciling all his actions with the law of love. And nor should we. We should examine all our actions in the light of the law of God’s love for us, and ours for our neighbours.

Take the church, for example. How often does ‘love’ mean taking the path of least resistance? A few volunteers doing everything, and feeling taken for granted?

When truth telling is uncomfortable, do we practice equivocations in the name of ‘love?’ Do we actively try and avoid argument, theological disagreement, feeling that love equals harmony?

It didn’t work that way for Jesus. He entered disputes, provoked debate, and did not avoid uncomfortable situations. He touched untouchables, engaged fully with the outcast, included women in his ministry and group of followers, touched the dead, and confronted trouble head on.

Eventually love of this kind got him killed. Had he stayed out of trouble, things might have ended very differently. What might then have been the story of our redemption?

The message is surely that, seeing the love of Jesus in action, our love does not imply some sort of doormat humility. We can still love God and our neighbours if feathers get ruffled and some people get upset. Does that change in any sense the way things are done in this church? Does that affect who holds the power, and the way they exercise it?

Here we can learn from the love of Jesus in action, and review our lives in the light of the Golden Rule.

You might have thought I ducked the riddle. Well, no I won’t. We know the key, which was hidden from the Sadducees. The Christ, the anointed One, is the Messiah, yet is also born in the line of David the king. The time had not come to make that clear, but it does remind us that we should not just read the gospels to find out more about Jesus himself. We should look at the messianic background in the Old Testament too, if we are to see this rounded picture of our Saviour. That’s the other important message from this passage. Amen

Sunday, 22 June 2014

22 June 2014 BCP at St Peter & St Paul, Wingrave

First Sunday after Trinity


O GOD, the strength of all them that put their trust in thee, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


1 St. John 4.7-end

BELOVED, let us love one another: for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment: he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.


St. Luke 16.19-end

THERE was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried: and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.


They say rich people are rich because they know how to hang on to their money, and not spend it or give it away. In this country, and indeed in this village, we are many of us clearly well off, and should therefore particularly heed the teaching on Money which Luke reports in chapters 15—17 of his gospel.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man anchors a series of parables — the lost coin (15:8-10), the prodigal son (15:11-32), and the dishonest manager (16:1-13) — each of which deals with money, with wealth, with the economy of a right-relationship with God and one’s fellow human beings.

There’s not much comfort for us in these parables. God may not be asking each one of us to give away all we have to the poor, and come and follow him, but there’s no explaining away some of the messages that are found in this part of Luke’s gospel.

Each of the parables addresses the issue of money a little differently, one celebrating an extravagant expense, another addressing the allure of wealth at the cost of human relationships, and one challenging the listener to faithfulness, whether in much or just a little.

The sequence of parables each addresses an aspect of the significance or love of money in spiritual matters. The culminate in chapter 17 with the words of Jesus: “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom they come!” (verse 1), and again, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (verse 33).

So it’s our handling of wealth, what we do with it, how we use it and teat it that is the important message, and not our possession of wealth itself. Neither in the Hebrew scriptures nor in the new testament is wealth itself condemned as such. No—its the danger of being comfortable through reliance on ourselves and our possessions. We can so easily, like the farmer who built bigger barns, become uncaring, complacent, or self-righteous. Like all good gifts from God—for that is what material possessions are—they can become a snare for us and not a benefit to ourselves and more crucially the world around us. For we are blessed with these gifts not for ourselves, but we are charged to distribute these blessings to those in need of help, on behalf of the one who endowed us with his grace and goodness in the first place.

In the Lazarus parable, the rich man is not in torment because he was rich, nor the poor man in paradise because he was poor in this life. It’s not a question of comeuppance. But the rich man was the one who neglected his duty, day in, day out, to help the poor man who languished every day in the dirt at his gate.

The point of this parable, and indeed of this series of parables, is to address the “occasions for stumbling” that may confront us in our wellbeing. We are called by this story to remember during our lifetime the life that Christ has prepared for us all, the wealthy and the poor alike, and to live presently in the promise of that life to come. Amen

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pentecost 8th June at Wingrave

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 20.19-23

On the evening of the 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.”


I like to arrive early. I hate risking missing a train or a flight by cutting it too fine. I work out how long it takes to drive to my destination, then add lots of time for traffic and contingencies. Vicky is the opposite. She arrives “just in time.” But where I board a plane last, she likes to join the queue even if she has a pre assigned seat. We’ve been incompatible now for 42 years or more. What hope is there for us during the next 42 years?

Getting an early train explains why I often have time to kill when I arrive in London. I fill spare hours with a short visit to the British Museum, the National Gallery, or the Tate Modern, depending on my eventual destination.

The other day, at the National Gallery, I spent a few minutes with a group of school children listening to a curator describe a painting to us in intimate detail. The subject was the Ascension. The frightened disciples cowered at the foot of the painting. The middle of the canvas was filled with billowing clouds. At the top, only the legs were still visible of three men floating upwards, passing out of sight.

For many people, the post Easter narratives challenge our faith more than any other events recorded in scripture. We see miracles happening on a regular basis in our everyday lives. The wonders of modern medicine. Near death experiences. Narrow escapes. Answers to prayer that cannot be explained as mere coincidences.

Yet the empty tomb; the resurrection; the ascension; and Pentecost stretch our credibility to the limit. Sometimes we look for alternative, more plausible explanations.

If we doubt the empty tomb, and try and explain away the resurrection, we are in immediate danger, because the resurrection of Christ, and our own resurrection, is what distinguishes our faith as Christians from mere belief in the historical narratives portrayed in the Bible. Belief in the resurrection is non-optional. But what about the ascension and the events of Pentecost?

The fact of the ascension is perhaps more important than the actual event itself. At some point, the incarnation of Jesus Christ as Son of God comes to an end. That’s when he passes from bodily form in this world, and the disciples see him for the last time. His direct leadership and guidance ceases. As a group, they are for a short while on their own, with their memories of what happened, what he said, and what he commanded them to do after he passed from their sight.

How that happened; whether he drifted upwards on some cosmic elevator; or who accompanied him at that time is less important than the fact of the ascension itself.

In the case of Pentecost, the fact of the gift of the Spirit of God is more important than whether Jesus breathed quietly on his followers, or whether the gift was accompanied by rushing winds, noise and flames of fire. The ‘still, small voice’ if you like, or the earthquake and the rushing, mighty wind?

What follows from the fact of Pentecost?

Firstly, and most important, the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, sometimes there was evidence of the gift of the Spirit before baptism and even before any subsequent conversion. Pentecostalism was (and is) grounded on the belief, drawn from its interpretation of Acts 2, that speaking in tongues is the physical manifestation of a person’s having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I would say that scripture does not fully support that view.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit empowers us to witness to the truth. But again, looking at scripture, the gift of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience. People can be filled with the Spirit at various times. Things like ‘speaking in tongues’ or any other manifestation are not essentials.

Thirdly, the disciples spoke to all people. Men and women. Regardless of ethnic origin. Whatever their faith. From the outset, the church was inclusive. General Synod take note.

Finally, whatever happened at Pentecost, whatever are the continuing manifestations of the Spirit in our own time, and whatever differences there might be between the church traditions and denominations, surely the message from today is that we affirm the continuing reality of the Pentecost experience, in a form that makes sense to us.

In the end, the ascension of Christ is not a transport from one place to another. It is a transition from one mode of existence to another. The gift of the Spirit, through the grace of God, takes many forms. We all must work out our own salvation, trusting that the free expression of the Holy Spirit will transcend all the belief systems and shackles of the various churches, and guide and lead us to all truth, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Easter 5 Aston Abbotts 18 May 2014

Sunday 18 May 2014 – the Guide to Faith

Gospel John 14.1-14

Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

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 seem a bit stressed, people tend not to say something like “you look under the weather” but “you need a holiday.” Even if you’ve just had one. If you point that out, they advise another one.

I always find this a bit unwelcome, mainly because holidays can be pretty stressful in themselves. Trying to fit everything into the suitcase. Lugging it to the airport. Hassle and flight delays. Wondering whether there will be someone to meet you on arrival at your destination. Hoping the online hotel booking got through. Working a foreign language cash machine. Arguing about what to do and where to go. Worrying about what’s going on at home. And so on.

Some of you may well have last heard the first part of today’s gospel reading at a funeral or memorial service. After all the arrangements have been made, as we sit in church grieving for the person who has died, we reflect on our own mortality. What has happened to our loved one now they have passed from our sight? Will we ever meet them again? Where and when will that be?

In John’s gospel, during the farewell discourses, we are told not to worry. What seems to be on offer is like an eternal holiday with none of the stresses and strains. The picture Jesus paints is of a great mansion with many rooms. Plenty of space for all. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” he says. Trust me. I am going there in advance, to prepare a place for you. And when you get there, I will be waiting.

The timing of this reading in the lectionary is not good. It comes from the Farewell Discourses. There are 4 chapters to go before Jesus is arrested. Jesus is comforting his disciples—anticipating what they are about to go through—but with our knowledge of the Easter story we can put ourselves in his shoes, and anticipate the humiliation, rejection, abuse and agony he is about to experience. Jesus’ mind must be in turmoil, yet is he first thinking of himself, of what is to come, of his separation albeit briefly from the Father? No — at the outset he is offering solace to his followers, and to us.

After the torture comes Easter Day. After the crucifixion comes the resurrection. After the resurrection comes the ascension. These are the key events that mark the incarnation, and bring it to an end. The disciples are going to have to learn to live without Jesus in their midst. Like a relay race, the baton now passes to them. Without them, his mission comes to an abrupt end. Then it passes to us — we are God’s hands, feet and mind here on earth, and without us and our descendants the mission of Christ’s church slowly fades and dies.

Everything that is human will die. But the resurrection did not bring the end of everything. It was itself a beginning, and will be a new start for all believers. Jesus’ resurrection was not the be all and end all. The resurrection presumes there is something beyond itself—the ascension. His—and ours.

It’s in the light of the ascension, and not only the resurrection, that we have to interpret the Farewell Discourses. Including today’s passage from John 14.

Returning to the funeral service, where many of us encounter this reading, the image of a great mansion in the sky for the recently departed is evidently Jesus’ main purpose, to prepare to receive the loved one who has passed away. This gives great comfort at a time of mourning and loss, but as believers we have to remember Jesus is not referring to a place as such at all. It’s better than that. Jesus is talking about our ascended life, in the intimate presence of God. The promise is that we will share in the close bond between Jesus and the Father.

All the I AM statements in John’s gospel signal the very nature of God. Jesus is not separate in any way, but One with the Father. When Thomas asks for a road map, Jesus answers “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I AM signals his divinity as well as describing the way to the disciples. So it is through Jesus we know the way to the Father, and need no specific instructions.

There’s a hint of judgement in all this. No one comes to the Father except through me does not necessarily indicate an exclusive religion but the presence of the Father in Jesus as he says those words.

If you don’t believe me, read on. “Show us the Father” says 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?” Jesus answers. “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me...”

You may remember, very many years ago, sending off to the AA for directions to your holiday destination. They came in a yellow cover. The pages were compiled from selected instructions for driving from one big town to another. Before the days of motorways, that was the way we navigated.

My job was to read out the directions as my mother drove our A40. And to get blamed by my sisters and brother if we missed a turning.

The incarnation is not like those early sets of instructions. We don’t need a map, nor do we slavishly follow guidelines. No — Jesus is the way in himself. To follow him is the way of salvation, because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. They are one and the same.

Too many Christians seem to think they still have to follow each instruction. Faith by works, that is.

I am going to the Father says Jesus. There’s no need to ask the way, or send off for that yellow guide. Follow me! As he said to Philip:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Amen

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Easter 4 Sunday 11th May 2014

St Peter and St Paul, Wingrave

Invitation to Confession

The Spirit of truth will convict the world
of guilt about sin, righteousness and judgement.
We have grieved the Holy Spirit.
In sorrow we confess our sins.

The Collect

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.

First Reading Acts 2: 42—end

The fellowship of the believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Gospel John 10: 1—10

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

The good shepherd and his sheep

10 ‘Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.’ 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

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


Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Easter 4. The lectionary follows a 3-year cycle, providing lots of variety for the preacher and for the congregation alike. But Good Shepherd Sunday comes around every year, and you can almost hear the minister’s sigh, as he tries to think up some new angle on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Don’t get me wrong. We all love the symbolism of the good shepherd. It’s a wonderful picture, but you do run out of new insights into the pastoral scene in 1st century Palestine after a few years. And some preachers have a knack of leaving their congregations thinking of themselves as dim-witted sheep, with little idea in their heads except to follow blindly, get lost, or risk the shepherd’s life by being just plain stupid. Like sheep, in fact.

So I tried hard to find a completely different insight into John chapter 10. This year is year A in the lectionary. We read verses 1—10. Next year—year B we read verses 11—18. Finally, in year C it’s verses 22—30. Even though the chapter is split in this way, it’s important to remember it’s one chapter, and one story—not three.

But—and here’s my plan—Jesus does not say “I AM the good shepherd” until verse 11. So you’re thinking, what did he say this year? Well, he didn’t say he was the good shepherd. He said he was the gate of the sheepfold. “Very truly I tell you—I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved...”

It’s confusing, isn’t it? A very mixed metaphor. Is he the gate, or is he the shepherd? Or both? If in doubt, look at the context. Sometimes it helps.

In the previous chapter, Jesus heals the man born blind. That’s in chapter 9:1—41. And even though the chapter division separates this event from Jesus the Good Shepherd it’s all one discourse. Jesus does not stop and take a break. He doesn’t move somewhere else. There is no passage of time. Chapter 10 follows without delay.

You’ve probably heard it said many times before that John the evangelist doesn’t do miracles. He does signs. And he follows certain patterns. Sign—dialogue—discourse. In these two chapters, the sign is the healing miracle of the man born blind. This is followed by the dialogue, as the hearers try to work out what the sign means. The dialogue includes an argument between the man who had been healed and the Pharisees. You’ll remember the wonderful exchange, where the clever people try and trap the man: but he just sticks to what he knows: “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

So what I am saying is this. The first 18 verses of chapter 10 are the discourse where Jesus explains what he has done. This means our reading is about healing, and not about sheep.

What follows is like a little drama. The cast of characters includes a shepherd, sheep, thieves, bandits, the gatekeeper, strangers, and yes, even the gate. A bit like Pyramus and Thisbe in Midsummer Night’s Dream where there is a wall.

The point is that the man born blind was healed, and moved from everlasting darkness and rejection from the community to wholeness and belonging.

The door or gate of the sheepfold implies an inside and an outside. Acceptance and rejection. Salvation, no less. Those who pass through the door will be saved—but more than that, they are not confined, but can go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus describing himself as a gate or door does not sound as catchy as when he likens himself to the Light, or as the Good Shepherd—but I think the image of the door is equally powerful, if you take the time to reflect on what he means, and what that means for you and me.

This door is no less that the means of salvation for the whole world. This door leads to the tangible grace in the bosom of the Father, and the means of life is faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t have as many hymns about Jesus as the gate or the door, as we do about images of light or shepherds and sheep of course. Perhaps we should, but we don’t.

But before we leave this picture, we must still remember that all is not rosy outside the sheepfold. In verse 10 the thief returns, alone. In contrast to Jesus, who brings life in abundance, the thief comes only to kill and destroy. Singling out the thief in this way foreshadows the death of Jesus. The only other time in John’s gospel where the word thief is used, it is used to describe Judas.

We still pass in and out of the protection of the sheepfold, and are still exposed to many dangers. But the ultimate victory is assured. Jesus the door to eternal life. The gateway to the abundant grace of the Father. So as we approach the communion table, let us pass afresh through the door, Jesus Christ himself, to the glory of God the Father. Amen


May the God of peace make you perfect and holy,
that you may be kept safe and blameless
in spirit, soul and body,
for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
All and also with you.


But chiefly are we bound to praise you
because you raised him gloriously from the dead.
For he is the true paschal lamb who was offered for us,
and has taken away the sin of the world.
By his death he has destroyed death,
and by his rising to life again he has restored to us everlasting life.

Extended Preface

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
almighty and eternal Father,
and in these days of Easter
to celebrate with joyful hearts
the memory of your wonderful works.
For by the mystery of his passion
Jesus Christ, your risen Son,
has conquered the powers of death and hell
and restored in men and women the image of your glory.
He has placed them once more in paradise
and opened to them the gate of life eternal.
And so, in the joy of this Passover,
earth and heaven resound with gladness,
while angels and archangels and the powers of all creation
sing for ever the hymn of your glory:

Post communion

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


God, who from the death of sin raised you to new life in Christ,
keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
All Amen.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Maundy Thursday 17 April 2014

St Peter & St Paul, Wingrave

Maundy Thursday 17 April 2014

Invitation to Confession

The Spirit of truth will convict the world
of guilt about sin, righteousness and judgement.
We have grieved the Holy Spirit.
In sorrow we confess our sins.

The Collect

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.

First Reading Exodus 12

The Passover

12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 ‘On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 ‘This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance.

Gospel John 13

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

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet

13 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

7 Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’

8 ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’

9 ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’

10 Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.

34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

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


Maundy Thursday – two primary traditions in Scripture. One – Jesus took bread – institution of Eucharist. Two – a new command I give you. Synoptic gospels recount last supper – familiar words echoed in Eucharistic prayers.

Meal John describes – not a Passover meal. In John – Jesus dies on Day of Preparation for Passover. This is when Passover lambs are killed. Chronology is less important than what is being said.

Sadly Judas’ betrayal is left out. vv18 – 30 are omitted. We miss the symbolic phrase ad Judas leaves “And it was night.”

Instead, there’s a lovely phrase – offers comfort to us. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus knows time has come. Return to Father. Prepares disciples for crucifixion. John prepares readers for death of Christ.

New command – mandatum. Derivation of Maundy. This new command only understood in context of Jesus’ relationship with disciples. Us.

John says Jesus knows all power given to him by Father. How does he wield? He gets up from table and takes off outer garment. Fastens towel and washes feet. He receives all power, divests, becomes servant of all. Acts as only a slave could. Not even a servant would touch feet, let alone a host.

Deliberate. Hour has come – but John is clear Jesus is in control. His actions measured, meaningful. Told in the way we can learn from the symbolic act — a sign – and put what we learned into practice for ourselves.

A new commandment I give you. Acted out. What is it? Love one another – but in special way. His actions all dictated by love. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Meal is a love feast. Agape. Love does not stand on ceremony. Does whatever needs be done. Service. Humility. Debasement, even. Ultimately, the cross.

The is salvation played out before our very eyes. Arms open wide on the cross. God’s arms embrace hostile world. Everything turned upside down. Power displayed through weakness. Authority and dominion through humiliation. Grace – the word we use for it. Amazing grace. Amen


May the God of peace make you perfect and holy,
that you may be kept safe and blameless
in spirit, soul and body,
for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The peace of the Lord be always with you
All and also with you.

Preparation of the Table

At the Eucharist we are with our crucified and risen Lord.
We know that it was not only our ancestors,
but we who were redeemed
and brought forth from bondage to freedom,
from mourning to feasting.
We know that as he was with them in the upper room
so our Lord is here with us now. Until the kingdom of God comes let us celebrate this feast.


But chiefly are we bound to praise you
because you raised him gloriously from the dead.
For he is the true paschal lamb who was offered for us,
and has taken away the sin of the world.
By his death he has destroyed death,
and by his rising to life again he has restored to us everlasting life.

Extended Preface

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
almighty and eternal Father,
and in these days of Easter
to celebrate with joyful hearts
the memory of your wonderful works.
For by the mystery of his passion
Jesus Christ, your risen Son,
has conquered the powers of death and hell
and restored in men and women the image of your glory.
He has placed them once more in paradise
and opened to them the gate of life eternal.
And so, in the joy of this Passover,
earth and heaven resound with gladness,
while angels and archangels and the powers of all creation
sing for ever the hymn of your glory:

Post communion

Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us the memorial of your passion:
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives
the fruit of your redemption,
for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.


God, who from the death of sin raised you to new life in Christ,
keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
All Amen.

Stripping of the Sanctuary

31 ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

33 But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’

34 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’

35 Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’

‘Nothing,’ they answered.

36 He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: “And he was numbered with the transgressors”[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.’

38 The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’

‘That’s enough!’ he replied.

Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[c]

45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’

Jesus arrested

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’

Peter disowns Jesus

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant-girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’

57 But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’

‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’

60 Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the cock crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Palm Sunday at Wingrave

Starting with a hymn, gospel reading and prayers in the parish church, we process to the Rose & Crown, the Post Office, and Wingrave School singing hymns accompanied by the Rowsham Band.

The service continues in the Methodist Chapel, with two more hymns, prayers and an informal, all-age talk.

Greeting and Welcome
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
All Amen.

The Lord be with you
All and also with you.

Hosanna to the Son of David
All Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
All Hosanna in the highest!

Rejoice greatly O Zion!
Shout aloud, Jerusalem!
Behold your king comes to you,
triumphant and victorious,
humble and mounted on a donkey.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
All Hosanna to the son of David
Hosanna in the highest!


The Palm Gospel Reading
Matthew 21: 1—11
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.

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

Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’

4 This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:

5 ‘Say to Daughter Zion,
“See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’

11 The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’

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

Blessing of the Palms
God our saviour, whose Son Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as Messiah to suffer and die, let these palms be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.
All Amen.

Let us go forth, praising Jesus as Messiah, our saviour and king.


Confession and Absolution
Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, though we have rebelled against him.
Let us then renounce our wilfulness and ask his mercy by confessing our sins in penitence and faith.

Lord our God,
in our sin we have avoided your call.
Our love for you is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Have mercy on us;
deliver us from judgement;
bind up our wounds and revive us;
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

May the God of love and power
forgive and free you from all your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

Let us pray for a closer union with Christ in his suffering and in his glory.

True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah: grant us the faith to know and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen




The Peace
Once we were far off, but now in union with Christ Jesus we have been brought near through the shedding of Christ's blood, for he is our peace.



Friday, 28 February 2014


Sunday 2 March 2014 at St Peter & St Paul Wingrave

First Reading Exodus 24.12-18

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.


Gospel Matthew 17.1-9

Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no-one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

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


Today’s gospel reading—Transfiguration. Distinct parallels in OT reading from Exodus. Both up a mountain. Voice of God heard from bright cloud. God revealed in all His glory.

Exodus—glory of Lord revealed in consuming fire. Matthew—glory of God revealed in Jesus.

Echoes of Baptism of Christ—same words “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” heard from cloud. Also echoes in I Kings 19—Elijah escapes from Jezebel up Mount Sinai—still small voice of God—sound of sheer silence—gentle whisper:

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Epiphany ἐπιφάνεια, ‘manifestation’ is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Theophany θεοφάνεια meaning ‘appearance of god’

Jesus transformed—shines with heavenly glory in front of fearful disciples. Knowing OT background, explains Peter’s suggestion the disciples build 3 shelters—for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But misunderstood what they were seeing—Jesus not equal to Moses and Elijah—Law and Prophets—but divine.

For 6 days before transfiguration—hints of what was to come.

· Jesus walks on water (as Son of God)

· Peter identifies Jesus as “Messiah—Son of the Living God”

· Jesus calls anyone who wants to follow him but says they will have to “walk the way of the cross.”

All is not sweetness and light. Elijah accused by God of cowardice. Moses went alone—other leaders too afraid. Peter rejected implications of Jesus’s divinity—his words were a temptation to take another path—he had become none less than Satan himself.

High point in transfiguration is clear. God himself affirms his own Son. Jesus’s own glory revealed on mountain. Low point—this glory cannot be separated from temptation in Gethsemane—humiliation, suffering, abandonment of crucifixion—God whose own blood will be spilled for our redemption. High mountain—low mountain.

No wonder disciples terrified—Malachi 3:2 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Handel Messiah? Another wonderful bible story of marvel and mystery? Or something of relevance for today?

Perhaps Jesus is just too familiar and approachable to us? Maybe we have lost something of the wonder and awe of Godhead? Isn’t that what Peter, James and John experienced? Then when Jesus was revealed in his godhead, they were terrified.

In a way, the Transfiguration is a timely reminder to us that we cannot fully know Christ through our own understanding and by our own strength alone.

Martin Luther in his Small Catechism says: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…”

So it’s through the Holy Spirit that God is revealed to us. The other reading set for today comes from 2 Peter. The author says: We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

But he goes on to add: For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Transfiguration—changes our understanding of Christ. Revealed in all his glory. Acknowledged by God as his only son. This is the sudden realisation that the 3 disciples were given—did not at first fully appreciate what they were seeing.

We also cannot fully know Jesus through our own understanding and strength alone. He is only revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. But this is the message of transfiguration Sunday. May God the Father richly bless us, for through his Spirit alone we can fully know his Son. Amen