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