Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus

Easter 3—30 April 2017—Bow Brickhill Benefice Service

Gospel Luke 24

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

On the road to Emmaus


13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.

17 He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

19 ‘What things?’ he asked.

‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’

25 He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 29 But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.

Sermon

Road to Emmaus
Many people’s favourite story. Puzzling—many unknowns. Fast paced—9 different verbs describing movement. Occurs only in Luke—Easter Day afternoon just after passion narrative.

Unknowns
No one knows where Emmaus was—7 miles from Jerusalem. Only one traveller is named—Cleopas appears nowhere else in gospels—his companion not named. Did Luke actually know?

Luke dives right in:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

Two of whom?—probably an ‘outer circle’ including certain women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James) and the others with them—travellers to Emmaus not of the ‘Twelve’ disciples. Were they men—or was one a woman?

Some of this group—especially women—had visited tomb early Easter morning—they were involved and active—not peripheral.

Jesus not recognised—even when expounds and explains Scriptures, until Eucharistic meal—words used clear parallel to Last Supper—almost identical in NT Greek.

Perhaps ‘outer circle’ not as familiar with Jesus during his ministry as the immediate disciples. “They were kept from recognising him” may even mean influence of Holy Spirit in delaying recognition until Jesus revealed in breaking of bread.

Journey — PART ONE
The Two—discussing momentous events of past few days in Jerusalem—Jesus joined in—unusual he was accepted as a stranger—roads dangerous and travellers avoided contact with possible robbers.

Even ‘outer circle’ familiar with Jesus’ Messianic claims:
‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Then they described visit of women to the tomb—vision of angels—some of ‘outer circle’ visited tomb and verified what women had seen—did not see Jesus.

Jesus condemned the foolishness of The Two. He explained how the Messiah must suffer—according to Scriptures—and how these Scriptures applied to himself. By this time the 3 had reached Emmaus—about 2½ hours in all.

Jesus the stranger wants to continue alone—the Two persuade him to accept their hospitality—walking alone after dusk is very risky.

Journey — PART TWO
Eucharistic formula renders Jesus immediately recognisable—just as the words used are instantly familiar to us:

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

This ‘theophany’—recognition of Divine—opens their eyes to Jesus’s presence and immediately signals his disappearance from their sight.

Cleopas and the other disciple, in spite of the danger, set off to walk back to Jerusalem—they report to the 11 what has happened and confirm Simon Peter’s report that Christ had risen from the dead. They both recall how their hearts had been burning within them along the way, as Jesus expounded to them the Scriptures.

Significance
The empty tomb is the foundation of our faith—this point Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15:

14 … if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

You might say—we cannot witness to the empty tomb, can we? I would make 3 points:

1. The Emmaus story shows how the first Christians did not believe because of what was said by Jesus or by others. His resurrection was not self-evident to his followers—the reason they came to believe was because he appeared to them.

Even so, we cannot believe by reason of our own intellect or strength—it is through action of the Holy Spirit that we come to believe.

2. It is usually in the setting of Christian worship that we come to believe—including the exposition of the Scriptures through the readings, then in the sermon—and of course in smaller group settings like your Lent course.

But it is also in the coming together of us all round the communion table in the breaking of the bread and in our sharing of the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. This is the context in which Jesus continues to reveal himself and sustain our faith. Surely all this is clear from the events of the Emmaus road.

One theologian puts it this way:
The Christian faith is born and nurtured where people share in worship through word, gesture, and earthly means, such as water, bread, wine, and tactile expressions of mutual care--the smile, the clasp of another's hand, perhaps even an embrace.

3. As I said at the beginning—story full of movement. That movement has not stopped, even after 2,000 years—as we share in the Eucharist, sustain our belief, and take our faith into the world outside these 4 walls, we ask ourselves what is the purpose of our movement? It is not a movement for its own sake—but has a purpose.

That purpose is to tell the story of Jesus, to interpret it, to have fellowship (communion) with Jesus and others, and to share it all with others. That is what it means to be the church.

My prayer, today, is that, like the Two on the Emmaus road, we may fully recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread, and that having done so our hearts may burn with us in a new way this Eastertide. Amen

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Day

at Great Brickhill 16 April 2017

Gospel John 20:1—18

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

The empty tomb
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

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

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

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

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

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

 

Sermon

By the end of John 19, Jesus has been condemned to death, crucified, died and was buried. John 20 describes the journeys to the tomb and back—the empty tomb as it soon appears.

John the Evangelist describes 3 journeys:

1. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, then returns to Simon Peter and the unnamed Beloved disciple.

2. Simon Peter and the Beloved disciple go to the tomb and then return to where they are staying

3. Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb and is weeping just outside the entrance. She meets the risen Christ and is commissioned by him to bear witness to the resurrection.

On this Easter Day, the narratives are so familiar we struggle to find new insights, but this is the most important day in the church’s year and these insights, the fundamentals of our faith. So this morning I invite you to listen again to these journeys, and in your mind’s eye associate with one of the characters as the journeys unfold. How did the characters react? How would you have acted in the same circumstances? Why does John the evangelist give us these three insights into the momentous events of Easter, and not just relate to us what he believed happened from the researches he made?

So—choose yourself a character and follow along with me. The main characters are Jesus himself, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the Beloved disciple.

Scene 1
This is the first journey made by Mary. Like the other journeys, it’s not just a path travelled, or even a historical event, but what happens represents a journey in the mind, a trip of faith, a dawning realisation, a sudden release of understanding.

Take Mary, for example. Early in the morning, before it is light, she walks in despair to the tomb. There’s nothing she can do except be there; she knows the tomb was sealed, and with it all hope for the future. Mary has lost everything—hope, trust, faith, friendship, love even. But when she arrives at the tomb, she sees the stone has been rolled back, but she does not enter.

“They” have rolled the stone away and stolen Christ’s body, she supposes. At this point, Mary draws no conclusion. She assumes no resurrection. She does not even witness the empty tomb, but guesses the body of Jesus has been removed. There could be many reasons, in the highly charged political atmosphere of Jerusalem over the previous few days.

Mary runs to find Simon Peter and the Beloved disciple. She reports not what she has seen, but what she thinks must have happened.

Scene 2
The men decide to verify what Mary has reported. They both run, but Peter is overtaken by the Beloved disciple who reaches the tomb first and looks in. He sees no corpse, but linen wrappings lying there. Peter then arrives breathless, and climbs straight into the tomb. He sees more of the linen, neatly arranged. Crucially, Peter discovers the tomb is empty.

Why did the Beloved disciple, like Mary, wait outside the tomb? Was it fear or panic, or perhaps a desire not to see the tomb’s contents, bringing back all the despair and grief of the crucifixion? Mary blamed enemies of Jesus, or the authorities for stealing his body. It was too early for anyone to make a leap of faith and arrive at any other explanation.

By contrast, when the Beloved disciple outran Simon Peter and looked into the tomb, he did no more than look at what he could glimpse from outside. Peter went in, but he made no leap of faith, any more than Mary had done. It was the Beloved disciple who at last entered, “saw and believed.” Presumably what he saw was the fact the tomb was empty, but more than that, he believed something miraculous had taken place.

John the evangelist makes it clear their understanding was only partial. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead) he explains. This limited grasp is reinforced by the fact both disciples did not announce the good news to the others, but just went home.

Scene 3
We now move to the climax of the narrative, not as you might expect involving the senior disciples but Mary again, two angels, a gardener or the resurrected Jesus, and all the other disciples.

Mary makes a second visit, stands outside weeping, then takes the big step of bending down and looking in. She sees two angels who ask why she is crying. Mary repeats her first conclusion, that “they” have stolen the body. Then she turns round and sees a man, whom she assumes must be a gardener. He asks why she is crying, and Mary responds by asking whether this minor worker was party to the theft?

The climax of the three journeys follows. Mary recognises Jesus, not by his appearance but in a deeper way and because he calls her by name. The unsealed tomb has unsealed Mary’s faith, and perhaps also that of the Beloved disciple. But what of Simon Peter? If you associated with him, why do you think he was silent? Why was Peter’s understanding not unsealed? Had he still not moved on from his triple denial and doubt?

Response
The gospel accounts of the empty tomb might be sparse (like Mark) or more extended (like John or Luke) but they are surely written in order not to cross T’s, dot I’s or tied loose ends. They are intended to evoke a response from the readers, and this is where we come in.

How do we respond? Have we skipped from the high point of Palm Sunday to this morning, without being involved in the dark despond of the events in between? Did we stand outside the empty tomb, making no attempt to fully enter, but doing no more than glimpse at what it did or did not contain?

If you were associating in this narrative with Jesus himself, remember that just as Mary wept outside the tomb, so Jesus wept outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, was full of confusion and fear. At the end of Scene 3 he declares to Mary he will soon ascend back to his Father God. In the same way, having met Jesus the woman at the well leaves her fear with the water jar; Mary Magdalene leaves her fear at the empty tomb; and we can leave all our dark moments at the foot of the cross.

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

Amen

Monday, 3 April 2017

An Unlikely Paragon of Faith

Blind Bartimaeus – BCP Great Brickhill – 2 April 2017 LENT 5

Gospel Mark 10:46—52

Blind Bartimaeus receives his sight
46
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’

49 Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’

So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’

52 ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Sermon

Bartimaeus
Paragon of Faith in Mark—every disadvantage in life—far from cursing God for his lot, he believed life could turn around for him.

Jesus was leaving Jericho—Bartimaeus begging in gutter. People crowded around Jesus—Bartimaeus troubled everyone with his shouting—did not ask for money but appealed to Jesus to have mercy on his lot in life—blind man who seemed to have reached lowest ebb.

The crowd rebuked him—Bartimaeus shouted even louder—Jesus stopped—did not go to him but called Bartimaeus forward. Bartimaeus threw aside his coat and leaped to his feet—this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Faith
Mark in last verse makes it clear Faith is what impels Bartimaeus—his is an active faith—story told to illustrate this active faith—Gospel gives us examples to learn from.

How does active faith reveal itself in Bartimaeus?

1. He grasps who Jesus is

2. He persists despite hindrances

3. He expects transformation

4. He asks for the right thing

1. Grasps who Jesus is
Bartimaeus is not well placed to learn about Jesus—calls him Son of David—we do not know what is the significance of this title he uses—clearly he associates Jesus with royal dimension in Hebrew scriptures and recognises him as God’s agent—Mark 12 makes the link in a public debate with teachers of the Law:

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David?

When Jesus enters Jerusalem—arrives as king, goes on trial as king, and dies as king—Bartimaeus’s understanding and perception is impressive. He also recognises Jesus has power to show mercy and to heal

51 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’
52 ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’

2. Persists in Faith
Faith does not come easily to people in Mark’s gospel—crowd think Jesus is more interested in glory and popularity than listening to the needs of a blind beggar—thus they deserve more attention than Bartimaeus—probably think Bartimaeus a sinner who has deserved his place at the bottom of social privilege—think there are many more important people who should be heard by Jesus, or spoken to by him.

The crowd sought to limit the scope of Jesus’s compassion—they have made their judgement as to his worth—Bartimaeus responds by shouting all the louder, like the woman importuning the Unjust Judge—Jesus responds by calling Bartimaeus and asking what he wants.

3. Expects transformation
Jesus could have walked to Bartimaeus, stooped down, and decided in advance what was best for him—instead Jesus called him forward—he was centre stage—asked what he desired—the crowd far from excluding him shared in Jesus’s ministry to him.

How did Bartimaeus expect transformation? He tossed aside his coat rather than hanging onto his few possessions—he knew what he wanted and boldly asked—as in other healings, Jesus addressed not only his sight (physical) but also his wholeness (spiritual and mental). Bartimaeus expected to regain his sight—tossed aside his coat, as if saying he did not need to sit on it begging any more.

4. Asks for right thing
51 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’

52 ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight...

I want to see implies more than medical vision—to ‘see’ includes understanding, wholeness and deliverance—Bartimaeus has confidence all this will through the Messiah be his—does not ask for anything less.

We can compare the disciples with Bartimaeus—they have difficulty with belief and are full of doubts—there are few declarations of faith—this passage wants to leave us with the impression that those disciples who doubt are more blind than Bartimaeus was.

Following on the Way
Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his way—not just a disciple now—has moved from lying in the gutter on the edge of the road to walking boldly in the middle. What Jesus did was not limited to healing—his faith not only led to wholeness but also to salvation.

Bartimaeus was not just following Jesus but the road led immediately to Jerusalem and confrontation—there was a cost to pay and Bartimaeus was prepared to pay it.

There is always a cost to discipleship—Bartimaeus followed on The Way after the joy of his healing—Jesus offered no promises for the future, except salvation—for Bartimaeus the Way led to the cross—we don’t know what price Bartimaeus paid to follow Christ, but this was certainly a risky and dangerous way he chose.

His was not blind faith—but he was prepared to follow Jesus without knowing where the road would lead—Bartimaeus the Paragon of Faith—how much can we learn from him?

Amen

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Woman at the Well

Mentmore – Lent 3 – 19 March 2017

Gospel John 4:5—42

5 He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’

11 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?’

13 Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’

17 ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.

Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’

19 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’

21 ‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’

25 The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’

26 Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ 30 They came out of the town and made their way towards him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’

32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’

33 Then his disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’

34 ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.’

Sermon

Last Sunday, I was taking a service of HC at Stoke Hammond. The lectionary reading was from John 3: the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus by night. Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

After I finished the sermon, I received a letter from the Rector, John Waller, telling me he had designed a special Lent Course for the benefice. The gospel reading would be from John 6: Jesus after feeding the 5,000, crossed the Sea of Galilee walking on the water, and when the crowds who had been fed caught up with him again, he told them they must seek out the Bread of Life, which he represented.

I tore up my original sermon, and rewrote it. As I started to look again at the Bread of Life, I remember being struck by how similar the exchange was to Jesus’s conversation with the Woman at the Well. Then Gill got in touch and asked me to cover today for her absence in Burundi, so I get the chance to enlarge on what I said last Sunday at Stoke Hammond.

I bet you have a picture in your mind of the Woman at the Well, which you have developed over the years. You probably think this Samaritan was a fallen woman, who had lived with 5 different men, and was a model of sinfulness used by Jesus to illustrate that salvation could come to everyone, regardless of their condition or behaviour.

My picture of the Woman at the Well is rather different. Firstly, I have a picture in my mind of the time when Vicky and I walked across the Sinai with 7 camels, and came across a woman with a flock of goats, sitting on a well cover, shocked and immoveable, having been surprised by a group of western walkers as she prepared to water her goats from the ancient well. She was dressed head to foot in black, and did not move a muscle until we had filled our water bottles and continued our trek.

Secondly, and here I put my cards on the table, I don’t think she was a fallen woman, or even particularly sinful: in fact, over the centuries, we seem to have read between the lines and, like Mary Magdalene and other women in the gospels assumed an interpretation which may be completely unjustified.

Read the passage again, and you will see Jesus does not accuse her of anything, does not call for repentance, does not forgive her, but makes a statement about her history which is purely factual. She may have been sent away from her husband by divorce. Her next husband may have died, and she may have been taken in by his family. If childless, she may have married her dead husband’s brother. This was called a Levirate marriage. There could be all sorts of reasons. To be widowed 5 times might be heart breaking; it was certainly not impossible. We can imagine this woman’s story was more tragic than necessarily scandalous.

The difficulty with jumping to conclusions from what Jesus said to her is that our judgement colours the rest of the encounter, and makes it hard for us to understand the teaching. Immediately after Jesus mentions her history, the Samaritan woman says: “I see you are a prophet.” In John, the word “see” means to observe and note, but also has a deeper meaning—to believe. What the woman is saying is that Jesus’s knowledge of her past leads to her belief he is a prophet.

Jesus has recognised the woman’s plight—how dependent she is on men for her survival. He recognises and accepts that she has little alternative but to adopt a dependent lifestyle, or face penury and immorality. Jesus “sees” into her soul.

Can this man be the long awaited Messiah? The woman wonders. Jesus confirms he is. At this point, the disciples return with food and water. They are shocked to see Jesus conversing with a woman, and a Samaritan one at that. The woman, having “seen” Jesus’s identity, leaves her water jar (an authentic detail in the account) and goes to announce in the village that she has “seen” the Messiah. ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done’ she tells her friends and neighbours.

This woman—this early Christian evangelist—was not endowed with fancy words and cogent evidence. She just told people of her own experience. Many of her friends and neighbours became believers. They tell us why, in the last verse:

42 They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.’

This is where I felt the eco of other passages. Nicodemus coming to Jesus secretly, and later on openly helping with embalming his body and arguing with the Sanhedrin. Andrew who was told by Jesus to “come and see” then seeks out his brother Peter. Philip who tells Nathaniel. And this nameless Samaritan woman—the least likely of all—who just relates what she has “seen.”

Next on the list of missioners might be you or me. Isn’t this what John the Evangelist wants us to see? The Samaritan woman is seen by Jesus, and loved by Jesus. She has the capacity to bear witness to the one who comes to enlighten our lives. He is the one who will give us living water to satisfy even our deepest thirst. What she can do, so can we. Amen

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Believing the Impossible

Lent 2 – Stoke Hammond – 12 March 2017

Readings Genesis 12

The call of Abram

12

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 ‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.’

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. 

Reading Romans 4

Abraham justified by faith

4

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’[c] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Gospel John 3

Jesus teaches Nicodemus

3

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’

3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

9 ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.

10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

Sermon

In Genesis 12, Abram is in no doubt about what God said to him. It’s almost as if God was walking with him and speaking to him, just as God did to Adam in the garden of Eden.

In Romans 4, Abraham is made righteous through his faith, not by what good things he did. The promises given to him are seemingly impossible, yet Abraham believes and trusts God, who does not let him down.

Impossibility
In John 3, Nicodemus protests to Jesus at the impossibility of his promise. A well known religious leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, a man with a reputation to preserve, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, alone. He recognises no one could perform the signs that Jesus did, unless God were with him. This is the level of faith he showed—and it grew.

Nicodemus appears three times in John’s gospel, and nowhere else. After his clandestine visit, John describes how Nicodemus reminds the Sanhedrin that a man must be heard before judgement is passed (John 7:50). His third appearance was after the crucifixion, when Nicodemus provided 45kg of embalming spices to anoint Jesus’ body, and assisted Joseph of Arimathea in preparing for his burial.

Meaning
But on the night of his first encounter with Nicodemus, what did Jesus mean by using the words “born again.” To us, the words are familiar. How many times have we been asked if we are born again? But to one hearing the words for the first time, what was Nicodemus to make of it?

The Greek word ανωθεν does not only mean “born again” but can also be translated “born from above.” Nicodemus clearly thought Jesus meant “born again.” Perhaps Jesus actually meant “born from above.” So Nicodemus was not being deliberately obtuse when he asked how one might physically be born again at his age.

In fact, theologians argued their cases by routinely trying to discover the impossible and eliminate it, as a means of arriving at what they believed to be the truth. After all, there was nothing to prefer one meaning over the other.

Whatever Jesus intended, he proceeded to propose the impossibility of anyone seeing the Kingdom of Heaven unless they had been reborn.

Faith
Just like Abram, Nicodemus is being asked to believe the impossible. In verse 7, Jesus tells him he should not be surprised at what he is asked to believe. That’s all very well, but Nicodemus still does not know what Jesus means.

Spirit
In order to elucidate, Jesus treats Nicodemus to a ‘play on words.’ He says there are two types of birth: one “of the flesh” and one “of the spirit.” In Greek, the word πνευμα means both “spirit” and “wind”.

The spirit is like the wind, Jesus says. You can feel the wind on your skin, but not see it. You can hear the wind, but not know where it is coming from, or where it is going. So it is with the Spirit, and everyone born of the Spirit.

Lifted up
Nicodemus still fails to understand. Jesus continues to play. He refers to the venomous snakes that plagued Israel in the Sinai (Numbers 21). As an antidote, Moses was told to cast a bronze replica of a snake and mount it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten could look at the bronze snake lifted high and be cured.

The word “pole” is the same word as “sign” in Greek. Nicodemus had started his discussion by praising the “signs” that Jesus performed, which could only be done through God. In the same way as the snake was “lifted up” as a “sign” to the people, so Jesus would be “lifted up” at his crucifixion, to the end that all who believe in him might have eternal life.

The passage ends with one of the most familiar verses in the whole of Scripture—John 3:16. What Nicodemus struggles to understand is revealed to us, through the grace of God.

The words “lifted up” describe a cruel and shameful death, but the same word for “lifted up” also means “glorified” or “exalted.” Jesus—the One sent from God—was to be “lifted up” on the cross, but the real meaning for all who believe the seeming impossibility is that he is glorified and exalted. All who believe will not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save the world through him.

So let us rededicate ourselves to live by this truth, come into the light so that others may see that what has been done has been done in the sight of God. What to us seems impossible is not impossible for God.

Amen

Jesus the Bread of Life

REVISED SERVICE – Stoke Hammond – 12 March 2017

Readings Exodus 3:1—15

Moses and the burning bush

3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

5 ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ 6 Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

12 And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.’

13 Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’

14 God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’

15 God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.”

‘This is my name for ever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

Reading Hebrews 3:1—6

Jesus greater than Moses

3 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

Gospel John 6:25—35

Jesus the bread of life

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’

26 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’

28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

29 Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’

32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’

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

Sermon

A week or so ago, I thought I would be talking to you about Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night. He was told he must be ‘born again.’ To us, the words sound reasonable. We know what being ‘born again’ means, or we think we do. To Nicodemus, the whole thing sounded impossible. Yet he was told to believe in the seemingly impossible, just as Abram was told to believe he would become the ancestor of many peoples. In Scripture, God walks and talks with the patriarchs, and somehow believing the impossible is easier when you are that close to the divine.

Today in the Lent course John Waller has devised, our readings are about Moses, who sees the impossible and is sent to try and negotiate the unlikely release of his people from Pharaoh. The Hebrews reading tells us that Jesus is greater than Moses, just as the designer and builder of a house is greater than the house itself. The gospel passage chosen by John Waller brings these two together in an extended metaphor about the Bread of Life.

The background to the conversation between Jesus and the crowd of those who had followed him round the Lake of Galilee is the ‘Feeding of the 5,000.’ The people had been miraculously fed, and they followed Jesus wanting more. The bread was like a kind of manna, not the one that fell from the sky, but even better: it landed in their laps.

After the ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ Jesus evaded the people and went off on his own. He sent his close disciples ahead in a boat. When they encountered a dangerous storm, Jesus miraculously appeared, walking on the surface of the water. What had happened must have surely been spread around the crowd, who had rounded the lake in search of another free lunch.

It’s tempting for the preacher to try and explain the feeding miracles in some detail, but as you will no doubt learn from the Lent Course, that misses the point. After the feeding of the 5,000, many people wanted to have Jesus as their King, one who would take up arms against the Romans and make Israel great again. That reminds me of Donald Trump’s campaign aims, hopefully this time more believable. The point, though, is not about what Jesus did, but who Jesus is. The ‘sign’ is not about people being fed, but the nature of the divine.

I don’t know if you noticed, but as I read the gospel passage the conversation sounded very similar to the woman at the well. That was about living water and not the physical water in the well. This time the extended metaphor is not about bread, and what it represents for us. In the end, both are about who Jesus is.

These events have a lot in common. Both include references to the ancestors: first Jacob, provider of the well; second Moses and the manna in the wilderness. Both ask for Jesus go on providing a permanent supply of bread or water freely. These are understandable physical desires, but both call for correction by Jesus, who explains the signs refer to himself, not bread or water.

This theme is what theologians refer to as ‘Christological’ — they are centred on Christ. When we look at the questions posed by the people and Jesus’s answers, they are told not to work for bread that spoils, but the bread that has God’s seal of approval, the kind Jesus provides. This sounds good. The crowd want the username and password. How can they work for this bread? Jesus tells them God’s work is to believe in Him—the One God sends.

The people want a ‘sign.’ They want another feeding miracle. They want to see more manna falling into their laps, just like Moses in the wilderness. Jesus explains this is not the true bread. Another sign won’t help. Only the true bread is sent by God and comes down from heaven.

Finally Jesus given them the key to the metaphor. The true bread comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. OK, the people say, give us this bread then. Jesus replies:

…‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

Just as the preacher is tempted to explain the details of the feeding miracles, so this preacher is tempted to say something more about who Christ is. What does ‘living water’ mean? What about the ‘bread of life?’

The ‘signs’ in John’s gospel, like the parables, speak to each one of us differently. Even the locks are not consistent, and the meaning seems to vary whenever we try and access it. So all I have to do is invite you to contemplate Who Jesus is for yourself and myself. Perhaps Lent is an opportunity for us all to ponder on this aspect of our faith?

The starting point could not however be clearer. The only food that can last for all time is the bread that Jesus himself is, the true gift from God. The key to unlocking this bread is to believe in Jesus, the One God sent. Now the hard bit—what follows from that? Amen

Believing the impossible

Lent 2 – Nicodemus visits Jesus at night – Stoke Hammond

12 March 2017

Readings Genesis 12

The call of Abram

12

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 ‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.’

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. 

Reading Romans 4

Abraham justified by faith

4

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’[c] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Gospel John 3

Jesus teaches Nicodemus

3

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’

3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

9 ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.

10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

Sermon

In Genesis 12, Abram is in no doubt about what God said to him. It’s almost as if God was walking with him and speaking to him, just as God did to Adam in the garden of Eden.

In Romans 4, Abraham is made righteous through his faith, not by what good things he did. The promises given to him are seemingly impossible, yet Abraham believes and trusts God, who does not let him down.

Impossibility
In John 3, Nicodemus protests to Jesus at the impossibility of his promise. A well known religious leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, a man with a reputation to preserve, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, alone. He recognises no one could perform the signs that Jesus did, unless God were with him. This is the level of faith he showed—and it grew.

Nicodemus appears three times in John’s gospel, and nowhere else. After his clandestine visit, John describes how Nicodemus reminds the Sanhedrin that a man must be heard before judgement is passed (John 7:50). His third appearance was after the crucifixion, when Nicodemus provided 45kg of embalming spices to anoint Jesus’ body, and assisted Joseph of Arimathea in preparing for his burial.

Meaning
But on the night of his first encounter with Nicodemus, what did Jesus mean by using the words “born again.” To us, the words are familiar. How many times have we been asked if we are born again? But to one hearing the words for the first time, what was Nicodemus to make of it?

The Greek word ανωθεν does not only mean “born again” but can also be translated “born from above.” Nicodemus clearly thought Jesus meant “born again.” Perhaps Jesus actually meant “born from above.” So Nicodemus was not being deliberately obtuse when he asked how one might physically be born again at his age.

In fact, theologians argued their cases by routinely trying to discover the impossible and eliminate it, as a means of arriving at what they believed to be the truth. After all, there was nothing to prefer one meaning over the other.

Whatever Jesus intended, he proceeded to propose the impossibility of anyone seeing the Kingdom of Heaven unless they had been reborn.

Faith
Just like Abram, Nicodemus is being asked to believe the impossible. In verse 7, Jesus tells him he should not be surprised at what he is asked to believe. That’s all very well, but Nicodemus still does not know what Jesus means.

Spirit
In order to elucidate, Jesus treats Nicodemus to a ‘play on words.’ He says there are two types of birth: one “of the flesh” and one “of the spirit.” In Greek, the word πνευμα means both “spirit” and “wind”.

The spirit is like the wind, Jesus says. You can feel the wind on your skin, but not see it. You can hear the wind, but not know where it is coming from, or where it is going. So it is with the Spirit, and everyone born of the Spirit.

Lifted up
Nicodemus still fails to understand. Jesus continues to play. He refers to the venomous snakes that plagued Israel in the Sinai (Numbers 21). As an antidote, Moses was told to cast a bronze replica of a snake and mount it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten could look at the bronze snake lifted high and be cured.

The word “pole” is the same word as “sign” in Greek. Nicodemus had started his discussion by praising the “signs” that Jesus performed, which could only be done through God. In the same way as the snake was “lifted up” as a “sign” to the people, so Jesus would be “lifted up” at his crucifixion, to the end that all who believe in him might have eternal life.

The passage ends with one of the most familiar verses in the whole of Scripture—John 3:16. What Nicodemus struggles to understand is revealed to us, through the grace of God.

The words “lifted up” describe a cruel and shameful death, but the same word for “lifted up” also means “glorified” or “exalted.” Jesus—the One sent from God—was to be “lifted up” on the cross, but the real meaning for all who believe the seeming impossibility is that he is glorified and exalted. All who believe will not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save the world through him.

So let us rededicate ourselves to live by this truth, come into the light so that others may see that what has been done has been done in the sight of God. What to us seems impossible is not impossible for God.

Amen

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

God and Money–a Question of Faith and Trust?

2 before Lent – Wingrave Methodist Church – Sunday 19 February 2017

 

Old Testament Genesis 1

1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

6 And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault ‘sky’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day.

9 And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground ‘land’, and the gathered waters he called ‘seas’. And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.

14 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. 16 God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.

20 And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ 23 And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day.

24 And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

29 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.

2

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

New Testament Romans 8

Present suffering and future glory
18
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 

Gospel Matthew 6

Do not worry
25
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Sermon

Jesus challenges us — to take a position on wealth — examine our lives — live ‘other worldly’ lives — trust in God to provide. Difficult for many in this world.

Sermon on Mount — chapters 5,6,&7 — opens with Beatitudes — Blessed are poor in spirit — not desirable but assurance they will be especially favoured by God.

Chapter 6 starts — Giving to the Needy — 6:19 warns against building up treasure on earth (corruptible) but seek treasure in heaven (how?)

6:24 You cannot serve both God and Money — two masters

6:25-34 Today’s Gospel Do Not Worry! — all very well, but how which of us are worriers?

· What is wrong with wealth?

· What should we seek instead?

· Can we be happy with the alternative lifestyle — even if we are born worriers?

1. WEALTH
Competes for possession of human heart
— potential threat to God’s rightful place in our lives — diverts and displaces God — challenges faith by promoting self-reliance — = SIN

Food not unimportant — pray for DAILY BREAD then trust God to provide what we need not think we need. We who are denied little must not assume our brothers and sisters are similarly well provided at all times.

What of those who hunger or are cold? — most of audience in SM go hungry

· We have responsibility to provide for poor from our abundance

· We must seek God’s righteousness and justice

· We must care for Creation — preserving beauty of lilies of the field

· We have ever present fight against worldly possessions which constantly make us proud and threaten to derail our faith.

2. FAITH
Jesus accuses disciples — and us — of being ὀλιγόπιστος — Ye of Little Faith — or weak faith

Turn up:

· 8:26 – Stilling the Storm

· 14:31 – Peter tries to walk on water

· 16:8 – Disciples forget to buy bread — compared to yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees.

Shifting focus of our lives to God — like telescope, pointing to objective prevents us being diverted onto our own interests — like Peter who must concentrate on Jesus or start to sink.

3. TRUST IN GOD
Not just to provide — but for everything

6:25-32 explain what it is to put worldly possessions before God — we lose trust in Him to provide — start thinking we can take care of ourselves.

If we have little faith in God — we can fill the void with worries and anxiety when we find the big problems and cares of our world seem intractable and we cannot provide any meaningful solution. We get overwhelmed because we are tempted to rely too much on ourselves and our misplaced pride.

Direct attention to 6:19-21
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Keep in mind what you CAN do and what must be done instead by God — trust in God, give to those in need, and focus on building up treasure in heaven.

If we do, God has promised to take care of us — seeking His righteousness and justice takes over any thought of feathering our own nests. Is this not the real meaning of life?

Mother Teresa always kept big issues and challenges of life in perspective — “If you cannot feed 100 people, then feed just one”

Amen

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Candlemas 2017 at Great Brickhill

Benefice Service for the Brickhills on 29 January 2017

Introduction

Dear friends, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognized him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

Invitation to Confession

Hear the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me shall never walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ Let us therefore bring our sins into his light and confess them in penitence and faith.

Absolution

May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life.

Collect

Let us pray that we may know and share the light of Christ.
Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings Malachi 3

3 ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.

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.

5 ‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Reading Hebrews 2

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Gospel acclamation

Today the Lord is presented in the Temple in substance of our mortal nature. Today old Simeon proclaims Christ as the light of the nations and the glory of Israel. Praise to Christ, the light of the world.

Gospel Luke 2

Jesus presented in the temple

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.’

33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Sermon

Our faith depends on our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Easy to say—harder to live. Hard, but not impossible, even for ordinary Christians such as ourselves.

Wisdom and intelligence not required. Teachers and philosophers not needed. Power, influence and authority no use.

Religious people look for signs—clever people look for wisdom—God searches out human weakness:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. I Cor 1:25

How much weaker could God incarnate appear than to be brought into the world in the form of a new born baby?

The arrival of a baby has always been marked by many layers of tradition—family, religious and social. 2,000 years ago in Palestine, the expectation was that the rules set down in Leviticus 12: 3-8 should be followed. We don’t need to concern ourselves with the religious protocols which were observed after childbirth, but this was the pattern Mary and Joseph were following after the birth of a first born male child. This was the background to the events described in Luke’s gospel chapter 2.

Like many religious laws, the aim was holiness and purity. The object was that a woman should be sanctified after giving birth, just as the Temple where she presented her baby was holy ground. So the setting for the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple was holy, and the theme is Redemption as befits the dwelling place of a holy God.

The event relates to the date of Jesus’ birth, but we have to remember that, by the time the gospels were written down, the Temple had ceased to function, having been destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.

Wind the clock back 70 years, and the background was still one of conflict, fear and repression. Given what we know about Herod and the Epiphany, Mary and Joseph were doing a brave thing by moving straight from being counted in the state census and coming to the Temple to observe the Jewish customs and laws. Luke’s readers, with the destruction of the Temple fresh in their minds, would have been very aware of the risk of arbitrary punishment and random checks Mary and Joseph would have faced.

I heard a sermon in London, many years ago, when the preacher mentioned in passing that Simeon may have said the same to many families whose infant he believed just might have been the longed for Messiah. I’m not sure what point he was trying to make, but we are focused on one event, as Luke sets down for us.

Simeon was not a priest, but an ordinarily devout man who had dedicated himself to discerning the coming Messiah. He was moved by the Spirit to come to the Temple at the exact moment Mary and Joseph arrived, and intervened to bless the baby Jesus, and make his prophecy.

Taking the baby in his arms, no doubt surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, Simeon recognised he had seen the presence of Salvation in their midst during his lifetime, and that Salvation is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

But he also tells Mary that her son is destined to cause the downfall of many in Israel, and the death of Jesus will pierce her heart like a sword. Not exactly what she wanted to hear, but remember Mary had responded to the call of the Angel to become the mother of Jesus, and would be very aware of the miraculous nature of what she had taken on, and the sorrow as well as the joy that this led to in the fullness of time.

The baby Jesus takes no part in the event. His name is only mentioned once throughout the narrative. The point is that he was small and vulnerable but loved. He was born in lowly surroundings. Ironically, the Son of God is redeemed by the offering of two pigeons or two turtle doves—yet we know Simeon and then the prophetess Anna are effectively announcing the presence on earth of the Saviour of the world.

Could there have been a greater contrast between this baby and Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, having declared himself Imperator Caesar Divi Filius, the son of the gods, protector and saviour of the civilised world, on his throne in power, splendour and immense wealth, needing as he thought no redemption?

His successor, Vespasian, was the Roman emperor when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The comparison would not have been lost on Luke’s readers, who had the wisdom and discernment to believe the unbelievable about this baby and what in his short lifetime he would mean to us all. Amen

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Epiphany at SS Peter & Paul, Wingrave

8th January 2017

 

Teaser

20XCXMXBX17

Introduction

The Lord will be your everlasting light and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60.19

Invitation to Confession

The grace of God has dawned upon the world through our Saviour Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for us to purify a people as his own. Let us confess our sins.

Collect

Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey's end
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Ist Reading Ephesians 3

God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles

3

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia. We have seen his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.
All Alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 2

The Magi visit the Messiah

2

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sermon

Word Epiphany – to manifest or show
Epiphany as feast day celebrates revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. In the western church, we celebrate the visit of the Magi. In the eastern church, today they commemorate the baptism of Christ, which we would normally celebrate today but which is moved to tomorrow.

Both are manifestations of Christ to the world. Magi were gentiles, to whom it had been revealed that the child Jesus would be born. The baptism of Jesus is a manifestation to the world that he is the Son of God.

Epiphany in popular culture means The Magi meet the Messiah. We are fascinated by the magic and mystery. Lead figures—astrologers from Orient (place of rising sun). Who or what are they—how do they fulfill ancient prophecy—what magic is strong enough to disturb Herod and all Jerusalem?

Symbols of Epiphany
3 Wise Men – Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar – 6th – 8th C origin – first religious figures to worship – 20XCXMXBX17
Christ bless this house

Star in the east – at its rising

Gold, frankincense and myrrh – Persian, Parthian or Arabian—gifts may have come from S Arabia.

· GOLD—precious metal, given to a King.

· FRANKINCENSE—gum or resin harvested from a tree—burnt to create fragrance used in worship—symbol of divinity—used for purification.

· MYRRH—also from Arabia—also obtained from a tree like incense—bitter herb used for embalming—symbolic of suffering, affliction and death.

Real interest of Epiphany—Magi, Baptism of Christ and all other revelations.

· Magi are gentiles—they recognize the Messiah from prophecy and signs in heavens—they realise who Christ is and his place in salvation—they interpret these signs to us as they did to Herod.

· They pay homage to Christ—their gifts are significant in their meaning

· Their origin in the place where light shines first points to Jesus the light of the world—and its association in the New Testament with salvation

· Their message is to all nations

Dawning realisation
Epiphany experience can be sudden or gradual.

· Sudden—Best known conversion experience was Saul—dramatic encounter—bright light and voice of Jesus. Paul emerges from blindness a convert to new faith.

· Gradual—John Newton, slave trader born 1725 wrote Amazing Grace—his conversion experience sounds sudden, but in fact it was gradual over a period of years:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

So, the conversion experience need not be at one fixed point in time, as some would have us believe.

Take disciples for example: at what point did they convert from Judaism to Christianity? After resurrection, they were still fearful and joyful in equal measure.

Church dates their conversion to Pentecost when disciples receive Holy Spirit. But this was in effect ‘done to them’ rather than being a choice freely made.

There are hints in stories: repent and baptised John the Baptist—follow me call of Jesus—And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit John 20:22

In early church—Christians were marked by difference. Their beliefs and practices no longer fitted in with synagogue or pagan temples. So they met in own homes, or in meeting rooms.

Conversion took many forms – but it was a leaving of one faith (or none) and an acceptance of another. Did not necessarily mean baptism—Constantine not baptised until on death bed.

Christianity is a faith of relationship with God through Jesus Christ—not a faith of action. God does not tick boxes. We are not judged by whether we can say the Creed.

Epiphany does mark a defining moment, however, whether this is at a point in time, or as we have seen, through a long period of slowly dawning realisation.

True conversion is not to a programme, a set of beliefs or a creed. True conversion is towards a person, namely Jesus Christ. It is a new encounter with Jesus – as Paul on the road to Damascus would testify.

That is the message of Epiphany, to all people, whether sudden or realised. In Matthew’s gospel the Magi in chapter 2 lead to the Great Commission at the end.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

Amen