We’ve been away for a while. Well – since the pandemic started disrupting everything including church services here in the UK. But we’re back – yesterday was Advent Sunday, we’re back in church each week, and now seems a good time to start posting our weekly sermons again.
One of my mother’s favourite phrases was, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times…”. Being just as pedantic then as I am now, what immediately went through my head was, “No you haven’t!” But even as a child I knew better than to actually say so.
You might just be getting the feeling that Jesus is trying to tell us something. Three weeks ago his message was ‘keep awake’ followed by two weeks of reminders of the need to keep active and busy as Christians. And here we are again, just in case we hadn’t got the message on this Advent Sunday: keep awake!
There is an old Chinese proverb: He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.
We don’t, on the whole, like asking questions – after all, we don’t want to show how ignorant we are. We like people to think that we know all the answers.
Fortunately for us Nicodemus was one person who knew one thing for certain – he didn’t know all the answers. Far from it, and unlike most of the other religious leaders who had already decided what the answers were about Jesus – that he was a dangerous false teacher who had to be silenced – Nicodemus found that Jesus left him with questions. So Nicodemus went to visit Jesus to see if he could get some answers.
On the Sunday before Lent begins we always hear in church about the Transfiguration. We hear about the time when Jesus went up a high mountain with his closest friends and how he looked startlingly different – his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Then Moses and Elijah, perhaps the greatest figures from the Old Testament, appear beside him and then a bright cloud comes down and the voice of God is heard saying, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”
When the Church puts together the readings for each Sunday (remember Fether Jerry and I don’t choose them – they are set by the wider church) it is thinking about the rhythm of the church year. We have seasons in the church – they are not spring, summer, autumn, winter; but Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas as the main ones, with a long stretch called Trinity or ordinary time.
What do you worry about? What keeps you awake at night?
Well, we worry about all kinds of things, but I wouldn’t mind betting that one thing most of you worry about at some time or other is money.
Mintel is a market research company. And a few years ago they carried out a survey about worrying. And according to their survey 8 out of 10 people worry. I couldn’t help wondering if the other 2 people worried that they didn’t worry. And what are the things we worry about? The survey gave the top five. At number five came job security, followed by stress at work, health, problems with family and friends. And then, top of the list? Money, of course!
Relationships between couples can be problematic. However hard we try sometimes things don’t always work out. Every couple wants happiness, but sometimes it’s rather evasive.
So it was with, I’m sure, the best will in the world that around a hundred years ago Woman’s Weekly gave regular advice to wives on how to keep their husbands happy. In those days, of course, it was rather one way! And so Woman’s Weekly gave lots of tips to housewives that would enable them to make sure they had a happy husband and therefore a happy marriage.
Advice such as:
Make your own clothes
How to use up leftovers – including a recipe for rhubarb dumplings
How to pack a holiday trunk
They also had reams of helpful advice for housewives on how to keep the home, and yourself, ship-shape because a ship-shape home and a ship-shape wife meant a happy husband and a happy marriage. Things like:
Stir mushrooms with a silver spoon to identify the poisonous ones – actually completely untrue, it doesn’t work!
Store your lemons in sawdust.
Brush your hair for ten minutes each day to cure insomnia
Thankfully things have changed, and today, of course, we recognise that what creates a good relationship is not a matter of following those kinds of rules that people once thought important. And we know it’s not about one person keeping the other happy by doing all the right things.
Where would we be without all our modern technology and labour-saving devices?
Well – for a start we’d be without all those instruction booklets. I suspect that we are not the only household with piles of instruction booklets and manuals that lie in various places around the house. Instruction booklets that seem to be ridiculously thick – and often thicker and more complicated the smaller and more straightforward the appliance or gadget they’re supposed to help with. And so, by and large, they go unread. And all is fine until something goes wrong – and then comes the cry, “It’s not working! Why isn’t it working?”
To which there are two responses:
Did you read the manual?
Have you tried switching it off and then back on again?
The reality is that much of modern technology is actually very simple to use. It just seems complicated, perhaps. And is fine until it goes wrong. And then our brain starts to hurt as we try to work out the problem.
The feast of Saint John falls on the 27th December, just two days after Christmas. On the Sunday after Christmas, given that our church is dedicated to Saint John, we have our patronal festival. So, this week, I reflected on how times have changed since our church was built, and how we need to continue to change as a church as we look to the future. Here’s what I said.
This week we have celebrated two very important birthdays. 138 years ago this month the foundation stone of our church was laid. And a year later, on 27th December 1882, the new parish church of Saint John the Evangelist was consecrated – 137 years old last Friday. We are keeping the birthday today.
And how times have changed over the years for the Church – both for St John’s and for the Church of England as a whole. When St John’s was built a priest was a priest – because the whole idea of a priest being a woman just hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind. It was men that led the Church because that was how God had ordained it – so people thought.
The sermon preached at Midnight Mass. Here’s what I said.
It is something of a tradition for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading religious figures, in their Christmas sermons to make some reference to the state of the nation or the world, or to comment on political leaders – and to remind us of why we need the light of Christmas to shine into the darkness of the reality of the world we live in.
Not wishing to be outdone by the Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought this year I would follow his example. So I want to say something tonight about Members of Parliament – and in particular about one of the worst decisions that has ever been made in the House of Commons.
Don’t worry – it’s not what you think! The worst decision is not a recent one. But it must surely be the most unpopular decision ever made the House of Commons in its history and it has its 375th anniversary this year. The year was 1644. It was during the Civil War, and the mostly Puritan House of Commons disapproved of people enjoying themselves, especially at Christmas. So Members of Parliament decided to pass a law banning Christmas. Yes! Really!
In three days you’ll all be opening your Christmas presents. Do you know what you’re getting? Have you been dropping hints? Or are you leaving it all to chance and hoping that you’ll get something you actually want, or at least that you can genuinely say is a nice surprise? Because the problem with Christmas presents isn’t just that you can’t always get what you want but that too often you do get what you really don’t want!
Christmas will soon be over. And we’ll be counting the cost of all those unwanted Christmas gifts.
A few years back I bought the most beautiful, religious Advent Calendar I had ever had. It was a crib scene in the style of the old masters – no Santa Claus and elves and definitely no chocolate. This Advent Calendar would, I was sure, keep me focused on what Advent was really about.
But when I opened the first window, I was dismayed to see on the inside of the window the words 24 days to go. My lovely religious Advent Calendar was to be my count down, moving relentlessly on, not quite saying 24 shopping days to Christmas, but certainly reminding me daily of those words we hear so often. It ended up being the most depressing Advent Calendar I had ever had – 12 days to go, 11 days to go, 10 days to go – it was just a relentless reminder of how many days I had left to do everything on my list. As a child this count down to Christmas was so exciting and it went so slowly. Now the count down just whizzes by and the 24 days fly past in a whirl. Such is the effect of ageing.