As we begin to look forward to Holy Week and the cross, I decided this week to use the Old Testament reading as the basis for my sermon.
“Are grumpy old men a myth?”
So reads one of the more eye-catching headlines from the press this week – it’s from the Daily Mail on Tuesday. Films and TV often portray older men as being particularly grumpy. So recently researchers set out to find the truth. They studied almost 200,000 men to find the answer to that question: are grumpy old men a reality? It never ceases to amaze me what some people get to do for a living – particularly researchers. Apparently, they concluded that the answer is that grumpy old men are – generally speaking – a myth.
But one person who was noted for being a grumpy old man was the prophet Jeremiah – though to be fair he was a grumpy young man too in his earlier years. Being grumpy wasn’t something that came to him with age – he was always grumpy. Jeremiah was not noted for being a jolly prophet. I recall that one of the Old Testament essay titles from my college days was “Jeremiah is a prophet of unremitting gloom. Discuss.”
Put Jeremiah and Victor Meldrew (for those who don’t know a well-known grumpy old man from a BBC sitcom) side by side and compare them and you’d probably come to the conclusion that, all things being equal, Victor Meldrew had a relatively sunny disposition and a positive outlook on life.
There were many prophets in the history of Israel who sought to bring God’s message to the people. Quite a number of them appear in our Old Testament – both those who have books named after them and others who are also mentioned in the books of history as well as the prophetic books. They were mainly men who spoke God’s word to the Hebrew people. They challenged kings and officials; they called the people of God to account with God’s law. They told them when they were going wrong and they called them back to the path that God had laid out before them.
And one of the most well-known – and most miserable – was Jeremiah. Consider Isaiah for a moment, someone we hear a lot from in our Old Testament readings. From the moment he was called to be a prophet he embraced his calling with enthusiasm. Not so Jeremiah – the minute he received God’s call when he was around 30 years old he started moaning, initially at God for calling him for he was, he essentially told God, completely useless – that’s Jeremiah, not God.
Right – we need to get some context for our Old Testament reading, so let’s begin with some history. By the time Jeremiah began his work as a prophet, around 625 BC, the Hebrew people had become divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, Israel, had been conquered by the Assyrians about a hundred years earlier and Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.
And Judah was in turmoil when Jeremiah spoke to them. As a country it was caught between two powerful and hostile nations. Conflict between Egypt in the south-west and Babylon to the East seemed to be forcing a choice upon the nation. Submit to the Babylonians or becoming the first line of attack for the Egyptians. Jeremiah’s message to Judah was that the Babylonians were far stronger than Judah and that they should not be resisted. They were inevitably going to be conquered by the Babylonians because the people had rejected God and turn to idolatry. Not a message the people wanted to hear.
Basically, Jeremiah said, it’s bad news or worse news. You’ve turned away from God, and God is giving you a choice. Either the Babylonians are going to walk all over you, or, if you resist, the Babylonians are going to walk all over you and they’ll be cross that you resisted so it will be even worse.
Well, you can imagine what the response to that message was! You’re all a load of sinners, you’ve been worshipping false gods, and you’re going to be invaded and conquered, and there’s nothing you can do about it! Small wonder that Jeremiah was considered a traitor for saying that, and small wonder that he has come to be seen as the ultimate prophet of doom! And for proclaiming that Jerusalem would, in the end, be taken by the Babylonians, Jeremiah was lowered down into a pit and left to sink in the mire at the bottom – fortunately he was rescued.
Of course, being a prophet called by God, his predictions were right. In 598 BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah and sent many of its leading citizens into exile. By 587 BC the fall of Judah was complete – Jerusalem was destroyed and a second wave of exiles was taken to Babylon. But, as you may have guessed, Jeremiah is not all doom and gloom – at the heart of his message of disaster is a message of hope and renewal. In the midst of national disaster, Jeremiah prophesies that God will renew the promise that God had made through Abraham and confirmed in the Exodus. This promise Jeremiah calls a covenant. The word covenant is an important word in the Bible – it means an agreement made by God with his people. It’s the same word as testament. The Old Testament and the New Testament are really the Old Agreement with God, or the Old Covenant, and the New Agreement or the New Covenant.
And this renewed covenant of which Jeremiah speaks will, he says, be different. The thing about the covenants that God had made with Noah, and then with Abraham and Sarah, was that the focus was solely on God’s commitment. In this covenant humankind and God will be present together – it’s much more a two-way agreement.
But what is surprising about this two-way covenant is that, as Jeremiah tells us, God will fulfil not only God’s part of the covenant but humankind’s as well. This is not a covenant where God lays down rules and people have to work hard to keep them all. God makes it easy for us. He says that he will put his law within his people, write it upon their hearts. He will be their God and they will be his people and they shall all know him. No more messages from prophets like Jeremiah saying, “You’re all a load of sinners so God’s going to punish you!”
This is something that we should treasure. That God in his love has written his law upon our hearts so that we instinctively know it. Jeremiah’s message is that, essentially, it’s harder to turn away from God and be disobedient than it is to follow God – for God has made it a part of our nature to know, deep within ourselves, how to live.
Our final two readings today show how God’s words through Jeremiah are brought to their ultimate conclusion: “They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
Jesus, says the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, is our high priest – the one appointed by God to bring God’s saving love to all. For this is God’s desire, to draw all people to him in an eternal loving relationship. John, in his gospel, tells how some Greeks are drawn to Jesus and wish to see him. And Jesus proclaims the depth of that everlasting covenant that God has made with humankind. Yes – choices are to be made about living in God’s way. Yes – judgement will be rendered according to those choices. However, God’s grace is continually offered. And Jesus the Christ draws us close with saving love through the cross: “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.”
Just imagine what a community where God’s people know the promises of God deep in their hearts would be like. A community where God’s people sense that the power of God’s saving love is at the very core of their identity. A community where people say, like the Greeks who came to Philip, “We want to see Jesus; we want to see Jesus, lifted up for us; we want to be drawn to the Jesus who is lifted up from the earth to the cross.”
Let us pray
Lord, on the cross you draw the eyes of all the world to you.
We want to see you with our whole hearts.
Draw us into the embrace of your loving and merciful promise,
and teach us to live in your ways.
Then make us bold to reach out
and draw others into the joy of living in communion with you.
This week the gospel reading is the passage from early on in John’s gospel where Jesus throws all the moneychangers and traders out of the Temple. No doubt they all wondered why he behaved in such a way. The New Testament reading is Saint Paul talking about the foolishness of the cross. Both passages highlight that God acts in a way contrary to the world’s expectations.
Here’s what I said.
What do you look for in a new vicar? Don’t worry, I’m not planning on leaving just yet! But I want you to think about what qualities you would expect.
It’s the policy in some churches of other denominations, when a congregation is seeking to appoint a new minister, to ask them to come and “preach with a view”. What this means is that the elders will be able to see a prospective minister and hear them preach with a view to them becoming their pastor. And, of course, if they don’t like what they see and hear, then they try someone else. I wonder how churches that do this would have reacted to Saint Paul turning up as one of the applicants.
How would Paul have fared? Well, Paul was under no illusions about himself. He knew his limitations. He was very good at expounding arguments when writing, but he knew that he wasn’t a particularly good preacher. No preaching from notes in those days – not even any written preparation beforehand – and he simply wasn’t very good at standing up and speaking. Neither did he look the part. And in these visual days we all know how important that is, for example, to politicians and the like. You need to look good or the cartoonists will have a field day!
And Paul knew precisely what people in the church at Corinth thought about him for he tells us in his second letter to Corinth how they describe him. And they describe him, he tells us, like this: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” One early document that is not in the New Testament describes him as “bald-headed, bow-legged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, and with a rather large nose…” Any church that invited Paul to “preach with a view” would no doubt be left thinking that while his application was well written, he didn’t look the part and his preaching was boring, and he simply wasn’t what they wanted. I doubt he’d get the job.
Yet, while Paul was fully aware of his own shortcomings, he also knew that God had called him to be an apostle. And he saw his own lack of oratory as a symbol of how God works in the world by overturning the world’s wisdom and replacing it with a gospel that seems to many to be sheer foolishness. What a good job that when God was looking for an apostle to the Gentiles he didn’t first of all invite Paul to “preach with a view”! But of course that’s not how God works, is it? God simply does not do things the way the world does – far from it, he positively chooses to behave differently.
And today in our gospel reading and in our New Testament reading we hear how God doesn’t play according to the rules – or at least according to the world’s rules. For the way God works in the world is counter-cultural. And we’ll come back to that in a moment.
Let’s begin with our second reading. We hear Paul writing to the church in Corinth. And it’s interesting that life Corinth wasn’t really much different from life in London or any other great city today. It was a city with a reputation – a reputation for fast money and fast living. It overlooked two seaports, one facing east and one facing west, and consequently the overland route from one to the other brought countless travellers and traders through the city, people seeking to avoid the treacherous sea journey around the southern tip of Greece. It was full of delights for the passing traveller – from the lavish banquets at the sanctuary of Asclepius to the somewhat questionable rituals at the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, with its thousand slaves attending to the needs of the visitors.
And Corinth’s class of nouveau riche was growing fast and pocketing the profits. It was a city of good living and – for some – good money. And many in the congregation in the church at Corinth seem to be wealthy, upper class, educated – and proud of their knowledge of wisdom, proud of their understanding.
And Paul’s message to them is “Forget it! Forget all this wisdom! God overturns the ways of the wise and acts foolishly in the world.
I said earlier that the way God works in the world is counter-cultural. God does not act according to any society’s cultural expectations. He overturns those expectations and acts in a way that, when you examine it, is often disturbing or shocking to those who do not believe.
Recently the Church of England has been criticised by many outside the Church for not reflecting the views of society over equality. This was seen over the debate about women bishops, and many were critical of the Church and said it needed to realise that it was out of step with society as a whole. We now have our first woman bishop, and it was the right decision – but it was the right decision because it was what God wanted, not because it was what society wanted. Take a good look at the Bible and you soon see that God doesn’t do things because society says it’s what it wants.
A more recent example is the recent report issued by the house of bishops about poverty in this country. Many criticised them for – as they saw it – meddling in politics. Yet it is not the Church’s role to say what people want to hear and to keep quiet about things people don’t want to hear, but to convey God’s message even when that is uncomfortable and unwanted.
For it is not the case that the Church should be in step with society, but in step with God. And one of the problems with God is that he often acts in ways that are completely out of step with what society wants or expects. And Paul shows us that in this extract from his letter.
Once in a while it does us good as Christians to take a step back and recognise just how odd – and indeed, just how shocking – our faith appears to those who do not believe. For the claim of Christians is that God does not act according to societal norms. He doesn’t act how people think he ought to, but overturns what Paul calls “the wisdom of the world”, shows it to be foolishness, and in its place gives us the cross. The cross – something that itself is, in the world’s terms, “foolish”.
Think about it. Our faith as Christians is based upon an event that in purely wordly terms doesn’t make any sense. We Christians believe that the single most important event in history is the humiliating and degrading death of a poor Jewish itinerant preacher at the hands of an occupying power. For this is the point at which we believe God acted to bring the gift of salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life to those who believe. The central symbol of our faith is the equivalent in modern terms of a hangman’s noose or an electric chair. No wonder Paul calls it “the foolishness or our proclamation, the foolishness of what we preach.” The central act of God in human history is not a demonstration of power but a demonstration of weakness, the death Jesus on the cross. Like it or not from a purely human point of view it’s an odd way for God to behave, and it still seems odd to many people today. Yet, Paul says, God overturns the ways that the world thinks are right and does things that seem ridiculous. Through the foolishness of the cross, he says, God decided to save those who believe. God overturns the ways of the world and behaves in a way that makes no apparent sense whatsoever. That’s how God does things.
In our gospel reading today we also hear about things being overturned. In this case, of course, it’s the tables of the moneychangers and the traders in the temple. Now, I’ve no doubt that none of them thought they were doing anything wrong. What they were doing had been going on for years. The Romans weren’t bothered by it. The religious leaders were happy about it. The people needed to exchange their Roman money for Jewish coins to pay the temple tax, and they needed to buy their sacrificial animals somewhere! It was the way of things. What was the problem? Where was the harm in it?
But Jesus wades in, risking the accusation that he is getting involved in politics, in matters that do not concern him, and throws them all out. This is not God’s ways of doing things is his message. It might be a system that seems to work and that everyone seems to be happy with – but no matter. Jesus throws out the whole Temple economic system that people relied upon and tells them they’ve got it all wrong. His Father’s house is not to be a marketplace. God’s ways are different.
In fact, the Temple was the place where originally, in the holy of holies, the tablets of stone that recorded the Ten Commandments had been housed along with the Ark of the Covenant, in which the people believed God became present among his people. The Temple was a place where people recalled God’s commandments about how to love God and one another, and where they encountered his presence among his people on earth. It was God’s house and Jesus was shocked by how it was treated.
There is, in the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, a parable of the way we need to allow Jesus to act in our lives. In overturning the tables and cleansing the temple he reminds us all that sometimes we all need to allow him in to overturn those things that are getting in the way, to cleanse us from things that are wrong, to throw out old and familiar ways that we cling to because they are comfortable. There may be things in our lives, things in our society, things in our culture, that in themselves seem perfectly harmless – but they are getting in the way of us living out the gospel in our lives and of allowing Jesus to rule over our hearts. Lent is a time for allowing Jesus to clear out the clutter in the temples of our hearts and refilling them with prayer.
For God’s ways are different. And through the apparent foolishness of a death upon a cross God calls us to follow his son by leading lives that reject the wisdom of the world and embrace the apparent foolishness of living gospel-filled lives – lives where Jesus is at the centre.
We need to let in the God who overturns wisdom and the ways of the world and who doesn’t stick to the world’s rules. We need to embrace the foolishness of the cross. This Lent may we learn once again to be used by God to bring his foolish message to our world.
Here is the second of Father Simon’s sermons. This one he preached on the Sunday before Lent, also known as Transfiguration Sunday.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, well no, we don’t actually, but from today’s readings one could be forgiven for thinking that this was that feast!
In the OT reading, we hear of Elijah and Elisha, and how Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a whirlwind as the two are separated by a chariot of fire, we hear Paul say “For it is the God who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
What did the disciples expect when they set off with Jesus that afternoon? Perhaps they hoped for an intimate conversation among the four of them? Perhaps a chance to talk him out of that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving their lives by losing them?
What do you expect from Jesus? Are you waiting for him to come to you, or are you willing to take that first step toward him?
Of course, whatever it was that Peter and John and James expected, they got much more than they bargained for: a dazzling experience of the holy, an encounter with the transcendent, Christ transfigured before their very eyes. Biblical scholar Eduard Schweitzer has said that: “for a brief moment the curtain… is drawn aside,” and the disciples are “allowed to see in Jesus something of the glory of God and [God’s] kingdom, of that other life to which human eyes are otherwise blind.”
But the disciples on the mountain not only saw a vision; they also heard God’s voice coming out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
I think that sadly we tend to hear that voice rarely these days, when members of the church hear and heed those things Christ has said: Love one another. Forgive, as God has forgiven you. Follow me, then the voice can be heard, but how often do we actually listen to what is being said?
At that first transfiguration, Peter had an idea: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Do you know, I can really identify with Peter in this, mountaintop experiences are gifts, whole and complete in themselves, gifts such as a marriage where the love and delight stay kindled through the years, children, friends old or new, a job that we enjoy doing and that contributes to the welfare of others, good retirement years.
All of these things are wonderful gifts from God, gifts meant to be savoured and enjoyed, to be awed or to be humbled by.
But if we build a booth to them, erect a frame around them and enshrine them, we can end up worshiping those moments or memories or persons to the extent that they become a hindrance, a stumbling block or even idolatry – rather than an unmerited gift from God and a resource for service to others.
We have choices about how to respond to the mountaintop transfiguration events in our lives. We can ruin them with “if onlys'” (if only I could stay here longer; if only things would never change; if only I could relive that experience). We can reminisce about our experiences, caressing and massaging them as an excuse to disengage from the world. Or we can allow them to prepare us for what God calls us to do next.
God’s response to Peter is clear: “Jesus is more than a prophet like Moses. He is my own Son. And he is more than Elijah, the one portrayed as a rescuer of sufferers and a restorer of Israel. Jesus is my chosen instrument, my chosen servant, for all the nations.
No booth building here! In him, I myself have chosen to pitch a tent with people, dwell with them and restore them to myself.”
In the transfiguration, God invites us to listen in again on Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. Luke says that what they were talking about is Jesus’ departure, which he was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem. In other words, Moses and Elijah and Jesus were discussing Jesus’ impending death. The Greek word translated as “departure” is actually exodus. They were discussing Jesus’ crucifixion, his exodus or exit from this world.
There is more. With Jesus’ exodus he was rescuing all of us, we who are God’s people, out of slavery; by releasing us from all those things that have an unholy hold on us — work or money or death — and by placing his own blood on the doorposts of our lives.
The disciples were however still speaking of a God who protects His people from enemies and anxieties by leading them as a pillar of cloud or of fire. In Christ, this God “triumphs gloriously” over our enemies and over sin and death and whatever else separates us from Him. These things are drowned in the waters of our baptism even as God brings us safely to the other side.
This talk about Jesus’ upcoming exodus suggests that disciples — then and now — should live as God’s people did on the night of the Passover. They were not weighed down with sleep or other concerns, but listened attentively to what God was doing in the world.
Listen to Jesus, God says. We will hear Jesus saying that he will be with us in the wilderness and in all the exits and exoduses of our lives.
But I think every bit as important as going up that mountain is what happens when the disciples come down again?
How did they communicate what they saw and heard to those who had not been up on that mountain? How did they share the experience with disciples who had stayed below?
And how do we communicate our epiphany, our view of the transfiguration or the other mountaintop experiences that God gives us?
Luke tells us that the disciples “kept silent” about the transfiguration and “told no one any of the things they had seen.” Maybe that’s our clue. Perhaps what we are being told is that we shouldn’t just talk about it, we shouldn’t just gossip about it, or tell people that they “should have been there.”
Maybe we are being told that the best way to tell the story of the transfigured Christ is to serve the people who appear in our path, those who are desperate for release from the things that seize them and maul them and dash them to the ground.
We should then, live our lives in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ, so when next we climb that mountain to be nearer to our God, let our actions speak louder than mere words – when we tell of our own mountain top experience.
Father Simon recently rejoined the team at St John’s, and is now back on the preaching roster. Due to popular request from the congregation I am posting his first two sermons. This one is for the feast of the Baptism of Christ which we celebrated a few weeks ago.
Children these days! They grow up much too quickly!
Certainly, the gospel reading this week appears to confirm this!
Less than three weeks ago we gathered here to rejoice at the birth of Jesus. Last week we celebrated the Epiphany when the Magi brought their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Now we seem to have time travelled to the time of Jesus’ baptism as a young man at the Jordan by John the Baptist. Our Lord seems to have gone from helpless infant to adulthood in a matter of days.
This rapid change seems both strange and not a little worrying, after all and despite our grumbles, children don’t really grow up that quickly.
The gospel writers, apart from the brief scene at the temple as told by Luke, tell us almost nothing of Jesus’ early life, so this apparent accelerated maturing is the result of this brevity.
Therefore, after we hear about the presentation at the Temple, the flight into Egypt, and that visit by the Magi, we have to leave the season of Christmas behind as we move on into the future, when Jesus has become a man.
Now, just as if we were sitting at home and watching a DVD, we ‘fast forward’ to John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness and Jesus coming to the Jordan to be baptized by him.
In the gospel according to Mark, this is the first encounter we have with Jesus; there is absolutely nothing at all about His birth let alone his growing up!
The baptism by John indicates Jesus’ formal introduction and presentation to the world, and perhaps this is Mark’s version of a Christmas story; the story of the Son of God entered into the midst of human life and sent out to redeem it.
Baptism marks a rite of passage, and it seems that rites such as these are becoming ever more important and popular than ever.
Think of their variety: Birthdays, confirmations, school leavers’ balls, graduations, and engagement parties. Each of these events ritually marks a key milestone in the transition from childhood to adulthood. We celebrate what our young people have achieved, how far they’ve come, how much they’ve learned and grown. We try to give them words of encouragement and we hope that these words give some support as they go on to face new challenges and opportunities. Finally, we present them to the world as people who are ready to be received as adults. We wish them well in all their endeavours, and we prepare to relate to them in new ways as they get ready to make their own independent way.
Obviously, there are some major differences between the baptism of Jesus and our more ordinary coming of age rituals. The heavens rarely open at a graduation ceremony, at least, not in the sense that we see it at Jesus baptism anyway! Also, when Jesus is baptised by John, and sent out, He really is sent out to change the world. This young man, already on his way to the cross, will shake the very foundations of the world, in a way that no one else has ever done, before or since.
When we tell our children that they’re going out to change the world, we may well just be inflating their perhaps already large egos and may be risking leaving them vulnerable when things go wrong and their dreams are sadly shattered.
Yet despite these differences the occasion still marks the point in the Gospels when the story of Jesus evolves from youth to adulthood.
And as with our ceremonies, this ‘rite of passage’ implies a deepening vocation. Of course, Jesus has always been God’s beloved Son, but the affirmation of God’s approval here in Mark, really launches Jesus’ public ministry, and in this brief scene, we can see that Jesus symbolically replaces the prophetic voice of John the Baptist with his own.
As we read on, we see that Jesus will now go out into the wilderness where he will face the temptation of Satan; there he will be face the harsh reality of what His love for the world will cost.
Jesus will return from the wilderness to proclaim the kingdom of God, He will call identify His first disciples, heal the sick and cast out demons. These amazing things all happen in this the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus does indeed grow up very quickly.
This episode changes things for us, too. Graduations, engagements, and important birthdays are not just about the changing life of the young person concerned. They also affect the family and friends who also have to change as their expectations and their relationships develop and change. As parents we have to learn to let go, to give our children the space and freedom to progress. Others must learn not to offer every piece of advice that comes to mind, to let the young person grow and mature.
This can be difficult, especially for parents, as they move from carer to equal, and it becomes even harder when we need to trust our children to aid us in our weakness.
Most of us will one day need to learn to be dependent on those who were once dependent upon us.
The gospel says “He saw the heavens torn apart” but we can’t be sure if anyone else did, or whether they heard that heavenly voice, but what we do know, is that this account is there for us to hear today. It’s the introduction to Jesus as he comes of age and it reminds us that we cannot always relate to Jesus in the same way that we related to the infant in the manger.
And just as we struggle with this concept of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, so too did his contemporaries. Jesus’ long-time acquaintances dismissed him with a brief question. “Is this not Joseph’s son,” they will ask, “whose Father and Mother we know” (John 6:42)? They are unable to take him seriously as an adult, much less as one who speaks with the authority of God.
Many people love the Christmas story, but never look beyond it, and if we’re totally honest, I suspect that sometimes we do too. We infantilize him so that we can accept the gift he brings to us without needing to obey him. I think most of us would rather have been there to see Mary sing a lullaby to Jesus than to be there when He was casting the moneychangers out of the temple.
And I suspect I’m not alone in this, if you look, there are many more paintings of the Madonna and Child than any other scene from the life of Jesus.
We really can’t pick and choose which Jesus we prefer. The infant Jesus really does grow up! He becomes the one who: teaches with authority, heals the sick, casts out demons, and ultimately shows us our own cruelty as He hangs on the cross.
Jesus is the beloved Son, who struggles with Satan and wins, and whose words and deeds bear the stamp of the Father’s approval. And no, we really can’t choose which Jesus we prefer!
The story of the baptism by John at the Jordan issues a call to faith, a call that moves us from welcoming the gift of the Christ Child to accepting the gift of His adult ministry.
It should force us to move away from attempting to meet the infant Jesus on our own terms because we need to receive the adult Jesus as the one who has both the power and the will to care for us. And just as it is difficult for us as parent to let go and accept the care of our children so it is to do the same for Jesus. But we must open ourselves to the love of God whose desires for us are better than anything we could want for ourselves.
We really must be prepared to accept our position as children of God, and welcome the guardianship and protection of Jesus. Because then we have a chance to glimpse the grace and freedom of salvation.
Last Sunday was Advent Sunday and the beginning of a new church year. I was preaching this week so Father Jerry got the luxury of a week off! Here’s what I said.
You know that Christmas is coming when the first selection boxes and little bags of gold chocolate coins appear in the shops. I think this year that was the week after we got back from our summer holiday – the second week of September.
You know Christmas is even nearer when the tree goes up in the shopping centre and Father Christmas comes to switch on the lights, as he did in Caterham Valley yesterday – a week later than usual I think.
You know Christmas is nearer still when the first lights go on outside people’s houses – the earliest are usually the first week in December, so watch out, any day now! Continue reading
This week we heard about the way Jesus responded to the question: Is it lawful to pay taxes? Here’s what I preached.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
I’m sure you’ve all heard that saying before – and it’s known, of course, as Murphy’s Law. It’s named after the American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy who worked on safety-critical systems and who is believed to have first coined the phrase. We tend to think of Murphy’s Law as somewhat humorous, but it is quite serious in its application. When designing systems it is important to eliminate any possible areas where something might go wrong – because if it can go wrong, in the end it will. Continue reading
This Sunday (2nd February) we celebrate the visit of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus is often called Candlemas. Come and join in our Family and Parade Service at 10am as we celebrate this feast when Jesus was proclaimed by Simeon to be A Light for all people.
This week we had a family service with all our uniformed groups on parade. It was a fairly informal talk and mainly preached from a few notes. It’s not possible to post it, but I realised I had completely forgotten to post last week’s sermon, so here it is. The gospel reading for the day was the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant.
Mothers are full of pearls of wisdom. A survey by Clinton’s Cards last year discovered that on average mothers pass on 41 pearls of wisdom to their children. I hope you all listened to the pearls of wisdom that were passed to you as you were growing up. When asked people remembered being given such good advice as:
- No 33: Don’t eat cheese before bed.
- No 28: Don’t leave the house with wet hair.
- No 20: Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square.
- No 11. Always wear clean underwear.
Such things might seem rather flippant. And you may remember growing up and being given such good advice! I have to say that the one recurring instruction that I remember being given by my mother isn’t in the list: Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions! She would have made an excellent Roman centurion!
Amusing though those pearls of wisdom may seem, many of the pearls of wisdom given by mothers and recorded by Clinton’s are universal. And it would seem that somewhere along the way they have been picked up by the Roman centurion we hear about in today’s gospel reading. Remember that he is an officer in an army occupying a particularly difficult province in the Roman Empire. The Jews didn’t much like Romans and the Romans didn’t much like the Jews. He was someone who knew full well that he was in a position to be like my mother: Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions. And yet here we have a centurion who is clearly aware of and lives by – perhaps unusually for someone in his position – some of the motherly pearls of wisdom that appear at the top of the list:
- No 15: Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself.
- No 10: Treat people with respect.
- No 5: If you don’t ask you don’t get.
- No 1. Always try your best.
Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself – he has a slave whom, we are told, he values highly. He cares for him and when he takes ill he wants to do something about it. He could have thought, ‘I’ll get another slave,” but he doesn’t. What he does is seek to have the slave made well.
Treat people with respect – which he does in a remarkable way. Remember, this is an officer in an army of occupation. And yet not only has he treated the Jews with respect, he has built them a synagogue. And the love he has shown for the Jewish people has resulted in the Jewish elders supporting his request.
If you don’t ask you don’t get – and the centurion must have known that he had no right to ask and no right to expect that Jesus would respond to him, a Gentile. And yet he has enough faith in this Jewish teacher to know that Jesus has the power to heal his slave. And he’s only going to find out if Jesus will do it by asking.
Always do your best – and that’s clearly how this centurion is trying to live. He has tried his best in spite of the difficulties of being a Roman soldier trying to keep order in a difficult situation to not just get along with the local people but to help them. He is trying his best to find healing for his slave. This was clearly a highly unusual man given his role. So unusual that even Jesus is surprised by him, and he comments on his great faith – faith that he hasn’t found in his own people.
We hear in our gospel reading how the centurion sends the Jewish elders to Jesus with the request that Jesus come and heal his slave. They support his request, urging Jesus to come and help. And yet when Jesus is near to the centurion’s house he sends his friends out to meet Jesus. Perhaps he did this because he assumed that Jesus, a Jew, wouldn’t enter the house of a Gentile because of the constraints of the Jewish Law. And he sends them with a message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
Today, I want you to think about those words of the centurion, and to imagine that he is passing a pearl of wisdom on to you. He spoke those words through his friends with complete faith that Jesus would answer his request. A little later in our communion service we too will use words based on that request. And the pearl of wisdom that we have from the centurion is that as we approach the altar to receive Jesus in the bread and wine, is to ask with the same level of faith as the centurion for healing from Jesus and believing that he will do what we ask.
For those words, of course, have found themselves in a slightly altered form in our communion service. Traditionally they were: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed. In Common Worship they have been simplified to: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
We probably just say the words each week automatically. But today I want you to think about them: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed. Each of us knows that we are not worthy to receive Jesus, just as the centurion knew that he was not worthy. And yet Jesus still comes to us and gives himself to us. As you prepare to receive Jesus in the form of bread and wine today, think about what healing you need in your life. We’ve all got things that we know Jesus needs to sort out – physical, spiritual things that need his healing. And as you say those words – only say the word and I shall be healed – believe that he will heal you. Have the faith that he had.
Learn from the wisdom of the centurion. Reach out in faith. And know that as you reach out your hands to receive the bread and the wine, the body and the blood of Jesus – or as you bow your head to receive a blessing – that Jesus has truly come to you. He has come under your roof and spoken words of healing right to your very soul.
Last Sunday we kept the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It should, of course, really be on the 15th and in recent years we have kept it on the sunday of the octave. This year we were just a little bit naughty and pre-empted the feast. Here’s my sermon
Today we come together to honour the mother of Jesus. Every year on or around the 15th August Christians around the world come together to give thanks for the role played by Mary in bringing about our salvation. For without Mary’s “yes” to God there would have been no incarnation. Continue reading
Here’s my sermon for this Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday.
Every year on this 4th Sunday of Easter we keep what has become known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Now, since we kept Good Shepherd Sunday last year it’s not been a good year in the sheep world – for on the 4th Jun 2011, that great icon of sheepdom, Shrek the sheep, passed away. Continue reading