Category: Sermons

Bread of life. Broken for you.


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John 6.56-69

You can always tell when you’re in a restaurant that is trying to be a better class of establishment. Perhaps a local pub for a Sunday roast with family, or an evening out with friends. Because on the menu it will say seasonal vegetables as though that’s something special. Not just any old vegetables that happen to be in the shops. Seasonable vegetables!

When I was a child seasonal fruit and vegetables were nothing special. They were always seasonal – there wasn’t anything else. No looking down the rows of vegetables in the supermarket wondering what to buy this week– you simply had what was there. Well, let’s face it – there were no supermarkets – only the wonderful old Sainsbury’s with its one long counter and lots of assistants ready to get everything for you. They could do that, because everything that was available fitted onto the shelves behind them. 

And as for bread – well, for starters it was delivered to the door by a man in a van. I can still remember the man who used to deliver ours. He came three times a week. There wasn’t a great deal of choice. He could fit some of each kind of bread into the basket that he brought to the back door – large white, small white, Hovis – that was it, and all baked at his own bakery. And you had to slice it yourself. I can still remember when he proudly announced that he would be adding Mother’s Pride sliced white to his range. My mother never bought it though – far too modern!

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Just say ‘Yes’


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The 15th August is kept by many Christians as the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Church of England it is a major feast day and even though it fell on a Sunday this year we are given the option of keeping the feast rather than doing what some churches do and transferring it to the 16th. So at St John’s we kept Mary’s feast on Sunday. Here’s what I said.

Luke 1.46-55

Every year thousands of young people, desperate for fame and fortune, audition for TV shows such as The Voice UK or The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. They’re all apparently convinced of their magnificent voices and star quality. This year, though, they’re out of luck. Britain’s Got Talent never happened. The Voice UK has still not produced a major new star. And Simon Cowell announced on the 28th July this year that the X Factor is no more. Where will aspiring singers find their route to stardom? 

Of course, not everyone has star quality. As Simon Cowell said to one X-Factor contestant: If you were the only one in the competition, you couldn’t win it. And to another: My advice would be if you want to make a career in the music business, don’t. This comment I thought particularly mean: If you had lived two thousand years ago and sang like that, I think they would have stoned you. 

And my favourite, to a contestant whose day job was as a lifeguard: If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing a lot of people would be drowning. 

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Go on! Show us another trick …


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So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then?’ … Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.”  (John 6:30. 35)

John 6.24-35

If I were to ask you to recite your favourite part of the epic Milton: A Poem I suspect most of you would be saying, “What? Never heard of it!” Anyone know the poem?

Well, most people don’t know the poem, let alone have a favourite part! But if I tell you that it’s by William Blake, and that it has a verse that starts: And did those feet in ancient time…, then you’ll probably think, ‘Oh, that!’ because it’s the poem from which we get the two verses of the hymn Jerusalem! (Note – Jerusalem is very popular in England)

Ask most people if they know the penultimate stanza of the hymn Sacris Solemniis by St Thomas Aquinas, and their reaction is likely to be again, “What? Never heard of it!” But play them a recording of Cesar Franck’sPanis Angelicus sung by Andrea Bocelli or the Kings College Choir and they’ll probably say, “Oh, that!” Panis Angelicus is Latin for ‘bread of angels’ and links with our readings for today.

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Sing a new song


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In the UK, during the pandemic, singing in church has been forbidden for congregations. Last Sunday the ban was finally lifted and we could sing again!

Luke 1.46-55

Today, after a hiatus of sixteen months, we are allowed to start singing hymns again. We can once more give voice to our praises, and sing out as we worship. And singing is such an important part of our worship. It’s something that believers in our God have always done. The Old Testament is full of hymns – not just in the book of Psalms but elsewhere as well. The New Testament too. And there are three hymns in the New Testament that the Church attaches such great importance to that they are said or sung every day, as they have been since the earliest days of the Church.

And all three are in the gospel of Saint Luke. They are Mary’’s song of praise that we know as The Magnificat which is sung daily at Evening Prayer. Then Zechariah’s song of praise following the birth of John the Baptist, sung daily at Morning Prayer and known as The Benedictus. And Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, which he uttered as he received the baby Jesus in his arms when Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple at 40 days old. 

Now, as many of you know I rather like illustrating sermons with lyrics from popular music. So how could I pass by today without coming up with a song to fit? And given our gospel reading today, Mary’s song of praise, there really is only one song to choose.

I’ll give you a clue – it’s a Beatles song. And for those of you who haven’t immediately guessed let me tell you – it’s Let It Be. One of The Beatles most famous songs, with Paul McCartney singing:

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Now it’s your turn


Mark 6.30-34, 53-end

Mark doesn’t record for us how the disciples reacted when Jesus says to them: Right – that’s enough from me. Now it’s your turn to go off and do some preaching and healing!

We hear right at the beginning of our gospel reading today how, when they get back they gather around Jesus to tell him what they’ve been up to. But what went through their minds when he first told them he was sending them out two by two, with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing and a staff?

I’m not a betting man, but if I were I think I’d be on to a sure thing in betting that their immediate reaction wasn’t: That’s a great idea Jesus, when can we start? 

Jesus, as we know, spent a great deal of time talking to and teaching his disciples. But there’s no substitute for actually doing the job. And no matter how much Jesus taught his disciples he knew that the best way for them to learn about the practical aspects of spreading the gospel was to send them out on their own to preach and to heal. And so off they went.

And I bet that when they first went off there was – to put it mildly – a certain degree of reluctance: 

Hang on a minute, Jesus, we’re not quite sure about this – don’t we need a lot more teaching from you, first?

Not sure we know what we’re talking about really – aren’t you coming with us? We could do with a bit of support.

What if that healing thing doesn’t work? We’ve never done it before. We’ll look silly if nothing happens!

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Off with his head!


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Mark 6.14-29

Off with his head!

Not the words of King Herod from our gospel reading. But the words of the Queen of Hearts from that wonderful book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

If you are familiar with the book you will recall how through much of the book the Queen has her own way of dealing with difficulties which was to order the execution of everyone concerned.

The Cheshire Cat is accused by the King of Hearts of being impertinent. The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. “Off with his head!” she said …

And shortly after, during the croquet game being played with hedgehogs as balls and flamingos as mallets, Lewis Carroll tells us:

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Travelling light


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Mark 6.1-13

At the start of our service today I said that the theme of our service is Travelling Light. And we’re going to think a bit more about that now. But to get us started here’s a joke for the scientists among you.

A photon walked into a hotel and asked, “Can I have a room for the night?”

“Certainly, sir,” said the man behind the desk, “Do you have any luggage?”

“No,” said the photon, “I’m travelling light!”

If you’re not a scientist, and don’t understand the joke, it might help you to know that a photon is an elementary particle which is the quantum of the electromagnetic field and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force – it has no mass and travels at the speed of light. Or it might not!

Today we’re thinking about travelling light.

The problem with the weather in this country is that you can never be quite sure what’s going to happen.

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Share and share alike


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2 Corinthians 8.7-end

If you’ve been a parent you’ll have experienced it: It’s not fair!

And I’m sure many of you can remember saying that as a child. I certainly can! And I can remember my mother’s response: Life’s not fair. Get used to it!

Interesting how children have such an innate sense of fairness. And yet how many of us lose that when we grow up. It’s been said: Sharing is fun – unless it’s your own stuff that’s being shared.

In our first reading today we heard Saint Paul talking about  richness and poverty, and in particular about the need for those to whom he is writing in Corinth to give financially. It’s about sharing and fairness.

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Crisis? What crisis?


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“Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”

Mark 4:38

For a time in the 1970’s the British public were subjected to a great deal of industrial unrest. Some of you will remember those times well. Our daily news programmes on TV showed images of streets which were not cleaned, rubbish which was not collected, power-cuts, trains and buses which didn’t run. I worked in a bank during the seventies and I vividly remember during the three-day week of 1974 cashing people’s cheques by candlelight, and desperately trying to get the banks emergency generator running so that we had at least one computer running with which to process the day’s transactions.

The worst industrial action of that period became known as the Winter of Discontent over the winter of 1978 to 1979 There seemed to be trouble everywhere and everybody seemed to be on strike. The then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, returning from a trip abroad, was met at the airport by dozens of journalists who asked him what he was going to do about the crisis, about the mounting chaos the country was facing.

Trying his best to play down the situation, the Prime Minister responded in words that were subsequently paraphrased by The Sun Newspaper as: “Crisis? What crisis?” This underestimation of the gravity of the situation very soon afterwards cost Mr Callaghan his job – he lost a confidence vote in 1979 and then lost the subsequent election. Apparently he thought that by saying there was no crisis he would help people to feel better.

Of course, as I’m sure everyone here knows, Crisis? What crisis? is also the title of the rock band Supertramp’s fourth album released in 1975 – but that’s actually completely irrelevant to my sermon this morning! But I thought I’d mention it.

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One has died for all


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2 Corinthians 5.6-10, 14-17; Mark 4.26-34

The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all (2 Corinthians 5.14)

Like most priests, it didn’t take me long to realise that whatever you say in the sermon at a wedding, it will in most cases be forgotten as soon as the bride and groom and all the guests have left the church. They have other things on their minds, far more important to them that what the priest conducting the ceremony might have to say. Though personally I have to say I can still remember quite clearly what the preacher said at ourwedding.

One wedding that did get people talking after the event was one preached by Bishop Michael Curry. Bishop Curry is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of our sister church the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. And he preached, you may remember, at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And his sermon was subsequently talked about around the world. In less than fifteen minutes he became, as the Daily Telegraph put it, “the royal wedding preacher who stole the show.”

And what did he do that made such an impact around the world, as well as at the ceremony? Well, he simply talked about love. Just that – love! But I wonder how many people now remember what was at the heart of his message. I do, because I wrote it down at the time.

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