In this week’s gospel we hear Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Perhaps the most important teaching of the gospel message is not that we need to respond as Peter did with, “You are the Messiah”. It is that unlike Peter we must then accept that the way of Jesus is a path that leads to suffering, rejection and death leading on to resurrection. Jesus tells us that if we follow him we must also accept the way of the cross.
Strictly season is upon us again! Yes, for some of us our Saturday night treat is back. Strictly Come Dancing (some countries know this as Dancing with the Stars) began last Saturday and our annual autumn feast of celebrity dancing – or in some cases not dancing – will keep us going up to Christmas.
And one of the aspects of programmes like Strictly is that we get to see celebrities as they really are. Of course, I use the word ‘celebrities’ advisedly – I don’t know who half of them are any more than you do – but presumably they are all celebrities in someone’s eyes. When you’re a celebrity you are in the public gaze. But instead of the public persona they usually show – whether through music, acting, sport and so on – we get to see, over the weeks, more of the real person as they struggle with rehearsals, strut their moves on a Saturday night, face up to the critique of the judges, and then endure the results and the prospect of going home. Continue reading
Last Wednesday, the 15th August, was the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated by Christians around the world. At St John’s we kept the feast this Sunday, it being the Sunday within the octave of the feast. Here’s what I said.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I am addicted to the ITV reality singing competition The Voice. I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that I have never watched a single edition of the ITV reality singing competition The X-Factor. Whether you like these programmes or not, like me you may well be amazed me that seems to be endless supply of young people desperate to be plucked from obscurity and rewarded with fame and fortune. They are all convinced that they can sing. Whether it’s the X-Factor or The Voice there are plenty of would-be stars – as to whether they have any talent or not, that’s for the public to judge. And then there are always those who say, “I’ve wanted to be a singer all my life!” Well – the pedant in me wants to say to them, “No, you haven’t – you didn’t want to be a singer when you were six months old!”
Today we come together to honour a young woman to whom the prospect of being plucked from obscurity and thrust into worldwide stardom simply never would have occurred. Such things are a product of our age, of course – there was nothing equivalent in 1st century Palestine. She was simply one teenage girl among thousands of others. And what had she wanted to do all her life? Well, she probably had no expectations of anything other than getting married and bearing children – that was life for women in 1st century Palestine. Though as far as we know she had spent her life in the service of God – certainly Church tradition would have us believe that, and that belief would be supported by the words of Gabriel when he came to announce to her that she had been chosen, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Continue reading
I was preaching away from home this week, at the lovely little church of St. Mary’s Farleigh. Here’s what I said.
Why is bread like a bus?
Well, just like the proverbial bus that doesn’t come along for ages and then three come at once, so in our readings we go for months on end without any reference to bread, and here we are for the third week in a row with a gospel reading about bread. Having had the feeding of the five thousand on five loaves and two fish two weeks ago, last week and this we get Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life.”
This makes life difficult for people like me who plan services. There are only so many hymns about bread in our hymn book. At St. John’s I think we ran out last week! And there are only so many sermons you can preach in a row on the same theme! And just in case you were wondering – yes, next week you get Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life” for the third week in a row!
So why is bread – living bread – so important that we have four gospel readings about Jesus and bread? Continue reading
It has been said: Always expect the unexpected!
It was in fact Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who died around 425 BC, who first coined the phrase: he wrote: If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
I’m not quite sure exactly what he meant by that – certainly not by the second part of that saying! He seems to have made a habit of being deliberately enigmatic. He also came up with such gems of philosophical thought as:
There is nothing permanent except change
and – see what you make of this one: The way up and the way down are one and the same.
Always expect the unexpected!
Oscar Wilde emphasised the importance of expecting the unexpected by updating that quote from Heraclitus. Wilde, in his usual manner, said: To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. Continue reading
There’s an old saying: “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family!” Not absolutely accurate, of course, when you think about it, as those who adopt children will realise – but essentially it means that your parents, your grandparents, your brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts – they are all who they are! You can’t just decide one day that if you don’t like them or aren’t getting on to change them for someone different. There’s many a teenager would like to change their parents, and many a parent who would like to change their teenage children – but you can’t! Friends you can change if you fall out – family you are stuck with.
Families! We all have them, yet what a mixed blessing they can be! On the one hand, they can be a wonderful place of love and support. At the other extreme, they can be an awful place of hurt and abuse. But for the most part our experience of families is neither completely one nor the other, but full of contradictions. They can love and protect us, but also be stifling and discouraging at the same time. George Burns, the American comedian, once said “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family – in another city!” Continue reading
The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all. (St Paul – 2 Corinthians 5.14)
A month ago most people in this country – and most people worldwide – hadn’t heard of Michael Curry. And then he stood up to preach at a wedding. Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of our sister church the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in less than fifteen minutes 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!
He said: We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world.
The power of love, the redemptive power of love. Supremely of course the redemptive power of the love of Jesus on the cross, a love that is there for all because Jesus died not just for some people but for all people. For absolutely everyone without exception. Continue reading
You don’t have to do much to get labelled as a troublemaker, a subversive, or even an enemy of the people. No matter that you may have done nothing wrong, or even if you have done something for the wider good – just rock the boat a little bit, threaten the status quo, and in goes the knife, and before long as far as some are concerned you’re an enemy of the people.
Henrik Ibsen’s famous play of that name is about an ordinary man, Dr Stockmann, who discovers that the expensive new spa in his home town is using poisoned water. He naively thinks people will want to know. But his brother, the mayor, thinks otherwise – and points out that the town could be bankrupted if the news leaks out. The truth isn’t important – the vested interests of the town’s business people carry far more weight.
And so the mayor leans on the editor of the local newspaper and the editor, rather than repeat the truth, vilifies Dr Stockmann as an enemy of the people, to the extent that at a public meeting he is almost lynched. All he did was tell the truth – an important truth – that the water was poisoned. Continue reading