It has been the same since the very beginning – at least according to the Bible. In the garden of Eden, according to the book of Genesis, the devil in the form of a serpent encourages the man and the woman to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree so that they can become like God. For that, he tells them, is what will happen if they eat. Not content with what God has given they want more – and to be like God, to be equal to God, seemed so desirable – so they ate. And they are expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result of their disobedience. The story of Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden is what we call The Fall. Even from the beginning, says the Bible, people got the whole idea about status and power upside down. They wanted to be raised up to be equal to God – not realising that God had different ideas. We’ll come back to that thought in a while.
Around ten years ago the Guardian newspaper published a list of the thousand novels that everyone must read before they die.
I think I have some way to go. I looked through the list yesterday and I have now managed to read 87 of them. In case you think that actually sounds rather impressive I should explain. The list contains many of the great classics from around the world, Dickens, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Jane Austen and so on, and many of the books are seriously heavy going. It also contains great modern novels that you probably know better as films – Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, the great Philip Marlow novels of Raymond Chandler, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I managed to resist cheating and didn’t include those in my total even if I’d watched the film. Continue reading
John was really keen to learn to drive as quickly as possible. He knew the highway code by heart. He knew what all the traffic signs meant and he even knew exactly how far to drive behind the car in front so he could stop in time in an emergency. He’d got used to all the controls in the car till using them had become second nature, and he remembered to constantly check his rear-view mirror. He even knew, unlike many, not to use his mobile phone when at the wheel.
But he was no nearer to being able to pass his test than when he first started. So one day he said to his driving instructor, “I know everything there is to know about driving but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere!” Continue reading
When you’re a child, it’s always good – and a boost to your confidence, and your happiness – when someone makes you feel that you’re special!
When I was at primary school every other child in the school was – as well as being white – possessed of two fully working legs and two fully working arms, could see properly (sometimes with the aid of glasses) and could hear properly. There were no children with a disability. Why? Because anyone who was deemed to be ‘different’ when it came to physical or mental disability was not allowed to go to the same school as everyone else. They were sent to what was known by everyone as The Special School. The pretence was that it was necessary because children with disabilities somehow needed extra-special care. Except, of course, it wasn’t special at all – it was a way of keeping those with disabilities out of sight and out of mind. It was very much a case of “them” and “us” – and as a child I never saw or engaged with “them” or vice versa – people thought it better that way.
Fortunately we now – in this country at least – live in a very different world. Not only are our schools fully integrated, but we now take all appropriate measures to ensure that those with disabilities – whether visible or invisible – can play as much a full and active role as everyone else, whether that’s at home, at work, at leisure. And to the extent that nobody thinks anymore about some people being somehow “different”! Continue reading
Those above a certain age will remember the television series Dallas which ran for thirteen years from 1978. I don’t mind admitting I was addicted to it. It told the stories of the two brothers Bobby and J R Ewing and their constant power struggles with each other and with people like Cliff Barnes for control of the Texas oil industry. There was surely no-one who had not heard of J R Ewing. Dallas was briefly revived a few years ago.
J R Ewing became infamous for his lust for power, and his determination to have power whatever the cost. And one line he said in the revival has stuck in my mind ever since, at it seemed to be so true of many people who achieve power in our world. At the age of 80, still craving power and money, J R says his son John Ross: Nobody gives you power – real power is something you take. Continue reading
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.
John 6.35, 41-51
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