Tagged: commitment

Pentecost Sunday – The promised Holy Spirit


Acts 2.1-21; John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15

Anyone who uses computers knows the feeling.

You press the on button and wait – and nothing happens. Or it starts up but never finishes – it just switches on and never quite finishes loading everything. And you start to get that awful sinking feeling deep down inside. Everything is on the computer – all your email, thousands of family photos, the book you’ve been writing, twenty years’ worth of sermons! And you start to say to yourself:

  • I knew I should have paid for another year of that anti-virus software
  • Why on earth didn’t I install the firewall
  • I know I said that backing everything up could wait until tomorrow – what on earth was I thinking

The computer is dead. And everything on it is gone. And because you didn’t look after it properly there’s no recovery, or if you’re lucky and can afford it an expert might – just might – be able to dismantle it and get your stuff off the hard disk. But there’s that lingering feeling – if only I’d done what I knew I should, everything would all be safe. If only … Continue reading

What I said last Sunday – Be seasoning for the world


Here’s my sermon from this week, the 2nd Sunday before Advent. In the gospel reading from Matthew we hear Jesus giving the parable of the talents.

Matthew 25.14-30

I’m sure there are many of you who enjoy cooking. And if you are one of those people who don’t enjoy cooking, I’m sure you still enjoy a good meal. Most people enjoy good food of one kind or another, whether it’s spaghetti bolognese or caviar, pizza or the kind of recipes you get on the BBC Good Food website like this one: Roast whole suckling pig with truffle mousse, Jersey Royals and wild garlic. I don’t think I’ll be trying that in the vicarage kitchen!

It’s one of the reasons why all those cooking programmes on the TV are so popular. And whether you are addicted to The Great British Bake-Off or Celebrity MasterChef you will know one thing. You can’t just make a satisfying dish with the main ingredients alone. Along with the basics there will be seasoning, herbs, spices – all designed to give each recipe that special flavour that makes it distinct. Where would a good curry be without curry powder, or jambalaya without Cajun seasoning and smoked paprika.

And so, when we all do our weekly shopping we buy herbs and spices as well, and in many a kitchen you will see a rack of little jars just waiting to do their job of enhancing the cooking. In our house we like cooking, and when I counted up yesterday I discovered that we have 25 herbs and spices out in the kitchen, as well as a few more in the cupboard. So I was surprised to read the results of the survey that Kenwood, the well-known maker of kitchen appliances, has just carried out. No, Kenwood aren’t sponsoring my sermon, but it was reported in The Times this week. Kenwood discovered that the average Briton only cooks four foreign dishes – spaghetti Bolognese, curry, risotto and stir-fry – and a quarter of those are made with ready-made sauces. And because of that the average household has just ten types of herbs and spices in the kitchen cupboards. The thing is, of those ten herbs and spices, half of them have never been opened. And Kenwood reckon that the value of unopened herbs and spices just sitting, totally unused, in people’s cupboards, is £240 million. What is the point of buying herbs and spices – some of which can actually be quite expensive in terms of cost per weight – and just putting them in the cupboard to sit there unused?

Well, that brings me to our gospel reading this morning.  We hear a story that Jesus tells about three servants and their master. He is going on a long journey, and he calls the three in front of him. Jesus tells us how he entrusts his property to them to look after while he is away. To one he gives five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. Nowadays the word talent means something quite different from what Jesus is talking about. Today it means personal qualities or gifts. In the New Testament the talent was a unit of money – and it was worth a great deal. A talent was as much as a labourer would earn in fifteen years, so the three servants are being given huge amounts of money to look after.

And so we hear how the first servant goes off and trades with his master’s money and manages to double it. The second servants does the same. But the third just goes and digs a hole in the ground and buries the money he has been given. And then, after a long time, back comes their master, and he wants to know what they have been doing with his money, and how much profit they have to give him back. He’s clearly pleased with the first two – they have doubled his money for him. So much so, that he gives them more responsibility and he says to each of them, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” But what happens when he comes to the third servant? Well, you can’t have missed it – he’s extremely angry. The third servant has done nothing with the money. He’s just buried it in a hole in the ground because he was worried about of losing it, or getting things wrong, and being unable to pay his master back. And he was so worried, that he didn’t even put the money in a bank where it would have made some profit. His master is not happy. The money he has is taken from him and his master finishes with those disturbing words: “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now, it’s quite important to understand where this story comes in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry. He is on the brink of his passion and he is telling this story in the context of his ultimate return. And it is clearly a story about how Jesus gives his servants what they need for his kingdom while he is not there with them. That is how those to whom Matthew wrote his gospel would have understood it. And they would have understood that it was posing a very serious question for them. Jesus has gone away. And since he ascended, and then sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers, they have been waiting for him to return. He hasn’t done so yet, and rather like the three servants in the story they don’t know when their master is going to return. And so the question that is before them is this: Jesus has left for you everything you need in order to carry out the work of his kingdom until he returns – how are you using it?

Are you using the gifts that Jesus has given you as you go about your daily lives, or are you just sitting on them and keeping your head down?

Like all the stories that Jesus tells, this is not just a question for those who first heard Jesus tell the story. Or for those to whom Matthew wrote his gospel. It is a question for each one of us here this morning. How are we using what Jesus gives us for the work of the kingdom, for our ministry as his body here on earth until he returns? Or have we just buried everything he gives us away because we are afraid of messing up? Or because we don’t want to be noticed?

Each Sunday we gather here for worship, and to come together around the table as we share in the bread and the wine of the body and blood of Jesus. He gives himself to us. He strengthens us for our day to day life in his world. He has called us to be his followers, and sends us out into his world to make a difference. But do we? We are called to be seasoning to our world. But are we? So often, as Christians, we may feel all geared up on a Sunday morning to get out there and really be the Christian that we know Jesus wants us to be and that we know we want to be. And yet once we go home and get back to the trials and tribulations of getting through another week it all gets kind of watered down somehow. Those good intentions somehow fly out of the window, and then next time we’re back in church we go through the cycle again – “Yes, Lord, I’m ready to do your will!” until we get home and back to reality again. That, of course, is what happened to Peter – who said he would follow Jesus anywhere and would never deny him – and yet when the crunch came that’s exactly what he did. We’re in good company. We though, now live in the light of the resurrection. And that makes a difference. And what we cannot avoid is the message of this story of Jesus – use what you have been given for the kingdom. For if you don’t, when I return I will pass judgement.

Think back to those jars of herbs and spices. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to think about what kind of herb or spice you think you are! I’ve been on enough clergy training conferences where we have to do that sort of thing! But just think about this. The purpose of herbs and spices is to improve the dishes to which they are added. The jars need to come out of the cupboard and be in the kitchen where they can be reached and used. Those jars that just stay at the back of the cupboard, unopened and unused, are a waste of space, and in the end when one day the cupboard is tidied and cleaned they’ll just be thrown into the bin – out of life and no longer of any use.

As we leave church each Sunday, are we going to be like the unused jars in the cupboard that no-one sees or uses, or the ones that are out ready and waiting for the opportunity to be used to improve the cuisine.

Jesus is telling us this morning exactly what we are to be like. As his servants he gives us the gifts and the talents that we need in order to carry out his work, in order to go out into his world and make it a better place and enable people to have a better life and a relationship with him. It is up to us put those gifts and talents to good use day by day, and not to go home and forget about them until next Sunday. Are you a jar with the top still securely on and the wrapping in place – or are you a jar with your top off just waiting to be used wherever you’re needed. Jesus, earlier in this gospel, says to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Are you prepared to be seasoning for his world? Continue reading

What I said for the Feast of the Holy Trinity


Last Sunday was the feast of the Holy Trinity – usually called Trinity Sunday. As those who preach regularly will know it’s not exactly a favourite Sunday for preaching! Here is my sermon.

Isaiah 40.12-17, 27-end; 2 Corinthians 13.11-end; Matthew 28.16-20

How many persons in the Trinity?

Before you answer that, let me tell you a story. It’s not my own story, it’s a story from Donagh O’Shea, a member of the Irish Dominicans.

I want to pass on to you (he says) an insight I received years ago in a small church in Rome: the preacher was a tiny vivid Italian with flashing eyes, and a chasuble and gestures that were both far too big for him. He was preaching in a church beside the Tiber, on Trinity Sunday He told of his earlier years in a parish near Naples. In those days, he said, the days ofhisyouthful enthusiasm, he had begun to wonder if the people in his country parish remembered any-thing of Christian doctrine. They were good people, he said, but he wondered how much they knew of the faith. There was only one way to find out: he had to ask them. So he would ask them, out of the blue, in the middle of a conversation or:when he met one on the road: “Franco, how many Sacraments are there?” or “Cristina, tell me, what are the precepts of the Church?” One day, he said, he was talking with Gianni, a very poor farmer with a large family and hard put to it to feed them. “By the way, Gianni,” he said, “can you tell me how many persons there are in the Trinity?” “Persons in the Trinity!” said Gianni with amazement; “l don’t know. Four, five, ten. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I don’t have to feed them!” Continue reading

What I said this Sunday – Easter 6


John 14.15-21

“I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.” The final words of Humphrey Bogart just before he died at the age of 57.

Famous last words. Some clearly thought them through. Some tried to be amusing at the last. Others simply didn’t know what to say. And yet if you’re famous you can guarantee that your final words will live, and be repeated, long after you are gone. And one of the problems of being famous is that you are often expected to leave behind you something inspirational. Karl Marx, as he neared death, was asked by his housekeeper who was the only person with him, for some profound and meaningful last thoughts. “Go away!” he shouted at her, “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!” and she fled from the room to leave him to pass away in silence. And yet last words can often be deeply moving and inspiring. Continue reading

What I said on Sunday – The Blessed Virgin Mary


Last Thursday was the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary – also known as the Assumption in the Roman Catholic Church and The Dormition in the Orthodox Church. We transferred the feast to the following Sunday. Here’s what I said.

Revelation 11.19-12.6, 10; Luke 1.46-55

It’s not easy knowing whether someone is called to be a priest in the Church. For the Church is not like other careers. It doesn’t matter how highly qualified you are or how able you might be – the Church has to decide whether God actually wants you to be a priest regardless of what your other qualifications might be. Important, of course, for the church to be able to discern the kind of people that God is calling. So the Church provides a very helpful 24-page document entitled Criteria for Selection for the Ordained Ministry in the Church of England. And the introduction to the guide covers such aspects of the selection procedures as:

  • The vocation criterion
  • Gathering evidence
  • Assessing potential and risk
  • Developmental and non-developmental issues

and the guide goes on to cover various aspects of a person’s makeup: spirituality, relationships, personality and character, leadership and collaboration, faith and so on – and I particularly like this one – quality of mind. All important stuff, of course. I wonder whether God’s ever read it? Continue reading

What I said on Sunday – Trinity 10 (Proper 13)

I’ve had a couple of weeks off preaching, but was back this Sunday, with the parable of the rich farmer to cope with. It’s more often called the parable of the rich fool.

Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

Finally we’ve had a decent summer. We’ve had the longest period of hot and sunny weather for 25 years, and last Thursday was the hottest day for 7 years. We’re into the holiday season, schools have broken up, and perhaps our minds have not been so much on thoughts of recession but have been taking the opportunity to enjoy life a little more. And then – just when we’re least expecting it, up sneaks today’s gospel to put a dampener on things with its powerful challenge to us to reject the love of money and possessions. And to force home the point Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, the man who stored up riches so that he would be prepared for the future, but who died before he could use them. Nothing wrong, you might think, in being financially prepared for whatever the future might bring, if we are fortunate enough to be able to make provision. And of course, many of us don’t earn enough to be able to ensure a secure future. But nothing wrong with having a comfortable lifestyle if you’ve earned it, people feel. And yet Jesus has something to say, and something to say quite forcefully, about that.

Being prepared. The parable that we have just heard, usually called the parable of the rich fool, brings to mind what are called ‘preppers’. Now, don’t worry if you don’t know what preppers are – I had never come across the term until this week, and I discovered the term from our daughter. This week she got talking to a guy who uses the same coffee shop as her. Continue reading

What I said on Sunday – Trinity 6 (Proper 9)


Here’s my offering for last Sunday, the gospel reading being Luke’s account of how Jesus sent out the seventy.

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

Holidays are supposed to be relaxing. So why does getting ready for a holiday seem to be so stressful? Trying to decide what to pack and what to leave behind. Deciding what things might prove to be indispensable. Making sure that you’ve got all the right clothes. Then trying to fit it all into the luggage.

When our children were younger we regularly had holidays in North Wales. The problem with holidays in this country, and particularly in Wales, is that you can never be certain what the weather will be like. So you have to pack clothes for hot weather, cold weather, wet weather – and it all has to go in somewhere. And the children could never quite grasp the concept that the space in a car is limited. A car isn’t like the Tardis, and you can’t pack your entire wardrobe and all your games and your portable TV so you can watch it in your bedroom and your entire family of cuddly toys. Trying to fit everything in was a nightmare. We were even known on occasion – and I’m almost embarrassed to say this – to give in and take two cars because it was easier. We could have done with something like the luggage in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, a chest which had infinite room inside and ran around after you on its own legs. Continue reading

Sunday after Christmas – what I said

The Sunday after Christmas is also the Sunday following the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, so we celebrate Saint John and Chrismas combined! We used the readings for the feast of Saint John, hence the gospel reading. I should also add that I am grateful to The Times Newspaper for its reporting over the Christmas period, without which this sermon would not have been possible, as the quotes from newspapers of the past came from its pages – well worth the subscription!


John 21.19-end

As we gather here today, we look back over a week that has seen three special birthdays.

This week saw a momentous birthday, one very important one for us to remember today. 131 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 – 130 years old this week. 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. Today perhaps our biggest issue is when we are going to get women bishops. We already, of course, have women priests. Yet even relatively recently such concepts would have baffled the people who sat in the pews at St John’s.

Let’s go back to the early days of Saint John’s, over a hundred and twenty years ago.  A woman’s place was most definitely in the home, and not in the house of bishops. In 1895 the Isle of Man Times gave the following advice:

Don’t argue with your husband; do whatever he tells you and obey all his orders. Continue reading